web space | free website | Business WebSite Hosting | Free Website Submission | shopping cart | php hosting

Studies in English Literature, 1500-1900, Vol. 40, 2000

Epic Transgression and the Framing of Agency
in "Dido Queen of Carthage"

Clare R. Kinney

In book 2 of the Aeneid, its hero, relating the terrible story of Troy's last night, recalls his encounter with a terrified Helen in Vesta's shrine. Convinced that she is primarily responsible for Troy's fall, Aeneas is about to slay her when his hand is stayed by Venus, who announces that Helen is not to blame for his city's ruin: "it is the gods' relentlessness [ldots] that overturns these riches, tumbles Troy." [1] Disclosing to him a nightmare landscape in which terrifying, superhuman figures help the Greeks to destroy the citadel, Venus instructs her mortal son to withdraw from the fray and rescue his family (2.802-39/594-620). As his mother disappears from view, Aeneas sees "[f]erocious forms appear--the fearful powers / of gods that are the enemies of Troy" (2.841-2/622-3).

One might find in this episode an allegory of recent paradigm shifts in literary-historical criticism. Aeneas, the old-style historian, imagines causality in terms that make individuals "loci of consciousness and initiators of action" (Helen has caused Troy to fall); Venus, the newer historicist, lays bare the "social networks and cultural codes, forces of necessity and contingency" to which people and societies are subjected and that "exceed their comprehension or control." [2] One cannot, of course, sustain the comparison very long: in the larger context of the Aeneid, this narrative moment of apparent demystification becomes coterminous with the epic's much larger mystification of historical process--its myth of a manifest destiny, in which Augustan Rome is the triumphant fulfillment of the transcendent workings of fatum. Aeneas must be turned away from enacting his own desire for vengeance so that he and his patrilineage may survive to found a new imperium.

Dido Queen of Carthage strikingly revises the Virgilian representation of the subject of/in history. In the Aeneid, the actions of both Dido and Aeneas are circumscribed by their overdetermined location within the epic of imperial origins. However sympathetically Dido is represented, she is doomed to be a casualty of empire--not only because of the interventions of Virgil's gods, but also because of the teleology of the Augustan master narrative in which she figures simultaneously as a threat to the translation of Aeneas's line to Italy and as genetrix of the Punic Wars. Transforming epic into tragic drama, Marlowe seems to offer a "Dido script" centering upon Dido's subject position, Dido's desires, Dido's will. [3] Marlowe's female prince is no longer simply a victim of Aeneas's manifest destiny and Virgil's epic machinery: her fantasies of absolute agency intermittently threaten to rewrite imperial mythology and literary history.

The fact that he is appropriating and revising a canonical text encourages one to ponder Marlowe's own dramatic agency--to consider what might constrain or inform his (transgressive?) reimagination of the Aeneid as he creates the illusion of a Dido and Aeneas who speak in the first person, who have stepped out of their Virgilian master narrative. Recent work on this play has emphasized Marlowe's entanglement within the colonial discourses of early modern Europe: more than one critic has reappraised the play's representation of the relationship between Dido and Aeneas, its expatriate colonizers, in the larger context of the colonial adventures of Elizabeth I's "New Trojans" and their competitors. [4] My own attempt to historicize Marlowe's rewriting of Virgil will work on a smaller scale, ultimately addressing the material circumstances of Dido's sixteenth-century staging. If Marlowe produces a "Dido script" which threatens to liberate his heroine from Virgil's imperial designs, his most striking modification of Virgil's Olympian machinery is his refraining of Dido's discourses of desire and agency within an entirely uncanonical negotiation of power between his own Jove and Ganymede. I will conclude my reading of Dido's embracing "Ganymede script" by suggesting how it might be fruitfully complicated by some consideration of the play's original performance by a troupe of Ganymedes: the Children of the Chapel Royal at Blackfriars.


Marlowe's drama repeatedly removes the Virgilian subject from history. [5] Virgil's "pius Aeneas" becomes a culture hero through painfully subjecting his will to the larger forces impelling him to the Lavinian landfall, through the gradual suppression of his desires, through the erasure of his agency. Marlowe, however, completely cuts that portion of Aeneas's account of his pre-Carthaginian adventures that describes the steady frustration of his attempts to rebuild a new Troy in territories other than Italy: most of the Aeneid's third book disappears from his hero's autobiographical narrative. The dramatist also suppresses Venus's detailed relation of "Sidonian Dido"'s exile from Phoenicia and acquisition of new territory in Africa, a relation which constructs her, potentially, as a rival colonizer.[6] Other circumscribing foundational narratives, crucial to the framing of Dido's and Aeneas's actions in the Aeneid, are minimalized. On the one hand, the julian/Augustan teleology of Aeneas's adventures vanishe s from Jupiter's prophecy of his eventual success (I.i.89-108); on the other, there are no murals of the Trojan war in Marlowe's Carthage, and Aeneas weeps over a single statue of Priam (II.i.3-15).[7] (It is as if history--and prophecy-- are more narrowly reconfigured on the level of immediate familial relationships.) Even when Venus arranges for Dido to become enamored of her son, she seems oddly indifferent to Aeneas's final destination: once a doting Dido has repaired Aeneas's fleet, she suggests, he may "at last depart to Italy / Or else in Carthage make his kingly throne" (II.i.330-1).

