Elizabeth Cary's Mariam and the Critique of Pure Reason
William M. Hamlin
Washington State University

Hamlin, William. "
Elizabeth Cary's Mariam and the Critique of Pure Reason." Early Modern Literary Studies 9.1 (May, 2003): 2.1-22 <URL: http://purl.oclc.org/emls/09-1/hamlcary.html>.

But men may construe things after their fashion,
Clean from the purpose of the things themselves. -Cicero, in Julius Caesar

  1. The young Elizabeth Tanfield was a voracious reader. Linguistically gifted, she mastered French, Italian, and Latin as a girl, taught herself Hebrew, and, according to her daughter Lucy, read "very exceeding much." Poetry, theology, classical history and English chronicle all figured significantly in this reading, as did books "treating of moral virtue or wisdom (such as Seneca, Plutarch, . . . French Mountaine, and English Bacon)." Indeed, the future Elizabeth Cary not only translated Seneca's Epistles but thoroughly immersed herself in the realm of wisdom literature - and "not without making her profit." [1] What that profit was and how it manifested itself are questions one might well desire to ask Cary's daughter, as are the related matters of precisely when, and in what circumstances and intellectual context, Cary encountered Montaigne and Bacon, and, in the case of the former, whether she read his Essais in French or in John Florio's recent English version. But that Montaigne in particular had a perceptible impact on Cary's habits of contemplating "moral virtue" seems beyond dispute. The Tragedy of Mariam, published in 1613 but probably composed between 1602 and 1609, illustrates in varied ways not only that Cary was indebted to Montaigne but that like the French essayist and many contemporary intellectuals she was intrigued by the complex epistemological relations among knowing, perceiving, seeming, and believing. More precisely, her play interrogates the facile distinction between reason and feeling that several of its characters, and especially the Chorus, routinely assume, and which contributes significantly to the protagonist's death. Drawing on her familiarity with the time-honoured sceptical tendency to question Stoic sententiousness - a tendency frequently displayed by Montaigne - Cary schools her audience to scrutinize the Chorus' habits of judgment and to cast doubt on its self-assured verdicts. The claims of the Chorus become, in effect, necessary antecedents rather than final adjudications, and Mariam's auditors become active participants in an ongoing dialectic of judicial assessment.

  2. Recent editions of Mariam have noted Cary's likely reliance on Montaigne in the title character's opening soliloquy. Reacting to the report of her husband Herod's death, Mariam acknowledges the intricacy of her emotional response and chastises herself for her earlier censure of Julius Caesar, who famously wept at the news of Pompey's demise. In an apostrophe to the now-dead "Roman lord," Mariam asks for leniency:

    Excuse too rash a judgment in a woman:
    My sex pleads pardon, pardon then afford,
    Mistaking is with us but too too common.
    Now do I find, by self-experience taught,
    One object yields both grief and joy:
    You wept indeed, when on his worth you thought,
    But joy'd that slaughter did your foe destroy.
    So at his death your eyes true drops did rain,
    Whom dead, you did not wish alive again. (1.1.6-14)

    As Marta Straznicky and Richard Rowland have observed, Cary appears to be indebted to Montaigne in this speech, specifically to the chapter entitled "Comme nous pleurons et rions d'une mesme chose" (Essais I.38). Rendered by Florio as "How we weepe and laugh at one selfe-same thing," this chapter illustrates how thoroughly Montaigne's sense of human mutability infiltrates even his earlier and more Stoically-inclined meditations. [2] Not only does he stress that "our mindes are often agitated by divers passions," but he foregrounds the story of Caesar and Pompey, remarking, as Mariam does in different words, that it is not in the least strange "to mourne for him dead, whom a man by no meanes would have alive again." [3] Unquestionably agitated by "divers passions," Mariam sets the stage here for Herod's later psychomachia, where "love and hate do fight" (4.4.244). Cary's debt to Montaigne thus seems probable almost to the point of certainty.

  3. But the interest of the passage far exceeds this debt. The "mistaking" of which Mariam speaks, and whose prevalence she preemptively ascribes to her sex, is of course the "rash" judgment that Caesar was a dissembler and hypocrite - a judgment that, as Montaigne notes, no less a writer than Lucan had similarly levelled. [4] Hence the gender binary proposed by Mariam is immediately destabilized by source examination, just as it is textually imperiled by the tacit equation of the complex emotional reactions of Mariam and Caesar. But beyond this, the passage opens proleptically on the play's thoroughgoing concern with the human tendency to rush to judgment, a tendency excoriated, for instance, in the play's second choral ode, and also ironically displayed in Mariam's very confidence that the rumour of her husband's death is true. Cary seems fascinated by this phenomenon, presenting it not as an isolated facet of Mariam's behavior but as a universal proclivity, no more female than male in character. The false belief that Herod is dead is the engine that powers the first half of Mariam, and as such it commands Cary's attention as a representative instance of an intrinsically compelling feature of cognition. And when Alexandra chides Mariam by telling Salome that her daughter laments "with more than reason" at being "freed from such a sad annoy" (1.3.215-16), Cary suggests both how shallow is Alexandra's understanding of Mariam's inward life and how inadequate is that stipulative definition of "reason" that excludes what lies behind, or beneath, or beyond strict ratiocination.

