Dancing at Lughnasa - Dramatic Techniques and Devices

A document analysing some of Friel's most important dramatic techniques and devices in the play. Document is broken up into 5 points and covers:

  • Foreshadowing
  • Use of symbolic devices (radio, kites)
  • Stage Directions
  • The 'Unseen Boy'
  • The False Memory

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Eleanor PrescottDancing at LughnasaRevision Notes
`Dancing at Lughnasa', dramatic techniques and devices
Foreshadowing ­ through the use of devices (see below) or narrative; Friel often hints at what comes
later in the play, sometimes sneaky ­ in the first dialogue for example, Chris says "W hen a re we
g o in g t o ge t a de c e nt mi rr o r to s e e o ur se l ve s i n ? "­ this could be interpreted as
Friel showing that the women are blind to the world around them, to their own inner trouble, and just
how close their family is to the blink of collapse. It is a good line for Friel to highlight that at this moment
in time, everything is as it should be and nothing has crumbled yet, but it will, and the sisters cannot
foretell it.
Use of symbolic devices such as the radio (the music foreshadows events in the play, hints at backstory,
usually provides a sense of what the women feel inside but cannot express on the outside, used to
reference context and ultimately link the women from their microcosm in Ballybeg to the wider world) or
the kites (representing escape as a pair, possibly Jack and Gerry, or, when one considers the tortured
faces, a foreshadowing of Rose and Agnes's doomed leave.)
Stage Directions ­ Friel's stage directions are highly detailed and this shows that to Friel, every little
character and stage detail is important, (takes the opening tableau for example.) Each aunt has their
own, very particular on stage personality, but these are certainly not 2D characters when Friel still leaves
some questions unanswered to the audience ­ e.g; What is going on between Gerry and Agnes? Why is
it that Friel wants Agnes to fly up in a passion, `on th e po in t o f tear s'when Kate is
badmouthing Gerry, but the situation between them is never explored in more detail? It makes the false
memory concept all the more interesting, as the audience can forget that this is what Michael is
supposed to remember as ` m o re r e al th an in ci d en t'and `b oth a ct u al a n d
i l lu s or y '.
The Unseen Boy ­ In `Dancing at Lughnasa', the narrator is the adult Michael, and Friel chooses also to
have the adult Michael reading the `boy's lines, and the aunts must never address the boy. This is a
surreal concept, but both helps the audience remember that the whole play is Michael's memory;
" Whe n I ca s t m y m in d b ack" ...and also foreshadows Michael's absence and escape later on in
the play, or as a boy, his lack of understanding of the situation. Alternatively, it again highlights the
surreal concept that Michael can remember things that may or may not have happened as he is not
present in those scenes.
The False Memory ­ " B ut t he re is o n e m emo r y of t h a t Lugh n as a ti m e t h at v is its
m e m o st oft en a nd w ha t f a sc in a tes m e ab ou t t h at me m or y is t ha t it o w es
n ot h i ng to fa ct ..."The play is largely focused on Michael's relationship with the memories of his
past, as his interspersed blocks of narration illustrate, but there is the question raised that, in fact, did
most of the play, where Michael isn't present, even happen? It is all supposed to be from his memory,
so how can he remember something which isn't true? The ending sets this question further in the
audience's minds when Michael talks about a memory that truly does have no factual ground at all, and
you can see elements of this seeping in throughout the play itself, (such as blasts of thirties music or
referencing to historical context) and you can see it played out as if peppered with bits of memory that
didn't necessarily happen at those times or in that order. It does have a dream-like quality for these
reasons, and only when we wake up do we realise something was strange ­ I believe this is the effect
Friel intended to create for the audience. With memory, we often remember what stands out to us, not
necessarily in the right order, but what Michael makes plain at the end is that his version of events is

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Eleanor PrescottDancing at LughnasaRevision Notes
both real and imagined at the same time, and his memories become more true to feelings as they go
further from the actual order of events.…read more


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