The characters that make up the cast of Silence! The Court is in Session are primarily middle-class working men and women. Although living comfortably, they are nonetheless obsessed with status, and much of the play involves the cast subtly fighting for superiority. This infighting is depicted as petty, and status as less important than solid values and a sense of right and wrong. Middle-class society is shown to be a restrictive trap. While it provides comfort for the individuals within it, it also creates a stressful environment in which people fight for limited power and prestige, ignoring their own happiness and the happiness and wellbeing of those around them.
To the middle-class protagonists, status and profession are incredibly important. They use their jobs as weapons and tools, in order to elevate themselves above their peers. Benare, for example, is a teacher. She is resistant to being called a schoolmarm by Samant both because it implies she is prudish and harsh as a teacher and also because it devalues and genders the important work she does. Benare enjoys being a teacher because of the status is gives her, but realizes the respect afforded to her by her class makes other teachers and professionals jealous, which Benare tells Samant explicitly in Act One.
Early in the play, Benare also describes her fellow actors and their professions with amusement and disdain. Sukhatme is a real lawyer who also play acts as one with the troop, but Benare jokes “he’s such an authority on the subject even a desperate client won’t go anywhere near him.” Still, he does his best to use his job to elevate his position, taking control during the mock trial and relishing the power he has to call witnesses and manipulate Benare’s emptions. Similarly, Benare and Sukhatme mock Ponkshe as a “Sci-en-tist! Inter-failed!”; he trained in science but was unable to attain a degree. Ponkshe now works as a clerk in the Central Telegraph Office and is clearly “irritated,” as noted by stage directions, by his collaborators’ jabs. He takes pride in his status as an almost-scientist, arguing that at least, unlike Rokde, a servant for the Kashikar family, he hasn’t asked for charity from others and has only wasted his own family’s money. The group also flexes their own status by comparing themselves to Rokde, the lowest ranking of the group, as well as ordering around Samant, a local villager who has come to help the troop.
Order and tradition are solidly middle-class values, and the characters at the center of the play (with the exception of Benare) are obsessed with maintaining law and order. Respect of institutions is incredibly important, especially respect of the court. The title of the play itself—Silence! The Court is in Session—alludes to the importance of the court above all else. In addition to her other crimes, Benare is often held in contempt of court, for speaking out of turn and for criticizing the way Kashikar and Sukhatme run things. Unsurprisingly, given the gender dynamics within the world of the play, when the men interrupt each other, they are not censored, but when Mrs. Kashikar or Benare speak up, they’re criticized. Kashikar offers reprimands to Benare for “abrogating the authority of counsel, and for obstructing the due process of law.”
Similarly, institutions like family, motherhood, and marriage are heavily monitored and enforced. Early in the trial, Sukhatme, Kashikar, and Mrs. Kashikar all give examples of the importance of motherhood and family structure. Kashikar calls motherhood “higher than heaven,” while Sukhatme describes it as “a sacred thing.” However, instead of granting actual respect to mothers, this thinking robs them of power. Motherhood becomes an institution governed by the state, which has a stake in the wellbeing of the children and citizens being produced by its mothers. Men like Kashikar and Sukhatme revere traditional motherhood because it presents another means to control women in society.
Marriage is another highly-respected institution that gives status and privilege to the individuals within it, yet the collected actors all mock and question Benare’s attempts to get married. Marriage, like motherhood, is a means of societal control specifically of women, and as such seems antithetical to Benare’s progressive and independent existence. Yet Benare understands that life as an unwed mother will not be accepted by most of society, and as such does her best to find a husband before her pregnancy begins to show. This search for husband is used by her castmates as proof of her depravity, when all she wants is to be able to blend into society and live happily—that is, she is actually trying to adhere to the dictates of order and tradition that define her social class.
Benare flirts with Samant in the play’s opening, making excuses to get close to him and ask about his marital status but pulls away when he displays “complete innocence.” Benare also asks Ponkshe to marry her, as well as Rokde, propositions which she hopes will protect her but are merely used by Ponkshe, Rokde, and the assembled court to mock and trap her in their trial. The only married couple physically present is Mr. Kashikar and Mrs. Kashikar. Yet even as they act as though their marital status makes them superior to the unwed Benare, their marriage appears to be extremely toxic. Benare describes the couple as “Mr. Prime Objective” and “Mrs. Hand-That-Rocks-The-Cradle,” arguing that Mr. Kashikar is obsessed with status and his own importance whereas Mrs. Kashikar wants to be a homemaker but is unable to have children.
