- Stuart Women Playwrights, 1613-1713 by Pilar Cuder-Domínguez
Ambitious in scope, this careful study by Pilar Cuder-Domínguez traces an entire century of drama written by women, particularly focusing on tragedies and tragicomedies identified as neglected by critics and editors, despite their having made important contributions to the development of early modern drama. Cuder-Domínguez situates her work in relation to 'new historicism and cultural materialism, feminism and post-colonialism' (p. 10), stressing that the patriarchal idea of 'so-called major [male] playwrights' from whom women playwrights took 'their cue ... now seems to be on the wane' (p. 5).
The book covers the century between 1613 and 1713, dates which are, respectively, 'the date of publication of the first original tragedy by an Englishwoman' (p. 9) - Elizabeth Cary's The Tragedy of Mariam - and the date of publication of the folio edition of Anne Finch's works. Though brief - at 127 footnoted pages, besides the index and bibliography - the study's seven chapters, which address these years systematically and in detail, attest to painstaking research and organization.
Discussion in Chapter 2 of Cary's Mariam is a case in point for its inter-implication of 'Categories of race, class and gender', which are 'in constant flux' (p. 11); there, the villain, Salome, is shown to react to a double subordination, as both woman and as someone 'of Idumean descent' (p. 11), whose 'consistent othering ... as a dark woman in relation to Mariam's fairness', also carries moral implications, historically available in such 'binary oppositions ... as white/black, fair/dark, [and] virtuous/evil' (p. 33).
Chapters 3 and 4, are, in turn, devoted to the Interregnum and the Restoration, respectively. When exploring the drama of the Restoration - late 1660s and 1670s specifically - Cuder-Domínguez identifies some common points, such as the 'contrastive pair(s)' of characters, which suggest 'the Mariam/Salome, passive/active conundrum that we first encountered in [Mariam] at the outset of the seventeenth century' (p. 58).
The author also pays thorough attention to the extensive use made of Spanish dramatic sources and geographical and historical settings in the Interregnum and Restoration dramas (Chapters 3 and 4). For example, Chapter 4 includes discussion of Aphra Behn's only tragedy, Abdelazer, dealing with a late medieval story of 'the revenge of the Moorish Prince on the Spanish royal family that took away his inheritance and rightful place in the world' (p. 68). Sexual passion is, thence, identified as a weakness, and ascribed strongly to the female gender in the person of the Queen Mother, whom the Moor [End Page 324] seduces and deploys to successfully carry out his revenge, as he 'manages to wreck the kingdom' (pp. 68-69).
Chapter 5 deals with late Stuart writers of tragedy: Mary Pix, Delarivier Manley, Catharine Trotter, and the mysterious 'Ariadne', as the 'shift to women-centered pathos' transformed the 'tragic ideal', which, then, became a distinctly passive (not 'passionate') 'virtuous demureness'. As the author explains regarding the culture of the latter part of the Restoration period, 'passion was to be condemned in a cultural climate that ... emphasized ... morality and virtue' (p. 82).
Chapters 6 and 7 engage with Catharine Trotter's historical tragedies, as well as such plays as Jane Wiseman's Antiochus the Great and Anne Finch's Aristomenes (1690; pub. 1713). As Cuder-Domínguez suggests, the late publication of Anne Finch's play, so many years after its original stage production, was probably in order to appeal to the public 'against the Hanoverian succession', and on behalf of the Stuarts, the son and heir of the late James II, of whom the play's hero may have reminded the audience (p. 127).
I highly recommend this book to anyone interested generally in Stuart drama, and also to those specifically interested in early modern women's writing.