Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 3979
Act I, Scene i
The Secret Rapture begins in near darkness. Isobel Glass is seated quietly next to the deathbed of her father, Robert Glass, who died only a few hours before. Although the family has gathered together downstairs to mourn and to begin making funeral arrangements, Isobel decided she needed some peaceful time alone with her father and her thoughts.
Her calm is interrupted by her sister, Marion French, who has ventured up to Robert’s bedroom to retrieve a ring she had given him just before his death. In their first exchange, the differences between the two sisters are stark and obvious. Even though Robert was married (to a woman considerably younger than he), Isobel was there nursing him in his final days and hours and even dressed him after he passed away. Marion, on the other hand, had only come to visit a few times. Instead of offering her father companionship, she sought to express her love for him by buying him an expensive ring. She wants it back now, she claims, because she is afraid that Robert’s young wife, Katherine, will sell it, along with everything else in the house, to support her drinking habit.
Marion is clearly agitated—a state that defines her character. She is brusque, judgmental, and quick to anger. Isobel, on the other hand, seems all calmness and concern. She does not criticize Marion for taking the ring or for not being there when their father died. In fact, she goes out of her way to try to comfort her sister. Nevertheless, Marion thinks that Isobel must disapprove of her actions.
The two women are joined by Marion’s husband, Tom French, who has come to bring them back downstairs. Initially, Tom seems to play the part of the peacekeeper. He is extremely religious. He believes that Jesus watches over him, even going so far as to help him when he has car trouble. He tries to reassure the sisters by telling them their father is now ‘‘in the hands of the Lord.’’ As Marion’s anger at both Isobel and Katherine rises, he refuses to take sides, calmly telling them, ‘‘I’m sure you both must be right.’’ But Marion will not be calmed. Although Isobel has not raised her voice or said a single cross word against her sister, Marion insists that she makes her feel as if she is always in the wrong, and she storms out of the room.
Sensing that Tom is embarrassed by his wife’s actions, Isobel points out that it is probably part of Marion’s grieving process. Tom comments that Marion gets angry frequently, even though she seems to have everything she could want. She is a member of Britain’s successful Conservative Party government and is probably destined for a highlevel cabinet position. Since they seem to be making a meaningful personal connection, Isobel asks Tom for a favor. She explains that she cares about her sister very much and wants Tom to let her know if Marion should ever become seriously angry with her. Tom agrees, and the two leave together to join the rest of the family outside in the garden.
A few days later, Isobel, Marion, Tom, and Katherine are gathered on the late Robert Glass’s lawn, just after his funeral. Since Robert never attended church, Isobel had located a priest for the service who did not know him. Although she provided the man considerable information about her father, apparently he used very little of it and somehow got much of the rest wrong. None of the family members is happy with the service.
While they reflect on the afternoon, a number of Robert’s neighbors from the village stop by to pay their respects, but the family agrees they would prefer to be left alone. Isobel greets the mourners at the door to let them know the family’s wishes and suggests that they all go down to a nearby pub.
With the service ended and the guests ushered away, Marion launches a conversation about what the future holds for Katherine. They have all been wondering what she might do with herself and with the modest estate she has inherited from her husband. Katherine admits she has led a reckless and often irresponsible life. She has faced a drug problem, is suffering from alcoholism, and has never found a proper career or even held a job for long. However, she maintains that her time with Robert changed her and that she is ready to straighten up and face the future. She announces that she will go to work with Isobel.
Isobel is as surprised as any of the others to hear about Katherine’s plans. They had not discussed such an arrangement, and Isobel’s small graphic arts firm only employs three people with limited business. Katherine, though, has recognized a trait in Isobel that will not allow her to say no to someone in need. It is a trait that will eventually be her downfall.
Just as the conversation is getting serious, Marion’s cell phone rings, and she takes the call. Her action reveals important facets of her character: she is a borderline workaholic, more committed to her career than her family and not very sensitive to the feelings of those around her. Even Katherine complains about her rudeness. She says that she must tell everyone she meets that Marion is only her ‘‘stepdaughter’’ and that she has nothing to do with Marion’s awful connection to the politics and greed of the Conservative Party. The politics of the characters in The Secret Rapture are another way Hare compares and contrasts them with each other. Marion and Tom are successful ‘‘Tories,’’ members of Britain’s Conservative Party, which was in power throughout the 1980s under Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher. To the extent that they are political at all, the other characters in the play, including Isobel and Katherine, seem to detest the Conservatives and their greed and may be more sympathetic to Britain’s Labour Party.
