Top Girls

by

Caryl Churchill

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Pope Joan is a figure who, according to legend, disguised herself as a man in the Middle Ages and reigned as Pope for two years until her true identity was discovered. Pope Joan wanted power so badly that she renounced her womanhood—not only did she hide the fact that she was a woman from her attendants and devotees, but she herself forgot her own womanhood, and did not realize that she had become pregnant as the result of an affair until she gave birth in the street one day during a religious procession. Joan and her child were immediately carried away and stoned to death. Joan lived her life in pursuit of the freedoms that could only be won through disguising her true gender, and her story calls into question what it means to renounce one’s femininity in pursuit of more traditionally masculine privileges and powers. Joan’s story echoes Marlene’s own pursuit of power at the expense of her identity—not to mention of her own child.

Pope Joan Quotes in Top Girls

The Top Girls quotes below are all either spoken by Pope Joan or refer to Pope Joan. For each quote, you can also see the other characters and themes related to it (each theme is indicated by its own dot and icon, like this one:
Life Under the Patriarchy Theme Icon
). Note: all page numbers and citation info for the quotes below refer to the Bloomsbury edition of Top Girls published in 1982.
Act One, Scene One Quotes

MARLENE: Magnificent all of you. We need some more wine, please, two bottles I think, Griselda isn’t even here yet, and I want to drink a toast to you all.

ISABELLA: To yourself surely, we’re here to celebrate your success.

NIJO: Yes, Marlene.

JOAN: Yes, what is it exactly, Marlene?

MARLENE: Well it’s not Pope but it is managing director.

JOAN: And you find work for people.

MARLENE: Yes, an employment agency.

NIJO: Over all the women you work with. And the men.

ISABELLA: And very well deserved too. I’m sure it’s just the beginning of something extraordinary.

MARLENE: Well it’s worth a party.

ISABELLA: To Marlene.

MARLENE: And all of us.

JOAN: Marlene.

NIJO: Marlene.

GRET: Marlene.

MARLENE: We’ve all come a long way. To our courage and the way we changed our lives and our extraordinary achievements. (They laugh and drink a toast.)

Related Characters: Marlene (speaker), Isabella Bird (speaker), Lady Nijo (speaker), Dull Gret (speaker), Pope Joan (speaker), Patient Griselda
Related Symbols: Top Girls Employment Agency
Page Number: 24
Explanation and Analysis:

JOAN: But I didn’t know what was happening. I thought I was getting fatter, but then I was eating more and sitting about, the life of a Pope is quite luxurious. I don’t think I’d spoken to a woman since I was twelve. [My lover] the chamberlain was the one who realized.

MARLENE: And by then it was too late.

JOAN: Oh I didn’t want to pay attention. It was easier to do nothing. […] I never knew what month it was. […] I wasn’t used to having a woman’s body.

JOAN: I didn’t know of course that it was near the time. It was Rogation Day, there was always a procession. I was on the horse dressed in my robes and a cross was carried in front of me, and all the cardinals were following, and all the clergy of Rome, and a huge crowd of people. […] I had felt a slight pain earlier, I thought it was something I’d eaten, and then it came back, and came back more often. I thought when this is over I’ll go to bed. There were still long gaps when I felt perfectly all right and I didn’t want to attract attention to myself and spoil the ceremony. Then I suddenly realized what it must be. I had to last out till I could get home and hide. Then something changed, my breath started to catch, I couldn’t plan things properly any more. […] I just had to get off the horse and sit down for a minute. […] And the baby just slid out on to the road.

