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The Acoustics of Female Silence: Elizabeth Cary’s Gendered Soundscapes in The Tragedy of Mariam
By Sabrina Khela

I closed my mouth and spoke to you in a hundred silent ways. (Jalaluddin Rumi qtd. in Gish 250)

Silence is an illusion. If we hear nothing, if one ever can hear nothing, it only means we aren’t listening hard enough…The total absence of sound is never a possibility for a hearing person. (Wideman 643)

Introduction: The Gendered Soundscapes of Early Modern England
If the literary production of any historical period has experimented more with constructions of sound, silence, and song than the early modern era, the difference could hardly be by much. The Renaissance, early modern England in particular, was imbued with the multidimensional productions of sound, speech, and most strikingly, silence. Bruce Smith taps into the impossibility of silence in his exploration of sound in the early modern epoch: “Through all the variables, cultural as well as individual, one thing is certain: sound is inescapable. It is as pervasive as the air that constitutes its primary medium” (8). In its broadest manifestation, “silence” was synonymous with “[t]he fact of abstaining or forbearing from speech or utterance,” resulting in a “state or condition… [of] complete quietness or stillness; noiselessness” (OED, def. 1, 2). From these relatively stable remarks on sound and silence, innumerable interpretative shifts can occur regarding the nature of the unsaid. In particular, silence becomes a rhetorical device in early modern women’s writing, a motif through which women writers are able to challenge the confinements of their patriarchal oral contexts. The rhetorical practices of early modern women writers, such as Elizabeth Cary, Margaret Cavendish, and Mary Wroth are deeply engaged with this nexus between silence, acoustics, and authority. Moreover, silence functions as a productive rhetorical motif in Cary’s The Tragedy of Mariam through which women, particularly Mariam, are able to grant themselves a position of agency.[1] This essay examines Cary’s 1613 closet drama as an enactment of the acoustics of female silence, and posits that Cary’s female dramatis personae deconstruct the confinements surrounding women’s speech by challenging the patriarchal oral contexts within which they, and by extension, early modern women are circumscribed.[2]

The Tragedy of Mariam, “the first English play known to be written by a woman,” dramatizes the story of Mariam, the second wife of Herod, the King of Judea (Beilin 153). In her adaption of Mariam, Cary draws on some source material from Chapters 15 and 16 of Lodge’s translation of Josephus’s Jewish Antiquities. The play strictly maintains the unities of time, as Cary collapses years of Josephus’s account into the events of a day (Beilin 165). As the play opens, Herod has been away making peace with Octavius Caesar after Actium. His prolonged absence results in the eruption of a rumour and subsequent false report about his death. Mariam initially mourns Herod, but she recalls that he had ordered her death in the event of his own, and this knowledge, together with his previous execution of her grandfather and brother, ignites her own insurgence and rebellion. However, Herod returns in Act IV, dissipating the false report of his death, and orders the execution of Mariam after Salome convinces him that Mariam has been unfaithful and that she has also plotted with Sohemus to poison him. Mariam is nobly silenced in death, leaving Herod with bitter regret. Elaine Beilin has rightly noted that that “[w]hat is indeed remarkable about this play is the unusual prominence given to a virtuous woman’s psychological conflicts, the carefully balanced polemic on the question of woman’s place, and the extraordinary fifth act in which the female protagonist becomes a type of Christ” (164). Indeed, Mariam’s transfiguration from a dutiful monarch who experiences a deficiency in acoustic authority to a woman who embodies a noble “type of Christ” figure is a striking component of her rebellion, which firmly contrasts her with the salacious and vociferous Salome.[3] Moreover, I specifically examine Salome, Graphina, and Mariam as a continuum of female sound and silence, drawing close attention to how they use the power of sound—or silence in the case of Graphina and Mariam—to grant themselves a position of acoustic agency, and challenge the confinements of their patriarchal oral and social contexts.

