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DIDO, A TRAGEDY
ACTED AT CHRIST CHURCH, OXFORD
PERFORMED FOR THE UNIVERSITY
JUNE 12, A. D. 1583
A MAID, SERVING AS A MESSENGER
PROLOGUE TO THE TRAGEDY DIDO
Everything undergoes shifting changes, and variety itself imparts a pleasing aspect. How can things which often occur continue to please? Change always provides greater enjoyment. Yesterday the stage gave you silly Mopsus, today it will offer serious matter. The comic slipper turns into the tragic buskin. But happy things are no more welcome than the sad, and vinegar’s no less pleasant than honey. The comic writer who mixes sorrowful matters in with his jokes spoils the point, but somebody can laugh so hard he cries, and in the same way great joy can produce tears. Crying is highly pleasurable. There’s great delight in weeping — when nothing’s wrong. I only ask that you lend me your kindly ears and, if it please you, I shall set forth the plot.
Dido lends her famous name to this play, and for a couple of hours this place will be her kingdom. This is the great city of Carthage, belonging to the land of Libya. Aeneas, so often wave-tossed by Juno’s wrath, lands his ship here. Kindly Dido grants him hospitality in her palace. But loving Venus, caring beforehand for her son (since this is the uncertain home of the double-tongued Tyrians and she is still concerned about the ire of raging Juno), anxiously asks of wanton Cupid that the lad assume the guise of Ascanius and singe the royal breast with his stealthy torch. He obeys, Elisa dotes on her guest. Anna goads her on; they go hunting in the forest; by Judo’s contrivance a cloud darkens the day; they are joined in a cave. Aeneas, warned, makes ready to leave Libya; the queen finds out about the departing man’s flight; she complains, she begs, she rants, she rages. Unmoved, he sets sail at Jupiter’s command. But Dido builds a pyre, pretends to perform magic rites, and dies by her own hand.
ACT I, SCENE i
VEN. My beloved child (unless you are ashamed to be called my child, since you see the gods are hostile to me and to my son, who is your brother), if you are moved by any concern for your spurned mother, if any concern remains for your ruined brother, if the humbled one’s catastrophe or your begging mother’s prayers have any influence with you (and I hope they have great influence), show yourself loyal to me and to your brother.
CUP. Mother, why seek to obtain with your words that which you have a right to obtain from me, your son?
VEN. My child by Anchises experienced savage Pallas’ wrath when he carried his ancestral gods through the burning homes and the fires of Troy, forced to seek a new home elsewhere. And he suffered an evil greater than Minerva’s anger. The wrath of Juno rages. Ah, it rages greatly at him even now that he has been prostrated. Nor does she think it enough to forbid him his land, so that he must seek a new homeland. She also urges all the gods to kill him. Divine Aeolus, who imposes and loosens his reins on the winds, stirred up the seas. He sent Notus, the South wind, he sent Africus, the Southwest wind, swollen with his storms, and boiled up the sea from its deep beds. Therefore exert your powers, for I do not doubt you are grieved by my sorrow.
CUP. You apply your spurs and goads to a willing person. Your job is to decide what you want to be done. It is permissible for me to act. I shall follow your orders, just command me. My hand will shoot these darts, though the gods be unwilling.
VEN. Please obey, hear briefly what I want. After the wind grew calm and the sea’s commotions subsided, he came to the first shore he saw. And he saw the land of Libya. In order to fit new planks, here he beached his damaged ships and repaired whatever the ocean’s rage had shattered. And I, disguised as a Tyrian maiden, put myself in his way as he walked along the shore. Pretending another concern, I asked the reason for his journey and about the man’s misfortune (although I knew these things beforehand), and at the same time I showed him the way to Elisa’s palace.
CUP. What hope lies in Elisa? She is devoted to Juno.
VEN. She supports Juno, but Jupiter has taken precautions lest any evil befall Aeneas in the city.
CUP. Would that this might be so! Nevertheless I mistrust the Phoenicians.