Related Characters: Marlene (speaker), Pope Joan (speaker)
Page Number: 27-28
Explanation and Analysis:
Get the entire Top Girls LitChart as a printable PDF.
Top Girls PDF

Pope Joan Character Timeline in Top Girls

The timeline below shows where the character Pope Joan appears in Top Girls. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Act One, Scene One
Life Under the Patriarchy Theme Icon
Women’s Stories Theme Icon
...has brought the women their menus, and Marlene wonders aloud if they should wait for Joan before they put their orders in; the last guest, Griselda, she says, is going to... (full context)
Women’s Stories Theme Icon
...asking if she ever had any horses. Gret replies with one word only: “Pig.” Pope Joan arrives at the party—Marlene is grateful that their group can at last order some food.... (full context)
Women’s Stories Theme Icon
...turns to death, as Isabella recalls her father’s death, and Nijo recalls her father’s, too. Joan states that “death is the return of all creatures to God.” The women begin discussing... (full context)
Life Under the Patriarchy Theme Icon
Women’s Stories Theme Icon
Power, Success, and Individualism Theme Icon
Pope Joan declares that she herself dressed as a boy as early as she could. She ran... (full context)
Women’s Stories Theme Icon
...tells the women that one of her lovers died, too—he was a priest named Ariake. Joan adds that her friend from her travels died—they all have dead lovers, she observes. (full context)
Life Under the Patriarchy Theme Icon
Women’s Stories Theme Icon
...was a Buddhist priest, and shared his beliefs about the afterlife and reincarnation with her. Joan, meanwhile, tells Marlene about her friend, with whom she’d passionately debated scripture and theology. After... (full context)
Women’s Stories Theme Icon
Power, Success, and Individualism Theme Icon
...how, without the Emperor’s favor, she felt she had “nothing” in her life. As for Joan, she reveals that she devoted herself entirely to her studies—as she became more and more... (full context)
Life Under the Patriarchy Theme Icon
Women’s Stories Theme Icon
Power, Success, and Individualism Theme Icon
...the gathered women. Isabella points out that they are all gathered to celebrate Marlene’s success. Joan asks what exactly Marlene has achieved; Marlene replies that while she hasn’t been made Pope,... (full context)
Life Under the Patriarchy Theme Icon
Women’s Stories Theme Icon
Power, Success, and Individualism Theme Icon
Joan continues her story. She found that once appointed to the papacy, God did not speak... (full context)
Life Under the Patriarchy Theme Icon
Women’s Stories Theme Icon
Power, Success, and Individualism Theme Icon
Motherhood Theme Icon
If it hadn’t been for the baby, Joan says, she would’ve ruled to an old age. Nijo asks Joan to tell them what... (full context)
Life Under the Patriarchy Theme Icon
Women’s Stories Theme Icon
Motherhood Theme Icon
Joan tells Nijo that she wasn’t used to having a woman’s body—she had all but forgotten... (full context)
Life Under the Patriarchy Theme Icon
Women’s Stories Theme Icon
Power, Success, and Individualism Theme Icon
...about her extensive charity work in England, which she undertook between adventures around the word. Joan tells the women that after her, the Vatican introduced a special chair with a hole... (full context)
Life Under the Patriarchy Theme Icon
Women’s Stories Theme Icon
Motherhood Theme Icon
...none other than her son and daughter. Marlene says that the Marquis was a “monster.” Joan, incredulous, asks if Griselda forgave the Marquis—she says that she did, and returned to her... (full context)
Life Under the Patriarchy Theme Icon
Women’s Stories Theme Icon
Joan comforts Nijo, telling her not to cry. Nijo talks about the deaths of her father... (full context)
Life Under the Patriarchy Theme Icon
Women’s Stories Theme Icon
Motherhood Theme Icon
The waitress comes and pours everyone more brandy. Joan drunkenly begins reciting a long prayer in Latin, part of which, in translation, expresses the... (full context)
Life Under the Patriarchy Theme Icon
Women’s Stories Theme Icon
Motherhood Theme Icon
...begins talking. She describes pillaging Hell with the other women of her village. Marlene urges Joan, who is still chanting in Latin, to be quiet so they all can hear Gret... (full context)
Life Under the Patriarchy Theme Icon
Women’s Stories Theme Icon
Power, Success, and Individualism Theme Icon
Joan resumes her chanting. Isabella describes returning to Morocco on one last journey, in her old... (full context)