Unmotherly Love: the Medea Model in Mary Sidney's Antonius


  • Roberta Zanoni University of Verona




Mary Sidney’s Antonius, the English translation of Robert Garnier’s Marc Antoine, offers the first example of a closet drama in early modern English that not only used classical resources but was also written by a woman. It is worth exploring the possibility that Euripides’s and Seneca’s versions have coloured Sidney’s reception and re-elaboration of Garnier’s play. Although neither has yet been connected with Garnier’s and Sidney’s plays, Sidney’s version effectively shows significant similarities in her construction of the female protagonist with particular reference to the dramatisation of unmotherly love. Through an in-depth investigation of these parallels, I will attempt to illustrate Mary Sidney’s approach to the Medea model and her own intervention, which include the influence of Studley’s translation of Seneca’s Medea; I will also explore how this intertextuality leads to the construction of Cleopatra as a stronger female ruler who abandons her children for her lover Antonius, and for her resolution to die after he has died. This article highlights how reading these aspects of Mary Sidney’s play in the early modern context may involve the identification of parallels with the situation in England linked to the Elizabethan succession.

Keywords: Mary Sidney; Antonius; Robert Garnier; Euripides; Seneca; Studley; translation; Elizabethan succession