Venus's surprising lack of interest in Rome's manifest destiny has already been anticipated by Marlowe's iconoclastic opening scene, in which Jove courts a pettish Ganymede, unmindful of Aeneas's storm-tossed plight. Marlowe's irreverent treatment of his Olympians (Mercury is first seen on stage asleep, Juno and Venus trade insults like fishwives) offers little sense of the Virgilian numina magni: not surprisingly, Venus's disclosure of the gods' actions during Troy's last night disappears from Marlovian Aeneas's narrative of the sack. The suppression of this episode is particularly resonant in the light of Dido's question (after Aeneas concludes his terrible story): "But how scap'd Helen, she that caus'd this war?" (II.i.292). Marlowe has pointedly reconstructed a notion of individual human agency that Virgil displaces on to his divinities in the equivalent portion of the Aeneid.[8]

He does so, of course, even as he dramatizes the episode of the Aeneid in which the question of agency is most perplexed. Although Virgil's imperial agenda demands that Dido be represented (simultaneously) as an obstacle to the fulfillment of Aeneas's destiny and the plaything of forces beyond her ken, his poem tends to encourage the reader's desire to read Dido as the subject of her own narrative.9 (The reception history of the Dido episode, from Ovid's Dido letter in the Heroides to Chaucer's "legend of Dido," reveals just how willingly readers have embraced this possibility.) If, as Mihoko Suzuki notes, "Virgil's epic narrative subsumes tragedy's interest in the subjectivity of Dido," Marlowe's translation of epic into drama has the potential to reverse this process. [10] And if, in the Aeneid , the characters are "subjected" to a narrative which valorizes divinely ordained historical determinism, the Marlovian text not only reemphasizes human agency but also allows Dido to lay claim to a transcendent powe r to order her destiny--to act as a god, or at least a rival ideologue.

Marlowe reframes Virgilian history most strikingly at the very center of his drama, in his recasting of the scene in which Dido and Aeneas become lovers. In Dido III.iv an uncanonical dialogue between the pair replaces the ellipses of book 4 of the Aeneid where, as the lovers take refuge in the same cave during Juno's storm,

Primal Earth

and Juno, queen of marriages, together

now give the signal: lightning fires flash,

the upper air is witness to their mating,

and from the highest hilltops shout the nymphs.

That day was her first day of death and ruin.

For neither how things seem nor how they are deemed

moves Dido now, and she no longer thinks

of furtive love. For Dido calls it marriage,


and with this name she covers up her fault.

Human agency dissolves into the elemental manifestations of supernatural forces; Aeneas's will to action is wholly elided, and Dido is present as subject only in terms of her self-deception. Marlowe, however, fills in the Virgilian blanks and offers a minesis of two speaking subjects negotiating their physical union. It is an extremely loaded intervention, and one which perforce invites us to contemplate his dramatic agency. [11] What discourses are available, what discourses are imaginable to him as he scripts this dialogue?

I have not yet said much about gender. Thanks to Catherine Belsey, we now take it for granted that there are particular cultural constraints on the male dramatist's imagination and representation of the female tragic subject; we are equally used to the notion that, in Elizabethan and Jacobean tragedy, the articulation of female desire will often be constructed as female transgression--even more so if the lady is a prince. [12] In his "Dido script"'s privileging of the subject position of the dangerously "redundant" (and historically obstructive) woman, [13] Marlowe potentially destabilizes conventional notions of what constitutes heroic agency--but he does so in a characteristically idiosyncratic manner. Before the cave scene, the dramatist seems relatively uninterested in "gendering" his representation of Dido. The "Dido script" rarely makes her discourse (or other characters' responses to her speeches) suggest an informing awareness that there is something by definition transgressive about a woman voicing her own desires. Nor does Marlowe seem to create for his heroine a style of speech that might answer to orthodox notions of femininity (Interestingly--and revealingly--this feature of the play impels a twentieth-century critic to complain that if the names of the characters were removed from Marlowe's text, one might have difficulty distinguishing the sex of his speakers.) [14] Marlovian Dido blazons Aeneas's beauties in the manner of a masculine sonneteer:

I'll make me bracelets of his golden hair;

His glistering eyes shall be my looking-glass,

His lips an altar.


