Brian Friel

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Translations: Act 2, Scene 2 Summary & Analysis

It is the following night, and the stage is set to make clear that down front is “a vaguely ‘outside’ area.” Music continues to play as Maire and Yolland run in laughing and holding hands, having just left the dance. They “talk,” though, because of their language barrier, neither actually knows what the other is saying. Yolland says he has been watching Maire day and night. Maire tells Yolland to “say anything at all” because she “loves the sound of” his speech. Yolland frustratedly looks around for something to help them communicate and tells Maire how he watches her feed the hens every morning. Maire attempts to communicate in Latin, and Yolland repeats Maire’s previous line exactly—telling her to “say anything at all” because he loves “the sound of” her speech.
The romance of this scene again reveals how communication transcends the confines of language. Maire and Yolland are able to understand their affection for one another without ever grasping the actual meaning behind the other’s words.  The fact that the actors speak English throughout the entire scene allows the audience to hear that both are unknowingly saying the same thing—adding a sense of dramatic irony and underscoring the deep connection between the two.
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Latin proves useless, so Maire repeats the three English words she knows: fire, water, Earth. Yolland grows excited to hear her speaking English and tells her it is “perfect.” Maire then repeats the one phrase she knows: “In Norfolk we besport ourselves around the maypoll.” Yolland excitedly says that’s where his mother comes from until he realizes Maire cannot understand him; he stops abruptly, and Maire worries she said something “dirty.”
Yolland understands Maire’s three English words as her attempt to communicate in his language—and, as such, are a deeply romantic gesture. Maire repeats the nonsense phrase she said in Act One; the fact that she fears she said something dirty adds more comedic irony to the scene.
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Maire moves away from Yolland, who begins to recite all the Irish names he has learned so far. Maire stops and turns towards him. She joins in reciting Irish names and holds her hands out to Yolland, who takes them in his own. They proceed to speak “almost to himself/herself,” saying very similar phrases without knowing it as they profess their affection for each other. Yolland says he wants to live with Maire “always.” She wonders what “always” means, before repeating roughly the same phrase Yolland said in Irish. They kiss. Sarah enters, sees them, and runs off shouting for Manus. Music crescendos.
Once again, Yolland and Maire understand these words, however random they appear, to be expressions of affection. The definitions behind the words are irrelevant, entirely different from what they mean in this moment. The scene ends on an ominous note, however, with Sarah once again watching something momentous unfold. This time, however, she uses her new-found ability to speak to call for Manus—a man who will inevitably be angry and devastated by what Sarah tells him.
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