Tragedy of Mariam

About the Play

First Production

Unknown, though not during Cary's lifetime

Cast Breakdown
13 men, 5 women, plus chorus
Five acts


The Tragedy of Mariam is the tale of the death of Mariam, the second wife of Herod the Great, the King of Palestine from 39-4 BC. As the play opens, friends and family discuss the news of Herod’s death.  Seizing the opportunity, each engages in illicit love affairs and nefarious acts knowing Herod would disapprove. Most importantly, Mariam admits she never loved Herod despite his passionate feelings for her.  To the surprise of the characters, Herod is well and alive and returns to reunite with his wife. Herod’s sister, Salome, plots to get rid of Mariam by spreading lies of her unfaithfulness and her wish to see Herod die.  Herod decides to kill Mariam, afterwards realizing his eternal regret and remorse.


The Tragedy of Mariam is thought to be the first play written in English by a woman, though it’s possible Cary wrote a play prior to this one that was lost. The play, a Jacobean closet drama, was never staged during its author’s lifetime and may not have even been intended for performance. It was written sometime between 1602 and 1604 and published in 1613. It did not receive attention until the 1970s when scholars discovered Cary’s contributions to the feminist literary form. It has since been staged at the Studio Theatre, the King's Head Theatre, and the Tristan Bates Theatre most recently in 2013. 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. 


Cary, Elizabeth. The Tragedy of Mariam, The Fair Queen of Jewry. N.p.: W. W. Norton & Company, Inc., n.d. PDF.

Rose, Kerin G. "Dark Moon Rising:." Digital.library Server at Penn Libraries. University of Pennsylvania, n.d. Web. 10 June 2016.

Wray, Ramona. "Performing The Tragedy of Mariam and Constructing Stage History." Early Theatre. N.p., n.d. Web. 10 June 2016.

About the Playwright

Elizabeth Cary
Elizabeth Cary
Elizabeth Cary, born at Burford Priory in Oxfordshire, was the first female writer to publish work under her own name and thought to be the first femal playwright to write in English. A poet, dramatist, and translator Elizabeth was known for her fluency in multiple languages, such as French and Hebrew. Born to Sir Lawrence Tanfield and Elizabeth Symonds, and though they supported her passion for learning, are said to have refused her a candle for reading at night so she would rest from her studi…
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