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A tragedy of oversight: visual praxis in Christopher Marlowe's Dido, Queen of Carthage.


In a recent article, Efterpi Mitsi has reflected on Aeneas' encounter with a statue of Priam in act 2 scene 1 of Christopher Marlowe's play, Dido, Queen of Carthage (written between 1585 and 1586, first performed between 1587 and 1593). (1) Her main contention is twofold: "The statue functions on the one hand as a sign of [Marlowe's] ironic treatment of Virgil and on the other as his comment on ekphrasis, the verbal description of a work of art embedded into the larger context of the history of the epic poem." In regard of the latter, Mitsi claims, "The painful contemplation of the figure of Priam, an emblem of the suffering and loss caused by the Trojan War, not only refigures the tragic story of Troy in a dramatic rather than epic context but also reveals a concern with the nature of representation, the power and limits of art." (2) Issues of great weight and moment are thus purported to depend on this apparently minor episode. In regard of the "ironic treatment," reading through the prism of other critics of the play Mitsi signals Marlowe's subversion of "the heroic masculinity of [Virgil's] Aeneas" and his incorporation of "Aeneas' tears from the Aeneid (Tacrimae rerum') with irreverent humour"; while the point of the irony is to show how Marlowe's Aeneas is "unable to perform his epic role" and perhaps to emphasise the "suffering at the heart of the epic project." (3)

One problem with this interpretation is that unless marked in some way, the detection of irony in a text is necessarily subjective. This problem is compounded when the text under scrutiny, as here Marlowe's, participates in an intertextual relationship with another, here Virgil's; for if Marlowe is to be considered as departing ironically from his source, then there must be a generally accepted, stable reading of that source which may serve as a benchmark against which to measure the extent of the irony. Yet no such reading of Virgil, more particularly of his hero, exists except, perhaps, for the conventional wisdom that Virgil's Aeneas is a peculiarly ambivalent epic hero, one full of misgivings and doubts about his epic mission until his confidence in the epic project is consolidated (but not then entirely) in the wake of various formative experiences, not the least of which is his sojourn in Libya and Dido's tragic finale. Indeed for many, the whole point of Virgil's Dido episode is to show the suffering at the base of all heroic endeavour (those "lacrimae rerum") and to show Aeneas' hesitant, equivocating humanity. (4) In short, what Mitsi claims is Marlowe's radical subversion of a classical source may in fact be a compressed, dramatic restatement of it.

But it is Mitsi's contention that the episode at stake "reveals a concern with the nature of representation, the power and limits of art" which most concerns me here. How the play inscribes and comments on early modern dramatic representation, exploits its power and acknowledges its limits will be discussed later. That discussion will rely heavily on the role of ekphrasis in the early modern social praxis of the visual and will take as its starting point an analysis of Aeneas' encounter with the stone Priam as an exercise in ekphrasis. For that reason, it is necessary first to establish what exactly Aeneas is confronted with when he thinks he is seeing Priam. To this end, Mitsi's assumption that the "stone" of Priam is an artificial statue rather than a natural stone or rock must be questioned and Aeneas' reaction to it historicised. In consequence, Marlowe's ekphrasis and its striking employment of fictio personae will be seen to be less extravagant and more psychologically realistic on the diegetic level and, in terms of aesthetics, deeply rooted in contemporary viewing praxis and attested in accounts of real-life encounters with the mins of Troy. That done, a reconsideration of Marlowe's tragedy will show how its heavy tropological investment in the praxis of the visual enacts on the level of theme a dialectic between heroic clarity of vision and tragic oversight and, more broadly, negotiates the suspicion of false images and visual evidence propagated in the disparate discourses of protestant anti-theatre polemic and fledgling scientific materialism.

Stone or statue?

Act 2 scene 1 of the play opens with Aeneas, Achates and Ascanius approaching the walls of Carthage after their tramp through the Libyan desert. Aeneas, disorientated, comes to a sudden halt and Achates enquires as to the reason for his amazement. I quote the ensuing dialogue in full:

AENEAS. Where am I now? these should be Carthage walles.

ACHATES. Why stands my sweete Aeneas thus amazde?

AENEAS. O my Achates, Theban Niobe, Who for her sonnes death wept out life and breath And drie with griefe was turned into a stone, Had not such passions in her head as I. Me thinkes that towne there should be Troy, yon Idas hill, There Zanthus streame, because here's Priamus, And when I know it is not, then I dye.

ACHATES. And in this humor is Achates to, I cannot choose but fall upon my knees, And kisse his hand: O where is Hecuba, Here she was wont to sit, but saving ayre Is nothing here, and what is this but stone?

AENEAS. O yet this stone doth make Aeneas weepe, And would my prayers (as Pigmalions did) Could give it life, that under his conduct We might saile back to Troy and be revengde On these hard harted Grecians, which rejoyce That nothing now is left of Priamus: O Priamus is left and this is he, Come, come abourd, pursue the hatefull Greekes.

ACHATES. What meanes Aeneas?

ACHATES. Achates though mine eyes say this is stone, Yet thinkes my minde that this is Priamus: And when my grieved heart sighes and sayes no, Then would it leape out to give Priam life: O were I not all so thou mightst be. Achates, see, King Priam wags his hand, He is alive, Troy is not overcome.

ACHATES. Thy mind, Aeneas, that would have it so Deludes thy eye sight, Priamus is dead.

(Dido 2.1.1-32) (5)

Does Aeneas confront a statue of Priam or a stone that reminds him of Priam? As far as internal evidence is concerned, several points need to be made. Firstly, nowhere are the words "statue" or "image" used, as they might have been if what Aeneas actually saw were a man-made artefact. Yet there is no reason for Marlowe not to have used some such word; indeed, if "stone" were intended to refer metonymically to a statue, readers of the play might have been grateful for a nudge in that direction: as "stone" was not a conventional synonym for statue, some prior marking would make interpretation easier, especially since Marlowe is departing from the frescoes of his Virgilian source. In other words, before the metonymic deviation, the establishment of the lexical norm might have been expected, as is indeed the case at the denouement of Shakespeare's The Winter's Tale (1611?). (6)

Secondly, the allusions to Niobe and Pygmalion signal Marlowe's imaginative indebtedness to Ovid's Metamorphoses. However, it is worth pointing out that of that work's eighteen transformations into stone, whether in the original Latin or Arthur Golding's translation of 1567, only Eryx actually becomes a statue, the other seventeen victims metamorphosing into lumps of rock. Otherwise, Narcissus and Andromade are compared with statues on account of their immobility, not any petrified state. (7) Conversely, when it eventually comes to life, Pygmalion's statue is referred to either as "image" or "ivory," but never as "stone," On the basis of this Ovidian evidence, there seems to be no obvious reason for Marlowe's audience to automatically have taken the "stone" addressed by Aeneas to be a statue; indeed, Marlowe may include the Pygmalion reference as a ghost comment lending authority to and explaining Aeneas' unprecedented plea that the stone might revive--unprecedented in so far as his wish is similar to Pygmalion's but applied to a different kind of object. It should also be added that Marlowe's, better Aeneas', metamorphosis of rock into person reverses the staple Ovidian change of state from animate to inanimate.

