Language, identity, and the colonial condition in Brian Friel’s Translations

“We must learn where we live”: language, identity, and the colonial condition in Brian Friel’s Translations

Maureen S.G. Hawkins

MILITARY imperialism is only the first step in establishing imperial hegemony–and an uneconomic one at that. (1) It is costly and, by itself, produces few long-term benefits for the colonizer. Therefore, it must be followed by strategies to persuade the colonized to accept their condition and transfer their allegiance to their conquerors to ensure an uninterrupted flow of benefits from colonized to colonizer without further military intervention.

As early as 1596 (2) Edmund Spenser advocated linguistic imperialism as such a strategy. In A View of the Present State of Ireland, he asserts that “it hath ever been the use of the conqueror to despise the language of the conquered, and to force him by all means to learn his” (1970:67) because language equals identity and allegiance: “the speech being Irish, the heart must needs be Irish” (1970:68). The obverse, he hoped, would be equally true could the Irish be persuaded to abandon their aboriginal tongue for English. He avers that even reviving Edward IV’s statute requiring the Irish to abandon their sept names in favor of English surnames based on occupation, appearance, or locality would “in a short time [lead them] quite to forger [their] Irish nation” (1970:156). The implication is that abandoning the Irish language–including Irish names–for English would obliterate the Irish identity and culture that he identifies as the source of their resistance to colonization and would render them useful, loyal subjects. It is this implication that Brian Friel explores and, though he grants it some validity, ultimately rejects in Translations.

Spenser’s idea of the effect of linguistic imperialism implies that language structures what R.D. Laing calls “experience”–i.e., how we perceive and comprehend the world, including ourselves–and implies agreement with Laing that such experience conditions identity and what he calls “behavior”–i.e., how we act as a result of our experience. If so, one assumes, the imposition of linguistic imperialism should result in imperial control of the experience and, hence, the identity of the colonized. However, effecting that control requires the destruction of the colonized’s aboriginal language/experience/identity, and destroying another’s experience, Laing says, is a violent exercise of “the power to define reality” (qtd. in Levine 1975:4) that, in turn, begets new violence. Laing says that “if our experience is destroyed, our behaviour will be destructive” (1967:12), which suggests that linguistic imperialism should also result in destructive behavior on the part of the colonized.

In Translations Friel assesses the efficacy of linguistic imperialism by addressing its effects and those of concomitant cultural imperialism on the culture, identity, and even continued physical existence of the colonized. Although written primarily in English, the play is trilingually macaronic: in English, Latin, and Greek. Significantly, there is not a word in Irish, even though most of the characters are monolingual Irish speakers whom the presumably English-speaking audience are to accept as speaking Irish when they speak in English. Friel’s choice of languages implies much about his assessments of the effects and efficacy of linguistic and cultural imperialism, about the ways in which the colonized react to them, and about the most effective way in which they can combat the imperial agenda, maintain their culture and identity, ensure their survival, and possibly secure their freedom.

In the play Friel portrays linguistic and cultural imperialism as more insidious than the military imperialism they are adjuncts to and metaphors for; the Irish cooperate with them as they do not cooperate with the British military. A child spits at the British soldiers, but Bridget and Biddy Hanna look forward to the establishment of the National School, where the children will “be taught to speak English and every subject will be taught through English” (1984:396), and the students will sing, every morning, a song thanking God that they are happy little English boys. In support of her desire to learn English, Maire quotes Daniel O’Connell as saying that “the sooner we all learn to speak English the better” (1984:399). That she desires to learn it so she can emigrate to escape the poverty occasioned by British military and economic imperialism emphasizes both the military and economic underpinnings of the success of British linguistic and cultural imperialism and the nature of that success. Emigration depopulates the land, leaving it in British hands without the costs–economic and otherwise–of further military imperialism: the Irish even pay for their own relocation.

