Date of Award
Master of Arts (MA)
Mary V. Silcox
At the heart of Elizabeth Cary's play The Tragedy of Mariam are the intertwined issues of feminine virtue, authority and voice. Throughout the play the characters debate these issues with each other and to themselves filling the play with conflicting and uncertain voices regarding these central issues. Since the recent resurrection of Cary's tragedy, twentieth-century critics have discussed and attempted to discern with which of these voices the play's ultimate sentiments lie. This paper brings to that discussion a new perspective which results in a radically different conclusion than has been considered by critics thus far. This paper examines the relationship of The Tragedy of Mariam to a public debate - the "woman question" debate - which was being waged in print during the same time that Cary composed her play and examines the same central issues of feminine virtue, authority and voice. A comparison of these two forums - the play and the debate - reveals that Mariam echoes with innumerable allusions to the opinions expressed within the debate. These allusions draw the Early Modern debate itself into the play to the end of ultimately undermining the underlying assumptions on which the woman question debate (and much of the Renaissance's image of woman) were founded. By viewing the play against the context of the debate, it is also possible to see the original perspective which Cary brought to these issues by engaging them within the genre of drama, a genre which allowed her to overcome the limitations encountered by other women writers who responded within the confines of the debate. This approach to Cary's play reveals that rather than participating in the woman question debate and allying with any particular side, The Tragedy of Mariam is a harsh critique on the debate itself and the assumptions about woman embedded within it.
Bosman, Diane Rose, ""By public language graced": The Tragedy of Mariam and the Woman Question Debate" (1995). Open Access Dissertations and Theses. Paper 6999.
McMaster University Library