This play is about language. We begin in a hedge-school where Sarah is unable to even speak her name, while another student is quoting Greek literature. The English Army comes in to essentially rename Ireland as it "belongs" to the King. Friel has written a play that is tackling the issue of an advancing world that is being taken by force, but yet has convinced the very people of Baile Beag to participate in being taken; this is the role of Owen who sees his job as a simple means to being paid a decent wage.
The Greek spoken in the play is considered a dead language, one that no one in this advancing world can use to get ahead. English is the language to speak, the language of the world. The question becomes, is it the language of the world because it is best or because it is forced upon everyone to learn it? Friel makes this question clear when Captain Lancey declares that the entire village will be destroyed if Yolland isn't found within twenty-four hours. The English Army has taken every name, every bit of history that belongs to the placenames of this Irish village and changed it to suit their desire to rule every inch of land in Ireland, and it is clear that their regard for the Irish people is that if one English soldier goes missing an entire village must be taken away. Having them evicted, their livestock shot and their homes destroyed represents the English wiping them from history as if they were never there. And, this is a major point within the play: that a history of a people will be taken away if allowed to do so.