However, Friel also treats English as the tool by which the Irish may regain control of their experience and ensure their cultural and even physical survival. Although most postcolonial writers insist that the indigenous language must be preserved to accomplish those ends, Friel implies that, at least in the Irish context, the colonized should make the colonizer’s language their “own” (1984:444) and use it to combat the effects of colonization and to preserve and reinvigorate their culture, identity, and lives.

In Translations Friel makes it clear that the British manipulation of Irish experience through linguistic imperialism is, as Laing would say, a politically motivated exercise of the power to define reality. Translating the local place names “into the King’s good English” (1984:404) for the new map–appropriately being constructed by British soldiers–metaphorically “translates” the ownership of the landmarks and communities they indicate. Renaming is a military action whose purpose, like that of previous British surveys of Ireland, is “the forfeiture and violent transfer of property” (1984:406), including the most important “property” of all–the identity and experience of the colonized. Nor, as the establishment of the National Schools indicates, is such “translation” to be effected solely by cartographic renaming.

The process of “translation” is first exemplified by the British renaming of Owen as “Roland,” which denies his experience, and therefore his identity, as “Owen Hugh Mor. From Baile Beag” (1984:403), an Irish locus of experience. A conflation of his own name with Yolland’s, it renders his identity subsidiary, derivative, and dependent for meaning and even existence on his British masters.

We soon see that Yolland is right that Anglicizing Irish place names is “an eviction of sorts” (1984:420), whose objective correlative is the destruction ordered by Lancey in the last act. Friel’s linkage of renaming to physical destruction is reminiscent of Laing’s argument that destroying the experience of others through the power to define reality is, in fact, a violent, destructive, political act. Like the Donnelly twins’ activities, Owen’s enforced cooperation in this destruction as he is made to translate Lancey’s litany of townlands to be destroyed fits Laing’s contention that destroyed experience results in destructive behavior. We, like Owen, come to realize that the translator, as the Italian proverb has it, is a traitor. Thus we come to understand and sympathize with Owen’s implied decision at the end of the play to join–along with the once “open-minded” (1984:390) Doalty–the Donnelly twins’ guerrilla activities against the British in order to atone for what he calls his “mistake” (1984:444). (3)

All of this would imply that Friel endorses Spenser’s equation of language, loyalty, culture, and identity, and, thus, the need to preserve the Irish language. Instead, however, I argue that he demonstrates that the bases of Irish identity and the forces that menace it are hot solely or even primarily linguistic, nor can they be combatted by preserving the language. Indeed, he associates the preservation of Irish and Irish language purism with destructive and self-destructive behaviors that jeopardize Irish survival on all levels.

To begin with, he suggests that by 1833, when the play is set, it was already too late to preserve Irish culture and identity by preserving the Irish language. In Friel’s Irish-speaking Baile Beag, both language and culture are already “eroded” (1984:420), the chain of cultural memory broken. There is no evidence that Owen is wrong in asserting that “nobody in the parish [besides himself] remembers” the story of Tobair Vree and the man whose “name ‘eroded’ beyond recognition” (1984:420) the place name commemorates. Moreover, as Owen himself says, his memory is irrelevant: “I’ve left here” (1984:421). Though the majority of residents of the Irish hinterland were still monolingual Irish-speakers in 1833, even there, Friel implies, British economic and military imperialism had already had a fatal effect on the Irish language and Irish culture as the Irish language embodies it; linguistic imperialism, whether nominal or educational, would merely build on their effects.

Owen’s departure is a signifier of one of the major causes of this erosion, the depopulation of the countryside resulting from economic imperialism. This depopulation will continue, as Maire’s plan to emigrate in order to relieve her family’s poverty indicates, and, wherever the emigrants go, most will need to abandon Irish for English to survive. Manus can earn a living without using English by emigrating to an even more remote, isolated part of the Irish-speaking hinterland, but we know that soon Inis Meadhon will have its own National School and Manus will be unemployed, just as his father is about to become.

