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In a short play like Translations, the focus of the drama is on shifting relationships demonstrated through language and conversation. Virtually anywhere in the play can be viewed as a key section. This is demonstrated by exam boards choosing passage-based questions from all over the play. To counter this, take a specific moment of translation or linguistic play and explore the consequences that could arise from it.
It is also problematic to choose a central character in the play, as all the characters are central to their own development and the development of themes. However, each character has an echo or reflection in another character; think about how Owen and Manus interact, and about the attraction between Maire and Yolland. What does each of these characters want, and how do they reflect each other?
However, having said that, there are moments that encapsulate several of the themes perfectly.
1) One of the most immediate is the contrast between the end of Act Two Scene One and Act Two Scene Two.
The end of Scene One demonstrates the difficulties faced when attempting to talk to someone from another culture. Maire and Yolland are confused by what the other is saying, while Owen is trying to act as an intermediary between them. After dispensing with him, the two lovers seem to be in perfect harmony with each other at the beginning of Scene Two. This is reflected in the way that their words echo and reinforce what the other is saying, as if they could follow what the other is saying.
What comes in the way of their communicating?
What brings them back together?
What is the major misunderstanding that they have at the end of the scene?
What does this say about words as a tool for communication?
What does the dramatic irony add to the scene? Is it made comic or tragic?
2) Another key moment is Hugh's ironic praising of the Gaelic language. It is one of the commonly held stereotypes about Ireland that they are a poetic and soulful race. Hugh plays on this, and implicitly mocks Yolland for his views. However, he does not seem to share this view without some reservations.
How does Friel make the audience aware of Hugh's views?
What does Hugh say about the future of Gaelic?
Why does Hugh come poetry only in Latin?
3) For an explicit moment of translation in the play, look at Owen translating Lancey in Act One. He deliberately misinterprets, and defends himself later with an offhand remark about uncertainty and poetry.
Why do you think he mistranslates?
Is it possible to read into Lancey's words what Owen claims they mean?
What are your responses to Owen at this point in the play?
How does this moment tie in with Owen being called Roland by the English?
What is Owen's attitude to words as symbols with concrete (solid) meanings?
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