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Dancing at Lughnasa

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  • Pages: 4
  • Word count: 771
  • Category: Radio

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Write a full commentary on this passage from the opening page to page 7, discussing how effective an opening to the play you feel it is, and what themes and ideas you think are introduced by Friel.

In the opening of this play I feel that the extract relates well to the rest of the play because it gives the audience a good initiative of what the characters represent. For example in the stage directions in the very opening it shows that this play is presented around the main character Michael and his nostalgic memories of the summer of 1936. Michaels monologue prepares us for the world we are about to enter. He explains that this is the summer his Uncle Jack, whom he had never before met, came home from Africa. He tells us that this is also the summer the family got their first wireless radio set. The set is less than reliable, but its effect on the household is dramatic. His mother and aunts have launched a spontaneous dance in the kitchen, something Michael has never seen before. Michael explains that the radio has been named like a family pet. Though he’s only seven, he’s somehow aware that the life he has come to know is on the verge of change: “I know I had a sense of unease, some awareness of a widening breach between what seemed to be and what was, of things changing too quickly before my eyes, of becoming what they ought not to be.’

Throughout his monologue he is also describing to the audience what it was like to live in 1936; Friel adds so much information into the first page and a half that the spectators become overwhelmed with new ideas to think over. There is a big significance about the historical setting of 1936 and it is important for several reasons, for example: The family’s possession of their first wireless radio provides the novelty of modern technology and popular culture during that time. The historical setting is also relevant to the interference of the Industrial Revolution on rural Ireland. As Michael explains in monologue, ‘‘the Industrial Revolution had finally caught up with Ballybeg.” This event is significant to Friel’s theme of nostalgia for the rural Ireland of his childhood, as well as the theme of historical changes in Irish culture. Themes uses throughout the play to make it overall amazing linking the passage together. Memory is one of the central themes of Friel’s play.

The action of the play, which takes place in the later summer of 1936, is framed as a depiction of Michael’s memories of his childhood. In his closing monologue, the character of Michael as a young man explains the significance of these memories: ‘And so, when I cast my mind back to that summer of 1936, different kinds of memories offer themselves to me’. In that memory atmosphere is more real than incident and everything is simultaneously actual and illusory. In that memory, too, the air is nostalgic with the music of the thirties. Friel is interested in personal memory not as a means of reproducing factual incidents, but as a means of recapturing the atmosphere of the memory. Paganism and pagan ritual are central themes of Friel’s play which are also included into the opening by Kate. The play is set during the festival of Lughnasa, a local pagan harvest ritual of which Kate is disdainful. Furthermore, Friel presents all dancing and singing, which permeate the action of the play, as a form of pagan ritual.’

Friel seems to be celebrating such a personal” distinctive spiritual search,’’ as expressed through the pagan rituals of music, song, and dance by the various characters. These are very effective and give the audience a sense of what it was like in those days. Friel has created very contrasting characters for the audience to get hold of and understand. As there is not much detail in the opening of the play it draws the audience in to judge the characters into what they think they would be like. Kate is forty years old and the oldest out of her five sisters, and was once a schoolteacher. Kate is the most resistant to the changes taking place around her. Maggie is the opposite she is thirty-eight, is the second oldest of the five sisters, and works as the cook and housekeeper of their home. Michael describes his Aunt Maggie as ‘‘the joker of the family.’’ She is the one who suggests naming the new wireless radio Lugh, after the “old Celtic god of the Harvest.’’

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