VEN. Why be mistrustful? He has sent down to earth his child, the offspring of Atlas, to soften the Phoenicians’ hard hearts and render them more welcoming to my people. But I do not know where Juno’s wrath will turn itself, and a house of hospitality ruled by Juno must be held suspect. So surround the queen with novel fires, beguile her with your wiles, enthrall her with love for my Aeneas. Thus Dido will be friendlier to our race, thus Juno will be more appeased regarding to the Teucrians.
CUP. In what way does it please you that I bewitch her?
VEN. Pay attention. Aeneas will be grateful to Eliza and will be detained by her pleasant speech. He will send his companion Achates to the ships to fetch Iulus, sole hope of his father, and also royal gifts, snatched from the pyres of Troy. I want you to assume the guise of sweet Ascanius and, a boy yourself, to take on the lad’s familiar appearance, so that when the queen takes you on her lap during the banquet laid for the strangers, kisses and embraces you, you may breathe love into her and kindle her torch.
CUP. What will happen to the genuine Iulus?
VEN. I shall hide him up on Mt. Ida and wrap him in pleasant sleep, lest he blunder into the midst of our trickery.
CUP. Mother, consider your wishes already done. I shall feign the appearance you command, I shall beguile her by my trickery; with my potions, I shall breathe fire into her very marrow, torches equal to those of Etna. Ocean himself, greater than the lands, will not extinguish my fires. The queen of heaven will put no limit on my flames, even if she should summon the god of the winds and he should let forth all his gales at once. But why are we delaying? See, Dido is leaving her palace. [Exeunt. Enter Dido.]
ACTUS I, SCENA ii
DIDO, HANNO, MAHARBAL
DI. Unless the Fates had previously wished to destroy me, so that I, an exile forced to seek a site for my kingdom, should be called less blessed, my Carthage would not stand. A reversal makes one fortunate, and my happy condition is founded on my misfortune. Now I must see how my position in the city can be made constant, how I can induce the gods who have favored me until now to support me always.
HAN. A kingdom is maintained by the same arts that gained it. Just show that piety that has made the gods favor you. Because you displayed it, you render us secure. However, a present evil has made us fearful.
DI. Evil? What’s that?
HAN. The evil the people are talking about.
DI. What’s that, I say?
MAR. They say ships have come to our coast, either because a storm has driven them hither or (as I am inclined to believe) because they have come here to despoil your people in war.
DI. Whether it is the one or the other, I am still afraid. Why don’t we send someone to learn the reason for their voyage?
HAN. There’s no need. See, they have come, either to experience your favor, well known to your own people, or to try your strength. [Enter Ilioneus and some other Trojans.]
ACT I, SCENE iii
DIDO, ILIONEUS, TROJANS
DI. What’s this? Why make this entrance, men? What’s the reason for this throng? Who are you? From what regions do you come? Or whom are you seeking? Do you think that my shore and my land are open to ships and their crews although, as far as I know, no permission has been sought or granted? Are you testing our land? Should I think of you as guests or enemies? Or as both? For sometimes the two become confused. Answer briefly, let there be no delay in obeying my commands.
IL. Queen Dido, whom the chief of the gods has allowed to found a city, to restrain the wild peoples with your realm’s just laws, we Trojans, carried over the waves by the capricious winds, beseech you. Refrain from burning our ships with the cruel flame, have mercy on our pious race. As our protectress, be friendly to us in our adversity. We have not sailed here to ravage Libyan homes with the savage steel; that madness does not inspire us, that zeal does not compel us, who have suffered defeat. There is an ancient land (the younger races call it Italy), a fruitful country, once powerful in war, lying far from here among the remote nations. While we were seeking it, Orion overwhelmed us, bringing his roiling clouds, and he scattered our broken ships over the entire sea. We few, driven over the sea-surge, have come into your territory, seeing help from you in our adversity. Your nation forbids us the hospitality of your sands. What kind of people is this? What land tolerates such a custom? But if no human prayers can move such hard-hearted people, at least you may expect that the just hands of the gods, those avengers of rights and wrongs, will be savage. Aeneas himself was the admiral of our fleet, distinguished by his virtue alike in war and peace. If the Fates protect him, if he lives and has not reached the silent lakes of the Underworld, do not doubt that whatever you sow you will reap. Nor will you have cause for regretting that you are the first to perform hospitality’s duty. However, not all of Troy was destroyed along with Troy. In the kingdom of Sicily there are men of distinguished name, come from Troy, and their king himself, Achates, boasts that he is born of our stock. We only ask that we be permitted to fit planks to our fleet, to hew oars from your forests, so that, recovering our king, we with our comrades on this expedition may search for Latium, by the route the Fates reveal. Or, abandoning hope, we shall revisit the immense Sicanian Strait where, as our king, Achates will restore courage to us in our adversity, being our patron.
