Friday, January 06, 2012

Dido, Queen of Carthage

This play by Christopher Marlowe starts with the Olympian gods, which is something I had not seen yet in Elizabethan/Jacobean drama. Oh, Prospero has some goddesses traipsing around stage but they aren't really goddesses--they're spirits, tricked out like Iris, Ceres, and Juno. Oberon and Titania might be thought of as folk or nature deities, but they aren't gods in the proper sense, either; who sacrifices to Oberon? So here we have real gods and goddesses represented on stage.

We also have a very open and frank homosexual relationship between Jupiter and Ganymede. The Oberon/changeling boy relationship comes to mind except this is even more open. No beating around the bush or double entendres necessary--Jupiter and Ganymede are both dudes (although Ganymede is, in Venus's words, a "female wanton boy") who are into each other. Sexually. Is this okay because this is a mythological given, that Jupiter was hot for Ganymede? Was this transgressive in any way?

The play goes on very much as The Aeneid does, with Marlowe even using some of the same imagery to get his point across. It is easy to imagine a young Marlowe, still in school, writing this play as a scholarly exercise to show how good he is at Latin. The introduction I have says that his source is clearly the Latin, not any English translations. Marlowe's verse in this play is characterized by 10-syllable lines with end-stops, with very few run-on lines or feminine endings. He does occasionally throw in a 9-syllable line, though, and uses pauses for effect. The play also employs rhyme and alliteration: "and they so wrack'd and welter'd by the waves . . . Are ballassed with billows' watery weight."

The one new plot device that Marlowe throws into the story is the enlarged character of Iarbus, whose rivalry for Dido's love leads him to help Aeneas to leave Carthage, and whose crazed love of Dido leads him to kill himself. As in Midsummer and Romeo and Juliet, I see here another exposition on the theme of the madness and arbitrary nature of love. Dido falls for Aeneas because a goddess or two engineers it; it is not inherent to their characters or even fated, inasmuch as Fate differs from the handiwork of a deity. Her love leads her to such extremes as to kill herself. Iarbus' love, indiscriminate as Helena, Hermia, and Juliet, leads him to kill himself instead of choosing the equally-appropriate Anna as his love. And then, of course, Anna kills herself.

Connections to $hakespeare:

  • Shipwrecked people thrown up on a foreign shore, separated from each other, as in The Tempest. 
  • A description of the sack of Troy, specifically the death of Priam and of Hecuba's rage/sadness, as the Player performs in Hamlet (some critics wonder if that speech was a "burlesque" of this speech).
  • Some confusion in Dido's first rejection of Iarbus that is reminiscent of Midsummer (and quite hilarious). She is under Cupid's spell and keeps vacillating about whether or not she wants Iarbus to come back. 
  • There is also a description of a serpent "harbour'd in my bosom" that reminds me of Hermia's line in Midsummer when she wakes and Lysander is gone.
  • I'm not sure about specific Antony and Cleopatra connections but this story has always reminded me of that other story . . . both classical in origin, about a pair of dynamic, powerful lovers whose love overtakes everything, suicide ending. Cleopatra is very manipulative and Dido, near the end, becomes controlling and manipulative of Aeneas, taking his sail and tackle and hiding (who she thought was) his son from him. Also, both involve ships. Deep thoughts.

Connections to other Marlowe work:

  • A few echoes, usually directed towards Ascanius, of the song of the Passionate Shepherd, wherein older women (Venus, the Nurse) are trying to entice Ascanius to come along with them by promising him all kinds of good things.
  • There aren't a lot of powerful women in Marlowe's other famous work. Faustus has none (but does reference Helen of Troy); Tamburlaine has Zabina, the wife of Bajazeth, who bravely defies Tamburlaine and kills herself after her husband; and The Jew of Malta has his daughter who exerts power over her own life but not over the lives of others. This play has 3 really powerful, vengeful, individuated women. Favorite line is Venus talking to Juno: "But I will tear thy eyes fro forth they head, / and feast the birds with their blood-shotten balls" (3.2.35).
  • Now that I think about it, it seems like there is a tradition of women in Marlowe's work committing suicide . . . Zabina, Dido, and Anna, of course, but Barabas's daughter, Abigail, goes to a nunnery, killing her both her Jewish and her sexual identity. 

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