The Marlowe Society
15 March 2009

Starting Works

The Society publishes an overview of Dido, Queen of Carthage

The Marlowe Society has begun to fulfil its objective of publishing more information on its website about the Marlowe canon with an overview of what is perhaps Marlowe's first play: Dido, Queen of Carthage. More by luck than judgement, this release coincides with the production of that play which opens this coming week at the National Theatre in London.

The Society's website has until now contained a good amount of information about Marlowe's life, but only a summary view of the plays and poems that he produced in less than a decade of writing. As outlined at the recent AGM, our long term objective is to address that imbalance, and we can now take the first small step towards that end with what we hope is an interesting and illuminating overview of this much neglected play.

The purpose is to look at the history of the work as well as the literary aspects. Dido, Queen of Carthage raises some intriguing questions in both regards. Of all Marlowe's plays, this is perhaps the hardest to date, and different commentators have proposed the full range of dates from the start to the end of his writing career. The only contemporary publication of the play, the 1594 Quarto, introduces more mystery by crediting Thomas Nashe with joint authorship. What was the extent of Nashe's contribution, and how much credibility can we attach to the report of an elegy by Nashe on Marlowe allegedly being included in some editions of the printed work?

The play itself is so much more than the translation of Virgil's Aeneid that it has sometimes lazily been dismissed as. Its close ties with the Roman epic does, however, provide us with a rare glimpse of the dramatist at work, for Marlowe added a number of scenes and sub-plots, as well as much to the poetry. Despite some generally accepted flaws in what many believe to be Marlowe's first dramatic effort, there is still much to admire in both the dramatisation and the poetry, and it is the aim of our overview to provide a representative sample of scholarly and critical opinion down the years on what, until recently, has been a much neglected work both on stage and in print.

Hopefully that situation is slowly changing. After the brilliantly imaginative recent stagings by Angels in the Architecture, first in the House of St. Barnabas in Soho (2006), and then in the sumptuously appropriate surroundings of the State Apartments in Kensington Palace (2008), it is very encouraging to now see the play being put on at the National Theatre. Whether or not you are able to see that forthcoming London production, we hope that our overview of the play increases your knowledge, interest and appreciation of what is surely Marlowe's most underrated work.

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