British military imperialism is also shown as a cause of this depopulation and the consequent erosion of the communal memory. The shadow of the 1798 Rebellion hovers over this play and is central to its meaning. The British responded to the rebellion with greater physical force than the Irish could muster. In Baile Beag they evicted the inhabitants and levelled their houses (1984:441), and, at the end of the play, they are about to do the same again in reprisal for Yolland’s disappearance. This suggests a repeating cycle of weakening Irish physical resistance and powerful, unweakening British reprisal. In 1798 the Irish could at least mount an army and had French allies; by 1833 they are reduced to guerilla action, yet the British response is the same.

In 1798 the Irish could also hide their livestock from reprisals, as Bridget proposes (1984:441), and rebels could more easily find secure places to hide and operate from. Although the renaming that the cartographic expedition entails is an exercise of linguistic imperialism, Friel suggests that the actual mapping may have a military function arising out of the 1798 Rebellion–to ensure that the British military knows the terrain as well as the locals do. Because the British now have maps that include the people’s hiding places, future guerilla actions are likely to involve even more risk, and British reprisals are likely to be even more devastating.

In Translations both the destruction of Irish pride and Irish hopes for independence that accompanied the crushing of the 1798 Rebellion and also the intensification of British military, economic, linguistic, and cultural imperialism that followed have contributed to the erosion of Irish communal memory and identity. Hugh and Jimmy Jack, who marched to join the rebellion, retreated before engaging the enemy, and they have continued to retreat–Hugh into a bottle, Jimmy Jack into schizophrenic hallucinations, and both into the Greek and Roman classical past that they mistake for their “own” (1984:445). Other self-destructive (i.e., community-damaging) behaviors–such as emigration, Hugh’s laming and exploitation of Manus, and even Owen’s mocking attack on Hugh’s “knowledge” of where he lives–can be at least partially traced to the failure of the 1798 Rebellion and its aftermath, and further help to undermine communal memory and identity.

However, Friel connects that rebellion with a non-British source of linguistic and cultural imperialism: the valorization of Greek and Roman culture and language, embodied in the copy of the Aeneid that Hugh and Jimmy Jack carried when they went to join the rebellion. As Elizabeth Butler Cullingford says, “pike and epic text are … metonymically linked” (1996:231), which implies that their effects are similarly linked. British linguistic imperialism denies the Irish experience embodied in the Irish language, but the idealization of classical Greek and Roman language and experience by Hugh and Jimmy Jack also denies, devalues, and destroys Irish experience. (4) Hugh perpetuates that denial by teaching his students Latin and Greek but not Irish: he even teaches them to write by copying Latin headlines. He is a poet, not in Irish but in Latin. Jimmy Jack cites Virgil as the premiere agricultural authority for Donegal, and, though he knows of Grania, his hallucinatory fantasies are of Athene. The insistence of Hugh and Jimmy Jack on the superiority of classical languages and cultures denies the validity of Irish experience, thus preparing the ground for British linguistic imperialism. Although Hugh derisively describes Irish as “full of the mythologies of fantasy and hope and self-deception … our only method of replying to” the colonial condition (1984:418-19), his and Jimmy Jack’s response, their “homesick[ness] for Athens” (1984:445) and delusory belief that its culture is their “own” (1984:445), is an even more fantastic, self-deceiving, and impotent response. Compensating for defeat by reliving the glories of dead civilizations is, Friel implies, a good way to ensure that one’s own civilization joins them. That he links such compensation to the use of physical force implies that both have the same self-destructive effect.

Thus Friel equates Irish self-destructive behavior with destructive behavior against the British, implying in turn that the latter is also self destructive. Destructive behavior against the British is partially precipitated by the memory of the 1798 reprisals, as is implied by Doalty’s saying that “when my grandfather was a boy they did the same thing…. he’ll not put me out without a fight. And there’ll be others who think the same as me” (1984:441). However, it is directly precipitated by the presence of the cartographic expedition that embodies the exercise of linguistic imperialism and is thus implicitly a violent exercise of the power to define reality. As Laing would predict, it begets violence that escalates from Doalty’s moving the surveyor’s pole to the child’s spitting at Yolland to the Donnelly twins’ presumed killing of first the horses and then Yolland. However, that violence leads to British retaliatory violence, thus giving another turn to a seemingly endless wheel of violence.

