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Brian Friel’s Transformation from Short Fiction Writer to Dramatist


To date, no critic has sufficiently explained why Irish playwright Brian Friel moved from writing short fiction and drama to solely writing drama by the end of the 1960s. Especially given the continuing vitality of his career and the growth of his reputation globally, there is a pressing need for such an explanation. The accepted narrative that has emerged in criticism of Friel’s work, suggests that he realized that his short fiction was too imitative of that written by the two Irish masters at the time, Sean O’Faolain and Frank O’Connor. But there are several other compelling reasons for his commitment to drama and rejection of short fiction. These include Friel’s experimentation with other genres such as radio drama and journalism; his realization— expressed in his major essays on theatre—that only drama, with its ability to enchant audiences, would allow him to depict his consistent theme of flux while also appealing to a potential community within the theater; and his interest in politics, which are inherently performative in Northern Ireland. This last commitment kept him in the dramatic arena as the conflict in Northern Ireland dragged on through 1970s and 1980s, and Friel’s founding of the Field Day Theatre Company allowed him to stage complex articulations of often calcified identities in the province and model alternatives to them.

Comparative Drama is carried by JSTOR and Project MUSE.