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Lovers Brian Friel Introduction to the play Created by L McCarry.

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1 Lovers Brian Friel Introduction to the play Created by L McCarry

2 Brief historical background In the 20 th century the Catholic Church had the unswerving loyalty of the Irish people. Priests tended to be poorly educated and through training adopted dogmatic ideas (based on believing one thing, one particular doctrine of teachings). In 1929 the ‘Censorship Bill’ was passed and any work not in line with the churches teachings was banned. The government encouraged a vision of pastoral, rural life in an idealised view. The reality – large families and overcrowded houses. Created by L McCarry

3 Brief historical background Throughout the 1930’s and 40’s many people moved from the country to the cities. Rural poverty was seen as embarrassing. The 1937 constitution recognised the ‘special position’ of the Catholic Church. The bishops of the church exercised considerable social and political influence. By the end of the decade their was a slackening of the censorship and modern communication was showing rural people a different way of life. In the 60’s when Friel was writing ‘Lovers’ the ‘Present in Ireland’ was a place of drifting identity. The Irish people started to question the practicality of the old, rural identity. Throughout the 60’s and 70’s a rapid transformation occurred – censorship was abolished. Created by L McCarry

4 Lovers The play is set in 1966 ‘The present in Ireland.’ A time when Ireland was a place of social divisions and changing identity. The play is firmly set in Northern Ireland – the dominant and almost exclusive faith was and still is Catholicism. The Catholic Church exerted powerful control over every aspect or Irish life. The churches control in rural communities would have been even more pronounced. Ireland prohibited divorce, abortion and contraception. Sex before marriage was a sin. Created by L McCarry

5 Lovers Friel examines how the inevitability of repression will effect the human spirit, love, dreams, hopes and how these will all lose out due to the overbearing rigidity and denomination of a restrictive environment. There are two parts to the play Lovers: ‘Winners’ and ‘Losers’. The titles of each are significant and something that you should consider. It is important to note that Friel intended that the play be seen as a whole, rather than two separates. The couples in both parts have been temporarily liberated by their relationships. In both relationships the feelings are not false but Friel wonders whether the sentiments themselves are enough to liberate them in the face of daily drudgery. Created by L McCarry

6 Winners The Commentators are in their late fifties and are used as a symbolic juxtaposition when seen against the young protagonists. The fact that they give details in the past tense in a formal, unemotional and detached manner gives the impression that we are listening to an inquest. The Commentators represent the repressive, straight- laced community that Mag and Joe both live in. The fact that Friel establishes these two characters first suggests that this repression is the norm. Created by L McCarry

7 Winners Mag is 17 and Joe is 17 ½ Mag is from an affluent part of ‘Ballymore’ her father is a dentist and has his own practice. Joe lives in a run down and working class part of ‘Ballymore.’ His mother works and his father is unemployed. Both have been expelled from their Catholic schools. Mag’s school run by the nuns and Joe’s by priests. We learn that Mag and Joe have to get married as Mag is two months pregnant. Mag and Joe are young, their predicament is a metaphor and shows how helpless the new generation felt towards the old hierarchical order. They have been both isolated from their communities. The commentators reinforce this. Created by L McCarry

8 Winners characters: Mag Friel’s notes at the start of the play describe her clearly: ‘Mag is seventeen, bubbling with life, inclined to be extreme in her enthusiasms. Although she is not beautiful, her vivacity gives her a distinct attraction. Whatever she likes, she loves; whatever she dislikes she hates – momentarily. She is either very elated or very depressed, but no emotion is ever permanent.’ The scene establishes her flighty, romantic, witty, comical, energetic, effervescent, angst-ridden nature. She is full of doubts now that she is pregnant and persona non grata in the eyes of the church and the community. She is worried about the future. How will her father cope without her? She believes that her marriage will not be like that of her own parents. Her speeches reveal the importance of religion in her life. We see that she is deeply in love with Joe. We see her contradictions and experience her isolation. Created by L McCarry