She employs the same hyperbolic discourse of desire Marlowe's audiences would later hear from his male overreachers: promising to repair Aeneas's ships on the condition he stay in Carthage, she tells his followers: "For ballace, empty Dido's treasury, / Take what ye will, but leave Aeneas here" [(III.i.125-6). [15] She insists upon her princely free agency as she offers Aeneas an epic catalogue of her rejected suitors (III.i.149-66), and her transcendence of the usual constraints of gender seems complete when she banishes Iarbas, Aeneas's importunate on-stage rival for her love, "unto the house" (III.iii.62)--as if he were the unruly woman who should not speak in public.

Marlowe occasionally nods in the direction of more familiar notions of female modesty: at the end of III.i, Dido cries "O, if I speak, / I shall betray myself!--Aeneas, speak." (lines 171-2). Aeneas, however, says nothing (Dido fills the gap by proposing the hunt that will finish in Marlowe's cave scene). It seems that Dido's voice becomes gendered (insofar as it suggests that there is something improper in her very act of speaking) only at those moments when the queen talks directly to Aeneas about her desire for him. When, by contrast, she is celebrating her erotic object, dramatizing her own abandonment to that object, or displaying her power over less desirable objects, Dido shows little consciousness of herself as a female speaker. But the non-exchange of III.i.171-2 anticipates rather neatly the problems Marlowe faces in inventing a love scene for Dido and Aeneas when they are alone on the threshold of that un-Virgilian cave. For although, by the end of III.iv, his characters' articulation of their own desires might be construed as Marlowe's own "epic transgression" (the moment when he most explicitly challenges the narrative of historical necessity with his drama of individual will), its dramatic genesis is so awkward as to verge upon the comic.

In the first half of that scene, Marlowe seems to be groping for a discourse in which to frame a male character's response to a desiring female voice (a voice which seems quite exasperated by its own culturally obligatory semi-aphasia). Dido repeatedly tries to communicate "The thing that I will die before I ask, / And yet desire to have before I die" (lines 8-9) and Aeneas remains insensible to her drift ("What ails my queen, is she fall'n sick of late?" [line 23]). Aeneas's obtuse courtliness eventually gives way to something new, but since the previous scenes have given us no access to his interiority, when he does articulate his own desire-

If that your Majesty can look so low

As my despised worths, that shun all praise,

With this my hand I give to you my heart


--it seems to be the product of a radically discontinuous self. [16] His vows erupt out of nowhere, as he swears

Never to leave these new-upreared walls

Whiles Dido lives and rules in Juno's town-

Never to like or love any but her!


Aeneas is the invisible man in Virgil's cave; in Marlowe's he moves from complete self-deprecation to apparently complete self-commitment in a kind of performative parataxis. I will be returning to the telling phrasing of Aeneas's vows; for the moment, let us examine Dido's response, which ends the scene by positioning her as the new author of Aeneas's destiny:

Stout love, in mine arms make thy Italy,

Whose crown and kingdom rests at thy command;

Sichaeus, not Aeneas, be thou call'd;

The King of Carthage, not Anchises' son.

Hold, take these jewels at thy lover's hand,

These golden bracelets, and this wedding-ring,

Wherewith my husband woo'd me yet a maid,

And be thou King of Libya, by my gift.


Dido gives Aeneas the name of her late husband, makes her body the terminus of his questing, and, erasing his patrilineage, attempts to turn history into her story. Offering to him the jewels given to her by Sichaeus, she assumes the role of a male wooer; she also recapitulates the actions of a male god. As Marlowe's play opens, Jupiter, who is discovered "dandling Ganymede upon his knee" (SD) presents him with the jewels he had once given Juno:

These linked gems

My Juno ware upon her marriage-day

Put thou about thy neck, my own sweetheart.


Godlike Dido, revisionary historian, seems to have acquired a Ganymede of her own.

Marlowe's uniquely female overreacher continues to deify herself when she responds to her sister Anna's remark that her Carthaginians may not wish Aeneas to be their monarch:

The ground is mine that gives them sustenance,

The air wherein they breathe, the water, fire,

All that they have, their lands, their goods, their lives;

And I, the goddess of all these, command

Aeneas ride as Carthaginian king.


