'Live false Aeneas!' Marlowe's Dido, Queen of Carthage and the limits of translation

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Critics have long recognized Marlowe’s Dido, Queen of Carthage as not just an Ovidian but also a counter-Virgilian text, whose Aeneas is a malleable figure lacking a coherent identity. This article argues that Marlowe’s play responds to an Ovidian tradition which depicts Aeneas as not only perfidious to Dido, but also to Troy, and embeds — with the help of Lydgate’s medieval Troy Book — an imposter Aeneas into his play. This ‘false Aeneas’ — attempting, ever less successfully, to imitate Virgil — becomes a figure for broader Marlovian preoccupations with self-determination and authority, as the playwright subversively re-weights authority in favour of the medieval tradition and against the central figure of the Renaissance canon, Virgil. Pressing the limits of authorial self-determination and of literary imitation, Marlowe ventriloquizes Virgil to rewrite the Aeneid otherwise from within, revealing not only an imposter Aeneas in Dido, Queen of Carthage, but also always and already in the Aeneid itself.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)129-147
JournalClassical Receptions Journal
Issue number2
Early online date2 Sept 2011
Publication statusPublished - Nov 2011


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