Thirdly, the object Aeneas takes for Priam is one of four elements in the Carthaginian desert that he maps imaginatively as the landscape of Troy. The city of Carthage rising in the distance becomes Troy, a nearby hill and stream become Ida and Xanthus, respectively, and a stone or rock becomes Priam--a stone or rock being more congruous than a statue in the context of the other topographical features. Certainly, this argument from greater congruence is not conclusive, especially as Aeneas appears to be hallucinating under the effects of sunstroke, travel exhaustion, or both. But, and this is the fourth point, Aeneas' preceding and very cogent comparison of himself with Niobe prepares us more for an encounter with a stone than with a statue. In answer to Achates' question, "Why stands my sweete Aeneas thus amazde?" the Trojan hero compares himself with Niobe, daughter of Tantalus and wife of Amphion, grieving for her dead sons. Mitsi argues that this comparison "subverts the heroic masculinity of Aeneas," although Niobe was a standard type of parental grief and her invocation at this point need not have any bearing on Aeneas' quotient of testosterone; it may instead be intended to tighten the Niobe-Priam analogy since both, as Mitsi observes, lost all their children. In any case, ancient literature is full of grieving male parents, Hercules among others, whose sexual identity is never therefore questioned. What is more, this comparison with Niobe actually prepares the audience for Aeneas' imaginative transformation of a stone into Priam. Marlowe himself and some members of his audience would have been familiar with the description Pausanias (Description of Greece, 1.21) offers of the rocky outcrop on Mount Sipylus which, to the eyes of footsore travellers crossing Turkey's plain of Manisa, was often taken to be Niobe weeping for her children, the water seeping through the porous limestone creating the illusion of tears. I would suggest that outcrop is the origin of Marlowe's stone in the Libyan desert, which Aeneas takes for Priam much as other early modern travellers saw a human physiognomy in Mount Sipylus. If on the one hand the allusion to Niobe's grief is a measure of the depth of Aeneas' own feelings, it is also a marker which helps us to comprehend the object Aeneas encounters in the desert.

Interestingly enough, George Chapman, associated, like Marlowe, with "the School of Night" and the poet who completed Marlowe's Hero and Leander in 1598, mentioned the Niobe of Mount Sipylus towards the start of his philosophical poem Ovid's Banquet of Sense, written in 1596, three years after Marlowe's death. Chapman uses the Niobe/Sipylus optical illusion to illustrate the way sight may easily be deceived:
   So cunningly [is the rock] to optick reason wrought,
   That a farre of, it shewd a womans face,
   Heavie, and weeping; but more neerely viewed,
   Nor weeping, heavy, nor a woman shewed. (8)

Chapman's empiricist account of optical illusions provides a rational basis for Aeneas' temporary befuddlement, mitigating his madness and undermining allegations of allegedly irreverent treatment of Virgil's epic hero on the part of Marlowe; and it is particularly apt corroboration, treating as it does of optical illusions experienced by travellers in alien landscapes. As well, then, as being the simpler reading, taking "stone" literally has the advantage of a psychological realism borne out by early modern scientific observation.

Finally, that Aeneas should interact and enter into dialogue with a stone is also consistent with one aspect of the play's tropological economy, according to which an anthropomorphised Nature can enact narratives of human history such as the legend of Troy. Thus, Venus' relation of Troy's fall at the opening of the play transforms natural elements into military actors: waves become "envious men of warre" (1.1.65), the wind sounds like Agamemnon calling his soldiers to the spoil of Troy (1.1.68), and night falls "Ulysses-like" (1.1.70). In a poetical economy where metamorphosis is from inanimate to animate, it becomes eminently reasonable for a stone to take on a human likeness, particularly in the temporarily fuddled mind of an exhausted, "weatherbeaten" (1.1.158) and undernourished--as part of her role, when playing Ascanius Venus all but faints with hunger (1.1.163)--castaway. For Aeneas' bewilderment is, importantly, only temporary: shortly before his encounter with Venus had shown him to be a perfectly sound interpreter of potentially misleading visual evidence. Not deceived by appearances, Aeneas had discerned his mother's identity beneath her huntress disguise while acknowledging with precision the deceptive power of visual stimuli: "Thou art a Goddesse that delud'st our eyes, / And shrowdes thy beautie in this borrowd shape" (1.1.191-92); a little later he berates her for forsaking him and deceiving his eye (1.1.244-45). As we shall see, ocular delusion and borrowed shapes are key elements in the play's action and central to its thematic concerns.

Ekphrasis and early modern visual praxis

On the assumption that Aeneas' encounter is with a stone and before considering the implications of that encounter for questions of representation, we should remind ourselves of some of the key points of ekphrasis in relation to both the object viewed and to the viewing subject. Often erroneously associated only with the verbal description of works of art, most ancient rhetoricians agreed that ekphrasis could be applied to all manner of things and phenomena, from landscapes and cities to seasons of the year and people's characters; also, that it was as appropriate to history as to poetry. (9) The goal and "heart" of ekphrasis was "vividness" (Greek enargeia = Latin evidentia), which deployed a whole arsenal of strategies and figures to incite in the reader, as Plutarch observed of Thucydides, the same emotions of "amazement and confusion" the writer himself had experienced (or claimed to have experienced) when confronted by the material object which would subsequently become the subject of his textual representations. (10)

Beneath its verbal surfaces, enargeia contains a latent component of drama which is made quite explicit in the remarks of the early seventh-century CE Byzantine historian, Theophylactus Simocatta. In the Preface to his Universal History, Simocatta recalls how Ulysses found in the Phaeacians an audience thirsty for his tales: "the Phaeacians took such delight in the study of History that they dismissed the cup that cheers, transformed the banquet into a theatre [sic], distended their ears and gazed openmouthed at the narrator." (11) Here Simocatta unites in the figure of Ulysses the attributes of historian and actor, as the Greek hero's lengthy narrative becomes a drama. In what follows I hope to show that, through enargeia, ekphrasis itself becomes dramatic not only as a means to ensuring and maintaining the audience's own emotional engagement, but also as a reflection of one mode of actual early modern visual praxis. In other words, it was possible for viewing subjects from antiquity or early modernity not only to see a particular object, respond to it intellectually and emotively, and then transmit that response rhetorically to the reader, but also actually to interact with the object of their gaze and to transmit the drama of that performance to the reader. Simon Goldhill has written how Hellenistic ekphrastic epigrams "dramatized ... the moment of looking as a practice of interpreting, or reading--a way of seeing meaning. There is some 'description' ... but this is always subordinate to the work of analysis, or to the work of responding"; more generally, that ekphrasis, and the critical gaze it replicates, is just one small player within a highly theorized "discourse of viewing" whose philosophical and psychological remit covers the whole field of "the visual." (12) Consequently, from Marlowe's treatment of Aeneas' encounter with the stone, I think we may learn something about the early modern viewing subject and the early modern praxis of the visual.