But as Dido asserts her power to confer absolute power upon another, her claim to godhead begins to undo itself. The queen does not only crown Aeneas, she deifies him, surrendering divine "authorship" to the god she has invented: "in his looks I see eternity, / And he'll make me immortal with a kiss" (IV.iv.122-3). Her fantasies once again return us to the play's Olympian beginning as she declares:

Now looks Aeneas like immortal Jove:

O where is Ganymede, to hold his cup,

And Mercury to fly for what he calls?


Revising the scenario she had created at the end of the cave scene, Dido, in elevating Aeneas/Ganymede to the Jovian position, actually recapitulates the actions of Marlowe's Jupiter in the opening lines of the play. Wooing his own Trojan prince, Jove says:

Sit on my knee, and call for thy content,

Control proud fate, and cut the thread of time.

Why, are not all the Gods at thy command,

And heaven and earth the bounds of thy delight?


Readers have often commented upon the iconoclasm of Dido's Olympian machinery, but less attention has been paid to the fact that the internal control of Dido's action is here assigned to a rather surprising Prime Mover. [17] In handing over control of Time, Fate and the entire Pantheon to Ganymede, Jove appears to be giving him the power to intervene in human history--or in imperial epic's construction of history. Virgil's own glancing reference to Trojan Ganymede merely positions him as the Jovian beloved who becomes one cause of Juno's enmity against the Trojans (143-4/27-8). Marlowe's revision of Virgil's epic machinery circumscribes its heroine's fantasies of rewriting history within a "Ganymede script"--a script which will ultimately suggest that Dido is not even the author of her own desire, much less the remaker of Aeneas's destiny.


Dido turns her Aeneas-Ganymede into a Jove and imagines Mercury flying at his command; in the framing action, Jove himself has already ordained that Mercury will fly at his Ganymede's command. In the Aeneid, of course, Mercury flies to visit Aeneas at the command of Jove, or rather at the command of the Virgilian/Augustan master narrative; Marlowe's Ganymede script will significantly revise the messenger god's dealings with the hero. In Dido, Mercury's initial visit to remind Aeneas of his epic duty is reported but not shown (IV.iii.1-14); it is only after Dido has uncanonically persuaded Aeneas to remain in Carthage--and reimagined him as Jove--that Mercury appears on stage to renew his admonitions, bringing with him Aeneas's small son. [18] When Aeneas, who had believed Ascanius to be in Dido's keeping, is told by Mercury that Ascanius was on Mount Ida with Venus, while Cupid took his place, he produces the completely un-Virgilian assertion that

This was my mother that beguil'd the Queen

And made me take my brother for my son:

No marvel, Dido, that thou be in love,

That daily dandiest Cupid in thy arms!


Marlowe has indeed shown us Dido dandling Cupid-Ascanius in her arms, as well as the somewhat comic effect of his arrows (III.i.25-95). But his play has so thoroughly blurred the distinctions between divine and human agency--in its reimagination of the cave scene as a human rather than supernatural and elemental event; in its emphasis upon Dido's willingness to lay claim to--and confer--godlike powers; in its representation of some very uncelestial Olympians--that it comes as a shock to be reminded of the official history in which Dido's desires are the object of divine manipulation. Marlowe is doing something quite complicated here, for the phrasing of Aeneas's observation suggests another variation upon the Jove/Ganymede "dandling" sequence: Cupid in Dido's lap had engaged in some highly eroticized by play (III.i.30-3), even as he bent her to his fancy (Simon Shepherd suggests that the same boy actor may have played Ganymede and Cupid). [19] Moreover, the plotting of Aeneas's anagnorisis is rather telling- -it is only after he identifies Cupid as the first cause of Dido's desire that his resolve to depart from Carthage hardens. It is as if he is ultimately freed from his non-Virgilian promises to Dido, not because of a renewed awareness of his duty to his progeny, but rather as a result of his dismantling of Dido's agency (aided by the god out of Ganymede's machine). [20]

I would like to reinvoke at this point Aeneas's original promise

Never to leave these new-upreared walls

Whiles Dido lives and rules in Juno's town--

Never to like or love any but her!

(III.iv.48-50, emphasis mine)

Aeneas directly links his fidelity to the integrity of Dido's identity as power broker in Carthage, but Dido begins to void the conditions of Aeneas's vow as soon as she names him king of Carthage in her very next speech (III.iv.59). She will continue in the same vein: "Sway thou the Punic scepter in my stead" (IV.iv.35); "let rich Carthage fleet upon the seas, / So I may have Aeneas in mine arms" (IV.iv.134-5). Her desire impels her toward an assertion of will (she continues to speak in the imperative) which is at the same time a discursive "abandonment," a willful surrender of her political power. [21] Aeneas's response to Mercury's second visit completes this process: the same desire that from the moment of Aeneas's oath has unmade Dido's princely identity is itself unmade in her lover's conclusion that she never really owned her desire, that it was (always already) authored by Ganymede's double, Cupid.

