Dido in drama : the dramatic imitation of Virgil on the early modern stage

  • Jonathan Gardner

Student thesis: Doctoral Thesis (PhD)


This thesis explores the tradition of Virgilian drama, and especially dramatic adaptations of the story of Dido and Aeneas, in early modern England. These traverse a variety of locations, political contexts, and theatrical settings of boy companies, academic drama and the popular stage, and Chapter One frames the study against historical concepts of translatio imperii and the perceived Trojan heritage of the Tudors, especially with Elizabeth I’s associations with both Aeneas and Dido. In Chapter Two, three lost Dido plays by John Rightwise (1528), William Crofton (1563) and Edward Halliwell (1564) are examined by their reputation and circumstances before a close examination of William Gager’s Dido (1583), performed at Christ Church, Oxford, revealing how precise imitative patterning of Virgilian text is used to reflect on the narrative, and pedagogical and academic principles are assimilated into the work. Chapter Three then situates Christopher Marlowe’s Dido Queene of Carthage (1594) against traditions of academic drama and neo-classical erotic poetry, before a close study of imitative hybridity and the lasting traumatic memory of the fall of Troy throughout Marlowe’s ensuing dramatic work. Lastly, Chapter Four considers Shakespeare’s Virgilianism as a mutable and dissimulative practice, beginning with reflections on nationhood in 2 and 3 Henry VI, before Hamlet’s interrogation of the efficacy of Virgilian drama to relate imperial transition, and the revival of the theatrical dimensions of previous Virgilian drama in The Winter’s Tale. The interrelation of texts and dramas throughout the thesis asks how imitative theory can be developed according to Virgilian themes of trauma and empire, as violent memories repeat compulsively between works and Trojan identity expands into new literary terrains, and how ‘dramatic imitation’ in and between plays exists as a distinct practice, based in performative rather than textual elements observed and repeated by playwrights.
Date of Award14 Jun 2022
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • University of St Andrews
SupervisorNeil Rhodes (Supervisor) & Emma Buckley (Supervisor)


  • Imitation
  • Classical reception
  • Virgil
  • Shakespeare
  • Marlowe
  • Renaissance
  • Drama

Access Status

  • Full text embargoed until
  • 26 August 2026

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