The Mad Thick Feck: Using Linguistic Clues to Characterize Padraic

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    The Mad Thick Feck: Using Linguistic Clues to Characterize Padraic

    David Clarke

    Sam Houston State Univeristy

    2009 HICAH Proceedings Page 1680

  • The Mad Thick Feck: Using Linguistic Clues to Characterize Padraic

    Linguistics, a diverse field, full of depth, can provide valuable insights into countless

    aspects of literary texts. Linguistic analyses of poetry and prose are abundant, yet drama does not

    seem to get the linguistic treatment as often. However, a linguistic analysis of a characters

    speech in dramatic texts can shed much light on how the character is portrayed. I argue that

    Martin McDonagh uses language to cleverly depict a character that, because of his position of

    power within a terrorist cell, expects everyone he encounters to yield to that power. Then again,

    because of McDonaghs use of linguistic manipulations, which show who has control within

    conversations, the people he interacts with actually yield to him because he is seen as being

    crazy, somewhat slow-witted, and very dangerous. Therefore, these characters do not see him as

    someone to fear because of his position of power; instead, they acquiesce because they wish to

    avoid pain, suffering, and fatalities at his hands, or because they have romantic feelings for him.

    A Wee Bit of Background Information

    Introducing Yere Playwright

    Martin McDonagh, a modern Anglo-Irish playwright, has yet to earn his spot in the canon

    of English literature, but he may be well on his way. He was born in 1970 in the city of London,

    England to Irish expatriates. He has published six plays, four of which have been nominated for

    the Best Play category of the Tony Awards. Another play of his will be published in 2009. He

    has written and directed the short film Six Shooter, which won an Academy Award in 2006, and

    the 2008 film In Bruges. He also has written several radio plays, two of which are award-

    winning. Most importantly, McDonagh received several Obie Awards, Drama Desk awards, the

    Critics Circle Theatre Award for the Most Promising Playwright in 1996, and the Best New Play

    award from the Laurence Olivier Awards for The Pillowman in 2004 (Internet Movie Database,

    2009 HICAH Proceedings Page 1681

  • 2008). Additionally, he has held the honor of being a resident playwright for the Royal National

    Theatre in London (Casey, 2008).

    McDonagh is seen as being instrumental in the development of the In Your Face

    genreplays containing controversial and confrontational materialof theatre; therefore, it is

    not surprising that his 2001 piece, Lieutenant of Inishmore, which I have chosen to analyze, took

    five years to appear on a London stage. Trevor Nunn, a prominent artistic director, and his peers

    feared that staging it could possibly be inflammatory and disrupt the Northern Ireland peace

    process (Internet Movie Database, 2008). The controversial terrorist characters mixed with the

    bloody, absurd plot seemed to be too much for the stage upon first glance. In spite of the

    hesitation around staging Inishmore, the play opened to strong reviews, declaring the play as a

    magnificent comic construction, energetic and hugely entertaining (Harkin, 2002), claiming

    McDonagh's play is a hugely enjoyable black satire on the mindset that has led to cycles of

    violence and generations of misery in Ireland (Garner, 2002), and that the work is an

    audacious triumph for the Anglo-Irish playwright (Rooney, 2006). Critics lauded McDonaghs

    black comedy, and noted its use of satire, thereby proving that there was more than blood and

    laughs to his work. The work has a depth and richness all of its own.

    A Nice Sliceen of Plot

    The plot of Lieutenant of Inishmore centers on Padraic and his best friend for fifteen

    years, Wee Thomasa cat. After receiving a phone call, while torturing a drug pusher, Padraic

    is informed that Wee Thomas is poorly and has been off his food from his father, Donny

    (McDonagh, 2003, p. 16). Therefore, Padraic decides to return to his home on the island of

    Inishmore. Unfortunately for Donny and his young friend Davey, Wee Thomas is dead and their

    subsequent lie about the cat does not stall Padraic from visiting home like they had hoped.