Marlowe's "Dido script" ostensibly replaced the ellipses of Virgil's cave scene with a drama of human agency, but Aeneas's self-commitment and Dido's fantasies of transcendent power deconstruct themselves almost as soon as they are uttered. The play's uncanonical frame complicates matters even further, repeatedly undercutting the performance of "heroic" adult passion by conflating it with a scenario in which an adult's agency is surrendered to or usurped by a child. Dido makes Aeneas into her Ganymede, then reimagines him as Jove; Jove himself surrenders his powers to the boy he abducted; Dido dandles the boy-child Ascanius/ Cupid who subjects her desires to his whim. (There is an additional, broadly comic variation on this theme when Dido's ancient nurse, fussing over the supposed Ascanius, falls victim to Cupid's darts [IV.v].) Marlowe's dramatic focus repeatedly shifts from the official plot of heterosexual desire to a situ-ation where a "natural" hierarchy (male god / human boy; woman / boy; nurse / boy) reverses itself in favor of the boy. The Ganymede script's invention of an uncanonical anagnorisis which allows Aeneas to deny the claims of a desire that unmakes agency completes the inscription of the (preadolescent) unmoved mover as Prime Mover.

Marlowe's revisionary designs take on an additional significance when one recalls that the title page of the first edition of Dido records its performance by the Children of Her Majesty's Chapel at Blackfriars. The Children were recruited in the first instance as choristers: the players would be boys with good (unbroken) voices, usually between the ages of eight and thirteen. [22] Marlowe's Ganymede script would therefore be enacted by a troupe of Ganymedes--and this is not a light comparison. The boy players might not be abducted to Olympus, but, as Stephen Orgel points out, they were vulnerable to "legalized kidnapping": a series of sixteenth-century royal statutes permitted the adults in charge of the companies to impress appropriately gifted boys, even against the will of their parents. [23] There is some evidence, moreover, that Marlowe's contemporaries coupled the very notion of the child actor with that of the child as the object of adult (usually, but not always homosexual) desire. In Jonson's Poetas ter, the braggart soldier Tucca claims he will not rent his pageboys out to Histrio's company of players because "you'll sell 'em for ingles"; in Chapman's May Day a boy who is being appraised for his possible talent as an actor is asked (by way of a double entendre that glancingly equates treading the boards with acquiring sexual experience): "Hast ever practiced, my pretty Ganymede?" [24]

There is nothing new in the notion that Marlowe's opening exchange between Jove and Ganymede assumes contemporary audiences' awareness of the reputation of the boys' troupes. The scenes in which children are dandled in a titillating manner by adult characters have been interpreted as evidence of Dido's self-conscious nod to the conditions of its staging, and Jackson Cope goes so far as to assert that Aeneas would have been played by a smaller, younger boy than Dido, in order to make more salient certain comic parallels between the cave scene and the Jove/Ganymede and Dido/Cupid scenes. [25] I would like to propose, however, that Marlowe's decision to re-present Virgil by way of the Ganymede frame may have implications beyond the titillation of a knowing Blackfriars audience.

Marlowe's translation of epic into drama offers more than one challenge to Virgilian mythology. The "Dido script" appropriates and inhabits certain lacunae in Virgil's master narrative to reimagine its heroine as a revisionary historian, and the conditions of Dido's performance might at first glance seem to enhance its subversive potential. On the public stage, Aeneas would have been played by a man, Dido by a boy, but the boys' company does not permit the projection of a gendered hierarchy privileging masculine agency upon the physical differences between an adult male player and a boy actor. Stephen Orgel has argued (in his exploration of just what the boy players in the adult theaters are "taken for" in early modern drama's economies of desire) that in Elizabethan and Jacobean England, boys and women, considered as erotic objects or objects of exchange, were "antithetical not to each other, but to men." [26] A Dido who is not so obviously "othered" (relative to her Aeneas) by performance practice may well have a special kind of license to speak a new reality into being, and it is tempting to make a connection between Marlowe's almost complete refusal to inflect Dido's speech with conventional indices of gender and his awareness that his hero and heroine would be impersonated by boy actors of perhaps similar size with equally unbroken voices. But we must also deal with the Ganymede script, which undercuts romantic tragedy's revision of epic narrative by shifting our attention to the repetition of a scene in which a child comes to wield power over an adult. The "Dido script"'s challenge to conventionally gendered, heterosexual negotiations of power is refrained within an economy in which any adult desire is liable to be subjected to (indeed authored by) the actions of a child.