Bringing together discourse analysis, feminist theory, and cultural studies, this essay focuses on what I call acoustic agency: an aural, silent, or vocal act which produces a position of autonomy and control. Acoustic agency is not exclusively confined to instances of speech, but may expand to include impactful moments of silence and thought, where language and communication remain at play. The epigraphs of Rumi and Wideman will thus serve as the premise for this study. Rumi, a thirteenth-century Muslim poet and theologian, and Wideman, a contemporary scholar of Africana studies, observe the acoustic power of silence. While their observations of silence are historically distant from one another, they agree that the absence of sound is impossible. In addition, their observations of silence are temporally distant from the early modern epoch, but they provide compelling insight into the nature of silence, which is particularly illuminating when read alongside Cary’s closet drama. I wish to argue, then, that Cary’s construction of female silence is an illusion, and as such, absolute female silence does not exist. Rather, female silence is rendered visually through descriptive, oral report. Further, the dramatized silence of Mariam and Graphina is indeed not completely silent, as the visual renditions of their choice to remain silent and their silencing afford them a sense of control and acoustic agency in this patriarchal early modern context. The dramatized silence of Mariam and Graphina is also a testament to their uncontrollability and unreadability as dramatis personae, who ostensibly appear as if they lack authority in the gendered oral contexts within which they are restricted. Moreover, Cary’s play is an enthralling closet drama which renders the complexities of sound and gender in multifaceted ways. The tragedy also draws an important distinction between being silent and being silenced. It is my intention to elucidate this distinction in my analysis of the acoustics of female silence in Cary’s play.

In recent decades, there has been a growing interest among early modern scholars in what Smith calls the “soundscapes” of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries (51). Although early modern scholars, such as Lynne Magnusson, Bruce Smith, and Keith Botelho, have long been attuned to the potent saturation of acoustics in early modern drama, most scholarship in the field has focused on the manifestation of sound, rather than the ramifications of sound and silence and its link with gendered rhetorical practices. Scholars, such as Christina Luckyj, have helped to elucidate the profound relationship between speech, silence, and gender in the early modern context. Luckyj’s influential book, ‘A Moving Rhetoricke’: Gender and Silence in Early Modern England, is of particular interest in my investigation into the acoustics of female silence in Cary’s play. Luckyj has rightly noted that “[silence is] developed in particular ways under specific historical pressures in early modern England” (vi). Indeed, constructions of speech and sound were profoundly gendered in this epoch. Luckyj also observes a “double standard” regarding gendered speech: “This double standard is based on a dominant gendered ideal of active, shaping power as male and passive receptivity as female, a binarism often imaged as male speech / female silence” (43, italics mine). It seemed “natural” in early modern rhetorical culture to gender the “shaping power” of speech as male and to gender the “passive receptivity” of silence as female (43). Female silence was therefore associated with virtuosity, chastity, and modesty, whereas male silence was associated with passivity and a lack of agency. The acoustic vocalization of agency was a particular challenge for early modern women, whose virtuosity was contingent on verbal and sexual self-restraint. Despite Luckyj’s scholarly interventions, more scholarly work remains to be done in order to fully understand and appreciate the complex intersections between sound and gender, especially when considering the limitations and ambiguities of the acoustics of closet drama. This essay contributes to this endeavor by underscoring the ways in which female silence can predicate acoustic agency, paradoxically resulting in authority and control in an otherwise gendered social context. In so doing, this essay draws attention to an important historical context for women and women writers, remaining attuned to the relevancy of the relationship between female power and silence to our contemporary cultural context.

Theatrical Containment: Closeting Sound and Silence
The Tragedy of Mariam is generically designated as a closet drama, or a closet text. As such, they “were probably not written for performance but for reading, either alone or within small groups” (Gutierrez 236). In recent years, early modern scholars have begun using the more capacious and flexible term “household drama” to discuss women’s writing and to signal the anachronism of closet drama (Straznicky 2).[4] As Marta Straznicky has convincingly argued, “closet dramas by early modern women are inherently dichotomous: in appearance they resemble stage plays but were never professionally performed, they are the products of aristocratic leisure but are permeated with the traditions of commercial drama, [and] they are charged with political purpose but their reception has no apparent bearing on the exercise of power” (1). Straznicky taps into the division between the private and public spheres that structured the contexts within which early modern women, such as Cary, wrote drama and in which they were read. By extension, the ambiguous nature of the closet drama undermines the stability of the division between read text and performed text and the division between private and public spheres. Moreover, the nature of closet drama is quite complicated and rather subversive, especially when considering questions of sound and silence, aspects that ostensibly belong to performed texts where oral cues can be rendered acoustically.

