Top Girls was first staged in 1982 at the Royal Court Theatre, in London. However, ideas for the play began in the late 1970s, as states Amelia Howe Kritzer in her book ‘The Plays of Caryl Churchill’:
In the mid 1970s, [Caryl Churchill] developed an integrated socialist-feminist political analysis which has become increasingly explicit and consistent […] Churchill’s originalityas a dramatist is matched by an unusual ability to perceive and analyse the basic patterns that maintain an oppressive social order. (1)
This ability blossoms in Top Girls in which she acutely analyses the patriarchal society of the 1980s and sharply criticizes the way feminism evolved within it.
Caryl Churchill has described the genesis of the play as following:
[…] I had been toAmerica…and had been talking to women there who were saying things were going very well: they were getting far more women executives, women vice-presidents and so on […] I wanted it [Top Girls ] to set off, with all those historical women celebrating Marlene’s achievement, to look as if it were going to be a celebration of women achieving things, and then put the other perspectives on it, to show that just toachieve the same things that men had achieved in capitalist society would not be a good object. (Naismith, Top Girls, com. 23)
The during-after-before plot movement increases the dramatic impact of those other perspectives put on Marlene’s promotion in the first act. It allows the author to start her play with a grandiose opening and then let the audience see how much this spectacular firstpainting is actually wrinkled and how women have failed in their fight against patriarchy. This, I would like to analyse. Starting with the play’s depiction of the patriarchal society, I will then unfold on the failures made by women: their erroneous belief that taking the attributes of men would free them, their subscribing to capitalism, their lack of consciousness as a group and what futurefollows.
2. Main Part
2.1 The Patriarchal Society
2.1.1 The Oppression of Women as in Act One
188.8.131.52. The Setting
Act One stages a dinner party in a restaurant, a celebration of Marlene’s promotion to managing director of the ‘Top Girls’ employment agency. Women from the past, Isabella Bird, a nineteenth-century Britishwoman who travelled to remote parts of the world; Lady Nijo, a thirteenth-century Japanese courtesan who became a vagrant Buddhist nun; Dull Gret, a figure in a Brueghel painting leading a charge through hell; Pope Joan, an infant prodigy believed to have been Pope in the ninth century; and Patient Griselda, the obedient wife in stories by Boccaccio, Petrarch and Chaucer, gather and toast to “[their]courage and the way [they] changed [their] lives and to [their] extraordinary achievements” (TG 13). This toast marks a turning point in the party; although the stories told by those women were already tainted by some painful experiences, what unfolds thereafter is an outpouring of pain, frustration and anger.
184.108.40.206. The Role of Women
Unable to disentangle themselves from thehold of patriarchy, most of these women from the past have suffered from the discrepancy between the role they had to play and what they wanted to do. For example, Isabella Bird declares she could not and would not live the life of a Lady, yet always travelled as such and repudiated any suggestion that she was other than feminine. She could not stand being stationary and fled into travels, but feltguilty on returning to England and therefore hurled herself into committee work and good causes. She never left her husband while married but resented domestic and social work.
220.127.116.11. The Importance of Male Figures
Not only was their role oppressing, but the importance of the male figure in the patriarchal society was also a very heavy burden on their shoulders. Each would...
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