Academic journal article Journal of International Women's Studies

Tussles over Gendered Spaces and Assertions of Female Presence in Anne le Marquand Hartigan's Play the Secret Game

Academic journal article Journal of International Women's Studies

Tussles over Gendered Spaces and Assertions of Female Presence in Anne le Marquand Hartigan's Play the Secret Game

Article excerpt


This paper is an extract from the PhD thesis entitled "Self-Imaging /Self-Imagining in the Woman's Writing (and Painting) of Anne Le Marquand Hartigan", submitted to University College, Dublin in 2004. The essay discusses Hartigan's unpublished play, The Secret Game (written in Ireland, circa 1995). In particular, it examines the power-struggling taking place between the sexes in the play over different life spaces, including public / political space, the space of language and the space of the female body. The essay examines how, in order to challenge the spatial disinheritance of women, Hartigan makes use of different strategies to stage statements of female resistance.

Keywords: power struggle, gendered space, Northern Ireland


This essay begins from the premise that, even within the very limited life spaces to which woman has been relegated by patriarchal societies; she has been invaded and controlled. Even the space of her womb has been frequently squabbled over for its property rights. The question then is not only about woman within space but also about woman-as-space. It will not come as much of a surprise then that in poetic expression by women, spatial treatments constitute visible scars which attest to women's ill ease in many life spaces. Attitudes of intimidation and of acceptance or rejection of social exclusion are represented in poetry by women through representations of self-effacement (Moore, 1992; Byron, 1993; Wright 1998; Bradstreet, 1980), of withdrawal into domestic space as a safe harbor but also as a place of incarceration (Rich 1984, Sexton 1981, Jennings, 1979; Gilman 1973; Stone, 1992) and/or through the deliberate abstraction and derisive dismantling of represented public and political spaces (Sitwell 1993; Levertov 1992; Hartigan 1993; Wakoski 1996; Clifton 1987, Dobson 1963).

Spatial treatments in the works of the poet/painter/playwright Anne Le Marquand Hartigan are noteworthy insofar as they often offer departures from the above general tendencies. (2) In The Secret Game, although the political issue of gendered space is part and parcel of the thematic structure, Hartigan does not content herself with a mere forwarding of symbolic illustrations of how woman has been disinherited from various public and private spaces. Instead, she finds alternative ways to state female presence and does so using the very public spaces of theater and language. Nor does Hartigan generally designate the spaces, which the female has traditionally occupied as being places of inferiority or dishonor, but presents them, rather as exemplary spaces of strength, life-sustaining activities, non-belligerence and psychological maturity. Hartigan shows the spaces that woman occupies to be enviable sites (physically, psychologically and socially). Conversely, she often refers to man-made public spaces as undesirable, unguided, in need of salvation and counterbalancing, namely with a female principle, in order to inject sanity and healthy priorities into it and bring about a female reining to the male horse-gone-wild. The treatment of space, then, is crucial insofar as it becomes a means of making political statements. In this play, the female refuses to relinquish (anymore) space, and this is expressed multiply: through theme, staging, imagery and language.

As one of her strategies for combating women's spatial disinheritance, Hartigan systematically gives hearing to the female side of a story. The surface-level storyline of The Secret Game is slyly mainstream and revolves around the primarily male-engendered games of hostage taking and violence in the name of politics. Coming up through the cracks of that storyline, however, is an ineradicable female presence constituting a form of resistance. As the first scene of the play opens, the female character of Chris has been to the north of Ireland where she crossed over to England. On her way back to the south, she stops at her aunt's farm. …

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