Despite the complications of closet drama, the genre also affords early modern women a sense of authority as writers in this patriarchal epoch. Elaine Beilin notes that since Mariam was not “designed for public performance, the playwright, unconfined by stage conventions, may have felt more able to represent her own ideals” (153). Indeed, the closet drama form grants a sense of freedom to early modern women dramatists in being able to write drama under their own authorial regulations. Up until 1660, women were not permitted to act on the commercial, public stage. As such, closet dramas, such as Mariam, may have been performed in a private, household, communal setting allowing for female actors to act female roles.[5] Beilin has hypothesized that “Mariam may have meant even more to Cary, because she also dramatizes the problems of the woman writer struggling between the private sphere of silent feminine virtue and the public world of masculine discourse” (Beilin 175). Moreover, while closet dramas may have given early modern women a sense of agency in being able to stage plays in a household, private setting, closet dramas also underscore a profound tension between read text and performed text that becomes further amplified when considering how sound is reverberated in a play that is not meant to be performed.

Mariam creates a tension between read text and performed text whilst simultaneously creating a tension between the oral and the visual. Therefore, the closet drama problematizes my exploration of the acoustics of female silence in The Tragedy of Mariam. Silence cannot be witnessed acoustically in such a read text. Rather, silence is delivered to a textual, material, and embodied audience using the oral and visual account of male dramatis personae in the play, thereby demonstrating that silence is rendered visually through dramatic visual reports. Through the construction of such visual reports, one can hypothesize the body language of Graphina and Mariam in their moments of apparent silence. Mariam may well have been performed, but oral and acoustic cues are nonetheless entangled within the drama of women’s authority and resistance to patriarchy. While the generic designation of Mariam complicates the manifestation of female silence in the play, Cary’s rhetorically potent visual imagery and acoustically rich oral reports of the male dramatis personae convey female silence in subtle yet imaginative ways.

The Vociferous Salome
Before I delve into an analysis of Graphina and Mariam as compelling representations of female silence and acoustic agency, I will address the presence of female vociferousness in the tragedy, which is represented by Salome. The rendering of Salome as a wicked yet vocal woman echoes Katherina of Shakespeare’s The Taming of the Shrew (1594).[6] Such an analogy establishes Salome as a foil for the more reserved Graphina and the virtuous Mariam. In Act I, Mariam and Salome state their positions. Mariam is chaste and naïve while Salome is promiscuous, scheming, and motivated by passion. Mariam’s heart is “too chaste a scholar . . . / To learn to love another than [her] Lord,” while Salome lusts after Silleus even though she is still married to Constabarus (1.1.27-28). Moreover, Salome’s means are wholly unorthodox, as she plans to use divorce, “a right given only to Hebrew men,” in order to rid herself of her marriage to Constabarus (Beilin 167). In an impassioned soliloquy, Salome expresses her desire to divorce Constabarus:

Why should such privilege to men be given?

Or given to them, why barred from women then?

Are men than we in greater grace with heaven?

Or cannot women hate as well as men?

