Explore how effectively the first six pages of ‘making history’ prepare the audience for an understanding of the character of O’Neill. To the audience the opening scenes, portray different sides of O’Neill’s persona which later become important, e.g. his preoccupation with the truth and the way he phlegmatically deals with certain issues. These aspects of his character are varied and although crucial at the end not so influential on the audiences perception of O’Neill.
Hugh O’Neill, the main character, is introduced immediately to the audience as the high status leader of the Gaelic Irish. We of his importance because ‘The archbishop Lombard’ had to wait three days to see him and that many other high status characters would have his attention, for example ‘The lord Deputy’ or ‘The Lord Chief Justice.’ His importance is further later when we find that by the Irish he is referred to as ‘The O’Neill’ and that he was ‘crowned upon the crowning stone at Tully-Hogue(later destroyed by the English to erase the Irish royal heritage) .Order now
In these opening moments we see O’Neill as a laid-back person who would rather tend to his flowers than attend to his duties as leader, although later we see how seriously he has taken his role, for example when talking to Mabel he says ‘I have spent my life trying to do two things…. Holding together a harassed and confused people…maintaining a life of dignity.’ This is an insight into O’Neill as a person he not only has do deal with politics but his personal life and juggling both is a difficult task. However O’Neill must not only deal with the politics of Ireland but also of Europe. He could even possibly be accused of taking his position of ‘The O’Neill’ for granted when he ignores the warnings from Lombard that the Spanish’s interest in Ireland is ‘practical and political’, and that they will only do what’s best for Spain.
With that in mind it is not such a surprise that he ends this life as a ‘Soured emigree’ after loosing all he holds dear in the fateful battle against a victorious English army. Eventually unable to even afford a bottle of wine and yet he is still, in his mind at least, the high status man who held the attention of others of similar or higher status. A man who was once able to match Queen Elizabeth in financial matters at least, for example the finger watch that he bought Mabel, ‘the only other person who I know who has one is queen Elizabeth.’
Brian Friel uses parallel conversations to emphasize upon the contrast between politics and home life in the opening pages and at the end he uses the same technique to compare Lombard’s true “history” of O’Neill and O’Neill’s version of the truth. We see how O’Neill can manipulate a conversation to suite what is currently on his mind we see this with Mary in scene 2 where he takes control and directs her response.
Catholicism versus Protestantism is the key aspect of the play and we learn early on that O’Neill is, clearly, a catholic and yet he marries an English girl, Mabel (who’s brother is the reigning queens Marshall) under a protestant bishop. This cause outrage, and Hugh O’Donnell (O’Neill’s brother in law) threatens to not talk to him because of it. This is almost an act of heresy and yet O’Neill doesn’t seem to think it matters at all, just like his vow to the queen, it’s just a ‘token gesture’ that is ‘politically quaint’ and ‘it means nothing…’ He is a very good politician and understands that he has to try and keep people happy and if that means swearing an oath to the protestant queen, even though your plotting her death, then so be it.
Another key issue is the fact of O’Neill’s upbringing. Brought up by an English family, his Irishness is diluted, e.g. accent, however he remembers one little remark made when he was a child that spoilt all the good years and times he had. ‘Those Irishmen who live like subjects play but as the fox which when you have him on a chain will seem tame; but if he ever gets loose, he will be wild again’ the English, Sir Henry, knew what would become of him and he has remembered the feeling of that ‘trivial little hurt’ for so long.
This could explain his rashness and his rushed sense of preparation for the battle of kinsale. As Mabel pointed out to Hugh’ calculation – deliberation- caution’ had always been his plan, his way. However the thought of getting back at England, at the Protestants was too much for O’Neill the possibility of a victory for a Catholic Confederation. After twenty years of using tact, politics and his brain he abandons them in a vain attempt to unit ‘ A bunch of squabbling chieftains.’
The Book is the focal point of the play and the audience hear of O’Neill’s distaste of it early on, however he becomes more and more involved with it as the play goes on focusing on his concept of the truth and what he thinks the book should be like. The contrast between his views and Lombard’s often angers him but Lombard always evades his view of what the truth is but tells the naï¿½ve O’Neill ‘what is history if not a story’.
This issue of truth runs through out the play and O’Neill is obsessed towards the end about whether Lombard’s truth will be the total truth, this naivety is one O’Neill’s major flaws. This naivety is also present when Mabel tries to tell him that England will throw everything into this war O’Neill reply’s ‘so will Spain’. His inability to listen in these situations is what cost him everything twice he was told, by people he would normally trust, that Spain is only interested in what’s best for Spain however O’Neill refuses to accept this.