Marlowe's highly idiosyncratic refraining of the "Dido script," I would suggest, speaks very precisely to the conditions of the Blackfriars performance of Dido. In the private theater, the audience's response to Marlowe's recasting of the Aeneid is itself mediated, controlled, framed, by a company of little boys. There is already something inherently transgressive in the very notion that tragic drama can offer a mimesis of epic mythology: the embodiment of gods by human players will perforce complicate any representation of the boundaries between divine and human agency, challenge the mystified status of the numina magna. [27] There is something even more subversive, potentially, in the imitation--or miniaturization--of such an action by a children's company. It is very difficult to recapture within our own historical moment the exact tone of the performances by the boys' companies, the kinds of pleasure their playing gave to their audiences. Cope hypothesizes that "the self-conscious theatrical situation ve ctored by sexually romantic love matter, a literate adult audience, and the little boy players" would have lent itself to an arch lubricity and a substantially satiric treatment of any heroic or romantic material.[28] David Mann, by contrast, maintains that "the quality of the Children as performers was not by its nature satiric; it was neutral," and that the boy players--as opposed to the adult companies on the outdoor stages--offered audiences a "more distanced, self-conscious, contemplation of human behaviour." [29] Jam less interested in fixing the precise nature of the pleasure evoked by the boys' playing of Dido than in emphasizing the play's internal plotting of the author's awareness that his text will eventually pass out of his control. The "Ganymede script" aligns the circumscription of adult agency within the text of Dido with the necessary surrender of dramatic agency by the Jovian playwright to those other Ganymedes, the children who will impersonate adult speaking subjects as they enact Dido.

The play, then, inscribes within itself the limiting conditions of its own performance--and this final refraining of Marlowe's complex refraining of Virgil continues to operate even after the author appears to have officially terminated the "Dido script"'s challenge to Virgilian history. In the work's final exchange between hero and heroine, as Dido begs Aeneas not to abandon her, she falls into the Latin of her Virgilian counterpart (V.i.136-8; 4.317-9)-and Aeneas responds to her with another direct quotation from the Aeneid:

Desine meque tuis incendere teque querelis,


Italiam non sponte sequor.

[No longer set yourself and me

afire. Stop your quarrel. It is not

my own free will that leads to Italy.]

These are the last words Virgil's Aeneas speaks to Dido in Carthage-- suggestively, the hero's announcement of his own lack of agency becomes the textual moment at which Marlowe seems to relinquish dramatic agency as reviser of Virgil, abandoning his own invention to (re)cite the Virgilian script. Yet, although Marlowe's Dido commits suicide while prophesying eternal enmity between Carthage and Rome, re-entering official Virgilian history in lines which once again quote Virgil's Latin (V.i.310-4), this is not the end of Dido. Marlowe invents a strikingly un-Virgilian coda in which Aeneas's rival, Iarbas, leaps on to the same pyre as the queen--where he is very swiftly followed by Anna (whom Marlowe has represented as being hopelessly and uncanonically in love with her sister's suitor).


The Iarbas/Anna coda is highly unsatisfactory from a dramatic standpoint: Marlowe's perfunctory and almost farcical piling up of extra casualties threatens to undo the dignity of his heroine's last moments. But in its projection adabsurdam of the equation of adult desire with the most extreme manifestations of self-abandonment, it recalls other aspects of the "Ganymede script"'s refraining of the "Dido script." Repetition-as-diminution is again the order of the day--just as it is, perhaps, in the theater in which the willful fantasies of desiring adults are rehearsed (or pastiched?) by the boy actors, the Ganymedes, the unmoved movers. If Marlowe's revision of Virgil appears finally to defer to the Virgilian Logos, Virgil is not actually given the last word. [30] Another scriptwriter still has the power to "control proud fate, and cut the thread of time," to reframe Dido's death and to "finish off" Dido in his own fashion.

Clare R. Kinney is associate professor of English at the University of Virginia. She is the author of Strategies of Poetic Narrative: Chaucer, Spenser, Milton, Eliot (1992) and articles on Spenser, Shakespeare, Sidney, Mary Wroth, and the Renaissance reception of Chaucer.


(1.) Aeneid 2.815-6/602-3. Quotations from Virgil's Aeneid are taken from the translation by Allen Mandelbaum (Berkeley and Los Angeles: Univ. of California Press, 1971). Subsequent parenthetical line numbers refer in the first instance to Mandelbaum's translation, in the second to The Aeneid of Virgil: Books I-VI, ed. R. D. Williams (London: Macmillan, 1972).

