The Tragedy of Mariam and Love’s Labour’s Lost Essay

To what extent and in what ways is the gender of voice recognised and explored?

“Taboos against women’s voices have a long history,”[1] writes Anne Karpf.  Not only were there taboos against women’s voices, but also against women themselves.  Merry E. Wiesner identifies that “the vast majority of religious and secular writers before 1500 regarded women as clearly inferior to men.”[2] She continues:

the authors of Hebrew Scripture had a clear idea of the ideal woman; she was the mother             of many children, up working before sunrise to provide food and clothing for her household,            making no objections when her husband brought home concubines or a second wife, totally    obedient and deferential.[3]

These ideas extended further with “Protestant marriage manuals, household guides, and marriage sermons all stress[ing] the importance of husbandly authority and wifely obedience.”[4] Out of these ideas was borne the common social constructions and stereotypes that we now hold about masculine and feminine voices.  Masculine voices should be authoritative, stoic and unemotional.  Karpf found that young boys soon “realised that speaking in a monotone is a male thing.  Cool male icons like Clint Eastwood use this restricted range too: vocal restraint is part of what makes them strong and silent.”[5] In contrast the feminine voice was portrayed as obedient, indecisive and emotional.  When studying the lack of female broadcasters in Britain and America during the 1920s, Karpf found that “women were also indicted […] for conveying too much personality through their voices.”[6] The feminine voice was controlled by emotion and not logic.  Considering the socially constructed masculine and feminine voices, I will be arguing that Elizabeth Cary and William Shakespeare use the gender of voice to explore power relationships between men and women within The Tragedy of Mariam and Love’s Labour’s Lost.  The feminine voice is portrayed as far stronger than the masculine voice.  In both texts, the masculine and feminine voices experience a role reversal with the feminine voice resembling the socially constructed authoritative masculine voice and the masculine voice resembling the socially constructed emotional feminine voice.

The 1613 Tragedy of Mariam (Mariam) is an exceptional text, as it was written by a woman who ascribes a voice to her female characters, thus allowing them to express themselves.  Their use of language gives them identity and is superior to the masculine voice.  It creates a hierarchy between three of the text’s female characters: Graphina, Mariam and Salome.  Graphina is the ideal wife, as she is quiet and obedient.   She says that “if I be silent, ’tis no more but fear| that I should say too little when I speak.”[7] Graphina wishes to stay silent, as she is afraid that what she says has little substance.  Kim Walker identifies that the “ideal wife is presented most forcefully by the Chorus of Act III.”[8] As the Chorus argue, the ideal wife should allow herself to be completely owned by her husband:

when to their husbands they themselves do bind,

do they not wholly give themselves away? […]

No sure, their thoughts no more can be their own,

And therefore should to none but one be known.  (Mariam, 3.3.233-234, 237-238)

Husbands control their wives in mind and body.  Wives should only confide in their husbands.  To confide in anyone else would be adulterous.  As wife to Herod, Mariam is slightly more assertive than Graphina, but only slightly.  She begins the drama with a seventy-five line long monologue, where she confesses her true feelings about Herod.  She initally claims that “when he liv’d, he thought his name too great,” (Mariam, 1.1.4) but immediately betrays herself by begging the audience to “excuse too rash a judgement in a woman.” (Mariam, 1.1.6) Whilst Mariam has the resolve to make these statements, she cannot commit to them.  Salome is at the top of this gender hierarchy.  She has full confidence in herself and her voice is far stronger than Mariam’s or Herod’s.  She demonstrates her resolution when she resolves “to show my sex the way to freedom’s door.” (Mariam, 1.4.310)  Her stoic resilience is starkly contrasted with Herod’s indecisiveness.  In act four scene seven, Herod changes his mind six times over whether to have Mariam executed or not.  Present throughout this is Salome who manipulates Herod into ordering for Mariam’s death, thus demonstrating her strength over him.  When Herod is fretting over how to execute Mariam, Salome suggests “why, let her be beheaded,” (Mariam, 4.7.360) and “why, drown her then.” (Mariam, 4.7.371) The anaphora of ‘why’ demonstrates Salome’s forcefullness.  Her dialogue is short and direct, whilst Herod’s is rambling, verbose and emotional.  She says more in nine words than Herod does in twenty lines.  After a particularly verbose speech, where Herod compares Mariam to “heaven’s model,” (Mariam, 4.7.449) Salome emasculates him by asserting that “your thoughts do rave with doting on your queen.” (Mariam, 4.7.453) Herod can no longer make rational, logical decisions, as he has become overwhelmed with emotion.  His indecisiveness undermines his masculine voice, whilst Salome’s authority bolsters her own feminine voice.  Despite being a woman, her voice becomes so powerful that she can command the male king in his duty.

