Intersecting Discourses of Race and Gender in Elizabeth Cary's The Tragedy of Mariam

Evelyn Gajowski


Elizabeth Cary’s closet drama, The Tragedy of Mariam: The Fair Queen of Jewry, is the first dramatic text authored by a female playwright in the English literary tradition. The play dramatizes the conflicts that characterize two marriages: Mariam and Herod, and Salome and Constabarus. Not surprisingly, initial critical attention to Cary’s tragedy comparatively analyses the marital conflicts characterizing Cary’s marriage, drawing on The Lady Falkland: Her Life, a biography written by one of her daughters, on the one hand, and the marital conflicts characterizing Mariam’s marriage to Herod within the imaginative world of the dramatic text, on the other. Early critical attention also comparatively analyses Cary’s dramatic text and her source, Josephus’s Jewish Antiquities, translated into English by Thomas Lodge and published in 1602. Cary drew upon Josephus freely, but she makes two major alterations in the story that she inherits: the first is the addition of her Christian perspective, while the second is her focus on the character of Mariam as her tragic protagonist.What I aim to interrogate here is Cary’s juxtaposition of two antithetical representations of femininity – Mariam, her tragic protagonist, and Salome, her villain – to structure her dramatic text. While Salome dominates the first half, Mariam dominates the second half. I aim, further, to examine Cary’s skilful exploitation of early modern European discourses of race and gender in establishing the identity formation of these two female characters.


Cary; Mariam; Salome; Herod; tragedy

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