9 Winners characters: Mag Mag is hurt and frightened. She is vulnerable. She loves Joe. She needs to know that he loves her. Mag cannot afford to lose Joe. She needs him to stand by her. Mag has doubts about her future married life with a husband who feels he has been ‘trapped’. She seeks reassurance. She is not in the same league as Joe intellectually. She reverts to attacking Joe’s class as a way of balancing the scales. In Episode one, Mag goes through the gamut of emotions. In Episode two she is huffy, resentful, happy, doubtful, angry, spiteful, loving, romantic, positive, carefree and elated! At times she feels isolated from Joe. Towards the end of the episode we learn of her isolation from her school mates. Mag ends the episode in a romantic mood. ‘The flat’ll be lovely and cosy at night.’ Created by L McCarry

10 Winners characters: Joe Joe is used as a contrast to Mag. Friel states the following: ‘Joe is seventeen and a half. He is a serious boy, a good student, interested in his books. He is at the age when he is earnest about life; and he has a total and touching belief in the value and importance of education.’ This scene establishes Joe’s character. He is quiet and reflective in comparison to Mag. He shows that he is proud and independent. He is conformist. He has started to find practical solutions to their problems. His mimicry of the members of the community reveals the frustration that he feels at living in a restrictive environment. We see flashes of rebellious youth in the slaughterhouse sequence when he pretends to shoot the pillars of his community. Created by L McCarry

11 Winners characters: Joe We are immediately reminded in Joe’s opening speech that he is a hardworking, industrious pupil who takes his studies seriously. He actually enjoys preparing for his examinations. His character is in direct contrast to Mag’s and this is clearly emphasised in episode one. This episode also points up fundamental differences between Joe and Mag. He has ambitions and wants to leave rural Ballymore. Mag doesn’t have the same outlook on life. We sense his resentment at having to settle for a boring job in Skinny Skeehan’s office. We see Joe’s naivety and lack of worldly knowledge in his second speech when he looks up the definition of ‘Caesarean’. Joe clearly loves Mag. ‘I am crazy about Maggie Enwright...’ He feels guilty about his outbursts. Created by L McCarry

12 Winners characters: Joe He also feels guilty about Mag’s predicament. His guilt forces him to conform. We see that he is selfish, protective, caring, responsible and pragmatic. We see that Mag’s ‘romanticism’ has infected Joe. He begins to fall into her trap of painting a rosy picture of his ‘daughter’s’ future. We see Joe’s vulnerability and sense of isolation. We gain an insight into the dysfunctional relationship he has with his father. He is different from his father. Joe is hardworking and ambitious. We can see that he wants to be closer to his father. They are unable to communicate with each other. By the end of this episode Joe accepts his fate. ‘A married man with a family has more important things to occupy his mind besides books.’ Created by L McCarry

13 Losers At this period, again, the younger generation wanted to break free from the restrictive conditions of past generations. The Catholic Church exerted such a powerful influence, an influence which permeated every area of their lives from the cradle to the grave. There were rituals and protocols in abundance. Traditions from the past were strictly respected by the older generation. The title of this half of the play, Losers, immediately engages our attention and we begin to make direct comparisons with Mag and Joe’s predicament in Winners. We question the irony of both titles. What is Friel saying about love and marriage? What is he saying about these two sets of lovers in particular? What is he saying about the kind of community that demands and enforces such high moral expectations? In Winners we clearly see the effect this repressive community has on Mag and Joe. Right at the start of Losers we learn that Andy and Hanna have also suffered from living in a repressive environment. Andy’s narration is used to take us backwards in time. Most of the story happens in the past. Created by L McCarry

14 Losers Period is still 1966. Hanna is in her late 40s. Andy is a man of 50. Hanna’s mother is an invalid and remains bed ridden. Hanna works in a local shirt factory. Andy is a joiner by trade. Hanna looks after her mother Mrs Wilson. Irish society expected the younger generation to look after the elderly. Right from the start of the play we learn that Andy and Hanna have been living in a repressive society/environment. Created by L McCarry

15 Losers characters: Hanna Friel’s notes on Hanna are also quite specific. ‘She is in her late forties. She works in a local shirt factory, lives alone with her invalid mother, and until Andy came on the scene had not been out with a man for over twenty years. And this sudden injection of romance into a life that seemed to be rigidly and permanently patterned has transformed a plain spinster into an almost attractive woman. With Andy she is warm: with her mother she reverts to waspishness.’ Hanna has had little experience of men. She rarely saw her father as he worked night shifts. She is uncomfortable with Andy partly because she doesn’t know how to cope with being alone with him. Like Andy, Mag and Joe, she too has suffered from being isolated. She has dutifully looked after her mother and in the process she has sacrificed her independence and personal happiness. Created by L McCarry

