Black Box Radio #1: The Tragedy of Mariam

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Elizabeth Careys "The Tragedy of Mariam"Good news!  We're launching our first Black Box Radio project this month. We'll be doing an audio treatment of "The Tragedy of Mariam", a Tudor-era closet drama written by Elizabeth Cary. Directing this project will be Diana Lobb, KWLT's Communications Director and the director of our main stage productions "Immigration Acts", Blood Relations, and The December Man (l'homme de décembre).

Auditions and rehearsal information

We'll be conducting auditions online; you can either upload an audition piece (video or audio) or audition live over Zoom. Live auditions will be conducted on August 11th-13th by appointment.  If you're interested in taking part (as an actor or as a sound technician), please fill out our audition information form.

The rehearsal period will be short but intense, lasting 2-3 weeks with potentially 3-4 rehearsals per week (conducted variously online or outside); once the play is in good shape we'll schedule a date for recording.

Black Box Radio

The Black Box Radio series is one way that KWLT is keeping active (and acting!) during the pandemic. Our hope is to produce a series of recorded productions to allow our members the chance to explore different aspects of theatrical performance. If you're interested in directing one of these projects and/or have an idea in mind for a play that would be well-suited to the medium of radio, please connect with our Executive Producer and let her know!

About the author: Elizabeth Cary

Elizabeth Cary (1585-1639) was an English poet, translator and dramatist. Cary was a remarkable woman who had many "firsts" amongst English authors.  Elizabeth Cary's The History of the Life, Reign, and Death of Edward II is the first political history written by an Englishwoman.  She also wrote the Tragedy of Mariam, the first original play to be published by an Englishwoman under her own name, and was the subject of the first biography of a female English author, which was written by her daughter.

She married Sir Henry Cary, through an arranged marriage, and had eleven children. Disinherited by her father for using her own income to defray household expenses, she was later abandoned by her husband when she converted to Catholicism. She spent much of the rest of her life battling for custody of her sons and daughters.

The Tragedy of Mariam

The Tragedy of Mariam tells the story of the death of Mariam, the second wife of Herod the Great, the King of Palestine from 39-4 BC. The play opens with news of Herod’s death. Seizing the opportunity of Herod’s demise, his friends and family engage in a series of illicit affairs and intrigues. Mariam, most importantly, admits she never loved Herod.  To the surprise of the characters, Herod is alive and returns. Herod’s sister, Salome, plots to get rid of Mariam by spreading rumours of her unfaithfulness.  Herod believes his sister’s lies and orders Mariam’s execution. After her death, he realizes he has been deceived and is left with eternal regret and remorse.

The play is known for exposing the female perspective on love and divorce well before English society acknowledged women's views in any significant structural way. Cary borrows characters and themes from the Greeks (specifically, Josephus), in whose writing women possessed agency and power. In this way, Cary's play challenged the patriarchal overtones of its period and is remarkable for its early feminism.

The play is a Senecan revenge tragedy written as a closet drama.

Senecan Revenge Tragedy

The plays of Seneca greatly influenced medieval playwrights.  The characteristics of the Senecan tragedy were: 

  1. a division into five acts with Choruses;
  2. a considerable use of ‘horrors’ and violence, which usually take place off stage but are elaborately recounted;
  3. a parallel violence of language and expression. 

The fashion for this style of play, which developed in learned rather than popular circles, was short‐lived, but its elements persisted in Elizabethan drama.

Closet Drama

A closet drama (or closet play) is a play created primarily for reading, rather than production Stageability is only one aspect of closet drama. Historically, playwrights might choose the genre of 'closet' dramatic writing to avoid censorship of their works. Closet drama has also been used as a mode of dramatic writing for those without access to the commercial playhouse, and in this context has become closely associated with early modern women's writing. 

Dramatis Personae

  • Mariam (Mariamne I) – Queen of Judaea and Herod's second wife
  • Herod the Great – King of Judaea
  • Salome – Herod's sister
  • Pheroras – Herod's brother
  • Alexandra – Mariam's mother
  • Silleus – Prince of Arabia and Salome's lover
  • Constabarus – Salome's husband
  • Graphina – Pheroras' lover
  • Doris – Herod's first wife and Antipater's mother
  • Antipater – Herod and Doris' son
  • Ananell – High Priest
  • Sohemus – Herod's counselor
  • Nuntio – Messenger
  • Babas' First Son – Hidden from Herod by Constabarus
  • Babas' Second Son – Hidden from Herod by Constabarus
  • Chorus – A company of Jews
  • Butler to Herod