Dramatic Difference: Gender, Class, and Genre in the Early Modern Closet Drama

By Karen Raber | Go to book overview

4
Gender, Genre, and the State:
Elizabeth Cary’s Tragedy of Mariam

WHEN ELIZABETH CARY WAS ONLY TEN YEARS OLD, HER FATHER took her to a trial in which he was judging a woman accused of witchcraft:

But the child, seeing the poor woman in so terrible a fear, and in so
simple a manner confess all, thought fear had made her idle, so she
whispered her father and desired him to aske her whether she had
bewitched to death Mr. John Symondes of such a place (her uncle
that was one of the standers-by). He did so, to which she said yes,
just as she had done to the rest … then (all the company laughing)
he asked her what she ailed to say so? told her the man was alive,
and stood there…. Then he examined her what she meant to con-
fess all this if it were false? She answered they had threatened her
if she would not confess, and said, if she would, she should have
mercy showed her—which she said with such simplicity that (the
witness brought against her being of little force and her own confes-
sion appearing now to be of less) she was as easily believed innocent
and [ac]quitted.1

This much-quoted scene from Cary’s own childhood offers a positive vision of the place domestic or familial counsel might occupy in the public, political world of seventeenth-century England. Cary’s inaudible transmission, channeled privately between father and daughter, girl and judge, is compatible with cultural proscriptions of women’s speech. Yet here domestic counsel, instead of being erased or contained, intervenes to salvage the tyranny potential in this legal judgment. In this incident, domestic counsel is effective precisely because it creates a private space, a channel between judge and informant within the context of the public arena of the court. If Cary’s words were overheard, her trick would not work. She has access to her father’s ear because she is his daughter; and because she is not

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