16 Losers characters: Hanna Her choices have been restricted due to the expectations of the community that she lives in. Her religious upbringing has reinforced this expectation. Guilt can be debilitating, and we see the effects it has on Hanna. Until Andy came on the scene she must have been a very lonely woman. She communicates her frustration. She is angry with the position she has been forced into, yet she is unwilling to make the brave decision to do anything about her predicament. Created by L McCarry

17 Losers characters: Hanna She is in love. She is very passionate, and we see her take the initiative in the kissing sequence. Her approach to the kissing and courting comes across as quite comical on the one hand, yet tragic on the other. Here is a middle-aged couple who are made to feel guilty about kissing and courting in the room below Hanna’s mother’s bedroom. Indeed their cunning plan to allay the old woman’s suspicious mind emphasises this sense of guilt at doing something as innocent as kissing. Created by L McCarry

18 Losers characters: Hanna She rejects Andy’s solutions to her predicament as she cannot ignore her mother’s needs. She is unable to rise above society’s expectations of a loving daughter. She wants to be free from the drudgery of her life in her mother’s house, yet she is unable to make the difficult decision to abandon her mother. Created by L McCarry

19 Losers characters: Andy Friel’s notes on Andy are quite specific. ‘He is a man of fifty, a joiner by trade, heavily built. His work mates look on him as a solid, decent, reliable, slightly dull man. Because his mind is simple, direct, unsubtle, he is unaware of the humour in a lot of the things that he says.’ He is in essence a likable, if slightly boring man. Andy has conformed to society’s expectations. Is he the kind of man that Joe (in Winners) might have become if he had lived? He doesn’t rock the boat; instead he accedes to the wishes of Hanna and Mrs Wilson as he seeks a quiet life. He has inherited the position previously held by Mr Wilson. ‘And yet by all accounts the civilist and decentest wee man you could meet.’ Created by L McCarry

20 Losers characters: Andy We clearly see that he is not a passionate man. He is pleasantly surprised when Hanna pounces. Right at the start of the play he is unhappy with the way things turned out in his relationship with Hanna. Their relationship has become a dysfunctional one; as dysfunctional as Mr and Mrs Wilson’s had been. Created by L McCarry

21 Losers characters: Andy The style of Andy’s narration is in direct contrast to the style used by the Commentators (in Winners). The function of the narration is similar – to provide lots of biographical information and propel the action of the play forwards. Andy’s style, however, is informal, intimate and anecdotal. His narration is a form of theatrical alienation. By using this device Friel breaks away from the convention of traditional proscenium arch productions. ‘The fourth wall’ is crossed as Andy engages in eye contact with the audience and we (the audience) are therefore aware that we are in the theatre watching a story unfold. This extract immediately introduces us to Andy’s predicament. He starts the play isolated, isolated from his wife and mother-in-law. He is married but not happily so. The failure of Andy and Hanna’s relationship is not in doubt right from the beginning. Created by L McCarry

22 Losers characters: Andy His solutions to Hanna’s problems with her mother are rejected. He lacks the strength of character to give Hanna any kind of ultimatum. He knows that he has to keep on the right side of Mrs Wilson as he is not a match for her; he is not brave enough, he is not energetic enough and he is not articulate enough. Created by L McCarry

23 Losers characters: Mrs Wilson Friel’s notes on Mrs Wilson are also clearly stated: ‘Like Cissy, she is a tiny woman, with a sweet, patient, invalid’s smile. Her voice is soft and commanding. Her silver hair is drawn back from her face and tied with a blue ribbon behind her head. She looks angelic.’ This is not quite the vision that we expect. The impression we get of this formidable woman right from the beginning of Losers is supplied by Andy. He informs us that Mrs Wilson ‘keeps Hanna on the hop’ for little reason other than to exert her authority and position. Andy paints a cynical picture of a pious old woman who is suspicious and manipulative. This description is confirmed once we eventually see Mrs Wilson and watch her interact with the other characters. In truth Mrs Wilson is frightened of losing Hanna and of being left an isolated, lonely old woman. She doesn’t want Andy to take Hanna away from her. She doesn’t want to leave the home that she has lived in all her married life. Her house is her power base. She is comfortable there and can do as she pleases. As long as she lives there she is the one who is in control and can thus exert power over Andy and Hanna. Morally they have to conform to her wishes. This is perhaps why she feigns illness. As long as she overplays her ‘illness’ she has a stronger hold on Hanna. Created by L McCarry