Interestingly, Goldhill's analysis of ekphrasis closes the gap between Plutarch's metaphor of narration as painting and Simocatta's of narration as theater. His choice of words hints at potential synergies or some semiotic blood-relationship between the two artistic modes which serve as vehicles in the two metaphors: the epigrams he discusses "dramatized ... the moment of looking" and "dramatize the viewing subject," while "Rhetorical theory knows well that its descriptive power is a technique of illusion, semblance, or making to appear. This brings ekphrasis particularly close to the theatre--the space of seeing an illusion." (13) When insisting that in order to move an audience, the speaker must be first moved himself, Quintilian himself finds a parallel in those actors whose intense involvement in the plot causes them to leave the stage in tears and admits that "I have frequently been so much moved while speaking, that I have not merely been wrought upon to tears, but have turned pale and shown all the symptoms of genuine grief." (14) Elsewhere, Quintilian argues that the capacity of the speaker's enargeia to make audiences witness past, and necessarily absent, events as if they were present is analogous with the drama, where as the result of translatio temporum the spectators see now what actually happened long ago, in Troy and Carthage, for instance. (15)

The blood relationship between painting and drama, and between both and ekphrasis, emerges quite clearly in the list of techniques recommend by the rhetorical treatises for the figure of enargeia or evidentia. In Heinrich Lausberg's synthesis (16) the function of enargeia was to imbue the speaker's words with the status of an eye-witness account. To this end, the speaker had various means at his disposal including the detailed description of the object itself, the use of the present tense, the use of adverbs expressive of presence, and the apostrophe of other people who intervene in his narrative. Apostrophe is obviously a minimal form of communication with another, and leads to further, more elaborately discursive, means of achieving enargeia. These are sermocinatio, or the inclusion of the conversation of real people, and fictio personae, or the attribution to personified objects of speech or other facets of human behavior. One of the most extreme figures of pathos, fictio personae was the outcome of the speaker working up his creative phantasia to fever pitch. In combination, apostrophe, sermocinatio and fictio personae meant that the "speaking pictures" of ekphrasis could include dialogue between the viewer reporting what he had seen on the one hand and other people present at the scene or even some of the inanimate objects described on the other. When Marlowe produces not a speaking picture of a stone, but an episode in which a man is speaking with a stone, he is realizing the full dramatic potential of fictio personae.

As for the ekphrastic representation of the viewing subject, the basic tenet of affective rhetoric was that if you wanted the audience to feel something, you had to feel it first: pathos could only be induced in the audience if the speaker had first felt its force. In order to transmit to the audience the same images and feelings that he himself had seen and felt, the speaker or writer had to re-see those images and recreate those feelings at the time of composing his speech or text. Thus, for enargeia to work its full effect on the audience's mind and emotions, the writer must be skilled in forming images through which absent things may be represented to the audience's mind. Such images, which Quintilian calls phantasias or imagines, (17) are first created by the writer in his own mind and then, through enargeia, transmitted to the audience. Not only, then, a picture of things absent to the audience's senses (neither we nor Achates see what Aeneas claims to see), ekphrasis is also a picture of the writer's or viewer's own mental images of those absent things. More importantly, the affective rhetoric of enargeia is capable not only of eliciting from the audience appropriate emotional responses such as astonishment, wonder, or amazement, but as its origin is in the viewer's mental recreation of his original emotional responses, the fullest response on the part of the audience to the viewer's rhetoric will be a psychophysiological recreation of the viewer's original responses. Aeneas' ekphrasis of the stone Priam should unkilter the minds of the audience in a similar way and to the same extent that the stone unkilters his own mind.

Two points need to be made about phantasia in regard of rhetoric's permanently problematic relationship with the truth. Firstly, if rhetoric's traffic was more with probability and verisimilitude than with veracity and certitude, the illusory nature of ekphrasis redoubled the dubiety of its truth claims, although if well achieved the audience's rational doubts may be overridden by the effect of its vivid language on their emotions. As Longinus puts it in his treatise On the Sublime, the phantasia which enables and energises ekphrasis can "enslave" or "enthral" (douloutai) the audience. (18) Reliant on enargeia, ekphrasis is, writes Goldhill, "a rhetorical weapon to get around the censor of the intellect, to cut the listener off from the facts, to leave him not just 'as if a viewer at events,' but with the destabilizing emotions of that event." (19) Secondly, inherent to mental imaging was the risk that by working himself up into a state of excitement or amazement--more generally, "possession" (enthousiasmos)--the speaker might himself lose control of his intellectual faculties. Where today some speak of imaginative composition as not being entirely the product of the conscious mind, the classical theorists of poetry spoke of external (normally divine) or psychopathological inspiration, the latter being the result of intoxication, excessive black bile, or, simply, madness (mania). According to Horace, Democritus barred sane poets from Helicon; according to Cicero (De oratore 2.194), poets wrote with inflamed spirits or in outbursts of fury. Plato exploited to the full this association of poetic skill with psychological imbalance in Ion and Phaedrus, while even Aristotle, who otherwise supposed poetry to be a serious and desirable thing, suggested in one passage of the Poetics (1455a 27ff) that the poetic mind is either malleable or insane. (20) Leaving aside for a moment the context in which it occurs, Aeneas' apparent madness when confronted with the stone is therefore a dramatic enactment of the sort of mental possession prescribed by the rhetoric of ekphrasis for the stimulation of appropriate emotional responses in the audience. As such, it may be a reflection of early modern visual praxis, whereby the encounter with unfamiliar or strange objects could engender psychopathological responses in the early modern viewer which are unfamiliar or strange to us today.

One conclusion at this point may therefore be that cognitive bewilderment triggered temporary histrionics, as is corroborated by contemporary testimony for similarly histrionic reactions before perplexing realities. As Chapman's Ovid's Banquet of the Senses and an array of other works from the period indicate, (21) the discourse of viewing was becoming increasingly empirical as the whole field of the visual was subjected to scientific reflection and investigation. Ekphrasis such as Marlowe's, where viewer and audience waver between belief and disbelief, allegory and hard data, neatly encapsulates the contemporary tensions between superstitious and scientific ways of viewing the world. What is more, the social praxis of viewing implicit in Marlowe's fictional ekphrasis is attested to by the more or less contemporary ekphraseis of Troy's ruins by two travelers, Thomas Coryat and William Lithgow. As part of a growing tendency in travel writing to shift the focus of representation from the objects and places viewed to the traveling subject, (22) both Coryat and Lithgow regale their readers with highly dramatic accounts of their interactions with the ruins, in the course of which Coryat plays out a scene from The Iliad and Lithgow dresses up as a Turk before delivering an ekphrasis of himself. (23) Thus these two real-life travelers interact like Marlowe's Aeneas with the landscape they encounter; like Marlowe's Aeneas too, the results of their phantasia were easily diagnosed as symptoms of temporary madness, mental possession, or befuddlement, which is why, like travel writers as a whole, Coryat and Lithgow were suspected of mendacity. Yet, like Marlowe's Aeneas, the dramatic mode of their viewing is consistent with an emergent empiricism that shares some of the tropes of the theatre and, like the drama, places the body center stage as the proper subject of its analysis. (24) It is not so much that Marlowe's Aeneas on his tramp across the desert is modelled on real-life travelers, or that Coryat and Lithgow took him as their own literary model; rather, Marlowe, Coryat, and Lithgow were participants in a similar discourse of viewing and, as such, the ekphraseis of all three illuminate a common praxis of the visual, one component of which is a sharp mistrust of the evidence of one's own eyes, another the need to dramatize the act of viewing.