  4. Almost all critical commentary on Mariam in the past fifteen years has concentrated on the play's explorations of women's "public voice," female resistance to patriarchal tyranny, and contradictions within prevailing gender and political discourses. Valuable studies by such scholars as Margaret Ferguson, Elaine Beilin, Betty Travitsky, Maureen Quilligan, Nancy Gutierrez, Marta Straznicky, Laurie Shannon and Karen Raber have sharply raised the profile of this once-obscure closet drama by drawing careful attention to the manifold ways in which Cary, as Barbara Lewalski puts it, "challenges patriarchal control within marriage" by depicting a heroine who "claims a wife's right to self-definition and the integrity of her own emotional life." [5] But as Diane Purkiss observes, Mariam also participates in "humanist and intellectual projects usually believed to be wholly masculine by modern critics"; the play's fluency with Stoic ideas and Senecan drama exemplify its connection "with the realm of letters and the circulation of ideas, discourses, and writings." [6] Shari Zimmerman further elaborates Mariam's discursive embeddedness by examining its exploration of "counterfeit performance" in conjunction with John Milton's tacit assumptions, in his divorce tracts, about wifely dissembling. [7] For Zimmerman, the motto "be and seem" inscribed by Cary in her daughter Catherine's wedding ring takes on new and complex significance, and Mariam begins to resonate not only with Shakespeare's meditations on appearance in Hamlet but with deep-seated cultural ambivalences regarding duplicity and dissimulation. [8] Given all this - and given as well the almost certain reliance on Montaigne - it seems appropriate to turn to Mariam's focus, at times bordering obsession, on epistemological concerns demonstrably important to Cary and her contemporaries.

  5. The play indeed will not let them rest. In the "Argument," for instance, Cary goes out of her way to explain why the report of Herod's execution was so quickly embraced by Jerusalem's inhabitants: it was "their willingness it should be so, together with the likelihood," that gave the rumour such "good credit" (67). Standing out conspicuously in a narration otherwise devoted to facts, this explanation at once broaches Cary's interest in the phenomenon of desire conditioning belief and serves, almost apologetically, as a way of accounting to ostensibly sceptical readers why the Judeans acted as they did. In other words, Cary shapes her audience here, constructing them as cautious and self-restrained rationalists who construe as immediately implausible the same rumour the Judeans find so plausible as to construe as truth. And this readerly construction, as I will suggest below, contributes importantly to the ways in which the play's notoriously puzzling choral commentaries acquire and generate meaning.

  6. Or, to take another example, consider Constabarus' debate with the sons of Babas in act 2. Like Mariam, Alexandra, Pheroras, Graphina, and Sohemus, all of whom readily accept the claim that Herod is dead, Constabarus acts confidently in the assumed truth of the news. But Babas' First Son thinks otherwise. Capable of suspending judgment on the matter and imagining that the "tale" of Herod's demise may "prove a very tale indeed" (2.2.147-48), he proposes that he and his brother remain in hiding until the "truth" of Herod's state is known (1.2.154). [9] Constabarus explodes at this suggestion, accusing the Son of cowardice and, in an interchange where the word "doubt" appears five times in a dozen lines, hubristically defending the "undoubted truth" of the tyrant's death with arguments grounded in probability (2.2.156). But it is clear that Babas' First Son is no coward, and thus this passage, besides foreshadowing Herod's imminent return, concentrates our attention on the distinction between doubt as fear and as withholding of assent. [10] The former view, often characteristic of those inclined to rush to judgment, comes seemingly naturally to Constabarus, and complicates his portrayal considerably. Cary makes him attractive as a loyal friend to Babas' sons and a victim of Salome's intrigues, but his later misogynistic tirade is among the most vehement in all Renaissance drama (4.6.309-50), and he is also alleged, as is Herod, to exhibit a stifling and jealous love for his wife--though of course the allegation comes from Salome herself (1.6.418; cp. 1.1.23-26, 1.6.377-86, 3.2.85). A subtle alignment between Constabarus and Herod is thus established, and the play's second chorus, with its explicit denunciation of "rash" and "heady" conclusion, resonates significantly beyond the specific circumstance of "this tale of Herod's end" (2.4.405, 426). [11]

  7. In short, Mariam insists on foregrounding a dimension of its play-world that we, as readers four centuries later, may perhaps be tempted to marginalize: a constellation of cognitive phenomena including precipitous judgment, suspension of belief, false generalization, deluded perception, assent conditioned by desire, and "reason" constituted as more than mere logic. Yes, we may think, the play's unfolding depends on a radically mistaken belief, but surely the machinations of Salome and the principled decisions of Mariam hold more dramatic interest than this belief; hence they gather and concentrate a far greater degree of the play's internal reflection. Yet Cary draws out parallels between Judea's conclusion of Herod's death and Herod's conclusion of Mariam's infidelity that ultimately defy any marginalization of epistemological concerns. [12] Like John Davies of Hereford, her childhood tutor and writing master, Cary exhibits sustained interest here in questions of doubt and credulity. And they are questions that uncannily return to haunt her nearly three decades later, when William Chillingworth famously attempts to lure her daughters back to the Church of England--or at any rate away from their professed Catholicism. [13]

