The Presentation of the Legal Establishment in Murmuring Judges

Categories: Sexism

In the play Murmuring Judges, written by David Hare and published in 1991, the legal establishment is presented as many things; traditional, well-educated, conceited, sexist, haughty and exclusive, among much more in which I am about to discuss during this essay.

The legal establishment is presented as ‘out of touch’, where the professionals think that because they are more qualified and more experienced, they are automatically better than any lower class of people. They talk about their clients as if they’re basically worthless, like when Sir Peter and the Judge are discussing the recent case Sir Peter lost (Act One, Scene Two, p.

3.) and Sir Peter says ‘It was a very trivial affair’, ‘It turned out to be a silly sort of warehouse robbery’. We can clearly see that he is very snobby about this, thinks himself better than to give legal aid, as it was a type of charity case because Gerard McKinnon couldn’t afford an attorney.

They are also shown to be out of touch when Sir Peter says nonchalantly, ‘Everyone listens to Desert Island discs.

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’ When in reality, this is just as he knows, as Desert Island discs was on BBC Radio 4, which is a radio station with a target audience of middle-class white adults with the dry, typically ‘British’ sense of humour. This is reflected in the dramatic techniques used when, nearing the end of the scene, it says ‘Sir Peter is on familiar ground’ as the couple are discussing how much money he has raised (through Irina, of course, though he would never admit this as she is female, and in this stereotypical pecking order; men come before females and therefore have to ‘be the best’ and ‘do the best’ and ‘earn the most money’.

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) This shows that Sir Peter is comfortable boasting and showing-off about being part of the elite who can afford to donate £1,000,000 to the ‘threat to justice, new legislation campaign’, when in reality there are much more pressing and needy causes, again showing that the legal professionals are the elite, out of touch members of society.

The legal establishment are also shown to be highly sexist, so much that they blatantly disregard Irina right in front of her, making fun of her in a slyly obvious way. This is reflected in the language used in the play, as Hare has written ‘Irina is standing one dutiful pace behind her silk.’ (Act One, Scene Two, p.4.) Here he is basically meaning that Irina being both a woman and black, knows where she stands; in the background. Realistically, she knows she is lucky to have this job, because just a few years earlier it would have been a ridiculous proposal to have a black woman as a lawyer, and therefore stands that one pace behind, as a mark of respect for her employer as she is yet to gain from him.

The element of controversial sexism is apparent throughout the play. In Scene Three, Woody gives Irina the proposal as instructed by Sir Peter, ‘You’re to go and take in a little Mozart, he said. Then you’ll work on here afterwards.’ Basically, what Woody is saying is that Irina has no choice but to be Sir Peter’s piece of eye-candy for the night; notice the definite instructive, imperative verb ‘you’re to go’, as in you are to go, you have to go, you have no choice or you are fired. There is a kind of determination in Woody as he says this, and we can feel it even as we read the play.

The sexism incorporated into the play is reflected very much when, on page seven it says, ‘…but Irina is impassive, her own view hidden.’ In this sentence the word ‘own’ stands out to me very much as it is a pre-modifier. Without the word ‘own’, it could just be that Irina is doesn’t actually have an opinion of what the men are saying, or that she isn’t very interested in what they have to say, but the use of the word ‘own’ shows that she in fact isn’t really allowed to have her own opinion, that if she did show her true feelings, she’d probably be shot down by the men, who would gang up on her. It shows that Irina knows her place in the business, and knows to keep schtum.

Throughout the play, it is incredibly obvious that the legal establishment are very traditional and accustomed to the ways they have done their jobs. The establishment have known and grown to believe this is how things always have been, and most likely always will be. There are many examples I could pick out of language reflecting the word ‘traditional’, but just one would be again in Act One, Scene Two, p.6., where Sir Peter recites to Cuddeford the story of Irina turning up to court in a ‘rather brilliant green dress’, to which Cuddeford replies, ‘Green? Oh, my goodness’. This just proves how times have changed but the way the legal system does things, has not.

The setting also shows the traditional aspect of the play, mentioning how it is set in a ‘vaulted Victorian building’, which to me sounds very gloomy, dark and cold, and doesn’t have very nice connotations with it as a dreary and impassive place seems very hard to work in; which could explain the characters of the play and I guess we could say it reflects some of their personalities.

The legal establishment is also portrayed to be very well-educated and qualified. This is reflected in the language used again in Act One, Scene Two, when it says ‘She was a Commonwealth Scholar.’ Which basically shows just how bright Irina is, though we get the funny feeling they Sir Peter would like to add ‘for a girl’ to the end of that, as he is a very snobby, foolish man. It also shows that Irina ticks all the boxes of Political Correctness; as you don’t come across a black, female lawyer often, particularly not twenty-one years ago.

In my opinion, it also shows just how well-educated the legal establishment are by the indirect comparision done between themselves and the police. We can see for ourselves that the conversation between Sir Peter and Cuddeford uses a lot of long, complicated words, is very formal, uses field-specific lexis and ambiguous, connotative language; whereas the conversation between the police, as seen in Scene Five, is much more informal and light-hearted; featuring jokes, shorter sentences and colloquial language.

The solicitors are also presented as being self-absorbed and snobby, like where Sir Peter says, ‘It’s pure chance I’ve featured in a few eye-catching cases’. As we can tell, this is said in an extremely pompous manner and we can imagine just from reading; a man puffing up his chest and smiling proudly at his by-standers. Sir Peter obviously thinks a lot of himself, but this is apparent for the majority of the other lawyers in the play, even down to Woody, who is just Sir Peter’s clerk, and obviously lower in the social scale than the others as he is described as: thin, in a grey suit, with a cockney accent, which doesn’t quite have the same ‘awe’-factor as the other lawyers we have met previously, such as Sir Peter.

However, Woody shows that he knows what he’s doing when he says, ‘It’s only for appearances.’ ‘…Ease up. It happens.’ to Irina. He is showing that he has inside knowledge of Sir Peter’s personal life as well as his work life, and that he himself isn’t an outsider, but an insider. This again, relates back to the slightly pathetic, self-absorbed power struggle constantly going on in this competitive job. The is also shown in the dramatic technique used, where the situation can quickly turn from formal to friendly and back again as the men struggle for power and to prove to each other that they are the best in the business.

In Murmuring Judges, practically all of the lawyers we meet are either rich or very well-off. A very obvious example of this is where, in Act One, Scene Two, Sir Peter, Cuddeford and Irina are discussing how Irina (at the expense of Sir Peter) has been raising money for a campaign they are interested in starting. Sir Peter says, ‘We started fund-raising for a campaign about four days ago.’ And Cuddeford replies with, ‘How much have you raised?’ to which Irina simply states, ‘One million.’ Which is a pretty impressive feat in just four days, leading us to believe that our theory of all the solicitors, barristers and judges are indeed, very comfortably wealthy. Our theory is then backed up when, on the next page, Cuddeford says in a ‘thoughtful’ tone, ‘Has anyone refused?’. To which, again, Irina replies, with ‘No. No one.’ Obviously she is a very good fundraiser, and has been very fortunate to have raised so much, as Cuddeford says ‘Remarkable.’

Updated: May 20, 2021
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The Presentation of the Legal Establishment in Murmuring Judges. (2020, Jun 02). Retrieved from

The Presentation of the Legal Establishment in Murmuring Judges essay
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