Ironically, although obsessed with tradition, the majority of the cast is more concerned with how important they appear than with how they treat their so-called friends and colleagues. A social status that should in theory ensure a lifetime of comfort instead creates great stresses and miniscule divisions along fault lines in profession, upbringing, and lifestyle.
Middle Class Status, Tradition, and Propriety ThemeTracker
Middle Class Status, Tradition, and Propriety Quotes in Silence! The Court is in Session
SAMANT. […] I mean to say, I’m not in the habit of walking so fast. You do set a very lively pace, very lively.
BENARE. Not always. But today, how I walked! Let’s leave everyone behind, I thought, and go somewhere far, far away— with you!
SAMANT [in confusion]. With me?
BENARE. Yes, I like you very much.
SAMANT [terribly shy and embarrassed]. Tut-tut. Ha ha! I’m hardly…
BENARE. You're very nice indeed. And shall I tell you something? You are a very pure and good person. I like you.
SAMANT [incredulously]. Me?
BENARE. In school, when the first bell rings, my foot’s already on the threshold. I haven't heard single reproach for not being on time these past eight years. Nor about my teaching. I’m never behindhand with my lessons! Exercises corrected on time, too! Not a bit of room for disapproval—I don’t give an inch of it to any one!
SAMANT. You're a schoolmarm, it seems?
BENARE. No, a teacher! Do I seem the complete schoolmarm to you? SAMANT. No, no… I didn’t mean it like that…
BENARE. Say it if you like...
SAMANT. But I didn’t say it at all! A schoolmarm just means … someone who—teaches—instructs!—children—that’s what I meant to say...
BENARE. They’re so much better than adults. At least they don’t have that blind pride of thinking they know everything. There’s no nonsense stuffed in their heads. They don’t scratch you till you bleed, then run away like cowards.
BENARE. I’m used to standing while teaching. In class, I never sit when teaching. That’s how I keep my eye on the whole class. No one has a chance to play up. My class is scared stiff of me! And they adore me, too. My children will do anything for me. For I'd give the last drop of my blood to teach them. [In a different tone]. That’s why people are jealous. Specially the other teachers and the management. But what can they do to me? What can they do? However hard they try, what can they do? They're holding an enquiry, if you please! But my teaching’s perfect. I’ve put my whole life into it—I’ve worn myself to a shadow in this job! Just because of one bit of slander, what can they do to me? Throw me out? Let them! I haven’t hurt anyone. Anyone at all! If I’ve hurt anybody, it’s been myself. But is that any kind of reason for throwing me out? Who are these people to say what I can or can’t do? My life is my own—I haven’t sold it to anyone for a job! My will is my own. My wishes are my own. No one can kill those—no one! I'll do what I like with myself and my life! I'll decide . . .
BENARE. But Samant, ‘spreading enlightenment is also one of the Prime Objectives behind our programme’. So our chairman Kashikar will tell you. Kashikar can’t take a step without a Prime Objective! Besides him, there’s Mrs Hand-that- Rocks-the-Cradle. I mean Mrs Kashikar. What an excellent housewife the poor woman is! A real Hand-that-Rocks-the- Cradle type! But what’s the use? Mr Prime Objective is tied up with uplifting the masses. And poor Hand-that-Rocks-the- Cradle has no cradle to rock!
SAMANT. You mean they have no—[He rocks an imaginary baby in his arms.]
BENARE. Right. You seem to be very bright, too! Mr Kashikar and the Hand-that-Rocks-the-Cradle, in order that nothing should happen to either of them in their bare, bare house—and that they shouldn’t die of boredom!—gave shelter to a young boy. They educated him. Made him toil away. Made a slave out of him. His name’s Balu—Balu Rokde. Who else? . . . Well, we have an Expert on the Law. He’s such an authority on the subject, even a desperate client won't go anywhere near him! He just sits alone in the barristers’ room at court, swatting flies with legal precedents! And in his tenement, he sits alone killing houseflies! But for today’s mock trial, he’s a very great barrister. You'll see the wonders he performs! And there’s a‘Hmm! with us! [Puts an imaginary pipe in her mouth.] Hmm! Sci-en-tist! Inter-failed!