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  8. Davies, who in 1612 refers with pride to Cary as his former "Pupill," places considerable emphasis in various philosophical poems on the intrinsic frailties of sense perception and reason. In his 1602 Mirum in Modum, for instance, he relates anecdotal information about Pyrrho of Elis (the eponymous founder of Pyrrhonian scepticism), and in his 1603 Microcosmos he claims that

          the state of things is so vnstay'd
    That humane wisedome stands it wotts not howe;
    Vnsure in all; for Iudgment's oft betrai'd
    In that which proofe before had well assai'd. [14]

    Davies buttresses this assertion with a marginal note lifted almost verbatim from the 1569 Elizabethan translation of Cornelius Agrippa's De incertitudine et vanitate scientiarum (1531). "Every knowledge," he writes, "hath its beginning of the senses, which are often deceiu'd. Therefore all sciences which are deriu'd & fast rooted in the senses are vncertaine, & deceiptfull." [15] Davies thus displays clear acquaintaince with ancient scepticism as channelled into sixteenth-century Europe through such writers as Agrippa and Guillaume Du Bartas, and such translations as Antonio Traversari's rendition of Diogenes Laertius and perhaps Henri Estienne's version of Sextus Empiricus. [16]

  9. As for Chillingworth, Lucy Cary's biography of her mother depicts him as a quasi-demonic figure in his subtle self-presentation to Lucy and her sisters as "a long waverer," a man deeply worried that they, in their conversion to the Roman church, may have been "too speedy resolvers" (Life, 233). Always "professing himself a Catholic" during his visits to Cary's London house in the early 1630s, Chillingworth attempted to lead the daughters through a cautious and rational revaluation of their decision. He quoted St. Peter's precept that "everyone ought to be able to give a reason of his faith," and he argued that "it was not enough to believe the right, unless they could defend the reasonableness of it" (234, 236). [17] Eventually exposed as a "willful deceiver and seducer," Chillingworth was "forbid the house" and thereby prevented from further efforts at eroding the daughters' confidence in their Catholic profession (241, 243). But what emerges clearly from Lucy's admittedly tendentious narration is that the intellectual climate in which Cary and her children existed - and which Chillingworth and other members of the Great Tew circle overtly promoted - saw epistemological doubt as a virtue and gave positive valence to the state of being "disengaged on either side" (238). [18] Chillingworth's very effort at undermining Cary's daughters' faith was premised on their respect for his perceived status, like that of their elder brother Lucius, as a doubter and cautious student, an ongoing "inquirer" rather than "an absolute defender of anything" (244). Their own respect for the sceptical outlook, in other words, was subtly deployed against them.

  10. To be sure, the eclectic combination of inquiry, disengagement, and Socinian rationalism exhibited by Chillingworth represents a somewhat idiosyncratic manifestation of scepticism's early-modern reception rather than a rigorous replication of Pyrrhonism; it represents, in short, a sceptical paradigm. But there is no question that Chillingworth was thoroughly conversant with the Pyrrhonian tradition. Aubrey tells us that as a student at Oxford he "much delighted in Sextus Empeiricus," and Clarendon notes that he was so skillful in disputation as to develop, ultimately, "such an irresolution and habit of doubting, that by degrees he grew confident of nothing, and a sceptic, at least, in the greatest mysteries of faith." [19] Not long, moreover, after the episode with Cary's daughters, Chillingworth published his Religion of Protestants (1638), a treatise profoundly concerned with problems of certainty in religious profession and intimately acquainted with Pyrrhonian tactics of argumentation. [20] Chillingworth's scepticism, then, eclectic but real, instantiates a paradigm of the early-modern reception of ancient Pyrrhonism, and is closely tied in particular to the emphasis on continual inquiry (Sextus' zetetic or investigative mode) so crucial to Montaigne and also of considerable interest to his protegé Pierre Charron, whose De sagesse (Of Wisdome) appeared in English no later than 1608 and relied extensively upon the Essais. [21]

  11. Cary, who might easily have read Davies' poems in manuscript or in their initial printed versions, was very likely familiar with the Socinian writings so important to her eldest son. And being a woman "who always loved good company so much that the contrary was almost insupportable," she would also have known from frequent conversational experience that sceptical arguments were constantly appropriated and deployed in contemporary theological dispute (Life, 225). Indeed, as someone who challenged Calvin's theses at the age of twelve (188), she would have known this decades before her unpleasant encounter with Chillingworth, an encounter I emphasize because it strikingly illustrates sceptical tactics in action. It may be true, as Aubrey avers, that disputation Pyrrhonian-style had "growne out of fashion" by the late seventeenth century - Aubrey terms it "an Epidemick evill," "unmannerly and boyish" - but in the century's early years, as indeed in the latter part of Elizabeth's reign, sceptical arguments still mattered, still were taken seriously and perceived as having potentially eternal consequences for the people who utilized them. [22] What might strike twenty-first-century ears as arid or unnecessary questions are crucial to Cary and her imagined readers, and indeed she inflects those readers as already astutely conscious of the importance of such matters. So if the balances of Mariam seem slightly off-kilter by present-day aesthetic standards, they nonetheless reflect genuine intellectual concerns of its author and her potential audience.

