Academic journal article Interactions

Paganism and Dance(s) as Instruments of Bakhtinian Carnivalesque as Reflected in Brian Friel's Dancing at Lughnasa

Academic journal article Interactions

Paganism and Dance(s) as Instruments of Bakhtinian Carnivalesque as Reflected in Brian Friel's Dancing at Lughnasa

Article excerpt

Brian Friel's 1990 play, Dancing at Lughnasa, is, in fact, reflective of socio-cultural status of women in 1936 Ireland. It is a clear indication of social and religious conservatism of the country and the repressive impact of Catholicism particularly on women in the 1930s. These socio-cultural facts are represented either directly or indirectly by means of symbolic representations and Irish folklore. They are also presented via a flow of conflicts between the liberating and instinctively shaped primitive religion intrinsic to pre-Christian paganism and the norms of Christianity which are associated with civilisation, order and discipline. It may be observed that paganism defies the determinism of Christianity. In this sense, that the play takes place in a short period of Lughnasa, a Celtic festival celebrated in the honour of one of the greatest gods, Lugh, is not a coincidence. By means of this festival, reflective of Irish folklore and metaphorically a Bakhtinian carnivalesque atmosphere, Friel questions and criticises the hegemony, norms and so-called fixed order of Catholicism which suppresses women and represses their feelings in the 1930s.

Actually, as means of liberation, all festivities are times when people act as they wish without the restrictions of the Establishment/ the status quo, and particularly carnivals, in Bakhtin's words, create a "second life" (9) in which they feel a sense of temporary relief from the burdens of the maintenance of the status quo. In Dancing at Lughnasa which is embroidered with the characteristics of carnivalesque, this relief is enabled through dances that coincide with Lughnasa. The play as a whole may be regarded as the narrator Michael's memoir of dances which create this "second life", a dream world for his aunts: "When I remember it, I think of it as dancing. Dancing with eyes half closed because to open them would break the spell" (DL 71). If/when the whole play is analysed as Michael's memoir of the temporary relief of his mother and four aunts from the heavy burden of Christianity throughout Lughnasa, Lughnasa, and instances of dances observed in the play may be said to be reflecting the characteristics of Bakhtinian carnivalesque. In the light of all these arguments, this paper aims at arguing that paganism and dances bring a Bakhtinian carnivalesque atmosphere of laughter, joy and relief to the boring and suffocating lives of the sisters shaped by the Church. In this respect, paganism and dances may be regarded as instruments of temporary relief from the burdens and temporary distortion of "facts" in society. They bring the sisters the chance of writing and acting their own "script" through denying the roles determined by the Church.

In fact, Dancing at Lughnasa is about a historical period in Ireland, the 1930s, a decade shortly after Ireland was declared as a Free State in 1922. This decade is of great significance particularly for Irish women because the 1937 Constitution which determined the status of women in society was formed in this period. Actually, "[d]espite some tensions between the Church and militant republicans, the new Irish State after 1922 was closely and continually influenced by Catholic thinking" (Hussey 381). The Irish Free State, which gained independence from England in 1922, continued its strict link with the Catholic Church. In the 1930s Eamonn de Valera, who was a leading political figure in Irish politics, "worked closely with the Catholic Archbishop of Dublin, John Charles McQuaid" (Hussey 382). As a result of this close contact, de Valera created a new Constitution in 1937 which began to be formed in 1936 (Girvin 140), and which "was explicitly religious in its overtones and some of its provisions" (Hussey 382). According to this constitution, "[w]omen were placed in the home: 'In particular, the State recognises that by her life within the home, woman gives to the State a support without which the common good cannot be achieved' (Article 41. …

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