PRESCRIBED MATERIAL FOR COMPARATIVE STUDY 2020
Why teach ‘Eclipsed’ by Patricia Burke Brogan for the Comparative?
As a new title on the list of prescribed texts for comparative study, ‘Eclipsed’ by Patricia Brogan Burke immediately caught my eye.
This all-woman play is set in one of the old Magdalene laundries run by an order of nuns. It tells the woeful tale of a group of 'fallen' women who have had their babies snatched from them at birth to be given up for adoption, and their wretched lives of drudgery earning their keep in the laundry.
- The play is very relevant, dealing with the issue of the treatment of unmarried mothers in Ireland in the 1960s and beyond. There is a lot of scope for discussion and exploration of themes surrounding the place of women, and the power of the Church, in Irish society.
- There are some very interesting aspects of stagecraft to consider when studying this text. It allows students to get a feel for drama as a performed narrative.
- This play captures the atmosphere of loss and waste of these women’s lives, and their inability to change their fate.
(General Vision and Viewpoint
The play creates the sense of being trapped with these women in the laundry. Characters are angry and frustrated, imprisoned in purgatory, with no future to look forward to. There is a great sense of injustice, and of the loss these women had to bear, shut off from the rest of the world, making this a dark text with little hope.
Cultural Context/Social Setting
Set in Ireland in 1992, the story is framed, beginning and end, by a young adopted woman’s search, to find out about her past. The main body of the story deals with the experiences of women (including the girl’s mother) in the laundry in 1963.
The play shows how forgotten and abandoned these women were. Becoming pregnant, before getting married, was unacceptable in 1960s Ireland. These women lost their children, and their freedom, consigned to live out their days as unpaid labourers within the laundry’s walls.
Interestingly, theirs is an entirely female world. The power in the laundry is held by the nuns, who uphold the power of the Church. It is a male power structure, even though no male character appears on stage.
The play showcases the experience of women trapped in a Magdalene laundry in 1963. The prologue and epilogue involve a girl’s attempt to discover her past, with the rest of the action involving events of the past, and the reality of life in the laundry in 1963.
As we get to know characters they share something of themselves, and we learn of the circumstances that resulted in their ending up in the laundry.
Often, the atmosphere is tense as these women feel trapped and frustrated, denied their freedom and their children.
Interesting elements of stagecraft are worth exploring.
I always choose Relationships as the theme/issue for consideration at Higher Level. Relationships in this play are fraught, due to the power system in the laundry. The women who hold the keys, hold the power, and the women in the laundry are reduced to prisoners.
The friendships between the women is also worth exploring.
Hero, Heroine, Villain
Brigit (the biological mother of the girl who has come to find out about her past) would make for an excellent character to focus on here. She is defiant and outspoken, forever searching for her freedom and her baby.
Sister Virginia would also be an interesting character to consider, as she is very troubled by the way the women are treated and her part in their circumstances.
Control could be an interesting theme to explore in this text. The women are detained within the laundry, cut off from the rest of the world, signed over by those closest to them. The way they are controlled, and the impact it has on their lives, is worth discussing.
Overall, dealing with the horrific treatment of ‘fallen’ women, ‘Eclipsed’ is a shocking window into Ireland’s recent past. This text is very relevant, and could work very well with other texts that deal with freedom and the issue of the oppression of women. (The Handmaid’s Tale, Room, By the Bog of Cats, 1984, A Doll’s House, etc).