Within Love’s Labour’s Lost, (Labour’s) the feminine voice is used to expose weakness in the masculine voice, but also to inspire improvement.  As the play progresses, the Princess and her Ladies-in-Waiting prove their skill in language to be superior to the King and his Noblemen.  Rosaline’s and Berowne’s first encounter is as follows:

Berowne: Did not I dance with you in Brubant once?

Rosaline: Did not I dance with you in Brubant once?

Berowne: I know you did.

Rosaline: How needless was it then to ask the question!

Berowne: You must not be so quick.

Rosaline: ‘Tis long of you that spur me with such questions.

Berowne: Your wit’s too hot, it speeds too fast; t’will tire.[9]

Berowne’s attempts at flirtation fail, as Rosaline bests him.  She highlights the redundancy in his rhetoric by repeating it.  Berowne concedes when he accepts that Rosaline’s wit is too sharp and quick for him.  As Peter B. Erickson argues, “unlike the men, the women do not become victims of rhetorical inflation.  While the men are stymied by the overblown hollowness of their language, the women demonstrate the potency of language.”[10] The men become confounded in their own rhetoric.  They try too hard to impress the women and emasculate themselves.  The King’s love letter to the Princess is clichéd and hyperbolic.  However, what betrays his poor rhetoric most is his employment of conduplicatio.  ‘Fresh’ is repeated in lines twenty-four and twenty-five and ‘Queen’ is repeated in line thirty-seven.  In his efforts to express his love, he overcompensates which leads to his speech becoming insincere.  The repetition of these words cancels them out rendering them meaningless.  The Princess declares that the King’s letter is “as much love in rhyme| as would be crammed up in a sheet of paper.” (Labour’s, 5.2.6-7) Instead of writing sincerely, he has ladened his letter with cliché and hyperbole.  After the Princess and her Ladies-in-Waiting discover the men’s plot to charm them in a masked ball, they disrupt their plans by swapping masks and assuming each other’s identities.  The Princess declares that “there’s no such sport as sport by sport o’erthrown| to make theirs ours and ours none but our own.” (Labour’s, 5.2.153-154) The Princess’ employment of conduplicatio is more successful.  She believes that it will be great sport to teach the men a lesson by taking their plan and reversing it on them.  She is able to say what she means, whilst the King’s meaning is lost in purple prose.  This demonstrates her command over language.  To prove his love for her, the Princess wants the King to retreat to a monastery for a year.  She commits to wait for him, if he will wait for her.  The King agrees by simply replying that “hence hermit then- my heart is in thy breast.” (Labour’s, 5.2.810) Once the King abandons his cliched imagery and clumsy rhetoric, he is able to say what he actually means.  This demonstrates the effect that the Princess has had on him.  She causes the King’s voice to mature by adopting a stoic masculine voice herself.