After Marion heads off into the house, the others discuss Katherine’s bombshell announcement that she intends to go to work with Isobel. Katherine is prepared to pack up and go to stay with Isobel that very night, but Isobel is unprepared to commit to offering Katherine a job. Isobel’s uncertainty brings out Katherine’s vulgar side. Dying for a drink and frustrated that she is not getting her way, Katherine curses Isobel and tells her she is a fraud for pretending she is decent and caring when she is really just like all the rest. Then she storms into the house.
A moment later, Marion appears, finished with her call. She tells Tom and Isobel that Katherine is inside with a bottle of liquor she had stashed under a floorboard, complaining that Isobel won’t give her a job. Tom goes inside to try to take the alcohol away, leaving the two sisters together.
Marion blames Isobel for Katherine’s tantrum and her return to drinking, telling her all she really had to do to help was pretend to go along with Katherine’s plans. Isobel objects that dishonesty is no way to help the situation and asks why Marion couldn’t offer her a position somewhere. Of course, Marion has an easy out. ‘‘Don’t be ridiculous,’’ she tells her sister. ‘‘I’m in the Conservative Party. We can’t just take on anyone at all.’’
As the women argue, Katherine returns, followed quickly by Tom. She is calmer and more contained now that she has had a few drinks, and she tells everyone the story of how she and Robert Glass met. She was in a bar in another town, drunk and trying to pick up men. She had been at it, she says, for weeks. Robert showed up and took her back to his house in Gloucestershire and let her stay in the spare room. They became fond of each other, and eventually she married the much older man. ‘‘People say I took advantage of his decency,’’ Katherine admits. ‘‘But what are good people for? They’re here to help the trashy people like me.’’
Again, Katherine’s words are prophetic—Isobel will soon go to work where her father left off. She relents and tells Katherine that she can come to London and start to work with her the next day.
The third scene begins a few weeks later in Isobel’s studio in London. Isobel and her partner, Irwin, are working on a new project: a book called the Encyclopedia of Murder. Irwin is trying to complete a graphic illustration of a gunshot wound. As they work and talk, a letter slides under the door. It is a letter of resignation from Gordon, the third employee in the firm. Irwin reveals that Gordon is resigning for a couple of reasons: he is secretly in love with Isobel and can no longer stand working so close to her, knowing he cannot have her; and he can’t stand Katherine’s abusive behavior in the workplace. In just a few short weeks, it seems, Katherine is already wreaking havoc in Isobel’s life.
Irwin is also in love with Isobel, though it is different for him, he claims, because, unlike Gor don, ‘‘I have you.’’ Later, Irwin’s possessiveness of Isobel will take on significant and serious meaning. For now, he just expresses a loyalty and a love that cause him to remain, in spite of Katherine, who may be ruining the company and their relationship.
Suddenly, Katherine appears with armfuls of flowers. Though she says she bought them from a man out front, predictably she has not paid him yet and dispatches Irwin to settle her bill. While he is gone, she announces to Isobel that she has sold Robert’s house and plans to use the money to buy a flat in London, just around the corner from the studio. On top of this ‘‘good news,’’ she says she has secured an exclusive eighteen-month contract to design the book covers for one of their publishers. All she had to do, she explains, was take the older man out to dinner and flirt with him all evening.
Isobel, of course, is shocked. She is shocked that her father’s house has just been suddenly sold and shocked at the tactics Katherine is using to get the business of the respectable customers she has dealt with for years. She is frustrated by the greed and the cruelty of those around her and asks why they can’t all just slow down and have a decent period of mourning and grief for her lost father.
Even Irwin, though, tells her it is time to move on and let it all go. He counsels her to forget about her sense of duty to her father, leave mourning behind, and to fire Katherine before she does any more damage with their customers. Despite all the harm Katherine has already caused, though, Isobel is not prepared to let her go. Her father loved this reckless, passionate woman, and that is enough for Isobel.
Just as Isobel and Irwin are again warming up to each other, Katherine drops another bombshell. Tom, it seems, would like to invest money in their company and allow them to grow the business. Already Katherine, who doesn’t even really know the business, is talking about hiring extra artists and buying a bigger place in the center of the city. The same woman who only a few weeks before was complaining about the greed in the world now laughs, ‘‘We could be making money like hay. Everyone else is.’’
Isobel finally reaches her limit and tells Katherine her behavior has been inappropriate. Katherine offers to leave if Isobel will only ask her. Irwin even tries to see her out on Isobel’s behalf, but in the end Isobel again determines that Katherine must stay.
