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Mary Pix's nebulous relationship to 'Zelmane.'

CONTRARY to what recent critics have suggested, there is very little textual evidence that Mary Pix wrote Zelmane or The Corinthian Queen (1705). The historical cause for such confusion comes from a citation in The Diverting Post, 28 October 1704 that attributes the play to Pix. The London Stage asserts, however, that the play's authorship is |uncertain' and adjusts the Divertingpost's claim by offering the possibility that Pix merely finished a play begun by William Mountfort.(1)

The London Stage can justify its attribution of the play to sources other than Pix with evidence from within the play itself. The play's introduction assigns the play to male authorship, and it is confirmed by the dedication. The anonymous speaker begins, |The following poem [play] was a piece left unfinished by Mr. M--t, who in his life was generally belov'd, and encourag'd in what he did by all.' The speaker speaks of the male authorship with the play's live patron, The Honourable Sir Boucher Ray, to whom he applies for support. It seems unlikely that the anonymous speaker, even if it is Pix, would apply to a patron in such terms if William Mountfort had not written the play.

Like many of Pix's plays, Zelmane does feature a strong queen as the main character and focuses on her love of a male hero in hyperbolic, histrionic terms. However, there are more differences than similarities between this play ambiguously attributed to Pix and the body of work she is known to have written. Although some of Pix's plays' prologues and epilogues describe a female monarch as strong, they never picture her as one who strikes fear in the hearts of men. Pix's women are, above all, ladies. Consider, then, the contrast between Pix's other prologues and the description of Queen Anne in Zelmane's prologue.

So that great day when Anna was the word.

And every conquering Brittain drew his sword

Her name with terror struck the nations

And unknown fears their numerous troops confound....

(B2) Certainly none of Pix's female heroines, including direct representations of Queen Anne, are warriors like this |Anna' who |fought alone, to fix with equal laws / The world' asserted liberty to own/and settle the then tott'ring empire's crown...'(B2).

Pix's female characters never speak with Queen Zelmane's imperiousness. Consider the tone of an early speech:

Monarchs resemble the immortals most,

When with bounteous, liberal hand they give;

T'was for this cause, my lords, I call'd you hither,

That his in this full assembly, the warriours

Might be welcom'd for their brave discharge of duty. (2) Unlike Queen Catherine or any of Pix's other female characters, Zelmane thinks of herself as a monarch and only secondarily as a woman. When love troubles her, she frames feminine impulses as illness, and attempts to cure herself by invoking masculine notions of power. She cries, |Keep back ye signs of woman in my eyes, / And let the fierce and scorching fire of rage, / Dry up the moisture of my love-sick brain' (28). None of Pix's characters, male or female, are as commanding as Zelmane; none are even as articulate as this play's villains. There is little evidence in Pix's other work that her writing could produce the charismatic characters of the sort found in Zelmane.

Thematically and structurally, too, the play has much more in common with heroic tragedies by men than with those by Pix. Zelmane offers its male characters and its queen a choice beteen love and duty, whereas Pix's tragedies unite these ideals. Again unlike Pix's heroines, Zelmane chooses her duty with little trouble; she is much more concerned with war and government than with a heterosexual partner. She insists:

Princes should rule with an impartial sway,

And always more, then vertue leads the way;

Bias'd by nothing but the publick good,

All private suits and passions be withstood;

For he who governs well, does more command,

Than if all nations bended to his hand.

Thus I may peoples rights, and honour will maintain,

And Corinth date her glories from a female reign.

(69) Although it is undesirable that feminist critics wish to attribute women's grand language and noble sentiments to female authorship, there is little evidence in either style or tone that links Zelmane to Pix and her other work. Pix's plays do include noble women and their deeds, but her project differs greatly from that of the author of Zelmane. Indeed, it seems clear that those critics who attribute the play to Pix do so because they would like evidence to support their own larger critical paradigms.(2) (1) E. L. Avery (ed.), The London Stage, 1700-1729 (Carbondale, 1979), 80. (2) See, e.g., Jacqueline Perason who, in her book, The Prostituted Muse (New York, 1988), 169-201, accepts the last act as Pix's, although Zelmane's speeches bear little resemblance to those of Pix's other female characters. Also see William J. Burling who even more unproblematically accepts the play as Pix's (|Their Empire Disjoyn'd', in Curtain Calls, ed. Mary Anne Schofield and Cecila Macheski (Athens, Ohio, 1991), 292-311.
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Author:Kramer, Annette
Publication:Notes and Queries
Date:Jun 1, 1994
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