Friel creates a bridge between the destructive and self-destructive behaviors through Owen. Owen translates for the British, thus inflicting the linguistic imperialism on the Irish that begets their violent response, though the self-destructive nature of his collaboration becomes apparent to him only when he is forced to translate the names of the townlands to be destroyed.

Friel also establishes the relationship between the classical and British linguistic imperialism by demonstrating Owen’s enjoyment of playing his father’s classical etymological game before he reveals that he has come to work as a translator for the British. Owen later mirrors his father’s retreat into the classical past by converting to Irish language purism, signalled by his decision to restore the seventh-century name of the Murren instead of Anglicizing it. Such a retreat into the past, Friel implies, whether it be the retreat of Hugh and Jimmy Jack to the classical past or the retreat of Owen to a seventh-century Irish one, “imprison[s the Irish],” as Hugh says, “in a linguistic contour which no longer matches the landscape of … fact” (1984:419). It keeps them from dealing with their condition and from “renewing those images” “of the past embodied in language” that must be constantly renewed if a culture is not to “fossilize” (1984:445). To retreat into a fossilized Irish past that no longer fits Irish reality is as self-destructive as to retreat into a fossilized Greek or Roman one.

Friel implies that British imperialism and “commerce,” to which Hugh thinks English “is particularly suited” (1984:399), are “facts” of Irish life that must be dealt with. If, as a result of British military and economic imperialism, agriculture no longer suffices for survival, as Maire’s reasons for emigrating imply, then commerce–and the language appropriate to it–should be adopted. If the British have the power to change aboriginal names, then, Hugh says, the Irish “must learn those new names…. [and] make them [their] own” (1984:444). They must, in effect, take them from the colonizer and make them part of a living, constantly evolving postcolonial identity suited to a commercial global economy that will be no less “Irish” for being expressed in the language that once belonged solely to their colonizers.

After all, Friel implies, the British themselves have successfully made exactly that type of adjustment without becoming any less “English” but rather have expanded their definition of what it means to be “English” by adapting it to changing conditions (including colonization), thus ensuring that their language continues to match the “landscape of fact.” The Anglo-Saxon tongue has been thoroughly integrated with the Romance influences effected by the Norman invasion and by classical cultural imperialism, as Hugh’s classical etymological game implies. Though we are to understand that Hugh plays the game in Irish, such Latin words as perambulare, verecundus, conjugo, acquiesco, procede, and diverto (1984:398-400) are the roots of the English words Hugh uses in the play itself, not of their Irish equivalents. (5) No doubt most British have forgotten the etymological history of place names such as Winfarthing, Barton Bendish, Saxingham Nethergate, and Little Walsingham as thoroughly as the inhabitants of Baile Beag have forgotten that of Tobair Vree, but there is no sign that even Yolland, who regrets what is happening to (the) Irish, feels any loss. Undoubtedly something has been lost, but that loss seems unequal to what has been gained, which includes an expanded, enriched European identity, expanded even further by the British Empire, in place of a parochial, island-bound, tribal one that would be ill-adapted for survival in the modern world.

Indeed in “The Irishness of the Irish,” his 1968 speech in Belfast to the Irish Association for Cultural, Economic, and Social Relations, E. Estyn Evans demonstrated that this kind of adjustment also marked the historical and even prehistorical development of Irish identity. “The essence of Irishness,” he said, is “the process of renewal under the stimulus of culture-contact”; “wherever we look we find continuity, a renewal of the old in contact with the new” (1996:38). However, he argued, “when attitudes harden under political … pressures and become fossilized … the genuine quality of Irishness is sacrificed” (1996:30).

