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Marlowe's Works

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Dido Woodcut

Dido

Dido, Queen of Carthage

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Dido, Queen of Carthage

Dido, Queen of Carthage

Staging the Play

Views on how Dido, Queen of Carthage might have been staged in the Elizabethan theatre are largely informed by the statement on the title page of the 1594 Quarto that the play was performed by "The Children of her Maiesties Chappell". The Children of the Royal Chapel were regular performers at court up until 1584, and also performed at the private Blackfriars theatre between 1581 and 1584.1

Thereafter there is little record of them performing until early in the next century, certainly not at court. The date when the boys' company performed Dido is thus uncertain, but most commentators believe the play was written to be performed on the private indoor stage (at Court and/or the Blackfriars) where scenery was employed, rather than the open stage of the public playhouses.

E.K.Chambers is characteristically forthright in this view. In a chapter entitled 'Staging at Court', he opines that "Marlowe's Dido has proved rather a puzzle to editors who have not fully appreciated the principles on which the Chapel plays were produced."2

Chambers goes on to describe his theory of a stage divided into two halves, perhaps physically by a wall with a gate:

"I think that one side of the stage was arranged en pastoralle, and represented the wood between the sea-shore and Carthage, where the ship-wrecked Trojans land and where later Aeneas and Dido hunt. Here was the cave where they take shelter from the storm."

"The other side of the stage represents Carthage. Possibly a wall with a gate in it was built across the stage, dividing off the two regions. [Carthage contains] a domus representing the palace. The so-called 'hall' is probably an open loggia. There is perhaps an altar in front of the palace, where Iarbus does his sacrifice, and somewhere close by a pyre is made for Dido. Either within or without the walls may be the grove in which Ascanius is hidden while Cupid takes his place."3

Oliver rather imagines a slightly more complex set comprising three 'mansions':

"One on, say, the left of the stage and perhaps set at an angle, would represent the cave, and the area in front of that would then naturally enough represent the shore and wood. One in the centre, set well back and perhaps raised, would represent Olympus. The third 'mansion' on the other side of the stage, would represent the gates or, more probably, the walls of the City of Carthage. There could still be an area downstage, centre, which was unlocalised and was used in the manner of the bare stage of the public theatre."4

This design, Oliver feels, overcomes potential staging difficulties where scenes shift apparently seamlessly from one location to another, such as in scene I.1 when Venus watches Aeneas land from behind a tree without having left the stage following her confrontation with Jupiter in the heavens.

 
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