Re-reading Aeneas' encounter with the stone

The foregoing discussion of the exophoric, cultural reference of Aeneas' encounter with the stone should be complemented with an interpretation of its endophoric significance within the play. As we shall see, this apparently minor episode actually anticipates the whole play's thematic concern with the praxis of viewing, more particularly the differences between heroic vision and tragic delusion or, in the term used by the play, "oversight."

Afflicted by what appears to be a temporary mental breakdown, induced perhaps by heat exhaustion, Aeneas maps the topography of Troy, Mount Ida, and the River Xanthus, visible only to his mind's eye, onto the real landscape, present to his senses, of the walls of Carthage, a nearby hill and stream. And in this hallucinatory topography Aeneas espies the figure of Priam, which is, as Achates makes clear, no more than a stone (2.1.14). But even so, Achates "cannot choose but fall upon my knees, / And kisse his hand" (2.1.11-12) and wonder why Hecuba is not sitting at his side, while Aeneas, though still distraught, appears to come momentarily to his senses and confesses "O yet this stone doth make Aeneas weep!" (2.1.15). He wishes the stone would come to life and, transformed into Priam, lead an expedition back to Troy to "be revengde / On these hard harted Grecians" (2.1.18-19). Then his grip on reality loosens once more as he apostrophises Priam, urging him to embark and lead an expedition against the Greeks "Come, come abourd, pursue the hatefull Greekes!" (2.1.22). Achates' question, "What meanes Aeneas?" (2.1.23) brings his friend back to reality, but not completely, as he hesitates between trusting the evidence of his eyes or the fantasies of his mind, which induce him to imagine the stone wagging its hand.

In all of this, Marlowe is faithful to his Virgilian source in emphasising the emotional effect on Aeneas of what he thinks he sees: he is "amazde" and out-weeps Niobe. At the same time, Achates' diagnosis that Aeneas' mind is deluding his eyesight would have won Chapman's approval. But Marlowe's departure from Virgil is radical in its reduction of the tale depicted in the paintings to the barest of elements: the city of Troy, Ida, Xanthus, and Priam--more radical still in its substitution of a pittura parlante with a gesticulating lump of geology. (25) For whereas within Virgil's fiction Aeneas is a spectator gazing at an objectively real set of frescos, Marlowe's Aeneas transfers onto the Libyan desert the images that exist only in his addled mind: where he sees Priam, Achates sees only a stone. Yet Achates humors Aeneas in his delirium and looks around for Hecuba, who should be sitting beside the stone Priam. Thus, this episode can be regarded as a dramatic enactment of the double process of phantasia on which rhetorical enargeia depended. Aeneas is cast as the speaker setting before his audience, Achates, the images flickering across the screen of his mental cinema. Aeneas' amazement, the product of fatigue, is also, as we have seen, the psychological pre-condition for effective verbal image making; and Aeneas' image making is matched by Achates' own searching about for Hecuba, which shows his sympathetic (or sycophantic) attempts to humour his friend (or leader), but also evokes the risk of mental enthrallment by the seductive charms of ekphrasis. Aeneas' temporary mental disorder/imaginative possession at this stage casts doubt over the truth of his images at the same time as it facilitates their production; and this uncertainty, matched by Achates' wavering between slavish credulity and sceptical disbelief, reasserts the recalcitrant objectivity of the stone and, more largely, mimics the psychological duplicity on which all theatrical illusion depends.

In this way, Marlowe's reworking of Virgil's ekphrasis enacts the two-fold peril inherent in the phantasia-enargeia tandem as both speaker and audience temporarily lose their minds with the result that the ekphrasis is rendered rhetorically suspect and cognitively useless. One implication for contemporary visual praxis is therefore that ekphrasis as a means to verisimilar representation was falling into disrepute and could only sustain itself if the audience were, like Achates, willing to suspend all disbelief and play along slavishly with the speaker's game. But perhaps "slavishly" is not the best word for it. Rather Achates seems to typify those early modern theater goers so admired by Berthold Brecht. Far from "hanging up their brains with their hats in the cloakroom," Elizabethan audiences were highly sophisticated interpreters, able to oscillate between an empathy induced by the theatre of hypnosis and a critical analysis honed by the theater of alienation, without which there could be no understanding of the world. (26) Representative of the early modern viewer's capacity to remain constantly alert to the illusory nature of art, Achates personifies what will emerge in the next section as one of the play's principal themes.

Heroic vision and tragic "oversight"

Re-reading Marlowe's play through the prism of ekphrasis and in the light of Aeneas' encounter with the stone Priam brings to the fore its pointed emphasis on the visual. (27) Certainly, some of that emphasis is due to the material limitations of theatrical representation: rudimentary scenery and stage props, simple costumes and make-up, and above all a troupe of boy actors who possibly double roles not only require much spoken ekphrasis if the audience is to visualise the scene, but may also account for a great deal of the appellation and self-appellation to which the characters are prone and the frequent guidance to the audience about what or whom they should imagine they are seeing. (28) At times, this laborious naming of names verges on the comical:

ILIONEUS. I heare Aeneas voyce, but see him not, For none of these can be our Generali.

ACHATES. Like Ilioneus speakes this Noble man, But Ilioneus goes not in such robes.

SERGESTUS. You are Achates, or I deciv'd.

ACHATES. Aeneas see Sergestus, or his ghost.

ILIONEUS. He names Aeneas, let us kisse his feete.

CLOANTHUS. It is our Captaine, see Ascanius.

SERGESTUS. Live long Aeneas and Ascanius

AENEAS. Achates, speake, for I am overjoyed.

ACHATES. O Ilioneus, art thou yet alive?

ILIONEUS. Blest be the time I see Achates face.

CLOANTHUS. Why turnes Aeneas from his trustie friends?

AENEAS. Sergestus, Ilioneus, and the rest, Your sight amazde me.


Amid this welter of names, we might note Aeneas' apposite use of the verb "amazde," so central, as we have seen, in rhetorical prescriptions for the successful production and reception of epideixis; also, the repeated injunction to "see," where the action one character bids of another must also be performed imaginatively by the audience.

