Protagonist and Nora

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“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...
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