This play is the first original drama published in English by a woman and is notable for its interest in gender inequalities. It is also marked by a fascination with interiority, yet presents, in various forms, the impossibility of ever really knowing what another person is thinking or feeling. Mariam, wife of King Herod, is torn between her duty to her family and to a husband who has assassinated her brother and her grandfather. Forswearing her husband's bed, she attempts to preserve her virtue while speaking her feelings truthfully. However her words and actions are misinterpreted by the people around her, until her husband, led by his dissembling sister, Salome, is convinced he must put her to death. Set in Old Testament Judea, the play's biblical injunctions, that censure women's public speech and assert that women cannot initiate divorce, reflect as well the situation of the early modern woman.
This student edition contains a newly edited and fully annotated version of the playtext in modern spelling. The introduction includes an account of Elizabeth Cary's life, a detailed analysis of The Tragedy of Mariam, and new information on how the playtext reached the print shop.
"It's a probing, anxious play, and [editor] Britland points to parallels with Cary's own vexed domestic circumstances. She also sketches in the brief performance history: Mariam did not receive a full production until 1994." --Plays International