Translations

by

Brian Friel

Teachers and parents! Struggling with distance learning? Our Teacher Edition on Translations can help.

Hugh Character Analysis

The master of the hedge school and Manus and Owen’s father, Hugh is described as a large, dignified yet shabbily dressed man in his early sixties who drinks heavily but never appears drunk. He peppers his speech with Latin and ancient Greek, frequently quizzing his students on the etymological origin of certain words. Early in the play, he confidently declares that he has been promised the position to lead the new national school. At the end of the play, however, he reveals that the job has been given to someone else. Despite his affection for dead languages and his initial refusal to teach his students English, Hugh ultimately declares that Baile Beag residents must learn the new names of where they live and make their new landscape their own. He calls words mere “signals” towards meaning and insists they do not last forever. As such, to cling too closely to irrelevant speech is to become trapped in the past. The final moments of the play feature Hugh reciting from the Aeneid, telling the story of the Romans’ destruction of Carthage. It is unclear, however, if he means for the Irish to be the Romans, borne from the ashes of a ruined Troy, or if the Irish are like the Carthaginians facing the unstoppable might of the Roman—representing the British—empire.

Hugh Quotes in Translations

The Translations quotes below are all either spoken by Hugh or refer to Hugh. For each quote, you can also see the other characters and themes related to it (each theme is indicated by its own dot and icon, like this one:
All Translation Is Interpretation Theme Icon
). Note: all page numbers and citation info for the quotes below refer to the Farrar, Straus and Giroux edition of Translations published in 1995.
Act 1 Quotes

Maire: I'm talking about the Liberator, Master, as you well know. And what he said was this: “The old language is a barrier to modern progress.” He said that last month. And he's right. I don’t want Greek. I don't want Latin. I want English.

Manus reappears on the platform above.

I want to be able to speak English because I'm going to America as soon as the harvest's all saved.

Related Characters: Maire Chatach (speaker), Manus, Hugh
Page Number: 24-25
Explanation and Analysis:

Maire: You talk to me about getting married — with neither a roof over your head nor a sod of ground under your foot. I suggest you go for the new school; but no - 'My father’s in for that.' Well now he's got it and now this is finished and now you've nothing.

Manus: I can always ...

Maire: What? Teach classics to the cows? Agh —

Related Characters: Manus (speaker), Maire Chatach (speaker), Hugh
Page Number: 31
Explanation and Analysis:

Lancey: His Majesty's government has ordered the first ever comprehensive survey of this entire country — a general triangulation which will embrace detailed hydrographic and topographic information and which will be executed to a scale of six inches to the English mile.

Hugh: (pouring a drink) Excellent - excellent.

Lancey looks at Owen.

Owen: A new map is being made of the whole country.

Lancey looks to Owen: Is that all? Owen smiles reassuringly and indicates to proceed.

Related Characters: Hugh (speaker), Owen (speaker), Captain Lancey (speaker)
Page Number: 33
Explanation and Analysis:
Act 2, Scene 1 Quotes

Owen: Do you know where the priest lives?

Hugh: At Lis na Muc, over near...

Owen: No, he doesn't. Lis na Muc, the Fort of the Pigs, has become Swinefort. (Now turning the pages of the Name-Book - a page per name.) And to get to Swinefort you pass through Greencastle and Fair Head and Strandhill and Gort and Vhiteplains. And the new school isn't at Poll na gCaorach - it's at Sheepsrock. Will you be able to find your way?

Related Characters: Hugh (speaker), Owen (speaker)
Page Number: 50-51
Explanation and Analysis:

I understand your sense of exclusion, of being cut off from a life here; and I trust you will find access to us with my son's help. But remember that words are signals, counters. They are not immortal. And it can happen — to use an image you'll understand — it can happen that a civilisation can be imprisoned in a linguistic contour which no longer matches the landscape of… fact.

Related Characters: Hugh (speaker), Lieutenant Yolland
Page Number: 52
Explanation and Analysis:
Act 3 Quotes

Hugh: (indicating Name-Book) We must learn those new names.

Owen: (searching around) Did you see a sack lying about?

Hugh: We must learn where we live. We must learn to make them our own. We must make them our new home.

Related Characters: Hugh (speaker), Owen (speaker)
Explanation and Analysis:

Hugh: Urbs antiqua fuit - there was an ancient city which, 'tis said, Juno loved above all the lands.

Begin to bring down the lights.

And it was the goddess's aim and cherished hope that here should be the capital of all nations - should the fates perchance allow that. Yet in truth she discovered that a race was springing from Trojan blood to overthrow some day these Tyrian towers - a people kings of broad realms and proud in war who would come forth for Lybia's downfall ...

