Race and Female Speech in The Tragedy of Mariam and The Renegado
Mentor:Jonathan Burton, Assistant Professor of English Literature, Whittier College
Race in Early Modern England is a subject that has been explored by scholars who focus on the many varying definitions of “race”. Among the many distinctions of race in this period, women of the Christian and Arab world are the most interesting to examine because it provides a rich discourse about the way in which women were racialized based on their skin color and lineage. This topic becomes even more interesting when questions of female speech are brought up. Two particular plays of the Early Modern era, Elizabeth Cary’s The Tragedy of Mariam and Philip Massinger’s The Renegado, explore female speech and autonomy and the way in which race can affect it.
Though there is a substantial amount of scholarship that examines both plays, there is no existing scholarship that compares the two dramas. Though the works are of different genres, both playwrights are concerned with “race” and female speech. These concerns are expressed through Cary’s Jewish heroine, Mariam, and her treacherous “parti-Jew parti-Edomite” sister-in-law Salome. Likewise, these issues are explored through Massinger’s virtuous Venetian captive, Paulina, and sultry Turkish princess Donusa. Though each pair of women shares a different dynamic, both playwrights utilize each woman’s speech and autonomy in relation to patriarchy to express the relevance of “race.” I argue that the race of each woman crosshatches their speech situations when confronted with patriarchy. In both plays, these women’s speech alter when the racial dynamic changes.