Dancing at Lughnasa

A revision guide for Dancing at Lughnasa (AQA)

  • Created by: Kerry
  • Created on: 02-04-12 16:12

Brian Friel

  • Brian Friel is an Irish dramatist, theatre director and author. 'Dacning at Lughnasa' is one of his most successful plays.
  • 'Dancing at Lughnasa' premiered at the Abbey Theatre, transferred to London's West End and went on to Broadway, where it won 3 Tony Awards in 1992 including 'Best Play'
  • The play os loosley based on the lives of Friel's mother and aunts who lived in the Glenties, on the west-coast of Donegal.
  • In 1998, it was adapted into a film directed by Pat O' Connor (I recommend that you watch it because it gives you an insight how other people interpret it and writing this in an essay can give you better marks)
  • Friel's play, 'Dancing at Lughnasa', employs the central motif of dancing and music to explore themes of Irish cultural identity, nostalgia, historical change and pagan ritual.
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Important !!!

  • 'Dancing at Lughnasa' is set in 1936, but was written in the 1990's
  • This means that Brian Friels interpretations may be slightly wrong because the ideals and opinions of people would have changed from 1936 to the 1990's so there could be modern influences.
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The Mundy sisters are completely isolated in their home - they are a distance away from the main village meaning that it is a long walk for them to meet anyone or get anything.

  • this shows the significance of the radio - gives them an insight into what is happening in the world

There isn't an awful lot in their home - showing their economic state. They have enough to get by and look after themselves, though it is all crammed into their small home.

  • "some gracious touches - flowers, pretty curtains, an attractive dresser arrangement etc"
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Characters - Kate

Mother-figure to all the sisters - holds the maturity as the only wage earner and takes responsibility because she's the eldest.

Strongly disapproves of dancing because of her strong catholic beliefs and the church's disapproval of dancing.

She dislikes Gerry, but accepts him because of his relationship with Chris and Michael.

Kate suppresses her emotions, but later reveals her fears of the future to Maggie.

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Characters - Maggie

Maggie looks after the house whilst Kate is at work, stepping forward as the sister 'in charge'. Can be seen as a father-figure to Michael.

She is very light-hearted and has a great sense of fun - her means for survival in such an isolated home. She signs and tells jokes throughout the play which keeps the action going.

Maggie is the first one to rebel and break into dance - 'ring leader'.

She is very compassionate and comforts Kate in her worries about the future.

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Characters - Rose

Rose is very 'simple' and her child-like behaviour reflects her disability.

She is a very determined character and combined with her child-like innocence she is made into a very special character.

She is convinced that she is in love with Danny Bradley and runs away from bilberry picking to meet him.

Her sudden disappearance panics the other sisters because of her vulnerability and need for constant protection.

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Characters - Agnes

Agnes earns a small amount of money through knitting gloves at home along with Rose.

Agnes is protective of rose and looks after her more than anyone else. Even when faced with the knitting factory, Agnes supports Rose.

She is shy and hides her true personality throughout the play. She is in love with Gerry, however, and when they dance Agnes comes 'alive'.

She is a gifted dancer and reads romantic novels.

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  • Friel draws our attention to the character's clothing - this can have some significance towards each person's personality and the circumstances they are in.
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Characters - Chris

Chris is the only sister who seems to have had any life experiances - she is the youngest, but with a child.

She is a life-loving and trusting character, which has been tested with all of Gerry's promises that he failed to meet.

She still loves Gerry despite his failure to visit and so she finds it difficult to hold a grudge. When they are together she has fantasies of their future.

She is a good mother to Michael, her "love child" - as described by Jack.

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Characters - Gerry

Gerry is the father to Michael and constantly breaks his promises to vistit him and Chris.

He is an expert dancer which brings an air of romance - has a great impact when he enters the Mundy home because of their lack of romance.

He is an attractive character who makes Chris laugh. Gerry is also adored by Agnes.

Kate does not like Gerry, but tolerates him.

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Characters - Jack

Jack needs constant care and is re-learning the English langauge throughout the play.

He is seen as a disgrace because he went "native" by working in Uganda for 25 years - this means he is rejected by the church.

Jack reminisces back to before he went to Africa and mainly remembers their mother's expression - her death deeply effected him.

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Characters - Michael

Michael plays a double act - he is the narrator as a grown man, but he is also a young by, though this half of him is just a voice.

Michael narrates the play and tries to create the atmosphere though it won't be 100% accurate because he is retelling his memories.

He is the centre of the play; without him, it would make no sense.

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Historical context

  • The play is set in a small rural community in Ireland in the 1930s.
  • The power of the catholic religion is evident in the small village - i.e. they don't approve of dancing saying that it is a factor in the number of illegitimate births. (Ironic as Chris and Gerry met at a dance - Michael was born out of wedlock)
  • There are certail pagan practices mentioned such as the 'Festival of Lughnasa' where a young boy was burned in a ritual - Jack practised the rituals whilst he was in Africa.
  • Povery is also evident in the cultural change. Kate loses her job and is forced to look elsewhere.
  • The change in economy is evident particularly towards the end of the text - the growth of a factory in Donegal means that no more handmade gloves are being bought, putting Agnes and Rose out of work.
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Other Important Factors

Dancing - the central motif of the entire play. Dancing allows the sisters an elemnt of freedom - chance to release their true personalities. The sisters thouroughly enjoy dancing, except Kate who disapproves of it because of the Catholic church's beliefs.

Radio - the radio, nicknames 'Marconi' by the sisters, allows them to dance. It is their one step towards modernity and having a wireless set stands out when they are situated in such as isolated area. The radio is temperamental, but the fact they have named it shows it's significance.

Kites - the kites made by Michael in the play show significance. Usually, kites are symbollic of freedom, however on the front pf them are faces - representation intrigues Gerry.

Note = the character's positioning at the beginning and the end of the play are very similar - reflects the narration as a memory.

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