ALL THE TROJANS What he alone begs for, we all request.
DI. Teucrians, dismiss you fear, your heavy concerns. I am compelled by my kingdom’s newness to adopt this policy. Who is unfamiliar with your city, with Aeneas’ lineage? Who does not know about your burning, your wars, your virtues, your men? Our hearts are not so ignorant, the sun does not avert his horses so far from us Tyrians. Whatever direction your journey takes, Trojans, I shall support you with my resources and aid. But if you choose to remain here with me, I shall grant you he freedom of my home and city. I shall make no distinction between Phoenicians and Trojans, they will enjoy equal laws. Would that the same North wind had also driven Aeneas to my land! I shall send along my entire shore, seeking in what forest he is hiding, in what place he wanders. [Enter Achates, followed by Aeneas, on one side of the stage.]
ACTUS I, SCENA iv
ACHATES, AENEAS, DIDO
ACH. Why hesitate, goddess-born? Move ahead. You see your comrades receiving hospitality, everything in a safe condition. Only Orontes is missing, and we saw him bobbing in the waves in mid-ocean.
AEN. You advise me rightly. So let’s approach the queen. [They cross over to Dido’s side of the stage.] I whom you seek am present, Aeneas of Troy, rescued from the waves which batter Libya’s shores. Oh queen, who alone supports us in our misfortune, who alone aids us in our adversity, with your hospitality you bless us, the survivors of the Danaans’ evil fury, whom you see shattered by land and by sea, lacking everything. You do not just share your city with us, but also your home. Oh queen, we have not the resources to pay you adequate thanks, nor is whatever remnant of Troy still existing in the world able to assemble such great wealth. May the mighty gods (if the gods care for pious men who are helpless, if just prayers count for anything, if there is any place for justice) repay you for your merits, as they should. What happy centuries gave birth to you in this world, what great parents produced such a daughter? As long as rivers pour into the fathomless sea, as long as the land bears trees, the sky stars, I shall sing praises of you and your name. On the same day I shall forget you and myself. Since you give me back to my people (and I rejoice that they are safe, I embrace them gladly), I would rather fail myself than be failing in your praise.
DI. What evils follows you through all these misfortunes? What power compels you to pursue those wild shores? I know full well your city’s name, your lineage. When Teucer came to Sidon, he brought report of you and, though an enemy, piled no small praises on his foes. Teucer said his pedigree was derived from you Teucrians. So enter my home, young men. A similar destiny brought me through no smaller misfortunes, but granted me a kingdom. Having experienced evils, I gladly succor you in your adversity.
AEN. Noble Dido, we obey. [Exeunt omnes into the palace.]
On unsteady foot, our fortune is born aloft. It raises us up, casts us down again, makes the highest and lowest to be equal, fickle towards both this side and that. It adds woes to us in our adversity, burdens those whom it sees laid low, following the worse course.
Hostile fates struggle against fates: the gods are friendly in this cause, savage in that They neither oppress all equally, nor are uniformly favorable to all.
There is no respite for us in our extremities. What can grow no worse eases. To be without hope encourages the afflicted, and the lack of any hope for salvation is said to be the salvation of the vanquished.
Night brings back the day, clouds the sun, and happy things come when hardships recede. Alas, the ocean was in upheaval, but, oho, he rejoices inside.
Go to Act II