24 Losers characters: Mrs Wilson Mrs Wilson is a symbolic representation of the Catholic church. Friel uses her character to convey the influence that the Catholic church has in this religious community. Mrs Wilson’s demanding illness is an indication of the unbearable weight of responsibility that the Church can put on people in the name of religion. Mrs Wilson echoes the guilt feelings the Church can elicit from each individual conscience, the restrictions these impose, the rituals, the unquestioning belief that all true followers of the Catholic faith should have, the rigid adherence to church laws, the obligations, devotions and traditions. Created by L McCarry

25 Losers characters: Mrs Wilson Mrs Wilson selects the elements of her faith that she needs to assert her dominance. She hides behind the platitudes of righteous and saintly living. Her chief ally is Cissy. Cissy is subservient to Mrs Wilson. This reinforces what one would expect from the older generation, blind obedience to the Catholic faith. Remember Cissy symbolises a pious, repressive community and her relationship with Mrs Wilson (who symbolises the power and influence of the Church) has wider significance than that of two lonely, cynical and bitter old women. The combined force and influence of these two women proves too much for Andy and Hanna to overcome. It is ironic that this embodiment of Christianity shows so little charity, mercy or Christianity towards Hanna or Andy. Mrs Wilson is utterly selfish and self- centred. Created by L McCarry

26 Losers characters: Cissy Friel’s notes on Cissy are clearly stated just before her entrance: ‘Cissy is a small, frail wisp of a woman in her late sixties. She lives next door, is a daily visitor, and because of the close friendship between herself and Mrs Wilson she has a proprietary air in the house. A lifetime spent lisping pious platitudes has robbed them of all meaning. The sickly piousity she exudes is patently false.’ Cissy is obviously an unlikable, cold, waspish character. We are not meant to like her or empathise with her position. She is most certainly a symbolic representation of the restrictive, repressive, rural Irish society in which Andy and Hanna both live. She is supposedly a devout Christian yet she shows no warmth or kindness towards Andy or Hanna. On the contrary, she compounds the guilt that Hanna feels as she reminds Hanna of the needs of her poor, sickly mother who is all alone in the world. Cissy doesn’t offer any moral support to Hanna and her role emphasises the irony that Hanna lives in a devout Catholic community which has condemned her to a lonely, empty life. Created by L McCarry

27 Losers characters: Cissy Friel points out that Cissy is a shallow character. Here is a woman who constantly gives her thanks to God yet has forgotten the basic lessons of the Bible. She shows no Christianity in her relationship with Andy and Hanna. She does, however, conform to a narrow view of Christianity. She visits Mrs Wilson every night at 10 o’clock for the Rosary. This has become a routine.. She adds to the gloom of the repressive environment of Mrs Wilson’s bedroom. She blindly supports Mrs Wilson, and Friel uses her to point up the hierarchy of the status of each of the women. Mrs Wilson has the highest status, then Cissy as an elderly friend and neighbour, then Hanna. Andy as the outsider (and a man) has the lowest status in this female-dominated environment. Created by L McCarry

28 Themes Many themes run through both parts of the play and should always be considered as you read the play and think about the situations of the characters. Understanding these themes and relating these to the play will be essential when you are writing essays and completing your Dramatic commentaries. These are not in any order and depending on the question some can be more important than others. Created by L McCarry

29 Themes Influence of the Catholic religion Frustrated Love Frustrated Christianity Moral responsibility Inevitability of repression Restrictive environments Imposed Divisions Uncertainty about the future Hope Created by L McCarry

30 Well Done Now you must read the full notes as they are essential in further developing your understanding of the play, the characters and the themes. Created by L McCarry


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