Related Characters: Hugh (speaker)
Page Number: 88
Explanation and Analysis:
Get the entire Translations LitChart as a printable PDF.
Translations PDF

Hugh Character Timeline in Translations

The timeline below shows where the character Hugh appears in Translations. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Act 1
All Translation Is Interpretation Theme Icon
The Limits of Language Theme Icon
...Manus prepares to teach the class himself; it is now clear he was talking about his father , the school master. As he prepares the materials for class, Jimmy continues to read... (full context)
All Translation Is Interpretation Theme Icon
Colonialism and Cultural Imperialism Theme Icon
...her own story that she forgot who she was dictating to and insulted Manus and his father . This makes Maire laugh. She then notes that English soldiers will be coming to... (full context)
Colonialism and Cultural Imperialism Theme Icon
...it will put the hedge school out of business. He says he cannot apply because his father already has. Sarah is listening behind his shoulder. (full context)
All Translation Is Interpretation Theme Icon
Language, Culture, and Identity Theme Icon
Colonialism and Cultural Imperialism Theme Icon
Manus’ father, Hugh—a large, dignified yet shabbily-dressed man—enters carrying a stick. He has clearly been drinking, though he... (full context)
All Translation Is Interpretation Theme Icon
Language, Culture, and Identity Theme Icon
Colonialism and Cultural Imperialism Theme Icon
Hugh tells Manus to get him a cup of tea and then address the class. He... (full context)
Language, Culture, and Identity Theme Icon
Colonialism and Cultural Imperialism Theme Icon
As Hugh quizzes Bridget on Latin conjugations, Maire gets to her feet and asserts they should all... (full context)
Language, Culture, and Identity Theme Icon
Colonialism and Cultural Imperialism Theme Icon
Hugh’s younger son, Owen, enters. He is in his twenties, handsome, charming, and dressed like a... (full context)
Language, Culture, and Identity Theme Icon
Colonialism and Cultural Imperialism Theme Icon
Hugh has everyone frantically tidy the room. Manus approaches Maire and remarks that she should have... (full context)
Act 2, Scene 1
Language, Culture, and Identity Theme Icon
Colonialism and Cultural Imperialism Theme Icon
...leaves, Yolland asks Owen if his brother has been crippled since birth. Owen reveals that Hugh fell across Manus’ cradle when he was a baby, and that Manus has felt responsible... (full context)
Language, Culture, and Identity Theme Icon
The Limits of Language Theme Icon
Colonialism and Cultural Imperialism Theme Icon
...is “at its ease and with its own conviction and assurance.” Hearing Jimmy Jack and Hugh talk about the ancient Greeks as if they lived locally made Yolland feel like he... (full context)
All Translation Is Interpretation Theme Icon
Colonialism and Cultural Imperialism Theme Icon
Hugh enters in clothes “for the road,” with an air of energy and alertness almost to... (full context)
Colonialism and Cultural Imperialism Theme Icon
Hugh continues to drink. He says he is going to see the local priest and then... (full context)
Language, Culture, and Identity Theme Icon
Colonialism and Cultural Imperialism Theme Icon
Yolland tells Hugh how “Roland” (i.e. Owen) is teaching him Irish. He says again how remarkable Baile Beag... (full context)
All Translation Is Interpretation Theme Icon
Language, Culture, and Identity Theme Icon
The Limits of Language Theme Icon
Hugh ignores Owen and continues telling Yolland how rich the Irish language is, positing it as... (full context)
All Translation Is Interpretation Theme Icon
Language, Culture, and Identity Theme Icon
After Hugh exits, Owen remarks that his father is pompous. Yolland, however, thinks he has a point:... (full context)
Act 3
All Translation Is Interpretation Theme Icon
The Limits of Language Theme Icon
...him. Manus says he is going to Mayo, and leaves Owen detailed instructions for helping Hugh get by without him. Owen asks about Maire and offers Manus money, but Manus ignores... (full context)
All Translation Is Interpretation Theme Icon
Language, Culture, and Identity Theme Icon
Colonialism and Cultural Imperialism Theme Icon
Owen asks Sarah if there is class tonight and where Hugh is. She mimes rocking a baby, but Owen does not understand the gesture. Bridget and... (full context)
Language, Culture, and Identity Theme Icon
Colonialism and Cultural Imperialism Theme Icon
...the floor, and he decides to leave it where it is. He goes upstairs as Hugh and Jimmy Jack enter, both drunk. Hugh talks as if the class were full, calling... (full context)
Language, Culture, and Identity Theme Icon
Colonialism and Cultural Imperialism Theme Icon
Hugh shouts for Manus to bring him tea. Jimmy says he is marrying Athene and he... (full context)
All Translation Is Interpretation Theme Icon
Language, Culture, and Identity Theme Icon
Hugh points to the book and says they must learn the new names for “where we... (full context)
Language, Culture, and Identity Theme Icon
Colonialism and Cultural Imperialism Theme Icon
Hugh looks at the sleeping Jimmy and reminisces about the twenty-three miles “to Sligo” they marched... (full context)
The Limits of Language Theme Icon
Maire enters, saying she left but couldn’t remember where she was going. Hugh says he will teach her English, starting after the funeral. He warns her not to... (full context)
All Translation Is Interpretation Theme Icon
The Limits of Language Theme Icon
Maire asks Hugh what the English word “always” means. Hugh translates it from Greek and Latin, and says... (full context)
Language, Culture, and Identity Theme Icon
Colonialism and Cultural Imperialism Theme Icon
Hugh begins to recite the story of an ancient city that Juno loved above all others... (full context)