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Dido Woodcut


Dido, Queen of Carthage









Dido, Queen of Carthage

Dido, Queen of Carthage


This section considers the extent of Nashe's contribution to the authorship of the play, and also identifies some of the lines here in Dido that can be found reworked in other Marlowe plays.

Thomas Nashe?
Thomas Nashe (1567-1601?) From the cover of The Trimming of Thomas Nashe (1597) by Richard Lichfield.

1. What is the Extent of Nashe's Contribution?

That the title page of the 1594 Quarto identifies The Tragedie of Dido Queene of Carthage as having been "written by Christopher Marlowe, and Thomas Nash. Gent." of course raises the question of the play's joint authorship. In particular, since commentators have largely concurred1 that Marlowe is responsible for most if not all of the play, the question posed is: what, if any, is the extent of Thomas Nashe's contribution?

James Broughton was perhaps first to state a strong conviction that it was largely Marlowe's work as far back as 1830, shortly after the play appeared in various collected works of Marlowe first published at this time:

"I greatly doubt whether Nash had much or any share in the composition. I find no traces of his style; whilst Marlowe's luxurious imagery is continually discoverable; and I therefore suspect that Nash merely prepared it for the press, after Marlowe's death, or at the utmost completed two or three scenes, which were perhaps left unfinished."2

The argument might seem closed when no less an authority on Nashe as McKerrow concurs ("the play seems to belong almost entirely to Marlowe"3). But yet there are still issues worth considering:

  • Would Thomas Nashe, if indeed he did prepare the play for Quarto publication in 1594, really have credited himself as joint author if he had not made some significant contribution to the play, however small? Nashe defended Marlowe's reputation stoutly after his death, especially against Gabriel Harvey, although that is not to say he might not try to profit from his friend's recent death in terms of reflected reputation. It seems he did not profit financially, for in Have With You to Saffron Walden (1596), Nashe bemoans the fact that he had "got nothing by Printing" in the preceding three years.
  • The printing of Nashe's name on the 1594 Quarto title page in a smaller and more italicised typeface has been observed, and its significance debated.
  • The small dramatic inconsistencies in the extant play text do hint at a joint authorship that was not quite perfectly joined up. These range from unrealistic dramatic continuity (the Trojan ships are rigged by Iarbus without Aeneas leaving the stage in V.1), through possible duplication of an event in the source (Hermes appears to Aeneas in a dream and later physically) to simple conflicting statements (e.g. Sergestus leads Ascanius away in V.1 but Dido says she saw Achates taking the boy to the ships), and are noted in the scene summaries. Each can individually be explained away with varying degrees of plausibility, even down to an oversight by a single author, but collectively they do hint perhaps at some unexplained incongruity.
  • Some commentators such as Brooke4 and Clemen5 have attributed some sections of more sophisticated verse to subsequent revision, and it is theoretically possible that this was done by Nashe as part of his preparing the play for publication in 1594. However, even where this view is expressed, the subsequent revision is still attributed to Marlowe6. Others, such as Broughton (as quoted above), hypothesise that one or two unfinished scenes may have required completion in a similar vein by Nashe.
  • The tantalising reference to an elegy by Nashe on Marlowe's death in some printed editions of the play is generally discounted due to the poor quality of the evidence. Such an elegy, however, if it had been written and included, might on its own justify the inclusion of Nashe's name as one of the contributing authors of the printed whole7.

Such nagging doubts inspired Oliver to attempt some bibliographical analysis based on vocabulary and variations of spelling8. Based on the presumption that a single compositor was responsible for the entire 1594 Quarto, and therefore that spelling variations might most likely be caused by different manuscript authors rather than different compositors, he makes some very tentative observations based on comparison with other works of the two authors.

Oliver recognises the dangers of this exercise, and admits that this approach is statistically unsound, not least because he uses just the single page manuscript fragment of The Massacre at Paris to deduce a small set of characteristic Marlowe spellings. Further there is only one extant Nashe play (Summers Last Will and Testament), which does not make for a very valid comparison of Nashe's dramatic style. Never the less, his analysis identifies concentrations of Nashe vocabulary and spellings in sections of scenes I.1, IV.4, and V.1. But Oliver himself simultaneously notes, for example, that the opening scene with Jupiter and Ganymede is typically Marlovian both in style and subject matter, and this would tend to undermine what is anyway very speculative analysis.

The advent of computers has however enabled such stylometric analysis to be taken to an automated and much more powerful level, enabling comparisons of certain measures across large numbers of works. Thomas Merriam has performed stylometric analysis on Marlowe's works, in particular analysing the results of function-word tests and relative letter frequencies. As a result of this analysis, Merriam suggests that Marlowe is responsible for the first half of Dido, but that Nashe is responsible for the whole of the second half9. Interestingly this conflicts with Oliver's tentative findings regarding the opening scene via different metrics.

It should be remembered, that although computers enable much faster and automated analysis, they cannot change the quality or quantity of the source material available, and so some of the general limitations noted by Oliver still apply. In similar exercises, Merriam sees the hand of Marlowe in Titus Andronicus, some of the Henry VI plays, and also suggests that Shakespeare's Henry V is a reworking of a lost Marlowe original. Such analysis also suggests that The Jew of Malta has more in common with Kyd's style than Marlowe's10.

Despite Merriam's analysis, the exact nature and extent of Nashe's contribution to Dido is still very difficult to ascertain, and the pervading view remains that a large majority of the play has come down to us from Marlowe's pen.

2. Marlowe Rehearsing His Lines

The strong imprint of Marlowe on the play's authorship is underlined by the inclusion of a number of lines that reappear in more refined and more celebrated form in his other plays. As mentioned elsewhere, this is one contributory factor to an early dating of the play. The following are notable examples.

The following lines appear variously in Dido:

Aeneas: From out his entrails Neoptolemus,
Setting his spear upon the ground, leapt forth,
And after him a thousand Grecians more,
In whose stern faces shin'd the quenchless fire
That after burnt the pride of Asia.

Dido, Queen of Carthage, II.1.183-7

Dido: For in his looks I see eternity,
And he'll make me immortal with a kiss.

Dido, Queen of Carthage, IV.4.122-3

Aeneas: Till he hath furrow'd Neptune's glassy fields
And cut a passage through his topless hills.

Dido, Queen of Carthage, IV.3.11-12

These are reproduced more concisely as perhaps Marlowe's most famous lines in Doctor Faustus:

Faustus: Was this the face that launch'd a thousand ships?
And burnt the topless Towers of Ilium?
Sweet Helen, make me immortal with a kiss.

Doctor Faustus, lines 1328-30

The following example shows the ideas in one of Iarbus' more poetical speeches elaborately built upon in Tamburlaine:

Iarbus: I think some fell enchantress dwelleth here
That can call them forth when as she please,
And dive into black tempests' treasury
When as she means to mask the world with clouds.

Dido, Queen of Carthage, IV.1.3-6

Bajazeth: Let ugly darkness with her rusty coach
Engirt the tempests wrapped in pitchy clouds
Smother the earth with never-fading mists
And let her horses from their nostrils breathe
Rebellious winds and dreadful thunderclaps.

Tamburlaine Part 1, V.2.231-5

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