chapter  14
Cary, community, and audience
ByRAMONA WRAY
Pages 14

In critical writing on the play, these lines have attracted considerable interest, with commentators pointing up the language’s concern with issues of female voice and gendered transgression.2 Less often noted is the way in which Mariam’s stress upon her ‘public’ role gestures towards contexts of community and audience reaction, to the extent that the female protagonist – and by implication all of the play’s characters – are situated inside a wider social world. When Mariam asks, ‘How oft have I with public voice run on?’, she summons a series of past communal practices and invokes multiple occasions on which she has appealed to auditors and interlocutors not only at length but also in a public environment. And she explicitly imagines a pejorative audience in the form of a powerful listener (no less than Caesar himself) who judges her performance ‘rash’ and ‘mistaken’. Hence Mariam, in similar terms to the closing plea of A Midsummer Night’s Dream, asks

her audience to ‘excuse’ and ‘pardon’.3 Of course, at the level of its positioning, Mariam’s opening speech is less of an Epilogue than it is a Prologue (and, in this sense, it is striking that a closet drama should begin in so theatrical a style). But, in its retrospective nature, the speech reveals epilogue-like traits; like Puck in A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Mariam reflects on a performance that has passed (in contradistinction to Shakespeare’s play, it is also a performance that we have never experienced). This performance is summoned via memory, and it is hindsight – provided by the experience of Herod’s death – that facilitates reassessment of the previous performance as one of those ‘common’ mistakes to which women are stereotypically prone.