Syracusan Tragedy, A

Elizabeth Cary (1603-1612): possibly 1604

NB. A Syracusan Tragedy is a recent assignation for this untitled play, and should be viewed as a convenience for the database.

Historical Records

John Davies of Hereford's eulogistic poem to Elizabeth Cary

Cary (of whom Minerva stands in feare,
lest she, from her, should get Arts Regencie)
Of Art so moves the great-all-moving Sphaere,
that ev'ry Orbe of Science moves thereby.
Thou mak'st Melpomen proud, and my Heart great
of such a Pupill, who in Buskin fine,
With Feete of State, doth make thy Muse to mete
the Scenes of Syracuse and Palestine.

John Davies, The Muses Sacrifice (1612), cited from Hodgson-Wright, Introduction 14.

Elizabeth Cary's sonnet

Cary refers to the Tragedy of Mariam as her second play, and to having written a previous one which she had dedicated to her husband. This is in the prefatory sonnet to Mariam, dedicating the play to her sister-in-law, and namesake, Elizabeth Cary;

WHen cheerfull Phœbus his full course hath run,
His sisters fainter beams our harts doth cheere:
So your faire Brother is to mee the Sunne,
And you his Sister as my Moone appeare.
You are my next belov'd, my second Friend,
For when my Phœbus absence makes it Night,
Whilst to th' Antipodes his beames do bend,
From you my Phœbe, shines my second Light.
Hee like to SOL, cleare-sighted, constant, free,
You LUNA-like, unspotted, chast, divine:
Hee shone on Sicily, you destin'd bee,
T'illumine the now obscurde Palestine.
My first was consecrated to Apollo,
My second to DIANA now shall follow.

Elizabeth Cary, The Tragedy of Mariam (1613), cited from A Celebration of Women Writers

Theatrical Provenance

Closet drama

Probable Genre(s)

Tragedy of state (per Davies)

Possible Narrative and Dramatic Sources or Analogues

Unknown. Syracuse, a city-state in Sicily, enjoyed a long and turbulent political history.

References to the Play

None known beyond Davies and Cary

Critical Commentary

Elizabeth Cary, Lady Falkland (1585–1639), is best-known for The Tragedy of Mariam, frequently described as the first extant original play written by an Englishwoman. Hodgson-Wright identifies Davies's Syracusan tragedy with the lost early play referred to by Cary, and offers arguments about its likely date, which is, of course, constrained by the date of The Tragedy of Mariam.

In spite of the considerable attention focussed on Mariam in recent years, relatively little mention has been made of what appears, from Cary's own description, to have been something of a companion piece to it.

Wiggins 1446 calls it a "Tragedy set in Syracuse".

For What It's Worth

Assuming that the Syracusan tragedy was not an original story but rather following an existing source, as does The Tragedy of Mariam; and knowing, as we do, something of Cary's reading habits; there ought to be a fairly short list of plausible candidate stories.

Works Cited

Cary, Elizabeth. The Tragedy of Mariam (1613), cited from A Celebration of Women Writers
Cary, Lady Elizabeth. The tragedy of Mariam, the fair queen of Jewry, ed. Stephanie Hodgson-Wright. Toronto: Broadview, 2000.

Site created and maintained by Matthew Steggle, Sheffield Hallam University; updated 18 September 2011.