Within the Tragedy of Mariam, the masculine voice is weaker.  It is portrayed as similar to the socially constructed feminine voice.  The masculine voice is undermined through its  indecisiveness.  Herod’s masculine voice is weak compared to what the socially constructed masculine voice should be like.  It is not authoritative or commanding, but rather emotional and uncertain.  He argues that inside him:

love and hate do fight:

And now hath love acquir’d the greater part,

yet how hath hate affection conquer’d quite. (Mariam, 4.4.244-246)

Herod openly acknowledges how his emotions are corrupting his judgement.  His logic is becoming conflicted, as his emotions are dividing him.  Despite knowing this, he still allows his emotions to cloud his judgement further undermining his authority as leader.  He knows what the problem is, but is unwilling to fix it.  This is present in how Herod’s earlier dialogue is punctuated.  He opens Act Four with a thirty-six line monologue consisting of nine sentences.  The second sentence is enjambed with full stops being substituted for colons, commas and multiple clauses.  It reads as:

Mariam will appear,

And where she shines, we need not thy dim light,

Oh, haste thy steps, rare creature, speed thy pace:

And let thy presence make the day more bright,

And cheer the heart of Herod with thy face.  (Mariam, 4.1.8-12)

            Before the colon, which could mark the end of the sentence, six separate clauses are clustered together.  This punctuation renders Herod’s voice as feminine, as it makes it appear uncertain and emotional.  Herod does not know what to say, so he overcompensates by saying everything.

The men within Love’s Labour’s Lost are similarly emotionally driven.  Their masculine voices are marred by indecision.  Originally, the King and his Noblemen sought to commit themselves to their studies by not over-indulging in food, sleep or women for three years.  However, upon becoming infatuated with the Princess of France and her Ladies-in-Waiting, the men forsake their vows for love.  When the men are teasing each other for breaking their vows, long vowels are used to convey the emphatic charge of their language.  Berowne identifies Longaville entering the scene as “one more fool appear[ing.]” (Labour’s, 4.3.42) The King agrees addressing their “sweet fellowship in shame.” (Labour’s, 4.3.46) The double ‘ee’ and ‘oo’ sounds allow the characters to linger on these words and thus the emotions attached to them.  Berowne’s criticisms of Longaville are accentuated by the elongated ‘oo’ sound in ‘fool.’ Similarly, the King’s lament is emphasised through the elongated ‘ee’ sound in ‘sweet.’ This scene also undermines the men’s masculinity by placing them against each other.  Despite how the men’s teasing is affectionate, the fact that they are teasing each other at all demonstrates their extreme fickleness.  Rather than helping each other through their troubles, they are instead mocking one another for it.  They are not a united front like the women, but rather a disorganised rabble.  Their masculinity is undermined through how emotion governs their logic.  This results in their masculine voices resembling the emotionally socially constructed feminine voice.  The men’s voices are weaker as they are unable to commit to anything.  In the King’s and his Noblemen’s failure to separate logic and emotion, they become overcome with emotion and thus their masculine voices are effeminised.

As a closet drama, The Tragedy of Mariam lends itself to the expression of the feminine voice.  Marta Straznicky identifies that “Mariam itself conforms to the dramatic mode of the Sidney writers: its extended monologic speeches, its emphasis on verbal rather than physical action, its choral commentaries […] are all hall-marks of Sidnean ‘closet’ dramas.”[11] Closet dramas, with their emphasis on the verbal over the physical, made them an outlet for female playwrights whose plays were deemed unacceptable for the public sphere.  Straznicky continues:

there is enough evidence […] to suggest that the secular, public nature of commercial theatre        was fundamentally incompatible with the conception of female virtue as domestic: the ideals   of godliness, chastity and good housewifery were invariably imagined as achievable only           within the sphere of the home.[12]

