Tuesday, January 30, 2007

language and translations

Another production of Brian Friel's Translations has opened on Broadway. Set in rural Ireland in 1833, it tells of the British Army ordinance survey after the country's conquest, to remap the land, changing all the Gaelic place names into Anglicized names that will better speed troop movements, and facilitate administrative functions. Overnight, a thousand years and more of local legend and myths associated with the original place names are repressed. The characters include a "hedgemaster," who teaches the locals in the forbidden Gaelic tongue, and also teaches some of the ancient Greek and Latin classics in the original tongues. He's aging, and one of his sons tries to carry on in his nationalist tradition, and the other cooperates with the British in their mapping efforts, thinking it will bring economic progress. A young British Lieutenant falls in love with one of the women students and adopts the Irish ways, causing problems. The play is so elemental in its problems and conflicts, particularly in the deep roots of language, informing who we are, and who we will become. Good stuff for a writer to ponder.

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