Master of Arts (MA)
English & Film Studies
Faculty of Arts
This thesis examines Elizabeth Cary’s use of the Chorus in The Tragedy of Mariam (pub. 1613). Imitating classical dramatists, Cary portrays the Chorus as a specific cultural group. Mariam’s Chorus consists of “a company of Jews” whose commentary on the play’s events is informed by its participations in patriarchal culture. The Chorus’s prescriptions for wifely virtue and judgements of Mariam’s moral standing frequently contain contradictions. Comparing the contradictions in the Chorus’s statements with similar contradictions in early modern domestic conduct guides, I argue that Cary uses the Chorus to interrogate patriarchal ideology. I consider Cary’s employment of the Chorus in the context of generic characteristics of closet drama, specifically in regard to the genre’s interest in dialectical thought, politics, and didacticism. Closet dramas explore moral and political issues by dramatizing arguments and allowing readers to draw our own conclusions. The Chorus voices a conservative perspective in the play’s multivocal dialogue about women. Cary uses the Chorus to interrogate patriarchal assumptions about women’s worth and place in society, a project which accords with closet drama’s political impetus. The Chorus emphasizes the didactic element in Mariam by offering the play as a “school of wisdom.” Although the Chorus offers instructive statements on what comprises virtuous behaviour in women, ironically the Chorus is unaware that if we view its lessons with a critical eye we will learn that patriarchal ideology is riddled with contradictions. I propose that the didacticism in Cary’s play arises from the multiple perspectives offered. The ambiguity of the ending, for example, invites us to decide for ourselves whether Mariam’s actions have been praiseworthy. Cary foregrounds the issue of critical thought by having the Chorus deliver the discourse on the importance of testing the truth of what we are told. The Chorus is also unaware of the implications its endorsements of a critical approach have for its own prejudiced judgement of Mariam.
Falk, Viona, "The Chorus in Elizabeth Cary's 'Tragedy of Mariam'" (1995). Theses and Dissertations (Comprehensive). 1.