Academic journal article Marlowe Studies

Men (Don't) Leave: Aeneas as Departing Husband in Dido, Queen of Carthage

Academic journal article Marlowe Studies

Men (Don't) Leave: Aeneas as Departing Husband in Dido, Queen of Carthage

Article excerpt

The retelling of book 4 of Virgil's epic, sometimes attributed to Thomas Nashe as well as Christopher Marlowe, shows Dido and Carthage making legitimate claims on Aeneas and him willing to answer them, somewhat begrudgingly: "I fain would go, yet beauty calls me back"; "Her silver arms will coll me round about, / And teares of pearle, crye stay, Aeneas, stay"; "I may not dure this female drudgery" (Dido, 4.3.46, 51-52, 55).1 This Eli2abethan adaptation differs from the teleological narrative in the Aeneid (c. 30-19 BCE), foregrounding Aeneas's manifest destiny and depicting the Dido idyll as necessarily bounded, and contrasts with medieval versions that vilified the hero. Modern commentary on the play typically focuses on the hero's unheroic vacillations, noting a deflation of Virgil's patriarchal, colonialist enterprise.2 But Aeneas's ambivalence about leaving his "family" is an experience common to early modern travelers, from local merchants to global explorers, as well as agricultural workers, haulers, shipwrights, apprentices, and sailors.3 He stays, marries the widow, agrees to defend Carthage's borders, and plans to build his town there. In short, as David Riggs notes, the call to be a husband and householder is as compelling as, and more concretely depicted than, "Hermes this night descending in a dreame" summoning him "to fruitfull Italy''' (4.3.4).* * * 4 Aeneas's call to an active, if settled, life establishes a valid identity not exclusive to heroic journeys but also akin to those of sixteenth-century husbands. With its prominent and dual imagery of travel and domesticity, the play is not about a voyage, but about settlement thwarted yet very forcefully desired.5 In my reading, this would-be nation-founder is the precursor to later absent householders common in domestic tragedy, merchants and factors like Arden of Faversham and Thomas Middleton's Leantio, whose duties are divided between work and home, travel and house holding, occupation and domestication. This central dilemma-should I stay or should I go?-informs the plot, characterization, setting, and metaphor in the domestic tragedy subgenre. Marlowe's Dido, Queen of Carthage domesticates the global story of Virgil.

££Pity a Falling House"

The playwright isolates the Carthage episode, thereby focusing on Aeneas's time with Dido and reducing the emphasis on his divine call to duty in the epic.6 Virgil's account of their separation in Aeneid' book 4 appears in countless literary and visual contexts and at least two major English translations in the early modern period.7 It also had a distinct medieval instantiation, such as the Troy Book (1412-20) that implicates Aeneas in the fall of Troy and that renders Dido more sympathetically. The play marginalizes both the heroic and tragic Trojan past and the promised Roman future, along with the associated narratives of adventure and discovery. By placing the Carthaginian present at center stage, Dido works as a kind of domestic drama. By orchestrating all the action around an ever-threatened, seemingly inevitable, preordained separation scene, Marlowe makes Aeneas an absent husband and the queen a bereft wife, thereby accentuating the negative impact of vocational travel on domestic life. The "frame" in which gods squabble about their own domestic arrangements (1.1), along with additional vexed love plots (Anna and Iarbus, Jupiter and Ganymede, Jupiter and Juno, the nurse and Ascanius-Cupid), also demonstrates potential domesticity under stress. Among other modifications, the playwright also enhances the role of Iarbus as both the abettor of the Trojans and the uninterested suitor of her sister Anna, and he adds two suicides to Dido's pyre to boot. These innovations emphasize the domestic elements of Aeneas's decision to depart from Carthage contrary to her wishes. When asked why she wants him to stay, Dido answers, "To war against my bordering enemies" (3.1.135), which reflects her desire that he perform the main duties of an early modern husband, to settle and to protect. …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.