The Marlowe Society

Marlowe's Works

Marlowe's Works
Dido Woodcut

Dido

Dido, Queen of Carthage

History:

History:

Interpretation:

Interpretation:

Plot:

Plot:

References:

References:

Dido, Queen of Carthage

Dido, Queen of Carthage

Dating: 1585-86?

Marlowe's works are all difficult to date precisely even within the author's relatively short working life, but Dido is perhaps the hardest of all1. There are no topical or other references within the play itself that can help date it directly, or even to position it in chronological order relative to any of Marlowe's other works.

The boundaries of possible composition are thus that of Marlowe's potential productive period, ranging from his time at Cambridge University (1580-87) to his demise at Deptford on 30th May 1593. The only printed edition of the play, the 1594 Quarto, post-dates this latter event. Even the possible contribution of Nashe does not help with dating. He was at Cambridge from 1581 to probably around the middle of 1588, and is generally agreed to have lived in London thereafter. So any potential period of collaboration is not much further restricted.

The recorded playing of Dido by the Children of Chapel Royal on the title page of the 1594 Quarto does not provide any further clues either. The company of boys had played regularly at Court for nearly a century up until 1584, when payments are still recorded to the Master of the Chapel for plays performed. It is also recorded that William Hunnis, as Master of the Children of Her Majesty's Chapel, took a joint sub-lease on the private Blackfriars theatre in December 1581 where plays were performed by different boys' companies until 1584.

But little is heard of the Children of the Chapel as an acting company thereafter. They did not play at court again until 1601, nor, it seems, at the Blackfriars. Performances by the company are recorded at Norwich and Ipswich in 1586-7, and Poole and Leicester in 15912, so they did not completely cease their dramatic activity. Speculation that they performed at Croydon in the summers of 1592 and 1593 is purely circumstantial, based on the loose connection that Nashe's play Summer's Last Will and Testament was played on the latter occasion, and that the Children of the Chapel are recorded by the 1594 Quarto as having played Dido, which also credits Nashe as having contributed to that play's authorship. In short, the extant records give no clue as to when the Children of the Chapel might have performed Dido3.

So any tentative dating must rely solely on a subjective view of the relative style, quality and maturity of both the poetry and stagecraft in an attempt to posit a relative dating. An initial observation is often that the play is to some extent an exercise in translation, which may point to it having been written during Marlowe's time at Corpus Christi4. It is then compared to Tamburlaine, which is generally assigned a date of 1587. Although a subjective and far from conclusive exercise, an analysis of the internal evidence suggests to some but not all commentators that Dido was written before Tamburlaine. The main composition of Dido is thus generally, if somewhat uncertainly, dated to 1585-86.

Some of the points made on both sides of this argument are summarised below:

  • Dido is comparable in type to the other plays performed by the Children of the Chapel Royal in the 1580's5.
  • Contrary to the general dating, Pearce6 cites the poor stagecraft of Tamburlaine in concluding it is "inconceivable" that the more proficient Dido could have been written before Tamburlaine.
  • Disputing this point, Oliver7 cites Cole8 in claiming that Tamburlaine is in fact "well adapted for performance on the bare stage of the public theatre", whilst Dido appears more appropriately designed for performance by child actors in a private theatre.
  • Another view contends that Dido was written at Corpus Christi for a performance there by the students. As well as the play being to some extent an exercise in translation, it would also account for the lines in Latin providing an opportunity for student actors to show off their Latin pronunciation, as did many university plays of the time. This view does not preclude some later revision by Marlowe or Nashe to produce the extant text.
  • Wiggins disputes this view that Dido was written for academic performance at Cambridge, and instead proposes that the likeliest interpretation of the evidence is that it was not Marlowe's first play, but was rather penned after Tamburlaine, most likely at a similar time to Doctor Faustus (which he dates as 1588)9.
  • Another less common view is that the use of couplets in parts of Dido, suggest it was written at the same time as Hero and Leander; namely in 1593, with Marlowe leaving the play also unfinished at his death10.
  • A conflicting assessment cites the fact that the verses are nearly all end-stopped, and that there are very few feminine endings. This gives the impression that Marlowe was mostly writing in single lines, suggesting an early date of composition, before Tamburlaine in which Marlowe was already experimenting with 'verse-paragraphs'11.
  • Other immature aspects of the style also suggest an early dating e.g. the immature use of alliteration; the frequency and style in which characters address each other directly by name, and also refer to themselves in the third person, which would seem to predate Marlowe's more mature and natural conversational style in other plays12.
  • Tucker Brooke cites Dido's "dramatic looseness" along with "unfinished drafts" of some of Marlowe's most celebrated lines that subsequently appear in Tamburlaine and Doctor Faustus as indicators of a substantially "immature work"13.
  • At the same time, Tucker Brooke is of the opinion that "much of the blank verse shows very considerable finish and fluency" which he believes shows the extant play text dates from a period later than Marlowe and Nashe's university days: in his opinion around the time Marlowe was writing Edward II and Hero and Leander towards the end of his life14.
  • Clemen draws a similar conclusion that some speeches are significantly different from the general immature style of set declamation, so as to imply revision late in Marlowe's career15.
  • Oliver16 however directly disputes this point, and is rather of the opinion that these examples of revision cited by Clemen arise immediately out of a direct translation from Virgil, Marlowe's source.

The majority view probably therefore tends towards an early composition, with a number of commentators seeing some later and more mature revision of some sections or lines.

 
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