I’ll be the custom-breaker and begin

To show my sex the way to freedom’s door. (1.4.45-50, italics mine)

Salome vocalizes her intense desire to divorce Constabarus and emerge as a “custom-breaker” who will show other women “the way to freedom’s door.” Salome is cognizant of her marginalized position in society as a woman. She recognizes that her gender renders her inadequate in society, which is why she cannot obtain a divorce. Nonetheless, Salome is vociferous and determined, and as such, she enables herself a strong sense of acoustic agency as a female speaker in a patriarchal oral and social context. While Cary’s play is set in the first century BC, Salome’s acoustic agency is nonetheless incredibly palpable for the early modern context in which the play was written. At a later juncture in the tragedy, Salome’s outspokenness grants her a sense of authority over Herod, as he becomes vulnerable to her manipulations. Herod has an innate fear of deception, and when Salome convinces him that Mariam has been unfaithful, he believes her (4.7.61-64, 149-150). Herod, a political figure, has less control and authority than Salome in this moment. Moreover, Salome assumes a compelling position of acoustic agency in the play, as her vocal autonomy gives her greater autonomy as a female speaker. Her acoustic agency thus profoundly contrasts with Mariam and Graphina, who embody acoustic agents of female silence.

The Listening Body: Graphina Engraves Silence
In this section, I turn my attention to Graphina, who has a compelling and powerful relationship to silence in Cary’s tragedy. Etymologically, Graphina’s name recalls “graphite,” which is the material used in pencils. By association, Graphina’s name is linked to writing or engraving, that is to say, visual forms of speech communication. Moreover, Graphina finds ways to communicate and establish a sense of acoustic agency by engraving silence into her reserved demeanour. Salome is outspoken and impassioned, but “[a]s Salome’s opposite, Graphina is the epitome of traditional female virtue: she is chaste, obedient, and silent” (Beilin 168-69). Graphina is nevertheless able to use her passivity as a constructive rhetorical tool. While Graphina feels her speech reveals her inadequacy as a low-born woman, her resulting silence becomes powerful assertion of agency in her exchange with Pheroras in the second act of the play. As Pheroras becomes cognizant that Herod appears to have died, he proposes marriage to Graphina, but he is unsettled by Graphina’s silence:

PHERORAS. ’Tis true Graphina, now the time draws nigh

Wherein the holy priest with hallowed rite,

The happy long-desired knot shall tie,

Pheroras and Graphina to unite. […]

Why speakst thou not fair creature? Move thy tongue,

For silence is a sign of discontent.

GRAPHINA. Mistake me not my lord. […]

If I be silent, ’tis no more but fear

That I should say too little when I speak,

But since you will my imperfections bear,

In spite of doubt I will my silence break. (2.1.1-4, 41-42, 45, 49-52)

This exchange between Graphina and Pheroras in 2.1 convincingly demonstrates that Graphina is a sounding body despite her apparent lack of speech. Pheroras engages in a process of what Keith Botelho calls “earwitnessing,” through “the sifting and distilling of information that comes to [his] ear” (2). Through his process of “earwitnessing,” Pheroras comes to the conclusion that he cannot hear Graphina, and she is therefore silent. When Pheroras asks Graphina to “[m]ove [her] tongue,” as her “silence is a sign of discontent,” she speaks a considerable portion of dialogue. Moreover, Graphina assumes a position of acoustic agency as she manages to express herself orally in addition to the moments where she lacks speech, which Pheroras renders visually through his brief oral report of her silence. It is important to note, however, that Graphina’s silence is also threatening because of its unreadable nature. As Katherine R. Larson has intriguingly articulated, “silence could function not only as an emblem of the virtuously sealed female body but also as a powerful tool and often ambiguous rhetorical tool, rendering unreadable seemingly silent women like Elizabeth Cary’s Graphina” (34). Larson compellingly notes that silence is a “rhetorical tool,” which manages to enable the acoustic agency of a female body, even when there is a lack of speech involved. Graphina’s silence is rendered visually through Pheroras’ subtle oral report of her silence. As such, Graphina’s silence does not negate communication. She remains silent, as she feels she is an inadequate speaker largely because of her low-born lineage. Nonetheless, Graphina’s silence affords her a sense of control, as she chooses to remain silent.[7]

