Dido Queen of Carthage: Tenuous Manhood
MARLOWE WAS LIKELY DRAWN TO THE SOURCE MATERIAL FOR DIDO Queen of Carthage—books 1, 2, and 4 of Virgil’s Aeneid—for reasons other than that the poem was well known to the Elizabethans and that these books were chosen for intensive study in the grammar schools and universities.1 The conflict between self-assertion and self-surrender finds a reflection in Virgil’s epic, a work structured partly around the tension between the Roman pietas, exemplified by Aeneas, and furor, exemplified by Dido and Turnus, although Aeneas himself demonstrates the latter as an inescapable component of his military prowess. Aeneas, I suggest, is the kind of ambivalent hero that would appeal to Marlowe’s psychological concerns, both religious and sexual. Partly due to the nature of these conflicts, the play Marlowe produced has in turn given rise to ambivalent and varied critical responses.2
Marlowe’s Aeneas, like Virgil’s, is a man faced with a divinely ordained heroic project that has already caused him much suffering in the past and that promises more in the future; understandably he is tempted to abandon his struggle prematurely, taking refuge instead in the arms of Dido and behind the walls of Carthage, before the gods convince him he must resume his voyage. It is possible to view this archetypal narrative pattern in a more specifically psychological or Freudian sense, and Constance Brown Kuriyama, in a chapter of Hammer or Anvil entitled “Emasculating Mothers,” sees the central conflict represented in the play as an attempt “to fulfill a predestined adult role [while] remaining hopelessly stagnated in a state of passive dependency by yielding to the wishes of … maternal characters.”3 While Kuriyama overemphasizes Aeneas’s Oedipal conflict and the emasculating quality of the maternal characters, her discussion is up to a point illuminating since she sees the problem with which the play grapples as “essentially one of defining or confirming identity.”4 I wish to modify Kuriyama’s approach by seeing the
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Publication information: Book title: The Irony of Identity: Self and Imagination in the Drama of Christopher Marlowe. Contributors: Ian McAdam - Author. Publisher: University of Delaware Press. Place of publication: Newark, DE. Publication year: 1999. Page number: 44.
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