Throughout ‘Murmuring Judges’, women are portrayed in varying, often dichotomous ways, having either much or little power, and being either assertive or submissively coquettish. In Act 2 Scene 6, women are presented as having their own secret culture, running parallel to the dominant culture of the men pervading the police force. For example, after Sandra light-heartedly laments the fact that Irina has chosen to speak to a woman, the stage directions dictate that “For the first time they both smile. The fact that the first time they smile is inspired by Sandra’s referring to a liaison exclusively between women evinces that the women have their own kind of female culture which they are aware of. In addition, the form of dialogue which is taken by the entire scene facilitates the presentation of a female secret culture as the only speakers in this scene are female, hence no males are involved, making this a purely female affair.
Also, no other characters enter the scene as it progresses, so the conversation between Sandra and Irina, and the issues appertaining secrecy and injustice which it raises, are more well-received by the audience, who focus their attention totally on the speech and aesthetic expressions of the two women, and their meanings. For instance, towards the end of the scene, there grows “a real warmth suddenly between the two women,” building upon the aforementioned smile share between them, emphasising their rapport and so the matriarchal nature of their culture.
In addition, the power possessed by the women is augmented by Hare’s use of setting: the women are granted power due to their physical oversight of the city; “Below her, London is laid out. ” Their being above the city emphasises their righteousness as they seek to restore some of Gerard’s innocence by reducing his sentence, and this is salient to the audience as it is visually represented.
However, in other scenes, only the patriarchal culture is evident, such as in Act 2 Scene 3, in which Sandra instructs Barry to “just ask the boys, all women are [naggers]. ” Use of the plural noun, ‘boys’, portrays the police force as collectively male, thus conveying the notion that it is a heavily male-dominated environment. In contrast, in Act 1 Scene 2, wherein Irina is introduced, Sir Peter refers to Irina’s having “all the assets needed in a Bar,” to which Cuddeford replies, “Yes, I see those. Most clearly. The noun, ‘assets’, is commonly used as a euphemism for mammary glands, and Cuddeford’s response palpably confirms this due to the superlative and adverb phrase, ‘most clearly’, which suggests the assets are primarily visual. This male-dominated, misogynistic discourse objectifies Irina, disempowering women in general since the masculine talk regards women as subservient. In the previously mentioned three scenes, Hare is granting more power to women by providing them with their own secret culture, and conveying the fact that the legal system was largely patriarchal during the late 1980’s-early ’90’s.
Therefore, the 1991 audience would comprehend the disparity in power between the superior white males and inferior females, hence Hare would have been successful in raising awareness about the gender inequality in the judiciary system. This effect would still be present in a contemporary audience, because, twenty years after the original performance in 1991, there are still sex- and race-related prejudices in today’s police force and court system; for example the Telegraph newspaper reported upon a male policeman’s misogynistic remarks about a female colleague recently.
In the focus scene, and in the play as a whole, women are revealed to have more influence than is explicitly visible on first glance; Sandra and Irina’s clandestine rendezvous in Act 2 Scene 6 leads to, in the final scene of the play, Act 2 Scene 8, Sandra’s seeking the Chief Superintendent’s attention, most probably to discuss the injustice of Gerard, which was sanctioned to occur by male characters; Sir Peter failed at defending him well in court and Barry manipulated the case by illegally planting Semtex.
These events are so focal to the play that they remain in the audience members’ minds throughout, hence the mistakes which the audience remembers are caused by males, influencing them to form an inclination, conscious or unconscious, against the males, who tend to be corrupt and self-serving.
It is the two focal females in ‘Murmuring Judges’, Sandra and Irina, who actively try to reverse the unjust outcome of Gerard’s case, exemplifying female influence which Hare is conveying stems from women’s maternally compassionate instincts, one can deduce, since all males’ attitudes towards Gerard are that he “did wrong”, as Beckett proclaims in Act 1 Scene 4, whereas Sandra defends Gerard in Act 2 Scene 3, saying that the situation “isn’t right” and, in Act 1 Scene 6, Irina admits that she “has been worried” about him.
The 1991 audience and the modern audience would respond to this in the same way, by realising that the women’s intrinsic desire for justice, in contrast with men’s attitude of solving crime with maximum ease means that women deserve more power than they have at present. In Act 2 Scene 3, the two women in the scene, Sandra and Esther, can be identified into two stereotypes: Sandra is the archetypal assertive, apparently independent woman, and Esther, the flirtatious coquette of the males (for instance, she play along with Lester’s ‘vagina dentata’ joke, declaring, “yeah, I’ve had fantastic bridgework”).
However, Sandra’s influence grows as the scene progresses into a dialogue between Sandra and Barry, akin but concurrently different to how Sandra and Irina engage in a dialogue in the focus scene, in that women hold power throughout that scene, whereas Barry’s obstinacy born by his opinionated, monochrome views, causes a fluctuation in power between the man and the woman, reflecting a real-life power struggle between the sexes in the police force and in the courts.
The fact that the power oscillates between Barry and Sandra is Hare’s giving women more power than in reality they had, and still do have, albeit to a greater extent today, since men had more power than women in the courts and the police force, which consist of a greater proportion of men than women.