Friel associates with defeat and destruction any “backward look” that is not “a forward impulse,” a “coming to terms with what you are [that makes] you confront what you are becoming” (Matthews 1979:504; emphasis mine). As Hugh says, “to remember everything is a form of madness” (1984:445) that Friel portrays as leading to such hardened, “fossilized” attitudes whose results are barrenness and obliteration. Doalty, remembering what the British did in his grandfather’s day, seeks out the Donnelly twins, sure that they know how the Irish can defend themselves “against a trained army” (1984:442), even though it is their attempt to do so that has provoked British reprisals against Baile Beag. After becoming an Irish language purist, Owen tells Hugh that there is only “one single, unalterable ‘fact’: … we are all going to be evicted” (1984:445); then he goes looking for Doalty, presumably to join him and the Donnellys whose actions have precipitated that “fact.” Jimmy Jack, seeking “companionship” (1984:444) to alleviate his loneliness, casts his backward look even farther back, to ancient Greece, fantasizing a marriage proposal from the Greek goddess Athene to allow him to forget his isolated, barren bachelorhood, though we assume that when he was younger he might have contracted a fruitful marriage.

The copy of the Aeneid that Hugh and Jimmy Jack carried with them when they went to join the 1798 Rebellion associates their backward look with insurrection, and Doalty has already connected the rebellion’s defeat with the same kind of reprisals that Lancey now threatens. Thus their backward look is associated not only with enabling British linguistic and cultural imperialism but also with physical force against British imperialism, with the defeat of such force, and with savage British military reprisals.

Moreover, Hugh’s final speech, a brief (edited) quotation from Book I of the Aeneid, (6) associates the British with the Romans–both, according to medieval English legend, descendants of Aeneas–and thus associates Baile Beag/Irish-speaking Ireland with Carthage. (7) Just as the 1798 rebels and the Donnellys resisted the British by force of arms, so Carthage resisted Rome, even going so far as to attack Rome itself, just as the IRA later carried out bombing campaigns in England. As a result, we should remember, the Romans so thoroughly destroyed Carthage that no stone remained on another and the ground remained barren for generations because of the salt plowed into the earth. Carthage lives in infamy as a society that sacrificed its own children. If the Irish militarily resist the superior force of the British, they, too, the play implies, sacrifice their children and guarantee for themselves the fate of Carthage.

There are, Friel implies, two ways the Irish can try to combat the British imperial agenda, to maintain their culture and identity, to ensure their survival, and possibly to secure their freedom. They can adopt physical force, which will lead to their failure and obliteration, or they can make English and commerce their “own,” incorporating them as both their ancestors and the Anglo-Saxons incorporated Continental influences, languages, and trade; then they can use these tools to combat their enemies and invigorate their culture.

The implied references to the destruction that the Romans visited on Carthage and that the British visited and are about to visit again on Baile Beag introduce an apparent note of historical inevitability to physical and cultural obliteration at the hands of superior physical force, but we should observe that in the play each instance of imperial destruction occurs in reprisal. This apparent inevitability is countered by the implied example of the British response to having been colonized. Although being conquered inevitably leads to loss, it need not lead to annihilation. Instead the colonized may appropriate elements of their colonizers’ culture, renewing the old in contact with the new, as Evans puts it, and thus create a vigorous, flexible, hybrid culture that can adapt to changing landscapes of fact. Friel would appear to agree with Evans that “the Irish should be proud of the antiquity and variety of their heritage, but … if Irish culture is to maintain its historic character it needs constant renewal through exposure to the outside world and to fresh cultural forces” (Evans 1996:41).

Although Friel leads us to understand and sympathize with the decision to join guerrilla action against the British, he leaves us in no doubt that the choice of violence is even more disastrous than the emigration that is depopulating the region. After all, even those who emigrate retain some elements of Irish identity. Those who remain can retain still more, even if they “renew” their “images of the past embodied in language” (1984:445) only in English, as Friel does in this play. We must remember that after the Romans were through with Carthage, no Carthaginian language or culture–in effect, no Carthaginians–survived; all we know of them we know from Roman accounts. If the Irish wish to avoid that rate, Friel implies, they should eschew violent physical resistance, to which the British will respond with overwhelming and obliterating force, in favor of keeping their own accounts, even if they must do so in English. (8)

