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British Romans and Irish Carthaginians: Anticolonial Metaphor in Heaney, Friel, and McGuinness

Elizabeth Butler Cullingford
PMLA
Vol. 111, No. 2 (Mar., 1996), pp. 222-239
DOI: 10.2307/463103
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/463103
Page Count: 18
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British Romans and Irish Carthaginians: Anticolonial Metaphor in Heaney, Friel, and McGuinness
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Abstract

Frank McGuinness's Carthaginians (1988) uses the historical relation between Rome and Carthage as a metaphor for the contemporary struggles between Britain and the nationalist community in the North of Ireland. The play, an elegy for thirteen Irish civilians murdered by British paratroopers on Bloody Sunday (30 Jan. 1972) in Derry, draws subversive power from a trope that since the eighteenth century has focused imaginative Irish resistance to British colonial rule. I first explore the history and the gendering of the trope, from early English myths of Trojan descent and medieval Irish genealogies through eighteenth-century antiquarians and philologists, nineteenth-century novelists, Matthew Arnold, and James Joyce. I then examine poems from Seamus Heaney's North, Brian Friel's play Translations, and McGuinness's Carthaginians to show how the pressure of history has revitalized the Rome-Carthage trope, which functions as origin myth, colonial parable, and site of intersection between nationalism and sexuality.

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