Shaping a Drama out of a History

Elizabeth Cary and the Story of Edward II

in Critical Survey
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  • 1 Wilkes University
  • 2 Northern Arizona University
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Elizabeth Tanfield Cary dashed off her History of Edward II during the course of a month in 1627 to ‘out-run those weary hours of a deep and sad Passion’. While historical accounts of Edward II were much in evidence during the reigns of James I and his son, no single, authoritative interpretation prevailed. Holinshed’s Chronicles (1577) focuses on the idea of misgovernance; Marlowe’s dramatic rendering, Edward II (1591), directs attention to the nature of the King’s relationship with his favourite, Gaveston; the Mirrour for Magistrates’s 1610 addition highlights Edward’s flattering courtiers and Isabella’s passion for Mortimer, and Drayton explores the story within the boundaries of several genres and thematic foci. Francis Hubert’s poem, The Deplorable Life and Death of Edward the Second (1628), written as a complaint from the King’s perspective, was almost contemporaneous with Cary’s history. Edward’s story was thus very much in the air at the time that Cary composed her text; neither the genre nor the subject she chose was precedent-setting. In this paper, our principal concern is to demonstrate how Cary marshals the linguistic and rhetorical features of orality to dramatise and render transhistorical this conventional early modern literate genre for the teaching of ‘Truth’. Cary’s achievement was to produce a self-conscious text that participates in oral as well as literate rhetorical practices and linguistic forms and that safeguards her self as speaker while simultaneously allowing her the space to make pronouncements that she may attribute to the wisdom of history.


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