Poisons and remedies in Margaret Cavendish’s drama
Delilah Bermudez Brataas
Margaret Cavendish’s Natures Pictures (1656) includes two heroines who strategically procure poison to attempt suicide to escape threatening men: Lady Miseria in ‘Assaulted and Pursued Chastity’ and the She-Anchoret. Cavendish was clearly familiar with the use of poison as a narrative detail in her romances, so her plays might well have been littered with poisonous death given the heavy influence of a long history of Renaissance tragedies. Cavendish wrote many more comic than tragic plays, but of the two she herself deemed tragicomedies, The Matrimonial Trouble contains her only use of poison. Throughout Cavendish’s many dramatic works, poison and its several variants – potions, venom, and draughts for good or ill – appear often, but not as a weapon. More often, she connects poison to words and their influence, and more specifically, to women’s words and the influence of their physical presence. This chapter traces Cavendish’s use of poison, as object and descriptive metaphor, as motif and literal action, in several of her dramatic works. It demonstrates that Cavendish’s use of ‘poison’ was strategically gendered, but also ambiguous given that she uses ‘poison’ in a similar way to her detailed discussion of remedies emerging from her personal experience and her interest in chemistry. In every instance, and in every form, we are left to consider the distinction between poison and remedy.