chapter  6
15 Pages

The Wonder of Women: Virginity, Sexuality and Religio-Politics in Marston’s The Tragedy of Sophonisba 1

ByThomas Rist

Highlighting a feminine ideal, the title heading the 1606 edition of Marston's play is The Wonder of Women, although it is now critically normal to refer to The Tragedy of Sophonisba, that is only the edition's subtitle. Of the two titles, The Wonder of Women is also the more telling in describing the unfolding focus of the narrative. 'Chaste life' is the final difference between Sophonisba and Erictho. Just as the predominant feature of Sophonisba's wonderful character is her Marian virginity, so the sacred Sophonisba and hellish Erictho contrast starkly over sexuality. Two Carthaginians, Massinissa and Syphax, both love Sophonisba, but the action opens on the night of Sophonisba's wedding to Massinissa. Linking Massinissa especially with the Virgin, it is not Sophonisba's virginity alone which guarantees her wonder, but her status as a married virgin: in Christian history, the Virgin is without rival the pre-eminent example of married virginity.