ABSTRACT

For her second tragedy, Sparta, Cowley turned from English history to a classical source, one used by Shakespeare for his three Roman plays, Julius Caesar, Antony and Cleopatra and Coriolanus – Plutarch’s Lives. is text provided her with the opportunity to treat the elevated, and topical themes of civic virtue, luxury, kingship, tyranny and the fall of empires.2 e ‘daring’ of which the editor of Cowley’s Works wrote of the dramatist’s attempts at several dramatic genres can be found in Cowley’s use both of a venerated genre and of a classical source.3 As noted in Chapter 2, Cowley was bold in attempting tragedy in this decade. Only two other plays in this genre by women are recorded as receiving performances: Frances Brooke’s Th e Siege of Sinope (1781) and Anne Yearsley’s Earl Goodwin (1798).4 And she was unique among the few woman tragedians of the century in adapting a classical source directly herself.5 Central to the play is a model of civic virtue articulated through the gure of her Spartan heroine Chelonice, for whom Cowley claims the right to full citizenship. Cowley’s portrayal of Chelonice facing a con ict between domestic and public responsibilities is a comment upon a woman’s limited scope for political action at that time.