To what extent do Shakespeare and your writer present harmony and reconciliation as possible endings to the various conflicts within the play?’The Tempest’ written by William Shakespeare and ‘Translations’ written by Brian Friel both share allot of common ground. Thematically, they both explore the idea of hegemony; one culture supplanting another. Both plays demonstrate the impact of colonisation, in Translations, Hugh shows how economic advancement and cultural integrity can collide, whereas Caliban shows how Prospero has forced Caliban into a linguistic straightjacket.
Parallels can be drawn between Caliban and the people of Ireland; both are misunderstood and underestimated, Caliban’s original language is reduced and stigmatised.
Miranda calls it “babble”, Caliban recites the most beautiful lines in the play, and clearly he is not the “monster” Prospero would like to believe. Equally Yolland finds it “astonishing” that Jimmy Jack and Hugh are so well-educated, this reflects the social/cultural attitudes of the time, in England the Irish were commonly portrayed and thus stereotyped as being ‘Paddys’ and ‘barbaric’.
Both the Irish and Caliban must “adjust for survival”. This adjustment can be poignant and no doubt the initial harmony is disrupted. However, in both plays there is partial reconciliation, in ‘Translations’, we see the coloniser and the colonised “leap over the ditch” into a brief exogamous relationship. Whereas in “The Tempest” we see the betrayer and the betrayed reconciled and Prospero also subtly accepts some responsibility for Caliban.
However in both plays we are reminded that any harmony and reconciliation is ephemeral, and as good as it can be, it has an expiry date because “To remember everything is a form of madness”.
Translations, was written in 1980, and is set in the Irish town of Baele Beag amidst British colonisation during the 1830s. It should be noted that at the time of its publication there was still great conflict in Northern Ireland. The play is set in the past, although is has a great deal to do with the present situation in Ireland and indeed other countries.The characters within “Translations” are confronted with a choice, if they want to salvage harmony they must conform to the ideals of the British. To integrate peacefully within the newly colonised Ireland, sacrifices must be made, amongst these the most important would be the Gaelic language.
This is a difficult sacrifice to make because embedded within language is culture, but economic progress cannot be made with an ‘antiquated’ language such as Gaelic. Fundamentally characters must choose between their history and their future, I believe Friel’s purpose in doing this is to demonstrate that there is no need to choose, you can have both, and this dichotomy is the propaganda of the ‘colonised’. On a personal-political characters such as Owen experience personal conflict in that he is confused as to what he is, the British see him as an Irishman, whereas the Irish see him as “a city man”. Owen is an interesting hybrid, the British characters anglicise him by renaming him “Rolland”, and he is associated with the renaming process, as a reader, it appears that Owen is pushing for the renaming of Irish.
The juxtaposition of Owen and Yolland demonstrates the interchangeability of individuals, it embodies a left wing view of human nature, and it follows Rousseau’s school of thought that as human beings we are moulded by the society we are born into. In theory it should be Yolland who is pressing for the ‘advancement’ of Ireland, by the embracing of the English language etc. In reality, however, Yolland is more as a hibernophile than Owen, who seems to be keener on adjusting “for survival” rather than the preservation of tradition. Owen and Yolland blur the distinction between the Irish and the English; he is an Irishman who transcends racial distinction, so much so that he becomes more of an ‘Englishman’. He has made the afore-mentioned choice, and opted for economic advancement. Owen is someone who will by the end of the play be reconciled with the culture he left behind, when he takes on Manus’ role.
In ‘The Tempest’ Caliban is brutalised and corrupted. ‘The Tempest’ was written in 1611 during the Jacobean Period, following the discovery of the Bermudas and the colonisation of Ireland. Caliban might be interpreted as a representation of the ‘primitive’ people who occupied the Bermudas, great debate occurred over whether they Bermudas should be colonised, Rousseau’s ‘noble savage’ myth was the argument used to oppose an imperialist conquest. Prospero’s arrival on the island disrupted the harmony. From a modern post-colonial perspective this emphasises the fine line between liberation and colonisation an issue we are confronted with now with the Iraq Crisis.”You taught me language, and my profit on’t/Is I know how to curse”. He sees Prospero as entirely oppressive; while Prospero claims that he cared for and educated Caliban before he tried to rape Miranda. Prospero feels that Caliban is ungrateful for the blessing of civilization and language.
Language for Caliban, however, is not empowering, rather oppressive. It highlights the changes Prospero and Miranda have caused and the extent to which they have changed him from what he was. Caliban uses language as an attempt to create a separate identity from his colonisers by using it against them and cursing them; “the red plague rid you/for learning me this language!”. Caliban has had a false identity impose on him. The role of teacher is destructive for Caliban because Prospero attempts to homogenise Caliban to be more like him.Analogous to Owen’s confusion is Caliban, other characters within the play are dumbfounded as to where to categorise him. Caliban, like the Irish is equated with being “barbaric” and animalistic “he has legs like a man! And his fins are like arms” Caliban is even demonised “do we have devils here?” this shows a result Caliban’s transcendence of category.
On a linguistic level, Caliban is separated from the rest, he is sub-human, the derogatory terms thrown at him casually show his debasement from human to animal “A thing most brutish”, “Abhorred slave” and “vilerace”, human and animal are dichotomised. Broken communication and misunderstanding lead to his fall from Prospero’s favour; “made much of me” to “here you sty me”.Perhaps both Shakespeare and Friel have both made a point that we should reconcile the two. Perhaps we are all part human and part animal. Something Caliban is not allowed to understand because he is stigmatised by Prospero and sentimentalised by Gonzalo, for progress to be made Caliban must be allowed to reconcile the two. However by the end of the play we see a partial reconciliation in that Prospero seems to accept responsibility for Caliban “Take with you your companions; as you look/To have my pardon, trim it handsomely.”‘
The Tempest’ was Shakespeare’s last play, it is regarded as a romance or a tragic-comedy, the conventions of a romance are, extraordinary occurrences such as shipwrecks; disguises; riddles; reconciliation between children and parents. The reconciliation between Ferdinand and Miranda resolves private and public problems and the conflict between Prospero and Alonso, Prospero loses his daughter metaphorically but he is rewarded with a future grandchild, so we are left with dynastic harmony. In the Masque towards the end there is a Reconciliation of the real and the fantastical in the shape of the natural reapers joining with the supernatural nymphs “in a great dance”. This symbolises the reconciliation of the pagan (fleshy) and the Christian (spiritual) and the combining of the body and spiritIn ‘In translations’, reconciliation is shown between two the English and the Irish.
The first embodiment of this is Owen who takes elements from both and represents the new man. The second is the exogamous inter-racial relationship between Maire and Yolland, although there relationship is brief it shows the potential for future reconciliation between the English and the Irish, the fact that the play uses English language to express Irish characters adds fuel to this argument, however Manus’ actions demonstrates that obstacles will stand in the way. Jimmy’s words seem to summarise these obstacles “you don’t cross these borders casually- both sides get very angry” it is cultural conditioning which separates us as human beings, race is used as a barrier. However the play ends on a note of harmony, when a stubborn Hugh agrees to teach Maire English, this sea change indicates that the problems can be overcome when “both sides” have reached a stage of ‘spiritual understanding’ and pay no heed to political factions which stand as only as an impediment to human progress.