Scott Boltwood: Draft Chapter of Study on Brian Friel (CILB Fellow 2000)

Homi Bhabha, ‘The problem is not simply the “selfhood of the nation as opposed to the otherness of other nations. We are confronted with the nation split within itself, articulating the heterogeneity of its population.’

Faith Healer, debut in NY Longacre, 1982; prod. Abbey 1982, whence its critical success.

Brian Friels pays in the eighties have become increasingly concerned with the problems of language, so much so that they constitute not just a theatre of language but a theatre about language. (Kearney, Transitions, 1988, p.123.)

Friel’s memory plays are studies of private life that metatextualise narrative to expose an individual character’s unresolved relationship to his own past (as in Philadelphia, Here I Come! or Dancing at Lughnasa), or at most a trio’s relationship to a seminal event (Faith Healer and Molly Sweeney). [Boltwood, p.3]

Friel, Essays, Diaries, Interviews 1964-1999, ed. Christopher Murray (London: Faber & Faber 1999).

”Self-Portrait” (1972): ‘an Irish Catholic teacher with a nationalist background, living in a schizophrenic community”; explores the ‘mixed holding I had inherited’ (p.41); illustrates ‘how difficult it is for an Irish writer to find his faith’; (p.45); ‘our Irishness’; ‘the generation of Irish writers immediately before mine took their genetic purity for granted’; ‘For us today the situation is more complex. We are more concerned with defining our Irishness than with pursuing it. We want to know what the word “native” means, what the word “foreign” means. We want to konw whether the words have any meaning at all.’ (p.45).

Friel formally left the nationalist party in 1967

Essays on literature: ‘The Theatre of Hope and Despair’ (1968); Self-Portrait (1972); Plays Peasant and Unpeasant (1972); ‘Making a Reply to Criticisms of Translations by J. H. Andrews’ (1983), all in Murray, ed., Essays [... &c.] (1999).

No reason for it at all, for its existence. [...] I’m merely saying that I don’t understand what a national theatre is any more. I don’t understand the need for a national theatre because it would imply that there is some kind of national voice.’ (‘Interview by Laurence Finnegan, in Essays, p.131.); ‘I don’t know what a national culture is, really’ (Idem.)

Seven Notes for a Festival Program (1999), produced in connection with the theatrical celebration of his first 40 years in theatre.

‘Preface to Chalres McGlinchey’s The Last of the Name (1986).

David Lloyd: ‘the principal organising metaphor of Irish nationalism is that of a proper paternity (Anomalous States, 1993, p.105.)

Boltwood: ‘Lloyd describes the densely hybridized narrative structure of James Joyce’s Ulysses as an example of the anti-nationalistic discourse that resists such revisionist levelings. Using the “Cyclops” chapter as his example, he argues that Joyce constructs an “adulterated” text that resists the reader’s attempt to sort the competing voices into distinct narratives, which themselves could be reorganized to reaffirm the hierarchy which places nationalist ideology in a position against which various subalternities define themselves. In short, Joyce creates an adulterated text in which there “is not an opposition, conversational or polemical, between coherent ‘voices,’ but their entire intercontamination” (Lloyd 1993, 108).

Living Quarters, ending with the suicide of Frank Butler, returned from UN service in the Middle East, on learning of his wife’s adultery with his son, her step-son.

Friel participated in the Bloody Sunday Civil Rights March

Freedom of the city, in which three squatters in the Guildhall are mown down by the Army; deals with the inquest to the event held after; interludes of a drunken ballad singer; Michael, Lily and Skinner.

[...] after 1977 Friel demonstrates an increasing ability to seek an alternative to the ideological constraints that imprisoned his earlier characters. Thus, not only do the characters of Dancing at Lughnasa and Wonderful Tennessee chafe under the tyranny of religious nationalism, but they glimpse an alternative to it. Likewise, Making History and Translations present characters who resist the imperative to conform to the Irish stereotype because Frield seeks an identity that transcends the narrowly defined model.’ [END; p.34.]

Collin Meissner, ‘Words between Worlds: The Irish Language, the English Army and the Vilence of Translation in Brian Friel’s Translations’, in Colby Quarterly, 28, 3 (Sept. 1992), pp.164-72.

Christopher Murray, Twentieth-century Irish Drama: Mirror up to Nation (Manchester UP 1997).

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