This exchange takes a curious turn in the culminating moments of the scene when Graphina justifies her silence. Graphina insists on refraining from speech, as Pheroras has abandoned the possibility of marrying a princess (one of Herod’s younger daughters) in order to marry her, a low-born woman who does not have any ties to a noble lineage (2.1.45-72). Following Graphina’s considerable explanation, Pheroras, however, implies that he does not need Graphina to speak: “Let Graphina smile, / And I desire no greater recompense” (2.1.73-74). Pheroras subtly suggests that he only requires Graphina to be a visual and listening body, rather than a sounding, acoustic body. In this exchange between Pheroras and Graphina, “[t]he word ‘silence’ is associated with Graphina five times in less than thirty lines, making her a significant foil to the vociferous Salome and even to Mariam’s ‘unbridled speech’” (Beilin 169). While Graphina manages to achieve a sense of acoustic agency through Pheroras’ oral report of her silence, she nonetheless fails to carve out a plausible speaking position for herself given that Pheroras silences her by advising her that smiling is all that he requires from her. Similarly to Graphina, Mariam chooses to remain silent prior to her death, but she is also silenced as a result of her unjust execution.

The Sounding Body: Mariam’s Acoustic Agency
Mariam’s acoustics of silence in the oral report of her death delivered by Nuntio to Herod in the culminating moments of the tragedy is of central importance in her position as an acoustic agent. The representation of Mariam is crucial to the play, as she is “an unusual balance of virtue and error, of chastity and pride, crowned by a final sanctification” (Beilin 173). Salome and Graphina represent Mariam’s two sides which echoes the medieval Virtue and Vice, Desdemona and Iago in Othello (1603), and the Good and Bad Angels of Marlowe’s Doctor Faustus (circa 1592).[8] Unlike Salome and Graphina, however, Mariam is “psychologically more complex: from the first scene, . . . Mariam thinks less about Herod’s order for her death than about the conflicting passions in her heart” (Beilin 166). Mariam’s opening soliloquy powerfully begins the play with a female voice, and in so doing, it establishes her acoustic agency (1.1.1-78). Indeed, Mariam’s opening remarks “richly evoke the powers of speech and their consequences,” which were largely denied to women in her patriarchal context (Bennett 298). The opening soliloquy thus demonstrates that Mariam is not a muted character. Nonetheless, Mariam is silenced in her death and she is thus unable to maintain her acoustic agency. Larson has argued that “Mariam’s failure to carve out a tenable speaking position for herself in Cary’s tragedy, which taps into the shaming and silencing mechanisms in early modern culture that worked to place bounds on women’s self-expression, underscores the difficulties inherent in this task” (34). Indeed, Mariam’s silencing accentuates her failure to establish a plausible speaking position for herself, but she uses her choice to remain silent prior to her death as a way to afford herself a sense of acoustic agency.

