In June 2013, Liz Schafer invited me to develop the site specific research around the text of Mariam for a performance at the Burford Festival, the town of Cary’s birth. This performance formed the launch of the Mariam Project which Liz is producing across academic and performance disciplines.
The Mariam Project seeks to celebrate and research Elizabeth Cary’s Tragedie of Mariam by creating a range of performances in different settings to explore the play and bring Cary’s work to a wider audience.
Mariam at Burford: Youth and young girlhood
Weds 12th June at 4.30pm, St John the Baptist
Part performance, part installation, this 70 minute performance inhabited the church where Elizabeth would have worshipped as a girl, married, and where her family, the Tanfield’s, are ostentatiously entombed. This performance sought to explore Elizabeth’s play in the town she lived in as a child and young woman. The research centred on resonances between Elizabeth’s life and work, offering a unique opportunity to hear and experience the voice of this remarkable woman, in a contemporary working.
Mariam at Burford: Encountering Elizabeth
During the Festival, the Mariam Project we also developed specially crafted and composed audio experience and map, tracing and mapping Elizabeth Tanfield Cary’s life and experiences onto her home town of Burford. The audience could follow the map to 6 locations, where fragments of Elizabeth’s life and work was collaged with sounds, atmospheres and compositions by Lucy Harrison. I’m thrilled that Encountering Elizabeth will become a permanent offer in Burford shortly.
“Terrific performance and inspired use of the church”
Elizabeth Cary and the Mariam Project, by Liz Schafer
2013 sees the 400th anniversary of the publication of The Tragedy of Mariam, Fair Queen of Jewry by the astonishing pioneer playwright Elizabeth Tanfield Cary (1585-1639). The Tragedy of Mariam is the first known play in English written by a woman, and it is a play full of women characters declaring independence, demanding freedom in marriage, and arguing for the right to divorce. At a time when women were expected to dedicate themselves to marriage and children, Cary’s play asked the question ‘Why should such privilege to man be given?’
Born and brought up in Burford Priory, Cary was probably married in St John the Baptist Church, Burford, where she would have attended church. Many years after she had written Mariam, a play about marital conflict, Cary’s own marriage broke down. Cary converted to Catholicism; she was disinherited by her father, Sir Lawrence Tanfield; she separated from her career politician husband, Sir Henry Cary (1st Viscount Falkland); and she was placed under house arrest by Charles I, after a custody battle resulted in Cary kidnapping her own children. During the 1620s, Cary was reduced to such poverty that she frequently ate friends’ leftover meals. But, like her heroine, Mariam, she would not compromise her principles.
Elizabeth Cary is remembered in St John the Baptist Church, Burford, as she is represented kneeling at her parents’ tomb in the church. It is therefore fitting to explore a part of her play in the Church as part of ‘The Mariam Project’ during the Burford Festival.
The Mariam Project is being led by Elizabeth Schafer, Professor of Drama and Theatre Studies at Royal Holloway, University of London.