Seamus Deane points out that “the dominant … figure on [Friel’s] stage is a social outcast who is nevertheless gifted with eloquence” (1984:13), a figure who, despite his outsider status, “has the intimacy of an insider” (1984:21) and thus can view the Irish condition with binocular vision, teaching us to do so as well. Although Deane sees Owen as filling this role in Translations (1984:21), we might more appropriately assign it to Hugh, as Patricia Lynch’s (1999) stylistic analysis of a key scene in the play suggests. Despite the alcoholic pomposity that makes him a figure of fun to his students and their families, Hugh is, as Yolland says, “astute…. [and] knows what’s happening” (1984:419) better than any of the others, even though he tries to evade that knowledge. The play’s lessons are summed up by Hugh’s brief recognitions: that “words are signals, counters. They are not immortal” (1984:419); that “a civilization can be imprisoned in a linguistic contour which no longer matches the landscape of … fact” (1984:419); that “it is not the literal past, the ‘facts’ of history, that shape us, but images of the past embodied in language” (1984:445); that we must “discriminate” between the two (1984:445); that “we must never cease renewing those images; because once we do, we fossilize” (1984:445); that “to remember everything is a form of madness” (1984:445); and that therefore “We must learn those new [English] names…. We must learn where we live. We must learn to make them our own. We must make them our new home” (1984:444). Hugh quickly backs off from those recognitions, seeking refuge from them in drink and in the Aeneid. But he finds no refuge in the latter. What he remembers of it warns again of the annihilation that results from opposing superior force with force–little wonder that he blocks the memory.

What he does remember, however, strikes a poignant, elegiac note. Friel, like Hugh, has binocular vision (or, perhaps more appropriately, what some medievalists have called “dual vision,” the ability to hold two mutually conflicting positions–one ideal, the other pragmatic–at the same time without experiencing cognitive dissonance). Unlike Hugh, Friel uses his dual vision unflinchingly. Thus, though he advises against resisting superior force with force, he makes us feelingly understand why Doalty and Owen would do so. Though he suggests that by 1833 the Irish language and Irish culture as it embodied the language could not be saved and that it would be counterproductive to attempt to return to them, he makes us feel that something of great value, a culture perhaps once worthy to be “the capital of all nations” (1984:446), has been lost. This is true, he suggests, even though neither he nor we, as English speakers, can know exactly what it was and though we must accept that it could not match the “landscape of fact” of the modern world.

Hugh’s rejection of what he has recognized puts the burden on us in the audience to turn from the past to the future, from linguistic purism to linguistic ecumenism, and from physical force to imaginative growth. As Deane says, “though [Friel’s] theme is failure, linguistic and political, the fact that the play has been written is itself an indication of the success of the imagination in dealing with everything that seems opposed to its survival” (1984:22). If Hugh is right that “it is not the literal past, the ‘facts’ of history, that shape us, but images of the past embodied in language” (1984:445), Translations is Friel’s demonstration that Hugh’s counsel is practicable; he uses the language(s) of the colonizer(s) to shape his Irish postcolonial audience’s understanding of their own identity via images of their past without a word in their ancestor’s aboriginal tongue.

Nor does his doing so indicate an acceptance of being colonized. Despite the fact that the colonizers are “all [decent men] at some level,” as Manus says (1984:422), the play demonstrates that being colonized is an unbearable condition that the colonizers cannot in justice condone nor the colonized accept. The question in the play is not whether to oppose British imperialism in Ireland but how most effectively to do so. Thus, although Hugh’s (and the play’s) final word is an elegiac lament for lost Baile Beag/Ireland/Carthage, his counsel, that “We must learn those new names…. We must learn to make them our own” in order to use them against the colonizer, is also Friel’s.

In Translations, Owen’s debate with Yolland over the renaming of Tobair Vree indicates that retaining one’s aboriginal language need not lead to “fossilization” if the “images of the past” it embodies are alive in the communal consciousness–as they no longer are in long-colonized Baile Beag. Hugh’s concluding lament signals an undeniable sense of loss. Louise Gluck (1969) observes in “Cottonmouth Country,” that “birth, not death, is the hard loss.” Friel demonstrates that the continued rebirth created by the necessity of learning to “renew” “images of the past” and their identity in a new language involves such a “hard loss” for the postcolonial Irish, but a loss that is preferable to “fossilization” or extinction.