The description of Mariam’s death hinges upon the relationship between eye and ear, as it is delivered to a textual and aural audience through Nuntio’s vivid visual and oral report of her choice to remain silent, her silencing, and finally, her death. Nuntio describes Mariam’s death to Herod, who hopes that Nuntio will “tell no dying-tale” (5.1.17). Moreover, Herod’s process of scrupulously “earwitnessing” is initially compromised by his hope that Mariam is still alive (Botelho 2). Nuntio describes Mariam’s demeanour as she was about to be executed: “The stately Mariam not debased by fear; / Her look did seem to keep the world in awe, / Yet mildly did her face this fortune bear” (5.1.26-28). In this visual image of Mariam’s stoic demeanour, there is an absence of speech and an absence of emotion. Throughout Nuntio’s detailed oral report of Mariam’s death, there is only one indication that she embodies a sounding body by crying out against the injustice that is being inflicted upon her. Mariam thus chooses to remain predominantly silent as a way to grant herself a sense of acoustic agency and authority even as she faces being silenced to death. Her lack of an excessive display of emotion thus verges on sanctification and martyrdom. The interplay between the oral and the visual becomes amplified as Nuntio delves further into his oral report. Nuntio describes his visual observations of Mariam as she awaited her death: “She made no answer, but she looked the while, / As if thereof she scarce did notice take, / Yet smiled a dutiful, though scornful, smile” (5.1.50-52, italics mine). The construction of juxtaposition between “dutiful” and “scornful” highlights Mariam’s discordant position as a monarch and a woman. This moment in the scene thus taps into the tension between the private and the public which pervades the play. This tension is further exacerbated by the tension between the private and public spheres that is evoked from the closet drama genre. Mariam is “dutiful” to her role as a monarch; she is cognizant that she is being put on display and she must act in a way that is in accordance with the codes of being the Queen of Judea. However, Mariam is also “scornful,” and her contemptuous smile implies an elusive rebellion on her part. Unlike Graphina who is told to smile rather than speak by Pheroras, Mariam chooses to abstain from speech and smile scornfully instead. However, Herod cannot help but imagine that Mariam sung a harmonic tune before her death. He interrupts Nuntio’s oral report with his inquiry: “But what sweet tune did this fair dying swan / Afford thine ear? Tell all, omit no letter” (5.1.65-66). Stephanie Hodgson-Wright has observed that “[s]wans were reputed to sing before they died” (121). Through Cary’s use of metaphor, Herod compares Mariam to a graceful swan capable of acoustically potent “sweet tune[s].” Herod thus assumes that Mariam was as a sounding and singing body before her death. However, Nuntio’s oral report indicates that Mariam abstained from speech before her death, which fails to corroborate Herod’s assumption. In addition, the fact that Mariam does not explicitly appear on stage suggests that, like Salome and Graphina, her sounding body is not adequate enough for her patriarchal society, which is capable of sharp, active speech. Mariam is thus not completely silent in this scene, as Nuntio reports her silence through his vivid oral report. Mariam also affords herself acoustic agency by choosing not to speak and subtly resisting her deadly fate.

The Chorus, a singing, choral group of bodies not implicitly involved in the action of the play, ends the tragedy by synthesizing the deceit and destruction of the past day. The Chorus underscores that “[t]he guiltless Mariam is deprived of breath” in their powerful and acoustically rich description of the recent events in Judea (5.1.14). Here, the Chorus also taps into the silencing of Mariam. While her silence is rendered visually through her stoic demeanour and through Nuntio’s oral report, she is acoustically silenced through her execution. Mariam transforms from a monarch lacking self-authority to a divine Christ-figure. As such, “her death is an allegory of the Crucifixion, for she foreshadows redemption from the old law, typified by Herod’s kingdom. By transcending earthly authority, she points to a higher and final authority” (Beilin 171). Moreover, Mariam dies dignified and victorious, leaving Herod with bitter regret and a broken sense of authority and control. Mariam’s silencing thus cements her status as an acoustic agent, as she chooses not to display excessive emotion by screaming or wailing. Rather, she dies nobly—yet authoritatively—in silence.

As Wideman notes in the epigraph, absolute or true silence is impossible. Smith argues that “[i]t takes only a moment to discover that true silence does not exist. As human beings we are surrounded—and filled—by a continuous field of sound, by sounds outside our bodies as well as by metabolic sounds within” (9). Silence, as Smith exemplifies here, is impossible to detect, as the acoustic power of sound saturates the body internally and externally. Cary’s The Tragedy of Mariam demonstrates that absolute silence is nonexistent through a vivid exploration of the acoustics of female silence. Cary’s closet drama suggests that ostensible silence can be rendered visually through oral, descriptive report. Equally important in the tragedy is the subtle discussion of the tension between the private and public spheres, which is further exacerbated by the rich yet complex generic designation of the play as a closet drama.

I have sought to demonstrate that Cary’s construction of complete female silence is an illusion and absolute female silence does not exist. Through the dramatic representation of Graphina and Mariam, silence is rendered visually through the oral report of male dramatis personae. Ultimately, Salome, Graphina, and Mariam are able to, what Beilin calls, “redeem Eve” through the acoustic agency they establish for themselves in their moments of sound and silence (248). The construction of these female dramatis personae underscores Cary’s critique of the patriarchal early modern context which seeks to limit and regulate female speech. Cary suggests, through her ostensibly silent and powerful female characters, that women have the ability to embody acoustic agents whether they are speaking or silent. Her range of female characters attests to the diversity enabled within female bodies and their equal capacity for agency and authority, a fact that has experienced a renewed and vibrant understanding in our present cultural and historical context. The Tragedy of Mariam thus taps into the complexities surrounding the silence of female bodies. The female body, just as the male body, is a site for sound, but it is also a site of reception, authoritative silence, and vocal autonomy.

