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Dido Woodcut


Dido, Queen of Carthage








Quote: Dido, Queen of Carthage, II.1.182-7

Then he unlock'd the horse, and suddenly
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.1.182-7

Dido, Queen of Carthage

Dido, Queen of Carthage

Act II Scene 1

Location: The Court of Queen Dido

This lengthy scene comprises three pieces of action. First the Trojans are reunited, after which Dido meets Aeneas for the first time and, increasingly intrigued, encourages him to recount the fall of Troy and their escape. Finally, Venus substitutes her own son Cupid, in place of Aeneas' son Ascanius, in Dido's care.

Trojans Reunited

As his party look upon the Carthage city walls, Aeneas is reminded of Troy, especially by a statue of Priam, late King of that city. By this means we are introduced to the sacking of Troy from which Aeneas and his companions have just escaped. Aeneas and Achates soon chance upon Ilioneus, Cloanthus, Sergestus and their party in Carthage, and, in a passage emphasising Trojan camaraderie which Marlowe has added to his source, all are overjoyed to be reunited.

Aeneas Tells Dido About the Fall of Troy, painted by Baron Pierre-Narcisse Guérin (1815)
Aeneas Tells Dido About the Fall of Troy
Baron Pierre-Narcisse Guérin (1815)1

Aeneas Recounts the Fall of Troy

Dido enters and meets Aeneas for the first time. Aeneas is initially downhearted, claiming his "fortune's mean, too mean to be companion to a queen" (II.1.88-9). But Dido is firmly persistent, and perhaps in a sign of things to come, orders an attendant to fetch some of her dead husband's clothes for the storm-ravaged Aeneas to change into. She is also keen to hear a first-hand account of the fall of Troy, and quickly persuades Aeneas to recount his "woeful tale".

Marlowe takes Aeneas' account from Book II of the Aeneid, but shortens it significantly, and adds the occasional comment from a captivated and sympathetic Dido to break up the narrative. "Ah, how could poor Aeneas scape their hands?" (II.1.220). Is there here, perhaps, the first shoots of love interest, even before the intervention of Cupid?

Aeneas describes how Troy had withstood the Grecian siege. The attackers were on the verge of giving up when they conceived the ploy of the wooden horse. King Primus falls for the trick, accepts the gift, and even "enforc'd a wide breach" in the walls to get the large horse into the city. Later that night, with the Trojans sound asleep after a night of banqueting and wine, Pyrrhus (bent on revenge for his father Achilles' death) and his fellow Greeks emerge from their hiding place and slaughter the Trojans.

Not all the detail in Aeneas' narration derives directly from Virgil. Marlowe adds a few gory details of his own (the kind of thing that seemed popular with an Elizabethan audience), particularly II.1.191-9 ("Young infants swimming in their parents' blood," etc) and the description of King Priam's violent end at the hands of Pyrrhus in front of his wife Hecuba (II.1.244-54). Part of this last Marlovian addition is also perhaps the subject of some Shakespearean remembrance in Hamlet's famous Player's Speech.

The Escape From Troy

Dido is enthralled with the tale, asking how Aeneas himself escaped the Grecian slaughter. It was Venus who "convey'd me from their crooked nets and bands" (II.1.222), intervening not for the first time to save her son in the heat of battle. Aeneas recounts that he "got my father on my back, this young boy [Ascanius] in mine arms, and by the hand led fair Creusa, my beloved wife" (II.1.265-7) whilst Achates cleared a path for their escape through the Greek soldiers with his sword. Alas, Aeneas confesses that he "lost" his wife as they were forced to flee in this fashion. Thus Marlowe may be painting the Trojan in a slightly less sympathetic light than did Virgil, who at least had Aeneas desperately scouring the burning city in search of his lost wife. Alternatively, it may just be dramatic economy.

Aeneas and his companions finally board their ship to escape Troy, and he finishes his account with a description of his fruitless attempts to save Cassandra and Polyxena. Cassandra he finds "sprawled in the streets" (II.1.274) and is moved to bear her to his ship, but was "forc'd to let her lie" when "suddenly the Grecians followed us" (II.1.278-9). Polyxena calls to be saved from the shore once they are aboard; Aeneas dives into the sea but before he can get there she is taken, "and after by that Pyrrhus sacrific'd" (II.1.288). Both these details are suggested by Ovid rather than Virgil, and embellished dramatically by Marlowe.

The conclusion of Aeneas' report is greeted with a barrage of questions that Marlowe uses to tie up a few loose ends, including mention of how Helen betrays her lover Diphobus (successor to Paris in this role). Dido is moved to disgust, wishing "that ticing strumpet [Helen had] ne'er been born!" (II.1.300). She suggests some "pleasing sport" to cheer them all up after "these melancholy thoughts" (II.1.303), and everyone heads off leaving Ascanius on stage alone.

Venus Substitutes Cupid for Ascanius

Venus and Cupid take this opportunity to sneak in "at another door" and abduct Aeneas' son. Venus takes Ascanius to a "grove, amongst green brakes" (II.1.316-7) where he will be kept safe, and instructs her own son Cupid to take his place. Her plan is to have Cupid make Dido fall in love with her son Aeneas to ensure his safety. Virgil explained that Venus feared that Juno (whose favoured city was Carthage) would harm Aeneas in her attempts to gain revenge on her husband Jupiter. Marlowe simply has Venus speculate that either a love-struck Dido will "repair [Aeneas'] broken ships, victual his soldiers, give him wealthy gifts, and he at last depart to Italy, or else in Carthage make his kingly throne" (II.1.328-30).

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