Cary employs dramatic monologue to emphasise the strength of the feminine voice.  The first four scenes are bookended by monologues from Mariam and Salome.  Despite how the male characters like Herod also perform monologues, their masculine voices are portrayed as weaker, due to how the monologues are punctuated.  Herod concludes the play with a hundred and ten line monologue consisting of twenty-nine separate sentences.  This monologue contains gratuitous use of apostrophe and colons and commas in favour of full stops.  In contrast, Salome’s and Mariam’s monologues are far shorter and are punctuated more evenly.  Mariam’s opening monologue is seventy-eight lines long with twenty-two sentences.  Salome’s is sixty-seven lines with only nineteen sentences.  Compared to Herod, both women are able to eloquently articulate themselves.  Within Salome’s monologue, caesura is used four times demonstrating her control over language.  She is able to concisely conclude her points without rambling on like Herod does.  Furthermore, she asks eight rhetorical questions portraying how she is not afraid to question her situation.  She wants to know “why should such a priviliege to man be given?| Or given to them, why barr’d from women then?” (Mariam, 1.4.305-306) The media of closet dramas and dramatic monologues allowed female playwrights like Cary to give a voice to their female characters.  It enabled them to demonstrate the power of the feminine voice in a space where it could flourish and not be restricted by oppressive male attitudes.

In Love’s Labour’s Lost, the male characters try to charm the women through composing sonnets.  However, these attempts lead to their voices becoming effeminised.  This is ironic considering how the sonnet form is favourable to men and “inhospitable to women since by definition and convention it expressed the thoughts and feelings of the male poet.”[13] Ilona Bell identifies that:

many English Renaissance sonnets were poems of courtship, written to be recited or sent by         a male poet/lover to his mistress, hoping to amuse her with his wit, […] and to embolden her           with his principled but unconventional code of ethics.[14]

Longaville and Dumaine attempt to use sonnets to this effect.  Their sonnets contain their internal thoughts, yet are undermined by their poor rhetoric.  Longaville begins the sonnet by acknowledging Maria’s “heavenly rhetoric […]| ‘gainst whom the world cannot hold argument.” (Labour’s, 4.3.58-59) He then says “vows for thee broke deserve not punishment.” (Labour’s, 4.3.60) Longaville tarnishes his masculinity with this statement.  He does not believe that he should be held accountable for his actions, thus conveying his cowardice.  Dumaine’s sonnet is similarly poor, due to how he struggles to stick to the traditional Shakespearean sonnet structure.  His sonnet is six lines longer than the traditional fourteen line sonnet structure and it does not follow the ABABCDCDEFEFGG rhyme scheme.  Rather it is comprised of rhyming couplets.  Whilst Dumaine and Longaville’s sonnets were supposed to bolser their masculinity, they actually exposed the flaws within it.  Although Bell argues that the sonnet initially seems inhospitable to women, it actually encouraged “women to follow their own desires.  […] Poetry of courtship validated female desire, encouraged female agency, and challenged the gender hierarchy, upon which the social order rested.”[15] Dumaine and Longaville’s failure at rhetoric exposes them to taunting.  Katherine criticises Dumaine’s sonnet as “vilely complied, profound simplicity,” (Labour’s, 5.2.52) whilst Maria denounces Longaville’s rhetoric as “too long by half a mile.” (Labour’s, 5.2.54) Longaville and Dumaine’s attempts to bolster their masculinity through writing sonnets has the opposite effect.  They give the women a platform to criticise them from.  In doing so they relinquish their authority and therefore their masculinity.  The usage of the sonnets favours the feminine voice, as it elevates it to a position of power above the masculine voice.  It enables the female characters to scrutinise flaws present within the masculine voice, thus strengthening the feminine voice at the expense of the masculine voice.

In the Tragedy of Mariam and Love’s Labour’s Lost, the gender of voice is used to explore power relationships between men and women.  Both texts explore the social constructions behind the masculine and feminine voice and how these social constructions are reversed.  The feminine voice is stronger than the masculine one, as it is authoritative and commanding rather than emotional and indecisive.  Yet the feminine voice is used differently in either text.  In Tragedy of Mariam, it is solely used to undermine the masculine voice, whereas in Love’s Labour’s Lost, it is used to undermine and inspire improvement in the masculine voice.  In both occasions, the feminine voice is successful in its goals signalling the strength of the feminine voice in a time where literature was dominated by men.