(2.) The formulations are those of Louis Montrose in The Purpose of Playing: Shakespeare and the Cultural Politics of the Elizabethan Theatre (Chicago: Univ. of Chicago Press, 1996), P. 16.

(3.) The title page of the 1594 quarto of the play ascribes coauthorship to Thomas Nashe. I follow Frederick S. Boas (and others) in finding little internal evidence of another hand and in assuming that Nashe was primarily responsible for preparing the text for publication; see Christopher Marlowe: A Biographical and Critical Study (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1940), pp. 49-50.

(4.) In "Managing the Barbarian: The Tragedy of Dido, Queen of Carthage," (RenD n.s. 23 (1992]: 165-88), Margo Hendricks equates the Carthaginian threat to Aeneas's mission with the rival empire building of Spain, noting that the play was probably written shortly after the English had sacked the Spanish stronghold of Cartagena in the New World (p. 179). Emily C. Bartels argues that Dido offers us "a dialogic competition between two colonizing authorities" in which the Trojans become the representative Europeans, and Dido displaces Iarbas as African ruler (Spectacles of Strangeness: Imperialism, Alienation, and Marlowe [Philadelphia: Univ. of Pennsylvania Press, 1993], pp. 30-51, 31). Other historicizing interpretations have suggested that Marlowe's Dido (whom Virgil also calls Elissa and Marlowe calls Eliza in one instance) is used to rearticulate contemporary anxieties about the political consequences of the potentially "wandering" desires of a female ruler. In Women in Power in the Early Modern Drama (Urba na and Chicago: Univ. of Illinois Press, 1992), Theodora A. Jankowski claims that Dido's relations with Aeneas reprise English concerns about Elizabeth's dealings with such "alien" suitors as d'Alencon (pp. 137-8). See also Patrick Cheney, Marlowe's Counterfeit Profession: Ovid, Spenser, Counter-Nationhood (Toronto: Univ. of Toronto Press, 1997), pp. 104-14; and Diana E. Henderson's discussion of the play's interrogation of Elizabethan courtly "mythologies" in Passion Made Public: Elizabethan Lyric, Gender, and Performance (Urbana and Chicago: Univ. of Illinois Press, 1995), pp. 147-53.

(5.) Earlier critics of Marlowe assumed that he simply did not grasp the Virgilian imperial vision--see, for example, Boas, p. 65. Recent scholarship has suggested, however, that Elizabethan writers were extremely alert to the Virgilian political mythos: see John Watkins's discussion of Spenser's appropriations and revisions of the Dido episode in The Specter of Dido: Spenser and Virgilian Epic (New Haven: Yale Univ. Press, 1995).

(6.) See Dido Queen of Carthage I.i.209-13; compare Aeneid 1484-522/343-68. All citations of the play are hereafter noted parenthetically and refer to Christopher Marlowe, "Dido Queen of Carthage" and "The Massacre at Paris," ed. H.J. Oliver (Cambridge MA: Harvard Univ. Press, 1968).

(7.) Compare Aeneid 1.400-17/286-96; 1.647-59/454-65.

(8.) I should emphasize that, in assigning responsibility to Helen, both Virgil's Aeneas and Marlowe's Dido impose agency upon a figure whose voice and desires are almost inaudible in Homer. It is nevertheless interesting that, in the context of this play, Helen seems to become for Dido a model (however perverse) of a woman who exerts control over the consummation of her own desires; see also V.i.146-8.

(9.) For a helpful discussion of the doubleness of the Virgilian text in this respect, see Mihoko Suzuki, Metamorphoses of Helen: Authority, Difference, and the Epic (Ithaca: Cornell Univ. Press, 1989), pp. 110-2.

(10.) Suzuki, p. 112. Henderson discusses at some length Marlowe's translation of Virgilian epic into a "lyric" dramatic form; she argues, however, that Marlowe's primary interest is in disclosing the limits of courtly lyric persuasion within the frame of the epic narrative (pp. 120-66).

(11.) Troni Y. Grande argues that Marlowe's drama offers a "vernacular dilation" of Virgil's epic that challenges through its dialogism the epic "word of the father"; she does not, however, discuss the specifics of the cave scene in her account of the play. Marlovian Tragedy: The Play of Dilation (Lewisburg PA: Bucknell Univ. Press, 1999), pp. 73, 96.

(12.) Catherine Belsey, The Subject of Tragedy: Identity and Difference in Renaissance Drama (New York: Methuen, 1985); see also Dympna Callaghan, Women and Gender in Renaissance Tragedy (London: Harvester Wheatsheaf, 1989), pp. 50-73.

