Areas of Study

Areas of Study

In the Bible, God gave Adam the right to name all the creatures of the Earth. This meant that he had dominion over them. Extend this idea into different languages, and think about how the renaming of Irish place names gives the English authority over the Irish. There is a direct reference to this when Owen regains his name in Act Two.

How does Owen's attitude to the renaming process change during the play?

How is this reflected in Sarah's attempts to speak her name?

There are different aspects of communication in the play. Owen sees words as fluid symbols that have no fixed meaning. This creates problems, as meaning can be confused and the truth of what someone is saying can be lost. Think about the word translation itself. It can mean interpreting, or the act of crossing over.

Who crosses over in the play?

Where do they cross over from and to?

The language we speak gives us a cultural identity, as it places us within a society of like-minded individuals. Yolland wants to learn Irish, but is worried that he will never fit into the Irish community. It also providesus with a personal identity, as it dictates how we think and respond to things.

How does Manus behave when he is around Owen and Yolland?

How is Owen forced back into Irishness by Lancey in Act Three?

How does Hugh interpret the name book at the end, as a threat or an opportunity?

Some characters in the play welcome the opportunities that learning English provide, while some are resistant to them, either actively or passively. Change does not necessarily have to be either good or bad, but can be a mixture of both.

What are the benefits offered by the English invasion? What are the deficits?

How is English seen as a language in the play by Hugh, Maire and Owen?

What will be lost if English is made the main language of Ireland?

Owen left Baile Beag years before, possibly looking for something that he could not find there. He does not get on well with Manus, and allows himself to be renamed Roland when he joins up with the army. Think about the similarities in sound between Yolland and Roland. Maire and Yolland watch each other before they speak to each other, cannot communicate, and yet seem able to respond to each other and see each other's desire.

Is this possible because of instinct, like love at first sight, or because they read into and misinterpret what the other wants out of Ireland?

How is Owen's search for friendship and belonging reflected in Yolland's action? Is it a mirror image, or the same essential desire?

As Hugh says, the past is not whole or real. All we have from the past is what has survived through writing or an oral tradition of storytelling. There is, though, a lot that we can learn from the past, as Jimmy Jack tries to point out to Doalty in Act One when he talks about black soil and quotes from Virgil. However, mythology is the warping of the reality into a story that is exaggerated or changed for certain purposes. The confusion of the two leads to Jimmy's collapse at the end of the play.

Equally, the fact that Ireland is under threat of destruction from the English means that its culture and language will be romanticised/mythologized by those who either wish to hold onto the past, or who only see the good aspects of the country.

What myths about Ireland does Friel address in the play?

How does Hugh's knowledge of the past protect him from despair at what is happening?

How can the past teach us how to live in the present?

Friel presents the characters to the audience through education. The whole play is set in a hedge school, where the students pay willingly to learn Latin or Greek and how to write or speak. These languages are considered to be the languages of culture and learning, and form the basis of words that describe abstract, philosophical theories in English.

What is the purpose in the characters educating themselves in classics?

What do the Latin and Greek quotations add to the play?

How important is art to the characters in the play?

Personal versus political