“Counterfeit Colour”: Making Up Race in Elizabeth Cary’s The Tragedy of Mariam

Kimberley Woosley Poitevin, Millikin University
Vol. 24, No. 1 (Spring 2005),13-34

This article uses Elizabeth Cary’s The Tragedy of Miriam, an early English drama, to establish women as experiencing but also self-fashioning each other’s bodies as sites of racial meaning. Cosmetics were a popular part of courtly theatre, and the article notes that women participated in racial painting, creating and valuing pale faces and thus destabilizing the notion that white and fair were natural markers, but instead acts of performance. In Cary’s play, Miriam’s complexion is depicted as naturally fair in comparison with dark Muslim women who were historically described as overly ornamented. However, the article notes that Miriam’s pride in her fairness links her with patriarchal norms of beauty and identity. In contrast, Salome transgresses racial and social norms, manipulating men and gaining influence despite her racial background and resisting the supposition of painting as power.

Mary Wollstonecraft Sojourner Truth Margaret Atwood Abigail Adams Amy Tan H.D. Simone de Beauvoir Zora Neale Hurston Frances Burney Virginia Woolf

"The white saxifrage with the indented leafe is moste commended for the breakinge of the Stone."

— Turner, Herbal, III, 68 [1568]