  12. One thing this means, in practical terms, is that a person in whom there seems "a kind of impossibility of agreement between his heart and his tongue" is equally susceptible of appearance in Cary's life as in her tragedy (Life, 227). Notwithstanding differences of sex and intention, let alone ontological status, Chillingworth and Salome share a fundamental position, in Cary's outlook and that of her daughter Lucy, as embodiments of the familiar archetype of the white devil or "painted sepulchre" (e.g. 2.4.325-28, 4.6.321-24). It is an archetype to which Mariam is also at times assimilated (e.g. 4.4.175-78, 4.7.429-30), and with which English playwrights were endlessly fascinated - especially playwrights such as Marston, Shakespeare, and Webster, who were also readers of Montaigne. [23] "Certainly," writes the Frenchman in the same chapter we have discussed, "the greatest number of our actions be but masked and painted over with dissimulation." [24] And the vigilance Mariam displays in attempting not to be other than she seems is further evidence of Cary's concern with such dissimulation (e.g., 3.3.163-70, 4.3.91-92, 4.3.145-46), although as Shari Zimmerman notes, the disjunction between being and seeming generated by the impossibility of controlling the perceptions of others leads quickly to the recognition that self-protective feigning may at times emerge as the shrewdest way to "be and seem." [25] In any event, because the impulse to unite seeming and being stems from the experiential knowledge that appearance and reality often conflict, Mariam's treatment of the theme - and especially of the ease with which humans can be deceived - becomes a kind of allegory of the perceptual frailty emphasized by Montaigne, Charron, and Davies, and central to sceptical accounts of cognition. Hence it is that Hamlet almost imperceptibly intrudes into the discussion.

  13. "Seems, madam?" asks the prince of his mother. "Nay, it is. I know not seems." [26] Like Mariam, Hamlet is acutely conscious of the potential hiatus between surface and interior. As Katharine Maus writes, his clothes and behaviour "fail to denote him truly not because they are false - Hamlet's sorrow for his father is sincere - but because they might be false, because some other person might conceivably employ them deceitfully." [27] For Hamlet, who asserts that he has "that within which passeth show" (1.2.85), the possibility exists not merely that seeming and being may diverge, but that surfaces may at times be intrinsically incapable of accurately signifying interiors. Even sincere seeming will often fall short or deceive through inadequacy. And behaviour such as that of Una in The Faerie Queene - who "did seeme such, as she was" - will always, even to the most generous in spirit, be open to doubt. [28] This is a crisis indeed, and while Cary does not explore the issue as deeply as Shakespeare, she nonetheless exposes her thorough familiarity with the central questions. Moreover, as Margaret Ferguson observes, Mariam's soliloquies, "like Hamlet's, work to dissolve binary oppositions." [29] They penetrate facile assumptions such as those deployed by Alexandra, Herod, and even Salome, and in so doing they depend for success on the sharp attentiveness of readers likewise familiar with contemporary epistemological debates.
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  14. Nowhere in the play do readership issues come to the fore more strikingly than in the five choral odes. As Ferguson and Barry Weller aptly stress, these "gnomic, conventional utterances seem somewhat off the mark, not only capricious and volatile in the application of general precepts but also inadequate to the psychological, spiritual, or even practical situation of the protagonist." [30] Most critics of Mariam, moreover, have exhibited broad agreement with the idea that the Chorus, as Lewalski writes, "speaks from a limited rather than an authorized vantage point," and hence invites investigation of what such an authorized view might be. [31] But precisely how the choruses are to be interpreted - how we are to make meaning from their often inapposite and heavy-handed claims - is a question that, thus far, has been only skirted in Mariam's critical history. I wish to propose that, given the evidence of what we might call reader-inflection elsewhere in the play, the choral odes engage our critical attention precisely because of their obtuse or even incoherent judgments. Like the "contrarieties" or conflicting appearances seized on by Montaigne, Charron, and other early-modern Pyrrhonists as the raw material of scepticism, the disparities between those conclusions pronounced by the Chorus and those intimated by Mariam's action effectively serve the function of the sceptical technique of opposition, thereby suggesting a suspension of assent. [32] And inasmuch as the odes themselves embody not only sententious utterance but precipitous and dogmatic judgment, I think Cary can expect her readers to act as they presumably wish Herod himself had acted: by "trying" before "trusting" (2.4.406, 5.1.109).

  15. Take, for instance, the third chorus, by far the most frequently discussed of the five. [32] Opening with the assertion that a wife must not only keep herself "spotless" but also "free her life" from the "suspicion" of those around her, it goes on to imply that controlling the suspicion of others may be achieved through wifely self-restraint, and especially through strict avoidance of "public language" (3.3.215-17, 240). When a wife gives "private word to any second ear" she "wounds her honour, though she kills it not" (3.3.229-32). We naturally think of Mariam when this ode begins - she has just been onstage and Sohemus has claimed that "Unbridled speech is Mariam's worst disgrace" (3.3.183) - but at the same time we are reminded of Salome, who has spoken to a "second ear" (that of Silleus) more extensively than has Mariam (to Sohemus), and whom Constabarus has counselled to be "both chaste and chastely deem'd" (1.6.394). Consequently, when the Chorus makes clear that Mariam is its sole target (3.3.249), we are inclined to question the validity of its allegations, especially the notion that Mariam has acted "out of glory" and desired to walk "on the ridge" when she had "spacious ground" on which to tread (3.3.246, 3.3.221-22). Still more importantly, given the aggressive presence of Salome, we are sceptical that Mariam could have been "free from fear" if only she had refrained from speaking so openly (3.3.250). It is quite true that Salome uses Mariam's speech with Sohemus as evidence against her, and true as well that Herod construes this speech as proof of unchastity (4.7.433-34), but it is simultaneously the case that Mariam has the power to counter Salome's claim with still further speech, leading Herod "captive with a gentle word" (3.3.164). In short, Mariam's refusal to feign - her unwillingness "other speech than meaning to afford" (3.3.166) - is more potent than Salome's exploitation of her "public language." Hence the Chorus' precept is rendered at once absurd and inadequate: absurd because the power of forming judgments lies ultimately not in the judged but in the judge, and inadequate because, in Mariam's case, honest speech "to her lord alone" (3.3.228) weighs more heavily than speech to "any second ear." It is in fact precisely that which precipitates her execution. [34]