    2009 HICAH Proceedings Page 1682

  • Fearing for their lives, they form a scheme to trick Padraic. Daveys sister, Mairead, has an

    orange cat that they attempt to dye black with shoe polish, thinking this will be enough to trick


    Meanwhile, four men, who actually killed Wee Thomas, from Northern Ireland are

    stalking about the island of Inishmore waiting for Padraic to return. Nevertheless, Padraic returns

    to Inishmore and is not fooled by the replacement for his cat; so, he kills it. Demanding answers

    about where Wee Thomas is, Padraic ties up Davey and Donny with the intentions of executing

    them. However, the Northern Irishmen tie Padraic up and drag him off stage for his own

    execution, stalling him from executing Davey and Donny. Mairead, with her rifle and at a

    distance of sixty yards, blinds the four men. These six characters return on stage, and Padraic

    kills the blinded men one by one. However, the leader of the Northern Irishmen, Christy, admits

    to having killed Wee Thomas, so Padraic tortures him before executing him.

    As Davey and Donny are cutting up the bodies of the four dead men on stage, Padraic

    and Mairead prepare to go to Ulster, where they plan to perform terrorist attacks. Padraic admits

    to Mairead that he himself had to kill a cat earlier that day because it was unhygienic

    (McDonagh, 2003, p. 49). Padraic asks Mairead to clean her bloody dress before they leave, and

    she does. Yet, she happens to find the body of her catthe very cat that Padraic killeddead in

    the bathroom. Displeased with Padraic, she kills him and orders Davey and Donny to chop up his

    body too. After she makes her final exit, Wee Thomas, alive and well, appears on stage. It does

    not take Davey and Donny long to realize that some poor cat, which was thought to be Wee

    Thomas, was killed and that all the bloodshed that the audience witnessed was in vain. Absurd

    and humorous throughout, the play obviously satirizes the mentality of the Northern Irish

    terrorist cells while possibly disgusting audience members with brutality and gore.

    2009 HICAH Proceedings Page 1683

  • Introducing Linguistics & Stylistics into the Fray

    Setting the Stage

    H. P. Grice (1975) in Logic and conversation gave linguistic and stylistic researchers a

    priceless commodity for describing dramatic texts. He introduced the ideas of conventional and

    conversational implicature; however, the idea of the cooperative principle, a part of the

    conversational implicature, is the most valuable asset of this article. He states mak[ing] your

    conversational contribution such as required, at the stage at which it occurs, by the accepted

    purpose or direction of the talk exchange in which you are engaged is the cooperative principle

    (Grice, 1975, p. 45). Grice (1975) then distinguishes four categories that make up the cooperative


    Table 1

    Grices Qualities and Maxims

    Category Maxims

    Quantityrelates to the quantity of information to be provided.

    1. Make your contribution as informative as is required (for the current purposes of the exchange).

    2. Do not make you contribution more informative than is required.

    Qualitytry to make your contribution one that is true.

    1. Do not say what you believe to be false.2. Do not say that for which you lack

    adequate evidence. Relationallow for the fact that subjects are legitimately changed. 1. Be relevant

    Mannerrelating not to what is said but, rather, to HOW what is said is to be said.

    1. Be perspicuous. 2. Avoid ambiguity. 3. Be brief (avoid unnecessary prolixity). 4. Be orderly.

    Note. From Logic and Conversation by H.P. Grice, 1975, Speech Acts, p. 45-46. Adapted by the author.

    These categories and maxims help people to understand how people should converse. Obviously,

    if one needs help repairing an automobile, following the maxims for quantity that person would

    expect to know only what was required, not more and not less. Therefore, if he needs four

    2009 HICAH Proceedings Page 1684

  • screws, he would expect to receive four screws, not three and not five. Following the maxims of

    quality, if one bakes a cake and is in need of sugar she would expect to receive sugar, not salt.

    Additionally, she would not expect to receive a novelty rubber spoon if they need a spoon.

    Staying relevant, when making a cake one should not expect to be handed a book he should read

    or be given information that he would not need until later; for example, being handed a cloth pot

    holder while mixing the cake batter. Lastly, regarding manner, one would expect the person who

    she is conversing with to make their contribution to the conversation clear without belaboring

    their ideas (Grice, 1975, p. 47). Therefore, to follow manner, if only a simple yes or no is

    required, one should not make their choice and then defend it unnecessarily to the person or

    people he is conversing with.

    Short (1989), explains that with Grices maxims, literary criticism and linguistic analyses

    of plays could produce suggestions for per