Dido, Queen of Carthage
The Children of the Chapel Royal (1580's?)
The title page of the 1594 Quarto tells us that Marlowe's play of Dido was "played by the Children of her Maiesties Chapell", but as discussed in relation to dating the play, there is no way of telling when that company might have performed the play. Some commentators presume that the play was written for the company in the mid 1580's, and that it was specifically written for production in a private indoor theatre such as the Blackfriars, or at Court. Oliver derives this latter opinion from his view that the play was designed to be staged in such a theatre1. There are, though, no extant records detailing any such production.
The Admiral's Men at The Rose (1598)
|Layd owt for my lord admeralles meane as foloweth 1597|
|Layd owte for copr lace for the littell boye & for a valle for the boye A
geanste the playe of dido & enevs the 3 of Janewary 1597
|lent vnto the company when they fyrst played
dido at nyght the some of thirtishillynges
wch wasse the 8 of Jenewary 1597 I saye
A run of the play is further indicated by inventories of the property of the Lord Admiral's Men taken in March 1598, published by Malone4, but since lost (the inventories were not part of Henslowe's Diary5):
The Enventary tacken of all the properties for my Lord Admeralles men, the 10 of
Item, j tome of Guido, j tome of Dido, j bedsteade
Item, Cupedes bowe, & quiver; the clothe of the Sone & mone.
The Enventary tacken of all the aparell of the Lord Admeralles men, taken the 13th of
Marche 1598, as followeth:
Item, Dides robe.
There is nothing of course to explicitly state that these records refer to performances of Marlowe's play of Dido. But no other play of Dido and Aeneas is known from this particular period, and Marlowe's back catalogue was still contributing to Henslowe's income at this time e.g. Doctor Faustus played in October 15976. It could perhaps be this 1598 revival of Marlowe's Dido at The Rose that inspired Hamlet's recollections.
Along with The Massacre at Paris, Dido is certainly the least performed of Marlowe's plays. After 1598, there was perhaps no significant production of the play until Marlowe's quartercentenary celebrations in 1964. In that year, a number of Southampton schools combined to put on a production which Oliver remembers seeing. It was perhaps a boys' company that the play was originally written for, and Oliver "realised ... that when a drama such as Dido is acted by boys, it is the parts of the women that 'come over' realistically"7.
Only now in the twenty-first century is Dido perhaps beginning to overcome the neglect of four hundred years, as directors realise that the play has something to offer. Repertory productions have appeared from time to time in both the UK and US (e.g. productions by the Target Margin Theater Company, New York in 2001, and the American Repertory Theatre, Cambridge, MA in 2005), and Shakespeare's Globe even staged a production in 2003, directed by Tim Carroll (reviewed in Newsletter 21).
Most creative of all has been a sequence of adaptations by the Angels in the Architecture company, who specialise in creating 'site-specific' performances of rarely performed plays in unusual London locations. They began their association with the play by undertaking a reading of Dido at the site of the Rose Theatre in 2001. Five years later, a production directed by Rebecca McCutcheon was set in the House of St Barnabas in Soho (reviewed in Newsletter 27). In 2008, their production was adapted to the sumptuous and highly appropriate surroundings of Kensington Palace (reviewed in Newsletter 31).
Perhaps inspired by this increasing interest in the play, a production of Dido, Queen of Carthage directed by James Macdonald opens at the National Theatre, London in March 2009.
- Note 1: [Oliver] p.xxx. Back to Text
- Note 2: [Henslowe's Diary] p.86. Back to Text
- Note 3: January 1598 using modern dating: January 1597 in Henslowe's records when the new year began in March. Back to Text
- Note 4: , The Plays and Poems of William Shakespeare (1790), Vol. I part II pp.300-7. Back to Text
- Note 5: They are appended as an Appendix in [Henslowe's Diary] p.319-323. Back to Text
- Note 6: [Henslowe's Diary] p.60. Back to Text
- Note 7: [Oliver] p.xxxiii. Back to Text
- Note 8: Image from http://www.writewellgroup.com/. Back to Image