SAMANT. Oh, it does sound good fun!
BENARE. And we have an Intellectual too. That means someone who prides himself on his booklearning. But when there’s a real- life problem, away he runs! Hides his head. He’s not here today. Won't be coming, either. He wouldn’t dare!
MRS KASHIKAR. I say, Benare—[stroking the garland in her hair] I did mean to buy a garland for you too—
BENARE [in Ponkshe’s tones]. Hmm! [Ponkshe bites his lips angrily.]
MRS KASHIKAR [to Mr Kashikar]. Didn’t I, dear? But what happened was that—
BENARE [laughing heartily]—The garland flew away—pouf! Or did the dicky-bird take it? I never want garlands. If I did, couldn't I afford to buy them? I earn my own living, you know. That’s why I never feel like buying garlands and things.
It’s all become quite unexpectedly enjoyable—the whole fabric of society is being soiled these days, Sukhatme. Nothing is undefiled anymore.
The woman who is an accused has made a heinous blot on the sacred brow of motherhood—which is purer than heaven itself. For that, any punishment, however great, that the law may give her, will be too mild by far. The character of the accused is appalling. It is bankrupt of morality. Not only that. Her conduct has blackened all social and moral values. The accused is public enemy number one. If such socially destructive tendencies are encouraged to flourish, this country and its culture will be totally destroyed […] Motherhood without marriage has always been considered a very great sin by our religion and our traditions. Moreover, if the accused’s intention of bringing up the offspring of this unlawful maternity is carried to completion, I have a dreadful fear that the very existence of society will be in danger. There will be no such thing as moral values left. Milord, infanticide is a dreadful act. But bringing up the child of an illegal union is certainly more horrifying. If it is encouraged, there will be no such thing as the institution of marriage left. Immorality will flourish. Before our eyes, our beautiful dream of a society governed by tradition will crumble into dust. […] Woman bears the grave responsibility of building up the high values of society. […] ‘Woman is not fit for independence.’ . . . That is the rule laid down for us by tradition.
Life is a book that goes ripping into pieces. Life is a poisonous snake that bites itself. Life is a betrayal. Life is a fraud. Life is a drug. Life is drudgery. Life is a something that’s nothing—or a nothing that’s something. […] Sack it from its job! But why? Why? Was I slack in my work? I just put my whole life into working with the children . . . I loved it! I taught them well! I knew that your own flesh and blood don’t want to understand you. Only one thing in life is all-important—the body! You may deny it, but it is true. Emotion is something people talk about with sentiment. It was obvious to me. I was living through it. It was burning through me. But—do you know?—I did not teach any of this to those tender, young souls. I swallowed that poison, but didn’t even let a drop of it touch them! I taught them beauty. I taught them purity. I cried inside, and I made them laugh. I was cracking up with despair, and I taught them hope. For what sin are they robbing me of my job, my only comfort? My private life is my own business. I'll decide what to do with myself; everyone should be able to! That can’t be anyone else's business; understand?
Prisoner Miss Benare, pay the closest attention. The crimes you have committed are most terrible. There is no forgiveness for them. Your sin must be expiated. Irresponsibility must be chained down. Social customs, after all, are of supreme importance. Marriage is the very foundation of our society's stability. Motherhood must be sacred and pure. This court takes a serious view of your attempt to dynamite all this. It is the firm opinion of this court that your behaviour puts you beyond mercy. And, what is more, the arrogance with which you conducted yourself in society, having done all these things, that arrogance is the most unforgivable thing of all. Criminals and sinners should know their place. You have conducted yourself above your station. The court expresses its indignation at your presumptuousness. Moreover, the future of posterity was entrusted to you. This is a very dreadful thing. The morality which you have shown through your conduct was the morality you were planning to impart to the youth of tomorrow. This court has not an iota of doubt about it. Hence not only today’s, but tomorrow’s society would have been endangered by your misconduct. It must be said that the school officials have done a work of merit in deciding to remove you from your job. By the grace of God, it has all been stopped in time. Neither you nor anyone else should ever do anything like this again. No memento of your sin should remain for future generations. Therefore this court hereby sentences that you shall live. But the child in your womb shall be destroyed.