“It is often said that protagonists in plays are flawed in some way. ” To what degree and with what effect are the strengths and weaknesses of the protagonists significant to two or three plays you have studied. In the universality of human experience, every individual has endured a serious flaw in character and lapse of judgement. Playwrights such as Ibsen and Friel move from this macrocosmic view of the human condition, and confine the natural human tendency to reveal their flaws, often in a way that prevents them from achieving their full potential.
In the plays ‘A Doll’s House’ and ‘Translations’ written by Ibsen and Friel respectively, the protagonists have rather ambiguous roles. Ibsen twists the traditional stock characters of the late 19th century to flip the convention of the well made play, where the protagonist is just as flawed as the apparent antagonist. In ‘Translations’, there is no specific protagonist, rather Friel introduces a varied cast of individuals whom we are encouraged to empathise with, who are all inherently kind and good-natured, yet all deeply flawed.
Whatever strengths that the protagonists display in both these plays, they both conclude with the realisation that their weaknesses are the focal point of their human existence, a message which is conveyed to the audience, while this realisation has very different effects on the conclusion of both plays. Both playwrights approach the protagonists’ weaknesses and strengths with varying dramatic techniques, from the physical properties on the stage, to language usage, where lighting and stage directions could also be used to emphasise these natural human qualities.
Among the techniques that the playwrights use to outline their characters weaknesses, the use of language is paramount. In various instances in ‘Translations’, Hugh’s weaknesses as a character is seen through his incompleteness, reflected by the incomplete groups of three. Whenever Hugh has three items to announce, he only ever announces two of them, something that Doalty parodies ‘Question A – Am I drunk? Question B- Am I Sober? ’. Another protagonist of sorts battles with his own identity as a person, and consequently as a man of his culture, opposing his brother when questioning the importance of his name, ‘It’s only a name.
It’s the same old me, isn’t it? ’ Friel uses Manus as a means of questioning Owen’s loyalty and identity to implicate his treachery towards his own culture, ‘but there are always the Rolands, aren’t there? ’ Similarly, the language that Torvald uses toward Nora in ‘A Doll’s House’ demeans her, with Nora deliberately playing along with it, concerting the negative image of her being a ‘twittering squirrel’, and a ‘little squirrel bustling around’. Interestingly, it is with the language that the protagonists show their strongest attributes.
In the second half of the final act of ‘A Doll’s House’, the dynamics of the conversation with Torvald changes dramatically. In contrast to the beginning, where Torvald dominated the conversation with his demeaning language while talking to Nora, Nora takes over the dominant role, often not even letting Torvald have a word in. Ibsen strengthens her position by filling her speech with short, sharp imperative sentences, and absolutes – ‘Give me mine’, ‘I cannot spend the night in a strange man’s room. Strangely, the language and the communication between Yolland and Maire show a certain resilience of the characters. Due to the language barrier between the two, the only way for Yolland to communicate is through the names of towns and villiages that he has learnt. We later come to understand that, in this way, Maire also communicated with Yolland through learning names of English places close to Yollands heart, ‘He drew a map for me on the wet sand and wrote the names on it’. Sets and props are yet another way in which both Ibsen and Friel develop and show the strengths and weaknesses in the protagonists.
Ibsen uses the visual presence of the macaroons and further references to them as a means of introducing some of Nora’s flaws. The macaroons symbolises Nora’s deception, as she quickly hides them, wipes her mouth to get rid of the sugar, and lies about eating them to Torvald, when questioned about them, replies ‘No, certainly not,’, and maintains the deception by implying that there macaroons were ‘some that Christine gave me’. The ever-present image of the Christmas tree also comments on Nora’s flaws.
Just as the new Christmas tree at the beginning, by Act II, is ‘stripped of its ornaments and with burned-down candle ends on its dishevelled branches’, Nora can also be seen to be dishevelled, just after the ending of Act I and her arduous conversation with Torvald. The visually ‘burned-down candles’ reflect Nora’s weary mind-set, as she faces the worry of her discrepancy being revealed. The Piano, which is portrayed through both its visual presence and its rhythmic music shows the way in which Nora allows herself to be confined by the shackles of male dominance.
She dances along to Torvald playing the piano, and lets herself come under Torvald’s command influence, ‘Slower! Slower! ’. Conversely, the commonly used prop in ‘Translations’, the Poteen, reflects the dominance that alcohol has over the characters, particularly Hugh, with a letter from a former student describing him as, ‘the aul drunken school master’, and his own son realising the negative effect that it poses, ‘Better hide that bottle. Father’s just up and he’d be better without it. The set also plays a part in exposing the flaws in the protagonist, with the opening set of ‘Translations’ introducing us to the degeneration and gradual deterioration of the main characters, and through whom we observe the beginnings of the collapse of the Irish identity. In addition, there are several ways in which the set is used to exemplify the strengths of the protagonist. In ‘A Doll’s House’, the door is perhaps the ultimate visual piece on set that represents Nora at her most strongest.
As she walks out of the door into the hall, we see Torvald sitting quietly, a distraught man talking to himself, while at the end, ‘The sound of a door shutting is heard bellow. ’ The director could change the dramatic impact of this sound, and the use of the door by having it slam violently, or shut gently, or creaking, depending on the dramatic impact that they are searching for; but despite this, the shutting of the door represents a newfound independence for Nora. The usage of stage directions and dramatic devices such as lighting are used with fascinating effects.
In ‘A Doll’s House’ Ibsen uses stage directions of which the actors and directors would have to follow almost religiously, including the smallest of details. These are used in ways to show some of Nora’s weaknesses; for example, we see that Nora has little control over maters herself, but that she has to manipulate her dominant husband to achieve he goals, used through body language ‘[playing with his coat buttons and without raising her eyes to his] If you really want to give me something Torvald… you might give me money’.
Similarly, lighting is used to point out further deception and manipulation. In the seduction scene with Dr. Rank, the lighting is constantly lowered on the set, which reinforces the feel that Nora is descending into a moral corruptness by her desperation of seducing a sickly, dying man. The flaw of Nora is more a moral one, whereas in ‘Translations’, Manus’ weaknesses are also seen through the ever present physical affliction that he has. This ‘lame son…footering around in the edge school’ is an ever present reminder for the audiences of the troubles that are facing Ireland and the Irish culture. To conclude, despite the sentiment that the strengths and weaknesses of the protagonists aid us in understanding the message of the play, perhaps they aren’t as significant as we may imagine. Perhaps, instead, it is the audience’s reaction that is significant, the shocking realisation that we could to, be capable of those very weaknesses, and could exhibit those strengths that make the characters onstage the microcosmic model of a macrocosmic human experience.
Cite this Protagonist and Nora
Protagonist and Nora. (2017, Mar 20). Retrieved from https://graduateway.com/protagonist-and-nora/