The fourth scene is set a few days later in the living room of Robert’s house. Everyone has gathered to pack up the house before it is sold and to sign the legal documents that will turn control of Isobel’s company over to Tom and a board of directors in exchange for his investment in their growth.
At the beginning of the scene, Marion and her assistant, Rhonda Milne, have just finished a meeting with a delegation from the Green Party. They had invited them out to Robert’s country house to give them the impression that Marion, who is a junior minister at the Department of the Environment, actually has a country background. The Green Party delegates are interested in containing the use of nuclear power, because of its potential effects on people and the environment. Predictably, the position of Marion and the Conservative Party is that people need power and nuclear energy is a cheap and efficient way to provide it. ‘‘Come back and see me when you’re glowing in the dark,’’ she tells her adversaries.
One at a time the others arrive; first Isobel, then Irwin, who complains about the way people in the country are always shooting at things, and finally Tom, who immediately presents Isobel with his business proposal and asks her to sign it. She hesitates a moment and points out that this is a big and unexpected step for her small company. She is worried about growing too quickly and especially about losing control of her work. Marion points out that Tom is the president of Christians in Business and certainly a man who can be trusted.
Echoing Katherine from the previous scene, Marion and Tom both point out that everyone is making money and that it would practically be a sin in God’s eyes for them not to use their talents to make money as well. Then there is the issue of Katherine. Again, Marion calls on Isobel’s overdeveloped conscience to care for their father’s widow. Ironically, she asks Isobel, ‘‘What sort of life is it if we only think about ourselves?’’ She pressures Isobel to agree to giving Katherine a permanent seat on the new board of directors.
Isobel tries to enlist Irwin’s aid, but in one of the most pivotal moments in the play, Irwin wavers and admits that he does like the idea of the investment and that he has great faith in Tom’s word. Seeking not to lose ground, Marion quickly tells everyone that Irwin confided in her that he and Isobel were going to get married; and in recognition of the marriage and Irwin’s talents, she and Tom are proposing to double Irwin’s salary. The recognition that Irwin was dealing with Tom and Marion on the side and knew about the salary arrangement before coming to sign the papers is too much for Isobel. She is crushed into silence.
Marion, Tom, and Rhonda pack up and leave, telling Isobel and Irwin to think about the offer. Left alone, Irwin tries to reason with Isobel, telling her that she was the one who changed everything by bringing Katherine on board. He assures her that he loves her and would never do anything to hurt her, while off in the distance the sounds of the hunters’ guns are coming closer.
Act II, Scene v
The second act begins several months later in Isobel’s new offices in London’s fashionable West End. The room is filled with artists’ desks and is expensively decorated. It is evening, and Irwin and Rhonda are alone, sipping champagne. Rhonda, it turns out, is a bit like a younger Katherine. She is free spirited and adventurous, and she loves to stir up trouble. The trouble she is stirring this time is with Irwin. As she tells him stories about her sexual relationships with politicians, the two draw closer and closer together. They are quite likely just about to have sex there in the office when Isobel unexpectedly returns early from a business trip.
Irwin awkwardly starts to explain that Rhonda came by to see the new offices and to use their shower, since her water had been turned off. It is an obviously awkward situation, but Isobel seems uninterested in hearing about what Irwin and Rhonda had been up to. Instead, she goes about her business in the office. While Rhonda goes off to shower, Irwin again tries to get Isobel talking about Rhonda, about his artwork, about the way Isobel has been ignoring him for weeks now. She tries to resist the conversation but finally tells Irwin that she returned from her trip because she had a call that Katherine got drunk with some important clients. One of them told her that they would not be buying their latest project, and she’d tried to kill him with a steak knife.
Isobel is obviously tired and stretched to her limits and now must again deal with Katherine’s mistakes, but Irwin pushes on. He demands a conversation with Isobel about their relationship problems and her unexplainable support for Katherine, who is so clearly ruining her life. In an important moment of recognition in the play, Isobel admits that she is ‘‘being turned into a person whose only function is to suffer.’’ Still, she can’t seem to turn herself around. The one decision she has made, though, is that she no longer loves Irwin and that she will stop pretending that she does.
Interestingly, Isobel complains that Irwin makes her feel guilty and saps her strength because he demands so much of her. Katherine, and even her sister, Marion, do much the same thing with even more devastating effects, but she has not turned her back on them. This contrast is not lost on Irwin. ‘‘Tell me why you will sacrifice your whole life for Katherine?’’ he demands to know. To Irwin, Katherine is not just chronically dependent on other people, like Isobel and her father; she is actually evil and intentionally sets out to destroy the lives of generous people who come to her aid.
