Social class, literacy, and Elizabeth Cary: the participation of servants in Early Modern private drama

Date of Award


Degree Name

M.A. in English


Department of English


Advisor: Elizabeth Ann Mackay


In this paper, I investigate the possibility of servants participating in early modern dramas and the implications such performances had on class relations of that time. I argue that servants did likely perform in these dramas, using the voices of various characters to create a complex social commentary on the period's strict social structure. Through a close examination of early modern literacy rates, household politics, and private dramas, I determine that it is likely servants were capable of not only reading, but also performing in private dramas. Then, with a critical reading of Elizabeth Cary's biography and play, titled The Tragedy of Mariam, I show that early modern women often used private dramas to express their opinions of social and political issues publicly, specifically regarding gender politics. These two main points then allow me to come to my final argument. I conclude that servants might have used characters' lines to voice their own opinions regarding the constraints of class politics, allowing these servants to speak freely to the upper class that had authority over them.


Cary, Elizabeth, Lady, 1585 or 1586-1639. Tragedy of Mariam Criticism and interpretation, Household employees England Social conditions 16th century, Sex discrimination in literature 17th century, Social classes in literature 17th century, Amateur theater England 17th century, British and Irish Literature, Education History, Gender, History, Literacy, Social Structure, private drama, Elizabeth Cary, servants, early modern servants, early modern household dynamics, patriarchy, The Tragedy of Mariam, early modern literacy, participation of servants, servants in drama, Graphina

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