Such injunctions become a leitmotif of the play which is replayed in Anna's "Looke sister how Aeneas little sonne / Playes with your garments and imbraceth you" (3.1.21-22), "Sister, see see Ascanius in his pompe" (3.3.32), in Dido's "And, see, the Sailers take him [Aeneas] by the hand" (5.1.189), and more emotively in her virtual ekphrasis of Aeneas putting to sea:
   Looke, sister, looke lovely Aeneas ships,
   See, see, the billowes heave him up to heaven,
   And now downe falles the keeles into the deepe:
   Now is he come on shoare safe without hurt:
   But see, Achates wils him put to sea,
   And all the Sailers merrie make for joy;
   But he remembring me, shrinkes backe againe.
   See where he comes, welcome, welcome my love.

Here Dido enters into the scene she describes, bidding welcome to one of its actors as Aeneas had communicated with the stone Priam. Meanwhile, for reasons that shall emerge, the text reiterates playfully the "see/sea" homophony.

The repeated resort of characters in the play to third-person narrations of their own and others' actions combines this insistence on naming and seeing. The following exchange between Aeneas and Dido is just one case in point:

AENEAS. A wofull tale bids Dido to unfould, Whose memorie like pale deaths stony mace, Beates forth my senses from this troubled soule, And makes Aeneas sinke at Didos feete.

DIDO. What faints Aeneas to remember Troy? In whose defence he fought so valiantly: Looke up and speake.

AENEAS. Then speake Aeneas with Achilles tongue, And Dido and you Carthaginian Peeres Heare me ...


Aeneas' third-person narrative of his own sinking at Dido's feet amounts to a self-ekphrasis eloquent of his capacity to observe himself with detachment, as an actor, perhaps, playing a role.

The principal function of this reiterative naming of names and issuing of instructions to see may be dramaturgical in so far as it makes good the semiotic shortfall in costume, makeup and doubling of parts. However, taken in conjunction with the play's constant quibbling and worrying at items drawn from the semantic field of sight, the suspicion soon grows that issues of seeing and viewing are at the heart of the tragedy's thematic concerns too. A hint that this is so comes as early as the opening banter between Jupiter and Ganymede ("if ere I pleasde thine eye /... / Whose face reflects such pleasure to mine eyes," 1.1.19-24), while the use of deception through disguise at the level of plot is obvious enough: Venus takes on the appearance of a huntress, although Aeneas can see through her disguise; Cupid (blind in some traditions, though not here) takes on the guise of Ascanius, a visual deception Dido is, in contrast to Aeneas, incapable of penetrating. But there are whole passages which are criss-crossed with lexical repetitions, like so many variations on a single, fundamental theme. Most remarkable, perhaps, is the following exchange which commences with the same homophony noted above:

ILIONEUS. And when we told her [Dido] she would weepe for griefe, Thinking the sea had swallowed up thy ships, And now she sees thee how will she rejoice?

SERGESTUS. See where her servitors passe through the hall Bearing a banket, Dido is not farre.

ILIONEUS. Looke where she comes: Aeneas view her well.

AENEAS. Well may I view her, but she sees not me. Enter DIDO [with ANNA and IARBUS] and her traine.

DIDO. What stranger art thou that thou doest eye me thus? (2.1.67-74)

The progression through synonymous verbs ("see," "see," "looke," "view," "view") to metonymical organ ("eye") bespeaks at this early stage a clear-sightedness in Dido that only Venus in cahoots with Cupid will be able to benight; it also draws attention to the eye, which will be a leading player in what is to follow as well as the focus, reinforced by chiming ("mine," "eye," "die," "sight," "I," "thy"), of mantra-like obsession in such passages as the following:

IARBUS. Then pull out both mine eyes, or let me dye. Exit IARBUS.

ANNA. Wherefore doth Dido bid Iarbus goe?

DIDO. Because his lothsome sight offends mine eye (3.1.55-57)

AENEAS. It is not ought Aeneas may atchieve?

DIDO. Aeneas, No, although his eyes doe pearce.

AENEAS. Who then of all so cruell may he be That should detaine thy eye in his defects?

DIDO. The man that I do eye where ere I am (3.4.11-18) (29)

Throughout the play eyes are omnipresent, multifaceted, and omnipotent: they can be a "looking glasse" (3.1.86), a "Librarie" (3.1.90) or "anchors" (4.3.25); can "offend" and be offended (3.1.57, 3.3.17), be fed (3.2.71), "allure" (4.2.50, 4.3.35), "flatter" (4.2.22) and betoken "eternitie" (4.4.122). Obviously, love goes in at the eyes. Dido is as smitten with "lovely" Aeneas's good looks and "glistering" or piercing eyes (3.1.85, 3.4.12) as the rest of Carthage, who "swarm to gaze him in the face" (3.1.72), a right Dido claims as her prerogative: "none shall gaze on him but I" (3.1.73); for his part, jilted Iarbas ascribes his misfortune to the Trojan hero's "coloured looks" that "dive into [Dido's] heart" (4.2.32). As Dido herself is aware when bidding her sister Anna "looke upon [Aeneas] with a Mermaides eye" (5.1.201), looks can also be manipulated. More remarkably, so vital is the ocular organ that its loss stands metaphorically for death: Iarbas' equation "Then pull out both mine eyes, or let me dye" (3.1.55) soon becomes an identification when Venus threatens Juno--"But I will teare thy eyes fro forth thy head, / And feast the birds with their bloud-shotten balles" (3.2.34-35)--or when Iarbas contemplates self-destruction: "I will either move the thoughtles flint, / Or drop out both mine eyes in drisling teares, / Before my sorrowes tide have any stint" (4.2.40-42). But as this three-fold invocation of Oedipus' own self-inflicted blindness reminds us, the eye is not omniscient but can be deceived by looks and appearances.

As mentioned earlier, Aeneas' encounter with his mother, Venus, demonstrates his perspicacity or clarity of vision. Viewed against his whole visual history, his delusion that the stone in the Libyan desert is Priam is clearly a momentary lapse which acts as a warning that other such lapses of a more lasting kind cannot be ruled out, especially if Juno has her way, and much of the action charts the hero's wavering between Dido's charms and his own Italian destiny. It is no coincidence that Aeneas' pivotal decision to set sail for Italy reproduces the "sea/sea" homophony that has already been deployed twice. When he declares, "I may not dure this female drudgerie, / To sea Aeneas, finde out Italy" (4.3.56-57), he commits himself definitively to the clear sightedness that had characterised him at the outset and tells him that his future lies abroad. By embarking and crossing the "sea," he will "see" clearly and thus fully comprehend and finally consolidate his heroic mission, which the Libyan sojourn had put in jeopardy. In contrast, and despite her early no-nonsense acuity regarding Aeneas' ogling, Dido is deceived by the visual illusion wrought by Cupid when disguised as Ascanius; and it is her ultimately defective vision which leads first to her wish fulfilling but "idle fantasies" (5.1.262) of Aeneas' return, then to her death. The irony is inescapable when she says, "Dido I am, unlesse I be deceiv'd" (5.1.264), for she has been deceived in all but her own identity; meanwhile, the thematic concerns of the play are culminated and resolved when she asks, "What shall I doe, / But dye in furie of this oversight?" (5.1.268-69).

