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MARLOWE’S

DIDO, QUEEN OF CARTHAGE

 

 

 

Christopher Marlowe’s Dido Queen of Carthage has been variously dated to the beginning, middle and end of his career; but we can be sure that it was written no earlier than the earliest of the Shakespeare plays, for it serves explicitly as a key to the fundamental icon of that great corpus, namely the myth of the Goddess-rejector Aeneas, who functions always in the plays - as first pointed out by Ted Hughes in his epochal work Shakespeare and the Goddess of Complete Being (Faber, 1992) - as symbol of the Puritan, who is defined by his repudiation of the underworld dimension of nature, which the Rosicrucian tradition on the contrary upheld as an inviolable dimension worthy of enquiry, and demanding engagement and never denial.

 

Once again, the technique of substitution of “I’ for the expected ‘Ay’ – emblem of the phallos, an expression of the unseen world in the seen – helps the investigator enormously here: for it is associated, strictly and precisely, as we shall see, with Dido, and with the principle of love that would bind Aeneas to her. The 'I' symbol works here as always in Bacon's plays, not in its narrow erotic sense, but more broadly, as betokening the world invisible below the surface of the material world (as, finally , the world of the atom), and of the ego (as the unconscious, the particular object of inquiry of the Shakespeare plays). Further, Marlowe has introduced changes to the story as originally told in Virgil’s Aeneid IV, demonstrably to strengthen the allegory.

 

Firstly, lest there be any doubt, let us examine the instances of ‘I’ for ‘Ay’ throughout the play. Venus is identified with the unseen world in the very first scene:

 

Enter Venus

Venus  I, this is it..

 

In I.ii the Carthaginians in general are identified with it:

 

Sergestus  I, but the barbarous sort do threat our ships

And will not let us lodge upon the sands...

 

II.i:

 

Ascanius  Are you Queen Dido’s son?

Cupid  I, and my mother gave me this fine bow…

 

III.i:

 

Cupid  Will Dido let me hang about her neck?

Dido  I, wag, and give thee leave to kiss her too.

 

III.iii

 

Dido  Yea, little son, are you so forward now?

Cupid  I, mother…

Dido  What, dar’st thou look a lion in the face?

Cupid  I, and outface him too, do what he can.

 

This last is especially significant, for the lion betokens always in the plays the Puritan Goddess-rejector, as I have shown elsewhere (    ). This may place DQC alongside or after Titus Andronicus (1592), wherein the lion makes his first appearance in the corpus, as implicit in the name Andronicus, as sourced from Pliny’s tale of Andronicus the lion.

 

III.iii

 

Iarbas  I, this it is which wounds me to the death,

To see a Phrygian, far-fet o’er the sea,

Preferr’d before a man of majesty.

 

For Iarbas represents always in DCQ the Puritan, despised of the Goddess (Dido: specifically, the Queen of Hell, ruler of the unseen world). Thus Marlowe introduces the new element of his help to Aeneas in quitting Libya and Dido. Iarbas and Aeneas are identified here: they both betoken the Puritan.

 

Here in IV.ii Anna is identified with Dido as the unseen world; and so Iarbas’ rejection of her is cognate with Aeneas’ of Dido:

 

Iarbas  I, Anna: is there aught you would with me?

 

IV.iv:

 

Achates  Aeneas, for his parentage, deserves

               As large a kingdom as is Libya.

Aeneas  I, and unless the destinies be false,

I shall be planted in as rich a land…

 

Aeneas’ response here carries the ominous overtone of the fate which befell Will Shaksper, and will overtake all who deny the unseen world of nature: namely, its storming back to fill the vacuum, wreaking havoc all the way. In Shaksper’s case – and depth psychology is the prime concern of the First Folio – it was the libido surging back into the ego in a typically Freudian way, to precipitate the breakdown of 1587.

 

IV.iv

 

Dido  I, but it may be, he will leave my love…

 

IV.v:

 

Cupid  Nurse, I am weary; will you carry me?

Nurse  I, so you’ll dwell with me, and call me mother…

 

This is, fascinatingly, the key to the symbolic value of the nurse throughout the Shakespeare plays.

 

V.i:

 

Dido      Exit Aeneas

                                                      Is he gone?

I, but he’ll come again…

 

 V.i:

 

Dido  I, I must be the murderer of myself…

 

V.i:

 

Iarbas  But, afterwards, will Dido grant me love?

Dido  I, I, Iarbas; after this is done.

 

Again, ominous of the Freudian consequence.

 

The fascinating last lines of DQC suggest the death scene of Romeo and Juliet, where Romeo-Iarbas (Puritan Goddess-rejector) is transformed (killed) by knowledge of the unseen world of nature (blade = phallos, cognate with ‘I’ principle), as his conception of the Goddess (Juliet-Anna) is transformed by the same knowledge. Iarbas’ death is the Freudian retribution:

 

Anna  O, help, Iarbas!_Dido in these flames

Hath burnt herself! I me, unhappy me!

Re-enter Iarbas, running.

Iarbas  Cursed Iarbas,  die to expiate

The grief that tires upon thine inward soul!

Dido, I come to thee. – I me, Aeneas!

Kills himself.

Anna What can my tears or cries prevail me now?

Dido is dead!

Iarbas slain, Iarbas my dear love!

O sweet Iarbas, Anna’s sole delight!

What fatal destiny envies me thus,

To see my sweet Iarbas slay himself?

But Anna now shall honour thee in death,

And mix her blood with thine…

Kills herself

 

This last line of Anna’s shows clearly their manner of death, which must have involved the spilling of blood: that is, a blade-death, rather than immolation, just as in R&J. Iarbas is here cleverly identified with Aeneas (‘I me, Aeneas!’), and both of them with the unseen world which has stormed back into fill the vacuum. The final reference of all of this is to Shaksper’s breakdown of 1587.

 

Finally, we have seen the central role of the ring in so many of the Shakespeare plays, a reference to the Ring tradition, which is essentially the same as the Grail tradition. Dido is celebrated in IV.i as an exemplary Ring/Grail Queen:

 

Dido  [to Aeneas] Hold, take these jewels at thy lover’s hand,

These golden bracelets, and this wedding-ring…

 

 

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