Translations is a three-act play by Irish playwright Brian Friel written in 1980. It is set in Baile Beag, a small, fictional village at the heart of 19th century agricultural Ireland.
Friel has said that Translations is "a play about language and only about language", but it deals with a wide range of issues, stretching from language and communication to cultural imperialism. Despite the 1833 setting, there are obvious parallels between Baile Beag and today's world. Translations was first performed at the Guildhall in Derry, Northern Ireland, on Tuesday, 23 September 1980. In 2007, the play will be revived on Broadway.
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Translations is set in the quiet community of Baile Beag (later anglicised to Ballybeg), in County Donegal, Ireland. Many of the inhabitants have little experience of the world outside the village. Tales about Greek goddesses are as commonplace as those about the potato crops. Many languages (ancient and modern) are spoken in the village. Friel uses language as a tool to highlight the problems of communication - lingual, cultural, and generational. In the world of the play, the characters, both Irish and English, "speak" their respective languages, but in actuality English is predominantly spoken. This allows the audience to understand all the languages, as if a translator were provided. However, onstage the characters cannot comprehend each other if a common language is not shared.
The action begins with Owen, youngest son of the schoolmaster Hugh and brother to aspiring teacher Manus, returning home after six years away in Dublin. With him are Captain Lancey, a middle-aged, pragmatic cartographer, and Lieutenant Yolland, a young, idealistic, romantic orthographer. Owen acts as a translator and go-between for the British and Irish. Yolland and Owen work to translate local placenames into English for purposes of the map: therefore Druim Dubh becomes Dromduff and Poll na gCaorach becomes Poolkerry. While Owen has no qualms about anglicising the names of places which form part of his heritage, Yolland, who has fallen in love with Ireland, is unhappy with what he perceives as a destruction of Irish culture and language.
Complicating matters is a love triangle between Yolland, Manus, and a local woman, Maire Chatach. Yolland and Maire manage to show their feelings for each other despite the fact that Yolland speaks only English and Maire only Irish. Manus, however, had been hoping to marry Maire, and is infuriated by Yolland. He sets out to attack him, but in the end cannot bring himself to do it. Unfortunately, Yolland goes missing overnight (it is hinted that he has been attacked, or worse, by the shady Donnelly twins), and Manus is forced to flee. Maire is in denial about Yolland's disappearance and remains convinced that he will return unharmed. The British soldiers, forming a search party, rampage across Baile Beag, and Captain Lancey threatens first shooting all livestock and then evicting and destroying houses if Yolland is not found. The play ends ambiguously, with the schoolmaster Hugh escaping the situation by reciting the first lines of the Aeneid.
Friel's play tells of the current struggle between both England and Ireland during this turbulent time. The play focuses mainly on (mis)communication and language to tell of the desperate situation between these two countries with an unsure and questionable outcome.