  16. Or take the first and fourth choruses, remarkably similar to one another in structure and also strongly reminiscent of the third. As Weller and Ferguson note, "the Chorus of act 1 runs against the grain of a reader's expectations in a particularly striking way," in effect preparing us to condemn Salome when in fact Mariam, all along, is the character under discussion. [35] The Chorus says that "no content attends a wavering mind" (1.6.498); Constabarus has just chastised Salome for "wavering thoughts" (1.6.474). The Chorus castigates the human desire for "change" (1.6.514); Salome has twice used that word in immediately preceding scenes (1.4.321-22, 1.5.362). Thus the Chorus' announcement of Mariam as its subject seems almost comically inapposite (1.6.517): she is the least likely character in the play to "dote upon delight" (1.6.493), and while she certainly desires freedom from Herod, this is scarcely due to "expectation of variety" (1.6.517-18). Like Alexandra, moreover, the Chorus cannot fathom Mariam's grief for Herod, reducing its Montaignian complexity to further evidence of a perverse and capricious nature - a nature incapable of guiding its "wishes" (1.6.519-26). The Chorus' Stoic moralizing seems grotesquely mal à propos, and Cary presumably expects her readers to discern the mismatch, then wrestle with the formation of a more adequate response.

  17. Essentially the same patterns are at work in the choral commentary concluding act 4. Since Doris has just left the stage after imploring God to take revenge on Mariam for stealing Herod's affection (4.8.575-624; cp. 2.3.247-54), we quickly assume that the Chorus' injunction to forgive - to scorn "to revenge an injury" (4.8.630) - applies to Herod's former wife. In fact, however, we quickly learn that the Chorus once again has Mariam in mind (4.8.659), even though Herod and Salome both seem more likely candidates for such reproof. To construe Mariam as bent on revenge is harsh indeed: all she has done is remember Herod's heinous crimes against her family, inform Sohemus that she will not be "reconcil'd" to Herod's love (3.3.133), and reproach her husband directly - and then only mildly (4.3.111-16). It is certainly true that she has not forgiven Herod, but in light of the Chorus' proverbial suggestion that forgiveness is "vengeance of the noblest kind" (4.8.654), her behaviour seems as much open to praise as to censure. [36] As Betty Travitsky notes, Mariam's overall demeanour is far less aggressive than that, for instance, of Doris, and most of the Chorus' disapproval revolves around the allegation that she is "by sullen passion sway'd" (4.8.661). [37] Yet given Mariam's persistent interrogation of the reason/passion binary - and in particular its suggestion that through passion, through feeling, we have the potential to move closer to truth than through adherence to reason alone - the idea emerges that Mariam is perhaps to be commended for her emotional honesty, her "froward humour" (4.3.140). Herod, for instance, never comes closer to recognizing his wife's innocence and his sister's malignity than when he succumbs to the evidence of his feelings (e.g., 4.7.457-68), but Salome cunningly counters his progress by mocking its basis: "I'll leave you to your passion" (4.7.517). As earlier in the same scene, when she tells Herod to "speak of reason more, of Mariam less" (4.7.456), she establishes a false opposition, equating Mariam with passion and implying that it would be foolish, even irrational, not to execute her for infidelity. The fourth choral ode thus offers a radically reductive account of what Mariam has done, felt, and thought up to this point in the play, and Cary underlines its fragile claim to interpretative validity by exposing its methodological confidence: "Truth's school for certain," it avers, "doth this same allow, / High-heartedness doth sometimes teach to bow" (4.8.645-46). Aligning itself with those schoolmasters who derive their truths from experience, the Chorus blandly mouths its unobjectionable axiom without once questioning this axiom's relevance to Mariam, especially given the context and complexity of her present situation. The questioning, in other words, is left to us.