Not today's act of overlooking or inadvertence, "oversight" here surely means excessive looking, a sight of things that are not there to be seen, the mistaking of illusion for reality. For the noun "oversight" the OED provides no such usage; however, its entry for the verb "oversee" includes as a nonce use (III.8) "to see too strongly or vividly." Now "strongly" may mean many things, but "vividly" takes us straight to that vividness which, as we have mentioned, was the goal of rhetorical evidentia or enargeia. Some such strong or vivid vision is the very activity that Marlowe's play constantly demands of its audience; it is Plutarch's "imaging" or "making of images"; and it is what Marlowe's Dido performs to most effect but with less credibility. In the desert, Aeneas' muddled mind had fallen victim to delusive fantasies which issued in the unlikely ekphrasis of a stone; fortunately for him and the future of Rome, his sanity and sight were soon fully restored. In contrast, Dido, victim of Cupid's deception, never recovers her senses and regales the audience with vivid pictures for which there may well be no real-world correlative, or at least on-stage correlative visible to the audience. Her lengthy description of Aeneas' parting, turning back and waving at her is a complete fabrication wrought by a love-sick imagination and spoken before a stage empty except for her sister, Anna, who bids her "leave these idle fantasies" (5.1.262). It is such "seeing vividly" that constitutes Dido's "oversight" in what amounts to a tragedy of excessive vision, anticipated first in Aeneas' confusion of a stone with Priam. And it is a tragedy she shares with Faustus, like whom Dido wishes to be made "immortal with a kisse" (4.4.123) and whose invitations to the audience to "see" where his soul flies, sucked forth by Helen's lips, or to "see, see" Christ's blood streaming in the firmament compensate the inadequacies of early modern scenography but also manifest the insanity which will be his downfall according to the Senecan tragic credo and the poetic mania conducive of excessive fantasising or image-making.

An oddly recurrent word in the play is "wag." It first appears in the opening scene when Jupiter calls Ganymede "sweet wag" (1.1.23) in a striking departure from Olympian gravity; later, Dido applies the same term to address Cupid disguised as Ascanius (3.1.31). The same word used verbally points the contrast between Aeneas' short-lived, ultimately comic delusion and Dido's terminally tragic oversight, for "wag" connects Aeneas' exclamation "Achates, see King Priam wags his hand" (2.1.29) with Anna's report of Aeneas on board ship: "Then gan he wagge his hand" (5.1.229). As the audience naturally turns back its memory to Aeneas' insane attribution of the same gesture to the stone Priam, a relationship of contrast is established between these two episodes of "oversight," the distinction being that Dido's oversight leads her to fall terminal victim to her fantastic visions of Aeneas, whereas Aeneas' momentary belief in the Priam delusion dissipates once he finally regains his senses and fixes his sights firmly on the Italian horizon of his heroic mission.

Towards the end of the play, Iloneus, who is tired of idly hanging around and impatient to "build a Citie of our owne," reduces the whole Carthage affair by synecdoche to "amorous lookes" (4.3.37-38), astutely identifying as the heart of the issue one aspect of that visual praxis which I have suggested is at the heart of the play's thematic preoccupations. This centrality of the visual and the concomitant emphasis on eyes and the act of seeing is original to Marlowe's adaptation of his Virgilian source. While it is true that in the Aeneid, Dido's first impressions of Cupid/Ascanius (not of Aeneas, as in Marlowe's play) were strongly visual--"She gazed, and the fire in her grew ... Dido's eyes and her whole mind were fixed on him," it is also true that what drove her primordially to love is that "invisible fire" or "poison" with which Cupid had infected her and which gradually ate into her "melting marrow." (30) Indeed, Dido's eyes are only mentioned twice more, once when staring at Aeneas in anger, once when too heavy to lift after her self-immolation (4.363, 4.690). Only exceptionally does she fall prey to delusions, but they are of the commonplace kind habitual in new lovers ("he was away now, out of sight and hearing, but she still saw him and still heard his voice"); otherwise Virgil's Dido is shown to possess perfect sight and percipience throughout: "But no one can deceive a lover. The queen divined the intended deceit in advance. Before she was told, her intuition discerned what would happen." (31) Here Virgil points a moral which Marlowe's play practically rewrites as "Everyone can deceive a lover, above all the lover herself."

Visual praxis and theatrical illusion

The question remains of why Marlowe's play should set so much store by the potential benefits and pitfalls of correct or faulty visual praxis. On the one hand, as we have suggested, the play's implicit warning to be suspicious of the images that present themselves to the mind's eye is consistent with the emergent discourse and method of scientific empiricism, whose aesthetic counterpart was in many ways the emergent public theatre where bodies in action were exposed for ocular scrutiny. What is more, much as Dido, Queen of Carthage enacts a dialectic between heroic and tragic visual praxis and in so doing invokes the deception to which travelers may fall victim when confronting natural objects, so the accounts of some early modern travelers inscribe a visual praxis which has a markedly dramatic or histrionic mode and is ultimately more concerned--as ekphrasis always was--with the experience of the viewing subject than the representation of the object viewed, just as the visions of Aeneas and Dido tell us more about their respective selves than what they purport to see. But on the other, the play's preoccupation with the visual and its truth contents also discloses an anxiety about its own status and nature as a visual illusion and therefore constitutes a built-in warning to be wary of its own deceptions. For Dido's is the tragedy that might befall any member of the audience who suspends their disbelief so far as to confuse the play with reality, to accept the unseemly cavorting of gods and monarchs and to condone the suicide of queens who fail to marry and engender heirs.

The play's evocation of the purportedly idolatrous origins of the drama by introducing pagan gods tainted with lechery and jealousy and taking as its subject the "matter of Rome" might seem to fly in the face of contemporary puritan criticism of the theater. (32) But its exposure of the ambivalence of the visual and the dangers of fantasy could be taken as a means of defending itself against any charge of idolatry by offering a cautionary tale about the risks of delusion on the hand and by pleading its own epistemological inadequacy on the other. For the very eye that can cozen and be cozened in Marlowe's play is also the eye of his audience and of all early modern theatregoers. If, as Anthony Munday wrote in 1580, "There commeth much evil in at the ears," much more comes in "at the eyes; by these two open windows death breaketh into the soul. Nothing entereth more effectually into the memory than that which commeth by seeing." (33) However, for the purposes of his moral Marlowe distinguishes between the physiological eye, whose untrammelled vision may countenance heroic vistas, and the mind's eye, fatally gulled in Dido's case by the vision her fantasy conjured up. By means, then, of its thematic and tropological preoccupation with sight and the organ of vision, Marlowe's play may articulate a response to certain arguments of the ongoing anti-theatrical polemic to which it in part gave rise.