Irwin’s point seems to unsettle Isobel momentarily and to cause her to think about the right thing to do. During her pause for reflection, Rhonda returns from the shower, ready to go out to the movies. In an unexpected and strange move, Isobel announces that she and Irwin would like to go along, and the scene ends.
Three weeks later, Marion, Tom, Irwin, and Isobel are scheduled to meet in Tom’s office. Obviously, Isobel’s business is struggling, losing a lot of money, and Tom and his investors have decided to pull out. They have been offered a considerable amount of money for the office space, and they are ready to sell to make a profit.
Irwin has arrived, prepared to do whatever is necessary, but he explains that Isobel will not join them as long as he is in the room. Three weeks earlier, she walked out in the middle of the movie, drove to the airport, and caught the first plane leaving the country. She came back very quickly, bought her father’s house back, and has been living in Katherine’s apartment, looking after her ever since. She refuses even to speak to Irwin. Painfully, Irwin admits that he is still deeply in love with Isobel, the ‘‘one certain source of good’’ he has known in his life.
Isobel arrives at the office building and phones Tom. Irwin leaves so Isobel can join them. Tom tells her about his proposal to sell the business, but she is unfazed. She observes that Tom will be writing the whole venture off his taxes so that instead of losing any money, he will actually be making quite a profit, but she is not angry. Even though all of her workers will be laid off and she will be losing her business, it seems she has come to expect that kind of behavior from Tom and most of the world.
Tom offers her a small, rent-free office at the base of a parking garage where she could start over again, but Isobel recognizes that it would be foolish to try, particularly without Irwin. Irwin, she realized, is obsessed with her, so she has decided to completely cut him off and make it final. Now, she has determined, she must do what her father would have wanted and take care of Katherine.
In a frightening bit of foreshadowing, Marion screams at Isobel that she should ‘‘Hide behind your father for the rest of your life. Die there!’’ And Isobel responds that she probably will.
Some time later, perhaps a few weeks, Isobel and Katherine are in her apartment late one evening having dinner. Isobel has obviously been doing all of the cooking and cleaning and shopping for the two of them, while Katherine hurls abuse at her. She complains about the meals and about the boring lives they lead now that she no longer drinks and they never go out together.
The two prepare for bed. Katherine of course takes the bedroom, leaving Isobel on the sofa. Isobel warns Katherine that she must remember to lock the door and use the deadbolt, since Irwin has somehow managed to get a key to the apartment and might come looking for her. Katherine pretends not to know anything about that, but once the lights are out, she quietly unlocks the door.
This is obviously something Katherine and Irwin have arranged. Almost immediately, he slips in through the door and confronts Isobel. She calls for Katherine, but there is no response. Irwin wants to know if he can just sleep with Isobel, but she refuses, saying it will only make him unhappier. He is obviously quite disturbed, and he pulls out a handgun, telling Isobel he plans to kill himself with it.
Isobel tells Irwin that even if he forced her to have sex with him, he would never get from her what he really wants. They will never again have the relationship they once had. As they argue, Katherine finally emerges from the bedroom to check on them. Isobel tells her to call the police or go get help from someone in the street, but Katherine refuses. Finally, Isobel herself gets up and walks out the door, closing it behind her. As soon as it closes, Irwin fires five shots through the door, killing Isobel on the other side.
The final scene of the play provides a sort of denouement, a closure of some of the loose ends of the plot and its characters. Marion, Tom, Katherine, and Rhonda are back at Robert Glass’s house, uncovering the furniture and restoring it on the day of Isobel’s funeral. Her death seems to have taught them some lessons, though whether their lives will completely change remains uncertain.
When she learns that all the people of the town want to walk together to the funeral, Marion realizes that everyone seems to have valued Isobel, except them. She receives a call from the Ministry and, for the first time in the play, refuses to take it. Even Tom admits that he has ‘‘slightly lost touch with the Lord Jesus.’’ Marion cannot bring herself to go to the funeral, but before Tom leaves, they embrace, kiss, and even caress each other. It is the only moment of physical passion either of them has shown in the play, and it only seems possible after Isobel’s death.
Left alone in the room after everyone has gone to the funeral, Marion laments the loss of her sister, though what she wants now is not entirely clear. ‘‘We’re just beginning,’’ she says to herself. ‘‘Isobel, why don’t you come home?’’