  18. As for the second and fifth choruses, the judgments they proffer tend to be less glaringly inapposite and their concerns still more explicitly epistemological. The second ode begins, for instance, by asserting that "To hear a tale with ears prejudicate, / It spoils the judgment, and corrupts the sense" (2.4.401-2). Possibly echoing Pierre Charron's claim that when a judge "heares a cause with prejudicate opinion" he cannot be "just, upright, and true," this choral assertion simultaneously directs us back to Babas' First Son's concern about "this tale of Herod's death" (2.2.147-48; cp. 2.4.426) and forward to Pheroras' remark, on learning of the tyrant's return, that "A heavier tale did never pierce mine ear" (3.2.52). [38] Indeed, Pheroras' interchange with Salome vigorously foregrounds the ease with which the distinction between "tale" as fiction and "tale" as true account may be blurred (3.2.77-80). And Cary continues to tease out this theme as she assimilates Mariam's supposed infidelity to the status of a "tale" (4.5.261; cp. 4.4.170, 5.1.17, 5.1.83, 5.1.114). The Chorus, in short, alludes both to Judea's present belief that Herod is dead and to Herod's future belief that Mariam is unchaste, and it may additionally hint at Mariam's later surprise that her beauty and innocence are insufficient to save her (4.8.525-28; cp. 3.3.171-75). All three beliefs constitute "rash" conclusions, "unjust" presumptions (2.4.405). And the source of this cerebral corruption - this "human error" common to "every state" (2.4.403) - is of course desire. [39] "Our ears and hearts are apt to hold for good / That we ourselves do most desire to be," says the Chorus (2.4.413-14). Being "prejudicate," we take the false rumour of Herod's demise for certain truth; we "drown objections in the flood / Of partiality" (2.4.419, 415-16). And "partialitie," as Charron accurately notes, is always "an enemie to libertie." [40]

  19. But Cary does not stop here. Ever faithful in her concern for what her daughter Lucy calls "too speedy resolvers" (Life, 233), she allows the Chorus to take an explicit interest in their opposites, the sceptics. Those "few" that have no desire for Herod's death, it claims, are swept "headlong" by the "multitude" (2.4.423-24). Well aware of the "weak uncertain ground" on which the death's "tale" is "built," they nonetheless concede their "doubts" (2.4.424-26). Fully capable of weighing "the circumstance our ear receives" - of trying before trusting (2.4.410, 406) - they forfeit the possibility and thus, along with the majority, "pawn their lives and fortunes" (2.4.432). And Cary makes this choral claim even more pointed by presenting the play's most outspoken doubter, Babas' First Son, not as an impartial observer but as a man who stands to profit if the rumour holds true. But she also subtly qualifies the Chorus' assertion. For when it censoriously concludes that if the majority's actions "do rightly hit, / Let them commend their fortune, not their wit" (2.4.435-36), it simultaneously advocates prudential doubt and activates the reason/passion binary already explored by Cary through the blinkered speech of Alexandra. It is witless, the Chorus implies, to abandon pure, strict reason, but it is also entirely human to do so, as no one can deny (2.4.403). Perpetually subject to desire, people are "apt" to think wishfully and thus be "deluded" even in the face of "better likelihood" (2.4.413, 421-22). So the Chorus betrays its recognition of human frailty even while castigating it, and the result is that its reprimand takes on a jejune, sophomoric quality. We are reminded, perhaps, of Salome's earlier rejoinder to Constabarus:

    If once I lov'd you, greater is your debt:
    For certain 'tis that you deserved it not.
    And undeservèd love we soon forget,
    And therefore that to me can be no blot. (1.6.465-68)

    Brutally facile in logic, eschewing all emotional complexity, this self-serving jab conjures a sort of syllogistic legitimacy for a thought demanding far greater nuance. And much the same could be said of the conclusion to the second choral ode. Despite the epistemological acuity of the first five stanzas, the Chorus' final pronouncement depends on a tidy segregation of reason and emotion that Mariam, as a whole, will not countenance.

  20. The fifth chorus drives this home:

    Whoever hath beheld with steadfast eye,
    The strange events of this one only day:
    How many were deceiv'd, how many die,
    That once today did grounds of safety lay!
    It will from them all certainty bereave,
    Since twice six hours so many can deceive. (5.1.259-64)

    The heavy emphasis on deception gives the lie to ideas about the ease with which humans may, through rational deliberation, avert disaster. And while the Chorus goes on to wonder what might have happened had Herod "with wisdom now [Mariam's] death delay'd," its conclusion nevertheless stresses the likelihood that he would have found reason to kill her: "He at his pleasure might command her death" (5.1.283-84). The weighing of circumstance and the trying before trusting so adamantly enjoined by other voices in the play (2.4.406, 2.4.410, 4.7.489, 5.1.109) are cast to the wind; the day's events are subsumed into a larger pattern of certain ordination - cautionary and providential - and we are informed that "sagest Hebrews" will later refer to them as "the school of wisdom" (5.1.289-94). Precisely what "warning to posterity" the day's events produce has been debated by critics; Laurie Shannon, for instance, argues that there are two dimensions to the caution: "a conventional, choral wisdom of socially-embedded response and a feminist or reforming wisdom that exceeds the chorus' perspective." [41] I agree with this, and only add that whereas at the opening of the chorus wisdom is equated with delay and deliberation, at the end it is transformed into thoughtful reflection on what we might call necessary experience. The implication, ultimately, is that if humanity as a whole is to become wise, individual humans must undergo such wrenching trials as those depicted in the play. The "admirably strange variety" (5.1.292) of the dramatic action constitutes a kind of Montaignian distillation of the world's mutability, and careful attention to this pageant of deception and change bereaves us of any certain knowledge. We are left, in short, with a dogmatic claim about the need to be undogmatic in belief and expectation. Nothing could be more fitting given the events and investigations of this play.

