March 13, 2013
People can give out empty promises in order to get what they want, sometimes it works and the results are catastrophic, but there are situations where the empty promise is seen right through. Christopher Marlowe’s works both “Dido, Queen of Carthage” and “The Passionate Shepard to His Love” along with Walter Ralegh’s poem “The Nymph’s Reply to the Shepard” display such extremes as previously mentioned. Making promises and then possibly breaking them, only adds to the effect that the piece has on the reader by making the piece more relatable to the reader.
Promise-making plays a big role in Marlowe’s “Dido, Queen of Carthage” because through making promises, and a little help from Cupid, Aeneas is able to transform himself from a weary traveller from Troy, to being offered Carthage itself. However, before Aeneas could be offered to be the “King of Libya” by Dido, a few strings had to be pulled by Venus and Juno (Marlowe, “Dido” 3.4.63). Before Venus and Juno had even met, Venus substituted Cupid in for Ascanius to ensure her grandson’s safety from “any seek to do him hurt” (Marlowe, “Dido” 2.1.321). Venus also did that so that Dido would be attracted to Aeneas so he could get his ships fixed, or, even worst-case scenario, Aeneas could be the new King of Carthage. The promise between Juno and Venus was that Aeneas could stay in Carthage and be the new king there, benefiting Juno because it helped the state she looked after, and Venus ensured her son’s safety. Dido and Aeneas’s promises to each other are interconnected and while both promises carry heavy outcomes, Aeneas’s is more binding. The promise that Aeneas gave to Dido was that he would stay in Carthage, and while it is not explicitly stated in the text, he married her in the cave that Juno enabled Aeneas and Dido to enter. The logic behind this reasoning is that if Aeneas did reject Dido’s proposal to be her new King, why would she keep providing Aeneas with all of these luxurious goods, and allow him to stay in Carthage any longer? The only reason she did so, and did not escort him out of Carthage as soon as she could was because Aeneas agreed to marry Dido, which makes his actions later on in the play even more unacceptable. Craig Turner makes an interesting comparison to the agreements that Ganymede and Jupiter had at the beginning of the play, which was that Ganymede agreed to be the new cupbearer to the Gods, and Aeneas and Dido where Aeneas agreed to be the new King (Turner). He also points out that Aeneas and Ganymede are similar in that they both contain two significant ideas in the play, the childishness of the gods, and the mistake of forbidden passion (Turner). Their passions are forbidden because Aeneas’s main goal is to discover Troy, and the new cupbearer of the Gods was supposed to be Hebe, the daughter of Juno, Ganymede’s love is also forbidden because he is just a small child and he is in love with Jupiter.
The promise breaking that happens near the end of the play, and ultimately leads to the tragic ending is a source of intense debate on whether the actions were justified or not. Firstly, Venus enables Aeneas to leave Carthage, breaking her promise that she had with Juno, and displaying that the only thing that Aeneas’s mother cares about is Aeneas and his happiness. Venus enables Aeneas to leave Carthage by having Ascanius returned from his protective sanctuary to Aeneas, which no longer binds the protagonist to Carthage because now that his son is with him, the Trojans are able to depart and discover Rome. The other promise that is broken is the one that Aeneas had to Dido. Aeneas told Dido that he would never leave “whiles Dido lives and rules in Juno’s town” (Marlowe, “Dido” 3.4.49). This broken promise is the most important because when Aeneas left this caused Dido, his wife, to kill herself in despair...