Elizabeth Cary – “The Tragedy of Mariam”

Elizabeth Cary was an English aristocrat, the mother of Lucius Cary eulogized by Ben Jonson and a truly fascinating and learned woman who at some point converted to Catholicism and brought over some of her children with her. The Tragedy of Mariam, the Fair Queen of Jewry is the first play written by an Englishwoman, a closet drama (meaning it was never meant to be actually produced on stage, but only read) based on the story of Herod and his wife Mariam as told by Joseph Flavius. The play starts with Herod sailing off to Rome where it is widely assumed he is going to be executed for his support of Mark Anthony. When the rumours about his death reach Judaea, everybody breathes a sigh of relief and they start quickly arranging new life without Herod (political dissidents come out of the hiding, Herod’s son is announced to be the next king etc.). But at the beginning of the excerpt Sohemus, Herod’s officer, tells his queen Mariam (whom he was actually ordered by Herod to kill in the event of his death, so that no other man would have her) that Herod is actually alive and more in favour with Rome than ever. Mariam after the first shock says it does not change  a thing for her because she has sworn she will never sleep with Herod again. Sohemus, with much apologizing, tries to tell her it’s actually a bad idea, knowing Herod, but Mariam won’t budge. She knows she could easily wrap Herod around her finger and fight the intrigues of Herod’s family against her, but she is disgusted with her life so far and she won’t stoop so low. (In case you don’t know it, Mariam is the daughter of the original Judean ruling family, whom Herod, an arriviste, killed for the most part, so she had good reasons to hate him even before she heard about his orders to kill her as well). When she leaves, Sohemus soliloquizes about how his own death is certain, but he is perfectly happy to die, protecting the beautiful queen, whose beauty however does not inspire low lust, but only admiration. I have a nagging feeling there’s more than a hint of Mary Sue about Mariam.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s