Of course. Dido's tragedy also makes manifest the power of the imagination. The invitations to the audience to "see" in their imaginations what lay beyond the representational scope of Elizabethan theatrical resources are turned to dramatic advantage as, through the "oversight" of Marlowe's characters, glimpses of alternative, seductive and dangerous worlds are offered ekphrastically to those members of the audience who are adroit enough to be able to respond to the formers' image making and are sufficiently willing to flirt with vicarious possession and madness. (34) Thus what begins as a self-conscious gesture at theatrical limitation ends as an incitement to transcend the restrictions of material reality as embodied in the physical space of the theatre itself and its cross-dressing cast of male actors and modest array of limited stage properties. But as tragedy potentially lies the way of that fantastic transcendence, the same "oversight" is also a reminder that our eyes and our belief should attend more closely to the world as represented on the stage than to the delusory images of off-stage fantasies. Accordingly, in a trope consonant with the epistemology of fledgling empiricism, Marlovian "oversight" also consolidates the illusory reality of the dramatic representation: the audience is to believe what it sees happening on the stage since, in comparison with the ekphrastic visions of Dido and Faustus, it is ultimately far more credible, among other reasons because it can be represented by means of the very limited resources available.

Therefore, as well as allaying Protestant misgivings about the hypocrisy of external appearances, (35) "oversight" institutes two levels of belief, or better, two planes on which paying spectators might suspend their disbelief: the first was the plane of the material spectacle as it unfolded before their eyes; the second, the plane of the imaginary images conjured by the fantasies of the tragic heroes. That the second plane consisted of delusions meant that the visible theatrical illusion could benefit from the contrast to press its claims to temporary belief with greater conviction. (36) Thus Marlowe could also parry the Puritan critics of theatrical images by driving a wedge between delusion, which, as Dido discovers, comes at a heavy price, and illusion, more cheaply and widely available to the ticket-paying public whose eyesight reached as far as the stage but no further. In the process, he reversed the epistemological stakes of Plato's two-world order by attaching greater and safer credibility to the "real" world as made palpably manifest in the course of the theatrical illusion than to the "ideal" off-stage world as accessible only though the self-deluding fantasies of his characters. This staged eviction of fantasy from the material illusion of the theatre is, then, a further response to the critics of theatre and, more generally, of all poetry and fiction. Ultimately, it is as illusory a response as the illusion on which it is founded; but once emitted into the hall of mirrors which frames the transit zone between art and reality, it attracts to itself an aura of credibility as substantial as any of the Puritan rebukes. At the same time, by casting doubt on the reliability of truths founded on the basis of introspection and the mind's eye, Marlowe's play counters the epistemological premises not just of Puritan anti-theatrical polemic but, more generally and radically, of the Protestant turn towards personal self-scrutiny and spiritual self-centredness. In the words of Achates, "Thy mind Aeneas that would have it so / Deludes thy eye sight." Within the play "Priamus is dead"; beyond it, in a world free of delusion, yet greater idols may, like Ozymandias in the desert, crumble and turn to dust.


(1.) For an overview of the issues surrounding the dates of composition and first performance, see Mark Abbott, Dido, Queen of Carthage. Marlowe Society, 2009. < MarloweSocietyDidoOverview.pdf.>

(2.) Efterpi Mitsi, "'What is this but stone?' Priam's statue in Marlowe's Dido, Queen of Carthage." Word and Image 27, no.4 (2011): 443-44.

(3.) Ibid., 445-46, writing under the influence of, among others, Bowers, Goldberg, Kinney, Munson Deats, and Stump.

(4.) For a useful summary of the scholarly debate surrounding Aeneas' character, see Therese Fuhrer, "Aeneas: A Study in Character Development," Greece and Rome 36, no. 1 (April 1989): 63-65.

(5.) All quotations from the play are from Roma Gill, ed., The Complete Works of Christopher Marlowe, vol. 1, Oxford: Clarendon, 1987.

(6.) Here, as audience and characters are intended to believe that what they see on stage is a statue (though it is not), the point is rammed home in order to dispel all doubt. In the previous scene Autolycus breaks the news that "the kings and princes, our kindred, are going to see the queen's picture" (5.2.171-72), while at the start of the final scene Leontes' repetition almost labours the point: "we came to see the statue of our queen ... The statue of her mother" (5.3.9-14). Only once what we see on stage has been firmly established as a statue does the metonymy of stone take over in Leontes' diction: "Chide me, dear stone, that I may say indeed / Thou art Hermione" (5.3.24-25) and "Does not the stone rebuke me / For being more stone than it" (5.3.37-38). Paulina reintroduces the term "statue" but then also reverts to "stone" (5.3.48 and 5.3.58).

(7.) For Eryx, Narcissus, and Andromade, see W. H. D. Rouse, ed., Shakespeare's Ovid, Being Arthur Golding's Translation of the Metamorphoses (London: De la More Press, 1904), 106, 73, 98. The transformations into stone, whether in part or whole, are of: Aglauros, Echo, Theban ladies, King Atlas, Cinyras, Niobe, Lichas, Olenos and Lethaea, prophets, a snake, a wolf, Phantasos, a serpent, a judge, Scylla, Alcinous' ships, men's bowels and lynx urine (Rouse, Shakespeare's Ovid, 61, 62, 95, 98, 121, 126, 187, 202, 206, 220, 228, 233, 238, 268, 276, 287, 301, 304); only Aglauros, once transformed into stone, is likened to an image.

(8.) George Chapman, Ovid's Banquet of Sense, in The Works of George Chapman (London: Chatto and Windus, 1875), 22-23. See Salter's discussion of this passage. Alan Salter, "Early Modern Empiricism and the Discourse of the Senses." Studies in History and Philosophy of Science 25 (2010): 64.

(9.) Ruth Webb, Ekphrasis, Imagination and Pleasure in Ancient Rhetorical Theory and Practice (Famham, UK: Ashgate, 2009), 4-9, 31-36, 55-56, 61-62.

(10.) On enargeia as the "heart" of ekphrasis, see Webb, Ekphrasis, 1999, 14. Plutarch (Moralia 347) wrote that Thucydides was "always striving for this quality of vividness in his prose--he is desperately keen to make the listener a viewer and to produce in those who read about events the vivid emotions of amazement and confusion that were experienced by those who saw them" (quoted by Simon Goldhill, "What is Ekphrasis For?" Classical Philology 102, no. 1 (January): 5). "Imaging" is Goldhill's rendering of the Greek verb eidolopoiein, literally "making of images."

(11.) Quoted in Arnold J. Toynbee, Greek Historical Thought (New York: Mentor, 1952), 96-97.

(12.) All quotations in this paragraph and the next from Goldhill, "What is Ekphrasis For?" 2-3. All emphases are original.

(13.) Ibid., 2-3. Webb alludes to the illusory effect of ekphrasis as follows: "The audience both sees (metaphorically) and fails to see (literally) the subject matter." Ekphrasis, Imagination and Pleasure in Ancient Rhetorical Theory and Practice. (Farnham, VT: Ashgate, 2009), 10.

(14.) Quintilian, 6:2.35-36. From Institutio oratoria, trans. H. E. Butler (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1920.

