(Drama for Students)

In an article he wrote for the Listener just before The Secret Rapture opened in London in October 1988, David Hare revealed the source of the play’s curious title. ‘‘In Catholic theology,’’ the playwright explained, ‘‘the ‘secret rapture’ is the moment when the nun will become the bride of Christ: so it means death, or love of death, or death under life.’’ True to its origins, the play is filled with images of death, from the opening scene, in which a young woman keeps a vigil over the body of her dead father, to the climax, in which that same young woman is murdered by her obsessed lover. In between is a family drama rich with the symbolism and topical social criticism for which Hare has become well known in more than three decades as one of Britain’s most popular playwrights.

Although the play’s characters and themes are rather complicated, its plot is quite simple. Isobel Glass is a humane, fairly successful small business owner. Her sister, Marion, is a self-centered, fastrising politician in Britain’s Conservative Party government in the 1980s. When their father dies, Isobel is forced to assume the responsibility for their young, reckless, alcoholic stepmother, Katherine. Because of her love and loyalty for her father, Isobel allows Katherine and the others in the play to take advantage of her, and she quickly loses her boyfriend, her business, and ultimately her life.

Hare wrote The Secret Rapture near the end of Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher’s ten years in office. During that time, Hare suggests, the rich got much richer, while the rest suffered more and more. Still, the play is much less about politics than some of Hare’s earlier work. The relationships between the characters, and Isobel’s singular morality, are the real driving forces. The Secret Rapture is available in The Secret Rapture and Other Plays, by David Hare, published by Grove Press in 1998.