Discuss Hares use of Sir Peter as a criticism of society’s legal system in Act 1 Scene 2 and in ‘Murmuring Judges’ as a whole
In Act 1 Scene 2, and in the whole of Murmuring Judges, Sir Peter is used by Hare to represent the negative side of the legal system; namely, that lawyers are only concerned with upholding their own wellbeing and reputation. In this scene, Sir Peter’s arrogant character conveys that lawyers at the top of the judiciary system have an impersonal, non-compassionate view towards the individuals they are supposed to be defending.
For example, the fact that Sir Peter “smiles, unruffled” when challenged about losing a case reflects his lack of care for the suspect he poorly defended, therefore he is inconsiderate about how his failure has had a detrimental effect on the suspect. The audience perceives this due to his salient facial expression, therefore receiving Hare’s intended message that the system at the time was self-absorbed and incapable of sympathy.
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A prominent event which incontrovertibly influenced Hare to raise awareness bout this notion was the wrongful imprisonment of the Birmingham Six. The fact that this group were framed for a crime they were not involved in exemplifies the problematic nature of the emotionally withdrawn lawyers, who lack diligence to persevere in cases due to deficiency of true concern for their clients.
Similarly, in Act 2 Scene 1, Sir Peter “looks down, feeling himself on thin ice” before lying to the Home Secretary, so the audience notices his facial expression, picks up on his fabrication and holds him in contempt because his character is revealed to be not only arrogant but also Machiavellian – he lies to conceal his uncouth disinterest in the Home Secretary’s publications which are of stark pertinence to his profession.
Likewise, in Act 2 Scene 5, Sir Peter “hesitates a second, fatally,” so the audience realises the mechanical response of Sir Peter, that is, his fallacious and egotistical conclusion that Irina must have enjoyed the opera merely because he expended much capital for them. The fact that Hare uses the adverb ‘fatally’ to depict Sir Peter’s hesitation portrays him as fallible, a quality which Sir Peter attempts to hide through the bravado in his subsequent statement regarding the tickets’ cost, so the audience understands that he is purely concerned with his own reputation in the eyes of others.
In the focus scene, Sir Peter’s attitudes are depicted as being out-dated, and these function as a microcosm for the obsolescence of various aspects of the legal system. His egotism leads him to forming the inaccurate notion that “Everyone listens to Desert Island Discs, thus the audience becomes aware of his out-dated views which have no basis on the interests of the modern public.
Irina is a symbol of contemporary values in society due to her being a female ethnic minority in a traditionally Caucasian, male-dominated institution, therefore her visual response, to “[look] down, impassive” is received positively by the audience, who consequently bear disdain towards Sir Peter for his views which are incompatible with modern ones. Through this, Hare is criticising the abysmal state of the legal system, which, at the start of the scene, is exemplified through the description of the Hall of the Court as a “Victorian building,” reflecting its out-dated nature.
The legal system’s excessively traditionalist views during the 1990’ss (and, albeit to a lesser extent, in contemporary Britain), are conveyed by Hare’s description of the building, whose anachronism with the 20th (and, today, 21st) Century is plain to see. Furthermore, in Act 2 Scene 5, Sir Peter’s sensitivity to Irina’s remark about the British Empire – that it “no longer exists” – evinces his overly conservative mind-set and obstinacy to accept modern views and facts.
He “points to her”, which, needless to say, would be judged as rude by the audience, hence making evident Sir Peter’s volatile temperament and stubbornness when faced with what is, effectively, pure truth. Obsolete views were an immense problem in the legal system during the late 1980’s and early ’90’s, when black individuals were more likely than whites to be arrested and then prosecuted. This prejudice still exists today, so Hare’s social message about the self-absorbed ideas of the courts are still applicable, the courts attitudes having not adapted to modern views.
Likewise, Sir Peter’s lack of interest in the statistics ostensibly circulated to him by the Home Secretary appertaining Germany and Sweden is another example of his nonchalance regarding contemporary attitudes, because Germany and Sweden were and still are considered two of the most liberal, ‘modern’ nations in the world and so their methods of tackling crime would likely involve modern points of view, ones which Sir Peter takes no interest in because they are not of immediate relevance to the way the courts are run in this country.
Hare is thus portraying Sir Peter as somewhat xenophobic and nationalistic, traits which, in the rapidly increasingly liberal British society of the early 1990’s, were being minimised, so the audience perceives Sir Peter, and the courts in general as a consequence, as incompatible with modern Britain.