Friday, 29 April 2016

Dido, Queen of Carthage by Christopher Marlowe.

1825 library edition.
Dido, Queen of Carthage is a very short play by Christopher Marlowe, with possible contributions by Thomas Nashe (author of the 1594 picaresque novel, The Unfortunate Traveller) and it is thought it was written around 1586, which would make it Marlowe's first play. It's based on the first half of Virgil's Aeneid telling the story of Dido's love for Aeneas and his abandoning of her (this was my favourite section of Aeneid).

The play begins with a tender scene between Jupiter, king of the gods, and his cup-bearer and lover Ganymede (Ovid tells his tale in Book X of Metamorphoses), who tells Jupiter that Juno has been mistreating him. They are interrupted by Venus who admonishes Jupiter for neglecting to take care of her son Aeneas:
I this is it, you can sit toying there,
And playing with that female wanton boy,
Whiles my Æneas wanders on the Seas,
And rests a pray to euery billowes pride.
She goes on to explain how Juno has directed Aeolus, ruler of the winds, to create a tempest, putting Aeneas' life at risk. Jupiter describes Aeneas' task, assuring her that all will be well for him:
Content thee Cytherea in thy care,
Since thy Æneas wandring fate is firme,
Whose wearie lims shall shortly make repose,
In those faire walles I promist him of yore:
But first in bloud must his good fortune bud,
Before he be the Lord of Turnus towne,
Or force her smile that hetherto hath frownd:
Three winters shall he with the Rutiles warre,
And in the end subdue them with his sword,
And full three Sommers likewise shall he waste,
In mannaging those fierce barbarian mindes:
Which once performd, poore Troy so long supprest,
From forth her ashes shall aduance her head,
And flourish once againe that erst was dead:
But bright Ascanius beauties better worke,
Who with the Sunne deuides one radiant shape,
Shall build his throne amidst those starrie towers,
That earth-borne Atlas groning vnderprops:
No bounds but heauen shall bound his Emperie,
Whose azured gates enchased with his name,
Shall make the morning halt her gray vprise,
To feede her eyes with his engrauen fame.
Thus in stoute Hectors race three hundred yeares,
The Romane Scepter royall shall remaine,
Till that a Princesse priest conceau'd by Mars,
Shall yeeld to dignitie a dubble birth,
Who will eternish Troy in their attempts.
And so Jupiter calms the storms (aided by Neptune) and Venus travels to Libya and helps him to Dido, the first queen of Carthage, so that he may receive warm hospitality. There Dido asks Aeneas about his travels, however at this stage she seems to favour Iarbas who wishes to marry her. Venus and Cupid (the half-brother of Aeneas - Venus and Mars are his parents, Anchises is Aeneas' father) intervene and Cupid touches Dido with his arrow, making her fall in love with Aeneas. As Venus explains,
Now Cupid turne thee to Ascanius shape,
And goe to Dido who in stead of him
Will set thee on her lap and play with thee:
Then touch her white breast with this arrow head,
That she may dote vpon Æneas loue:
And by that meanes repaire his broken ships,
Victuall his Souldiers, giue him wealthie gifts,
And he at last depart to Italy,
Or els in Carthage make his kingly throne.
Cupid remains disguised as Aeneas' son Ascanius and Dido indeed falls deeply and passionately in love with Aeneas, who, to an extent, appears to reciprocate, however when he is reminded of his purpose, to found a city so great it shall rival Troy, he leaves Dido (aided by his rival Iarbas). She is in desperate despair, at first unwilling to believe he would leave her -
... is he gone?
I but heele come againe, he cannot goe,
He loues me to too well to serue me so:
Yet he that in my sight would not relent,
Will, being absent, be abdurate still.
By this is he got to the water side,
And, see the Sailers take him by the hand,
But he shrinkes backe, and now remembring me,
Returnes amaine: welcome, welcome my loue:
But wheres Æneas? ah hees gone hees gone!
In her grief she tells Iarbas and her maid Anna that she will build a funeral pyre and burn all that which reminds her of Aeneas, however, once it is done, she throws herself into the flames. Iarbas hears the news and exclaims,
Cursed Iarbus, dye to expiate The griefe that tires vpon thine inward soule, Dido I come to thee, aye me Æneas.
Anna is left, Anna who herself was in love with Iarbus - 
What can my teares or cryes preuaile me now?
Dido is dead, Iarbus slaine, Iarbus my deare loue,
O sweet Iarbus, Annas sole delight,
What fatall destinie enuies me thus,
To see my sweet Iarbus slay himselfe?
But Anna now shall honor thee in death,
And mixe her bloud with thine, this shall I doe,
That Gods and men may pitie this my death,
And rue our ends senceles of life or breath;
Now sweet Iarbus stay, I come to thee.
She too dies, and there ends Dido, Queen of Carthage.

Christopher Marlowe is fast becoming one of my new favourite authors. Though his Dido can't compare to Virgil's death of Dido in Book IV of Aeneid, it is still so very moving. We do not see Aeneas' glory but from this we learn further of the wake of destruction left in his path, owing not so much to Aeneas but the intervention of the gods. I loved it!

La mort de Didon by Joseph Stallaert (1872).

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