Word Count: 3,000

‘I confirm that this piece of work contains no plagiarised material and that I have read and understood the section on Plagiarism in the School Style Guide.’


Bell, Ilona, ‘Private Lyrics in Elizabeth Cary’s the Tragedy of Mariam,’ in The Literary Career and Legacy of Elizabeth Cary, 1613-1680, ed. by Heather Wolfe (Hampshire: Palgrave Macmillan, 2007) pp. 17-35

Cary, Elizabeth, The Tragedy of Mariam: The Fair Queen of Jewry, ed. by Barry Weller and Margaret W. Ferguson (California: University of California Press, 1994)

Erickson, Peter B., ‘The Failure of Relationship between Men and Women in Love’s Labor’s Lost,’ in Love’s Labour’s Lost: Critical essays, ed. by Felicia Hardison Londré (New York: Routledge, 2001), pp. 243-257

Karpf, Anne, The Human Voice: The Story of a Remarkable Talent (London: Bloomsbury, 2006)

Shakespeare, William, Love’s Labour’s Lost ed. by H.R Woudhuysen (London: Arden Shakespeare, 2001)

Straznicky, Marta, ‘Private Drama,’ in The Cambridge Companion to Early Modern Women’s Writing ed., by Laura Lunger Knoppers (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2009) pp. 247-260

Walker, Kim, Women Writers of the English Renaissance (New York: Twayne Publishers, 1996)

Wiesner, Merry E., Women and Gender in Early Modern Europe 2nd edn. (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2000)

[1]     Anne Karpf, The Human Voice: The Story of a Remarkable Talent (London: Bloomsbury, 2006) p.156.

[2]     Merry E. Wiesner, Women and Gender in Early Modern Europe 2nd edn. (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2000) p. 14.

[3]     Wiesner, p. 15.

[4]     Wiesner, p. 27.

[5]     Karpf, p.155.

[6]     Karpf, p.158.

[7]     Elizabeth Cary, The Tragedy of Mariam: The Fair Queen of Jewry, ed. by Barry Weller and Margaret W. Ferguson (California: University of California Press, 1994), p.90. All subsequent references are from this edition and will be given in parenthesis after quotations in the text.

[8]     Kim Walker, Women Writers of the English Renaissance (New York: Twayne Publishers, 1996) p. 137.

[9]     William Shakespeare, Love’s Labour’s Lost ed. by H.R Woudhuysen (London: Arden Shakespeare, 2001), pp. 149-150. All subsequent references are from this edition and will be given in parenthesis after quotations in the text.

[10]   Peter B. Erickson, ‘The Failure of Relationship between Men and Women in Love’s Labor’s Lost,’ in Love’s Labour’s Lost: Critical essays, ed. by Felicia Hardison Londré (New York: Routledge, 2001), pp. 243-257 (p. 247).

[11]   Marta Straznicky, ‘Private Drama,’ in The Cambridge Companion to Early Modern Women’s Writing ed., by Laura Lunger Knoppers (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2009) pp. 247-260 (p. 255).

[12]   Straznicky, p. 247.

[13]   Ilona Bell, ‘Private Lyrics in Elizabeth Cary’s the Tragedy of Mariam,’ in The Literary Career and Legacy of Elizabeth Cary, 1613-1680, ed., by Heather Wolfe (Hampshire: Palgrave Macmillan, 2007) pp. 17-35 (p.18).

[14]   Bell, p.18.

[15]   Bell, p. 18.

*Author’s Notes*

This was my final assessment for the Early Modern Book Club module.  This module was different to anything I’ve done before, as it didn’t focus on written texts as such, but more about how we read them.  We studied how the reading voice has developed in texts during the Renaissance and how we can recognise the reading voice in texts.  I did brilliantly in this essay getting my only first! I was so happy.  Let me know what you think in the comments.  Argue, agree, criticise, give me feedback!

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