(13.) The phrase "redundant woman" is Simon Shepherd's, in Marlowe and the Politics of Elizabethan Theatre (Brighton: Harvester, 1986), p. 195. His discussion of Dido (pp. 192-200) is attentive to Marlowe's construction and gendering of agency, although his emphases are rather different from my own.

(14.) Don Cameron Allen, "Marlowe's Dido and the Tradition," Essays on Shakespeare and Elizabethan bet Drama in Honor of Hardin Craig, ed. Richard Hosley (Columbia: Univ. of Missouri Press, 1962), Pp. 55-68, 65.

(15.) I am assuming Dido to have been composed before Tamburlaine and the other plays written for the public stage; for a discussion of dating problems associated with this work see Oliver's introduction, pp. xxv-xxx.

(16.) Brian Gibbons notes this aspect of Marlowe's characterization of Aeneas in "Unstable Proteus': The Tragedy of Dido Queen of Carthage," in Christopher Marlowe, ed. Brian Morris (New York: Hill and Wang, 1968), pp. 25-46, 41.

(17.) On Marlowe's treatment of his immortals see Gibbons, p. 37; Allen, p. 68; and Claude J. Summers, Christopher Marlowe and the Politics of Power (Salzburg: Instit[ddot{u}]t fur Englishe Sprache und Literatur, 1974), pp. 20-40. The only critic (to my knowledge) who pursues the implications of the transfer of "authorial" power to Ganymede is Barbara J. Bono, although her conclusions differ from mine; see Literary Transvaluation: From Vergilian Epic to Shakespearian Comedy (Berkeley and Los Angeles: Univ. of California Press, 1984), p. 136.

(18.) Mercury is confusingly labeled Hermes before his speeches in Dido and in the dramatis personae, although he is always called Mercury by other characters within the play.

(19.) Shepherd, p. 200.

(20.) By contrast, Virgil's Mercury constructs the queen as all too much of an agent in his second visit to Aeneas:

"can't you see

the threats around you?

She conjures injuries

and awful crimes

she stirs

the shifting surge of restless anger."


(21.) Michael Goldman discusses "abandonment" as a characteristic dynamic of Marlovian drama in "Marlowe and the Histrionics of Ravishment," in Two Renaissance Mythmakers. Christopher Marlowe and Ben Jonson, ed. Alvin Kernan (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins Univ. Press, 1977), pp. 22-40,37-8. For an alternative account of the dramatic logic behind Dido's self-abandonment, see Jonathan Goldberg's discussion of Dido in Sodometries: Renaissance Texts, Modern Sexualities (Stanford: Stanford Univ. Press, 1992), p. 133.

(22.) For discussions of the children's companies see Michael Shapiro, Children of the Revels. The Boy Companies of Shakespeare's Time and Their Plays (New York: Columbia Univ. Press, 1977); Alfred Harbage, Shakespeare and the Rival Traditions (New York: Macmillan, 1952); and David Mann, The Elizabethan Player: Contemporary Stage Representation (London and New York: Routledge, 1991), pp. 101-19.

(23.) Stephen Orgel, Impersonations. The Performance of Gender in Shakespeare's England (Cambridge: Cambridge Univ. Press, 1996), p. 66; see also Harbage, pp. 32-3.

(24.) Poetaster III.iv.243-4, in Ben Jonson, Complete Plays of Ben Jonson, ed. Gerald A. Wilkes (Oxford: Oxford Univ. Press 1981); May Day III.iii.233, in Plays of George Chapman: The Comedies, ed. Thomas M. Parrott (New York: Russell and Russell, 1961). For a detailed discussion of the fungibility of the boy actor as an erotic object, see Steve Brown, "The Boyhood of Shakespeare's Heroines: Notes on Gender Ambiguity in the Sixteenth Century," SEL 30, 2 (Spring 1990): 243-63, in particular pp. 252-3; and Orgel, pp. 53-82.

(25.) Jackson I. Cope, "Marlowe's Dido and the Titillating Children," ELR 4, 3 (Autumn 1974): 315-25, 322.

(26.) Orgel, p.103.

(27.) It is interesting to note that when Thomas Heywood dramatizes classical theogony in The Golden Age (1611), he emphatically brings his divinities down to earth by way of a euhemeristic depiction of a Cretan dynasty which comes to be constructed as "godlike" by its subjects, poets, and P. R men.

(28.) Cope, p. 317.

(29.) Mann, p.116. Shapiro (pp.130-8) argues that the children's companies had a range of styles within their repertory ("formal," "naturalistic," "parodic") and that the specifics of the text or the occasion of performance would have determined which was to be employed.

(30.) For a rather different account of the competing languages and voices in this final scene, see Grande (pp.93-6).