(1) I wish to thank the Humanities Research Group of the University of Windsor and the University of Lethbridge Research Fund for their support of the writing of this essay.

(2) For political reasons Spenser’s A View of the Present State of Ireland circulated only in manuscript until it was published in 1633, though there was an attempt to publish in 1598 (Renwick 1970:vii).

(3) It could be argued that Owen seeks Doalty solely for information about Yolland’s fate. However, given that Doalty seems to seek the Donnellys primarily to join them, that Owen has come to view his collaboration with the cartographic expedition as “a mistake,” that he leaves to find Doalty immediately after speaking of Lancey’s reprisal, and that he does not reply when Hugh asks him why he wants to see Doalty, it is at least equally likely that he, too, wishes to join the Donnellys, despite his earlier refusal to join those who will not be “put … out without a fight” (1984:441).

(4) That the valorization of Latin can be associated not only with European neoclassicism but also with the hegemony of the Roman Catholic church in Ireland implies that Friel may see Catholicism as an agent of linguistic and cultural imperialism that helped to prepare the way for British linguistic and cultural imperialism and/or that co-operated with the British imperial agenda (as was historically the case in Ireland in the nineteenth century). Both views are implied in some of Friel’s other plays. In Dancing at Lughnasa, for example, it appears that Father Jack was sent home not only for “going native” and/or apostasy but for refusing to “co-operate with the English” by accepting their “money for churches and schools and hospitals” (1990:39), all agents of cultural imperialism. That he was not sent home until after the British district commissioner “reported [him] to [his] superiors in Head House” for refusing the money (1990:39) suggests a joint British-Roman Catholic imperial agenda.

(5) None of these Latin words was borrowed into Irish. (I am indebted to personal communications with Donnchadh O Corrain and Inge Genee for this information.)

(6) Friel omits primarily those portions of the quotation that name Carthage and relate it to Rome and Samos; these are the portions that might prevent the “ancient city” (Virgil 1.12; Friel 1984:446) from being read as Baile Beag/Irish-speaking Ireland as well as Carthage, thereby preventing the “race springing … from Trojan blood” (Virgil 1.19; Friel 1984:446-47) from being read as the British as well as the Romans. Friel also omits the description of the “ancient city” as “diues opum studiisque asperrima belli” (“extremely rich and most fierce in waging war,” Virgil 1.14, my translation), a description that obviously does not fit Baile Beag in 1833 and that might be read as an allusion to ancient Ireland’s warrior culture and hence as an implicit exhortation to emulate it.

(7) According to Nennius’s British History, Britto or Brutus, Aeneas’s grandson or great-grandson, founded Britain (1980:19; section 10). Geoffrey of Monmouth’s The History of the Kings of Britain makes Brutus his great-grandson (1966:54), which Tolkien and Gordon say “became the usual form of the legend” (1967:71). For a thorough discussion of the colonial and anticolonial implications of the pseudohistorical association of Britain with Rome and Troy, and Ireland with Carthage and the Phoenicians, see Cullingford’s “British Romans and Irish Carthaginians: Anticolonial Metaphor in Heaney, Friel, and McGuinness” (1996), which also discusses the use of this motif in Seamus Heaney’s North, Frank McGuinness’s Carthaginians, and Friel’s Translations.

(8) As Cullingford points out, this is also the option favored by James Joyce and Seamus Heaney.


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MAUREEN S.G. HAWKINS is assistant professor of English at the University of Lethbridge. She co-edited Global Perspectives on Teaching Literature (1993) and has published articles on eighteenth- through twentieth-century Irish, British, American, and African drama and film, and on intertextuality and cultural identity. She is currently working on a collection of essays on Irish historical drama and on a book on the structure of modern tragicomedy.

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