  21. Mariam's five choruses, then, engage through inadequacy. They are not ironic, but purposely inept, and they capitalize on a streak of wary, judicious scepticism that Cary subtly encourages in her readers and auditors. Like Mariam herself, who asks "Is this a dream?" after hearing Herod move impressionistically from an accurate judgment of Sohemus' falsity to a false conclusion of her own "impurity" (4.4.171-93; cp. 5.1.236), we too are struck by the dreamlike incompleteness of the choral pronouncements. Indeed we may say, as Shakespeare's Hermione does to Leontes, that we "stand in the level of [their] dreams" (The Winter's Tale, 3.2.78-80). But nowhere does Cary more thoroughly reap the profits of her readerly inflection than in her Montaignian exploration of the facile oppositions of feeling and reason. Here the continuities between choral utterance and dramatic action are sustained throughout. Whether we think of Herod's upbraiding of Pheroras (4.2.59-62), Pheroras' self-scrutiny in the combined presence of Graphina's "hot" love and the rumour of a cold tyrant's death (2.1.9-12), or Alexandra's reprimand to Mariam - "Then send those tears away that are not sent / To thee by reason, but by passion's power" (1.2.151-52) - we see that Cary's play insistently demands that we question any too-sharp demarcation between the rational and affective realms. Mariam herself comes closest to acknowledging the intricate overlap: in a reprise of her opening soliloquy's consideration of the self-accusation of hypocrisy, she speculates, as she talks with Sohemus, that the judgment was accurate after all:

    Oh, now I see I was an hypocrite:
    I did this morning for his death complain,
    And yet do mourn, because he lives, ere night.
    When I his death believ'd, compassion wrought,
    And was the stickler 'twixt my heart and him:
    But now that curtain's drawn from off my thought,
    Hate doth appear again with visage grim,
    And paints the face of Herod in my heart,
    In horrid colours with detested look. (3.3.152-60)

    But Mariam is anything but a hypocrite. When she says she complained for Herod's death, she momentarily succumbs to the very tendency, so pronounced in the play, to simplify essentially irreducible complexities. In fact what she learned was that one object may yield "both grief and joy" (1.1.10). What is truer, and more impressive, about Mariam than the self-allegation of hypocrisy is her sustained emotional honesty, her willingness to observe internal states and reflect on them, her readiness to struggle with and chastise herself. If compassion serves as the "stickler" between Mariam's heart and Herod, Mariam serves the same mediating function in the play's larger negotiation of the claims of reason and affection.

  22. "I think with more than reason she laments," says Alexandra to Salome, at once berating Mariam and initiating a play-long meditation on the meaning of reasonable conduct: "Who is't will weep to part from discontent?" (1.3.215-17). But Mariam senses, as Pascal later writes, that the heart has reasons that reason cannot know. [42] Montaigne would surely have agreed with this claim, and Pascal, despite his frequent irritation with the Essais' author, was certainly aware how unceasingly his predecessor had explored this intricate terrain. Cary explores it too; and her Tragedy of Mariam, besides offering a powerful exposé of the potentially disastrous consequences of patriarchal structures and assumptions, suggests through a complex web of action, speech, and choral response that the sceptic's suspicion of pervasive human frailty may be parabolically displayed through Judea's collective deception, and that human desire and judgment, notwithstanding persistent claims to the contrary, ground themselves relentlessly on something more than reason.


1. The Lady Falkland: Her Life by One of Her Daughters, in Cary, Tragedy of Mariam (Weller and Ferguson ed.), 186, 268-69. Subsequent quotations from biography and play are drawn from this edition and noted parenthetically. That Cary's daughter Lucy is the author of the Life is demonstrated by Wolfe, ed., Life and Letters, 45-54, 59-64.

2. Cary, Mariam (Dunstan ed.), xxv; cf. Mariam (Weller and Ferguson ed.), 153, and Mariam (Purkiss ed.), xix; Montaigne, Essayes, 185. "How we weepe" is conventionally dated to c. 1572-74, although Montaigne continued to work on the essay, making several post-1588 additions. Rowland and Straznicky state that several of Mariam's choruses "also suggest the influence of Montaigne" (xxv), though they do not elaborate. See Defaux, "Montaigne chez les sceptiques," 148-51, for arguments against the Villey-Strowski thesis of a "crise sceptique."

3. Montaigne, Essayes, 185, 187; the anecdote of Caesar's weeping derives from Plutarch's Lives; and see Ferguson, "Running On," 48-49.

4. Montaigne, Essayes, 186; the passage from Lucan is Pharsalia, 1037-39; Mariam later calls herself a "hypocrite" in a passage (3.3.152-62) that again echoes the concerns of Montaigne in Essais I:38.

5. Lewalski, "Writing," 808; cf. Lewalski, Writing, 200-01.

6. Mariam (Purkiss ed.), ix, xviii-xix.

7. Zimmerman, 553-89; cf. Bennett, 294-98; and see Kemp, 454, 457.

8. Mariam (Weller and Ferguson ed.), 195; Zimmerman, 555-60; and, for other discussions of the "be and seem" motto in relation to Mariam, see Ferguson, "Running," 49-50; Lewalski, Writing, 184; Bennett, 294-96.

9. Cf. Doris at 2.3.260-61.

10. Cary directs our thoughts this away again at 2.2.206-9.

11. See too the Argument's comment on Herod's "rashness" (68); and cf. Bacon, Advancement (e.g. 147, 164, 176) for discussions of precipitous judgment.