Works Cited

“Agency, n.” OED Online. Oxford University Press, March 2017. Web. 9 April 2017.

Beilin, Elaine. Redeeming Eve: Women Writers of the English Renaissance. Princeton UniversityPress, 1987.

Bennett, Alexandra. “Female Performativity in The Tragedy of Mariam.” Studies in English Literature, 1500-1900, vol. 40, no. 2, 2000, pp. 293-309.

Botelho, Keith. Renaissance Earwitnesses: Rumor and Early Modern Masculinity. PalgraveMacmillan, 2009.

Cary, Elizabeth. The Tragedy of Mariam, edited by Stephanie Hodgson-Wright. 1613.Broadview Press, 2000.

Gish, Jen. The Girl at the Baggage Claim: Explaining the East-West Culture Gap. Alfred A.Knopf, 2017.

Gutierrez, Nancy. “Valuing Mariam: Genre Study and Feminist Analysis.” Tulsa Studies in Women’s Literature, vol. 10, no. 2, 1991, pp. 233-251.

Larson, Katherine. Early Modern Women in Conversation. Palgrave Macmillan, 2015.

Luckyj, Christina. ‘A Moving Rhetoricke’: Gender and Silence in Early Modern England.Manchester University Press, 2002.

“Silence, n.” OED Online. Oxford University Press, March 2017. Web. 9 April 2017.

Smith, Bruce. The Acoustic World of Early Modern England: Attending to the O-Factor.University of Chicago Press, 1999.

Straznicky, Marta. Privacy, Playreading, and Women’s Closet Drama, 1550-1700. CambridgeUniversity Press, 2004.

Wideman, John Edgar. “In Praise of Silence.” Callaloo, vol. 24, no. 2, 2001, pp. 641-643.

[1] I use the term ‘agency’ to refer to the “[a]bility or capacity to act or exert power” (OED, def. 4).

[2] Cary’s tragedy was written between 1602 and 1604. The first quarto was published in 1613.

[3] Despite Mariam’s opening soliloquy, which affords her a sense of early vocal agency in the play, she remains acoustically unreceptive—with the exception of some loud cries—when she faces her execution.

[4] Also see Greg Walker, The Politics of Performance in Early Renaissance Drama. Cambridge University Press, 1998.

[5] As I have noted, the nature of closet dramas during this epoch was rather ambiguous. It is unknown to early modern scholars whether closet dramas were in fact staged in private, communal settings. However, one can speculate that closet dramas, such as Mariam, were staged in household settings amongst women. It is also possible that closet dramas may have been read orally among companions in a household setting.

[6] The Taming of the Shrew was believed to have been written between 1590 and 1592. The first quarto was published in 1594.

[7] Graphina’s silence can at least be read as such.

[8] Othello was believed to have been written in 1603, albeit the first performance of the tragedy was in 1604. Marlowe’s Doctor Faustus was believed to have been performed between 1588 and 1593.

My deepest thanks are to Professor Katherine Larson for her unwavering support and astute insights during the research and writing phases of this essay. I would also like to thank Professor Yulia Ryzhik for her invaluable input during the recent phases of my research concerning early modern gendered soundscapes.

Sabrina Khela, from Toronto, Canada, graduated with Distinction from the University of Toronto with an Honours Bachelor of Arts in English Literature and French. Sabrina is currently reading for her Master of Studies in English Literature at the University of Oxford, specializing in British literature, history, and culture from 1700-1830. Her research interests include the long eighteenth century, critical race studies, feminist theory, legal theory, as well as American and British Constitutional Law from the late eighteenth century to our contemporary cultural context.

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