(15.) Ibid., 9:2.40-41. Compare also the account of the figure pragmatographia (one type of vivid description) in Susenbrotus' Epitome Troporum ac Schematum (c. 1541): "when we graphically depict in all its colors what is either happening or has already happened, so as to transport the auditor or reader outside himself, as in a theatre, and thus to divert him". Quoted by Richard Meek, Narrating the Visual in Shakespeare (Farnham, UK: Ashgate, 2009), 10, from Joseph X. Brennan, "The Epitome Troporum ac Schematum of Joannes Susenbrotus: Text, Translation, and Commentary." Unpublished doctoral dissertation. University of Illinois, 1953.

(16.) Heinrich L Lausberg, Manual de retorica literaria, trans. Jose Perez Riesco. 3 vols. (Madrid: Gredos, 1967), 2.224-35.

(17.) Quintilian, 6:2.29. The literature on psychological, philosophical and rhetorical accounts of phantasia is extensive; for a succinct overview see Webb 2009, 115-19.

(18.) Longinus, On the Sublime, 15.9; quoted in Goldhill, "What is Ekphrasis For?" 6.

(19.) Ibid.

(20.) The passage is famous and has been much contested. See Donald A. Russell, Criticism in Antiquity (London: Duckworth, 1981), 69-79.

(21.) See Alan Salter, "Early Modern Empiricism and the Discourse of the Senses," Studies in History and Philosophy of Science 25 (2010): 59-74.

(22.) On this shift see, for example, Mary B. Campbell's discussion of Walter Ralegh, The Witness and the other World. Exotic European Travel Writing 400-1600 (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1988), 211-54, and Jonathan P. A. Sell, Rhetoric and Wonder in English Travel Writing, 1560-1613 (Aldershot: Ashgate, 2006), 135-62.

(23.) Thomas Coryat, Coryat's Crudities; Reprinted from the Edition of 1611. To which are now added his letters from India, &c. 3 vols. (London: W. Cater, 1776), 3.270-72, and William Lithgow, The Totall Discourse of The Rare Adventures and Painefull Peregrinations of long Nineteene Yeares Travayles from Scotland to the most famous Kingdomes in Europe, Asia and Affrica (Glasgow: James MacLehose and Sons, 1906), 110-11. For a full discussion see Jonathan P. A. Sell, "Between Painting and Drama: The Historiographic Ekphrasis of Troy in Coryat and Lithgow," in Recit de voyage et histoire (1589-1826), ed. Isabelle Bour. (Paris: Editions Hermann), forthcoming.

(24.) On relations between travel and the stage, see, for example, Jonathan P. A. Sell, Rhetoric and Wonder in English Travel Writing (Abingdon: Routledge, 2006), 145-62 and "Embodying Truth in Early Modern Travel Writing," Studies in Travel Writing 1613 (2012), 227-41; and Anthony Parr, ed., Three Renaissance Travel Plays. (Manchester: Manchester University Press), 1995.

(25.) It might be argued that Marlowe, as dramatist, had little need of ekphrasis since the stage can make a direct impact on the audience's eye of the sort which is denied written texts. Yet by no means was ekphrasis absent from early modern English drama. Orgel has written that the early seventeenth-century theatre "was assumed to be a verbal medium," and that "acting ... was a form of oratory." Stephen Orgel, The Illusion of Power: Political Theater in the English Renaissance. (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1975), 16-17. See also Meek, Narrating the Visual in Shakespeare, 10-11.

(26.) See John Willet, Brecht on Theatre (London: Methuen, 1964), 71. For a critique of Brecht's idea of "epic" theater and its appropriation by cultural materialist critics, see Bridget Escolme, Talking to the Audience: Shakespeare, Performance, Self (Abingdon: Routledge, 2005), 8-10.

(27.) Roma Gill notices the play's "emphasis on spectacle" (1987) which she attributes to the sumptuousness of private, indoor theatrical productions. The Complete Works of Christopher Marlowe (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1987), 118.

(28.) See Meek, Narrating the Visual in Shakespeare, 10-11, quoting Anthony Brennan, 12, to the effect that the poetry of Shakespeare's narrative reports was intended to cut costs on scenery.

(29.) Compare also: IARBUS. Mine eye is fixt where fancie cannot start: / ... / Or drop out both mine eyes in drisling tears / ... / For I will flye from these alluring eyes. (4.2.37-50)

(30.) "[A]rdescit tuendo ... haec oculis, haec pectore toto / haeret" (1.713-18); "occultum inspires ignem fallasque veneno" (1.688); "est mollis flamma medullas / interea" (4.66-67). All translations are from W. F. Jackson Knight's Penguin version.

(31.) "[I]llum absens absentem autitque videtque" (4.83); "At regina dolos (quis fallere posit amantem?) / praesensit, motusque excepit prima futures" (4. 296-97).

(32.) Stephen Gosson, Anthony Munday, Phillips Stubbes, William Rankins, Henry Crosse, John Greene, and William Prynne all exploit the drama's original relations with pagan idolatry to besmirch the contemporary theatre; see Tanya Pollard, ed., Shakespeare's Theatre: A Sourcebook. (Malden, MA: Blackwell, 2004), 21, 74, 84, 89, 91-93, 98-99, 111, 119-21, 132, 195, 255, 257-58, 262-63, 283, and 287-88.

(33.) Anthony Munday, A Second and Third Blast of Retreat from Plays and Theatres in Pollard, ed., Shakespeare's Theatre, 76. The prophet Jeremiah's (9.21) aphorism about the morally lethal effects of vision, alluded to here by Munday, is also recycled by John Northbrooke; Phillip Stubbes offers the Horatian version of the same point. (Pollard, ed., Shakespeare's Theatre, 4 and 117.)

(34.) Anthony Munday makes the audience's willingness the key factor in determining whether or not those images finally stuck and brought death in their train, thereby exonerating the playwright of all responsibility: "but the tokens of that which we have seen, saith Petrarch, stick fast in us whether we will or no, and yet they enter not into us unless we be willing, except very seldom" (in Pollard, ed., Shakespeare's Theatre, 76).

(35.) On such misgivings, see Katharine Eisaman Maus, Inwardness and Theater in the English Renaissance (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1995).

(36.) This has an obvious bearing on the wider debate over the relative immediacy of what takes place on- and off-stage. See Loma Hutson, The Invention of Suspicion: Law and Mimesis in Shakespeare and Renaissance Drama (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2007), 126. While I would concede that the ekphrasis of off-stage or mental worlds may be as "immediate" as onstage representation through action, speech, and stage properties (however limited), I would hesitate to claim that it was always as credible. The fact that the incredible can be as immediate as the credible accounts for the risk of delusion in the first place.


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Lithgow, William. The Totall Discourse of The Rare Adventures and Painefull Peregrinations of long Nineteene Yeares Travayles from Scotland to the most famous Kingdomes in Europe, Asia and Affrica. Glasgow: James MacLehose and Sons, 1906.

Maus, Katharine Eisaman. Inwardness and Theater in the English Renaissance. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1995.

Meek, Richard. Narrating the Visual in Shakespeare. Farnham and Burlington, VT: Ashgate, 2009.

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Author:Sell, Jonathan P.A.
Publication:Medieval and Renaissance Drama in England
Article Type:Critical essay
Geographic Code:4EUUK
Date:Jan 1, 2016
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