12. E.g., 2.4.406, 2.4.411-12, 5.1.109.

13. Mariam (Weller and Ferguson ed.), 224-53.

14. The Muse's Sacrifice, "Epistle Dedicatory," line 70, in Davies of Hereford, vol. 2; Mirum in Modum, vol. 1, 27; Microcosmos, vol. 1, 23. The story about Pyrrho is almost certainly derived from Joshua Sylvester's translation of Du Bartas' La Triomphe de la Foi (London, 1592; sig. C2r). For more on Davies, see Lewalski, Writing, 181-83, and Kocher, 56-57.

15. Microcosmos, in Davies of Hereford, vol. 1, 23; Agrippa, 49; for the limits of Davies' scepticism, see Kocher, 55-57.

16. Du Bartas' La Muse Chrestienne and La Semaine were translated into English by Joshua Sylvester and published piecemeal during the 1590s. Diogenes Laertius' Lives and Sayings of Eminent Philosophers, in Traversari's Latin version, was reprinted frequently during the sixteenth century; it contained a widely-read "Life of Pyrrho" (IX:61-108). Sextus' Pyrrhoniarum hypotyposeon (Outlines of Pyrrhonism) was published in 1562 in Estienne's Latin rendition; Montaigne, of course, was its most famous reader.

17. I Peter 3:15. For an alternative account of Chillingworth's interactions with Cary and her daughters, see Trevor-Roper, 167-70.

18. For Chillingworth, Lucius Cary, and the Great Tew circle see Trevor-Roper, 166-230.

19. Aubrey, 64; Hyde, 42.

20. Chillingworth, e.g., "Preface to the Author of Charity Maintained," section 8; Part One, chapter 6, section 38, p. 356. See also Popkin, 15, 67, 147.

21. Sextus, Outlines, 4; Montaigne, Essayes, e.g., 273, 448-49, 451, 838; Charron, Of Wisdome, e.g. 231, 238. That Chillingworth read Montaigne is clear from his reference to "that noble writer Michael de Montaigne" (Religion, chapter 1, section 41).

22. Aubrey, 64.

23. For the locus classicus, see Matthew 23:27, where the Pharisees are characterized as hypocrites, "like unto whited sepulchres." For discussions of Montaigne as a source for Jacobean playwrights, see Dent and Ellrodt.

24. Montaigne, Essayes, 186.

25. Zimmerman, 553-60.

26. Hamlet, 1.2.76.

27. Maus, 1; see also Quilligan, 226; Bennett, 296.

28. Spenser, Faerie Queene, I.12.8.

29. Ferguson, "Running On," 47; see also Weller and Ferguson's comments on structural similarities between Mariam and Hamlet with respect to the deployment of dramatic foils (Mariam, 43).

30. Mariam, 35.

31. Lewalski, Writing, 191; see also Shannon, 139, 147; Zimmerman, 554; Beilin, 159; Bennett, 304; Belsey, 173; Fischer, 236; Gutierrez, 246; Kemp, 458; Skura, 31. For dissenting views, see Goreau, 104-5; Valency, 90; and, to a lesser extent, Travitsky, 185, 189-90, 192.

32. For "contrarieties," see Hamlin, 49; for the Pyrrhonian technique of opposition, see Sextus, Outlines, 1.12, 1.31-34.

33. See, for instance, Raber, 326-29; Ferguson, "Running On," 50-53; Beilin, 170; Travitsky, 185, 189-90; Belsey, 173-74; Quilligan, 225; Kemp, 458; Kegl, 149; Lucas, 71-72; Cary, Mariam (Weller and Ferguson ed.), 36-37; Cary, Mariam (Hodgson-Wright ed.), 26-27.

34. Belsey makes a similar point, stating that "what brings about Mariam's death is not her openness with other people but her spoken defiance of Herod" (173); where I differ from Belsey is in believing the third chorus not merely "puzzling" but actively obtuse. Cf. Quilligan, 225-26; Kegl, 149.

35. Cary, Mariam (Weller and Ferguson ed.), 35; their discussion goes on to point out that the Chorus's "misdirection" may in fact serve to trigger a reader's sense of affinities between Mariam and Salome (36). For another treatment of this chorus, see Straznicky, 127.

36. Weller and Ferguson note the uneasy negotiation of Christianity and Stoicism in this ode, pointing out that "the emphasis is not quite Christian, since the suggested motives for scorning revenge are variously pride, nobility, and honor, rather than humility. . . . It is hard to imagine what sort of enacted vengeance the Chorus would regard as acceptable on Mariam's part" (Cary, Mariam, 37).

37. Travitsky, 188-89.

38. Charron, 244; here, as often in Of Wisdome, Charron relies heavily on Montaigne. If Cary borrows from Lennard's translation of Charron, this has implications for the dating of Mariam, since Lennard's book could not have appeared before 1604 and was certainly in print no later than 1608. But OED lists several earlier adjectival uses of "prejudicate."

39. For comments on this chorus, see Lewalski, Writing, 196; Berry, 263; Zimmerman, 557-60.

40. Charron, 244; see also Bacon, Advancement, 176.

41. Shannon, 147; see also Kegl's discussion, 142-43.

42. Pascal, 359.

Works Cited

Responses to this piece intended for the Readers' Forum may be sent to the Editor at L.M.Hopkins@shu.ac.uk.

© 2003-, Lisa Hopkins (Editor, EMLS).