While Marlowe devoted an entire play to the Dido story, Shakespeare alluded to it more obliquely throughout his career: Hamlet instructs the touring actors to recite “Aeneas’ tale to Dido” (2.2), perhaps as a way to parody of Marlowe; Gonzalo invokes “widow Dido” in The Tempest (2.1). Heather James explores the depth of interrelations between Antony and Cleopatra and the Dido  story in her essay “Dido’s Ear: Tragedy and the Politics of Response,” later included in her book Shakespeare’s Troy

David Yezzi posits:

So keen is Shakespeare on the story of Dido, the Queen of Carthage, for example, that he mentions her four times in The Tempest, twice in Titus Andronicus, and once each in The Merchant of Venice2 Henry VI, Antony and CleopatraHamlet, andRomeo and Juliet. Now it is likely that Shakespeare borrowed these references to the “widow Dido” in The Tempest not from the Aeneid but from Montaigne’s essay “Of Diverting and Diversions,” in John Florio’s translation of 1603, but this is just a further example of how such references are cross-pollinated and propagated. In fact, as Eliot knew, allusion itself is a great propagator of cultureThe story of Dido for Shakespeare is a liquid bit of cultural currency, known to all, a story that plays equally well in the upper stalls and down among the oyster shells. Hamlet himself enacts a similar bit of cultural recuperation, recalling for the players Aeneas’s tale to Dido: “The rugged Pyrrhus, he whose sable arms,/ Black as his purpose, did the night resemble/ When he lay couchèd in the ominous horse . . .” From Timaeus to Virgil to Montaigne to Shakespeare: as stories and references find their way through successive generations of writers, they are revised and revitalized. Allusion is one of the ways that poems mean.

World Shakespeare Bibliography Online catalogs dozens of additional scholarly studies of Shakespeare’s debt to Virgil (and his competition with Marlowe). Shakespeare at Rhodes has cataloged many other online research resources. Here are the pertinent quotations from Shakespeare:

Henry VI, part II 


How often have I tempted Suffolk’s tongue,
The agent of thy foul inconstancy,
To sit and witch me, as Ascanius did

When he to madding Dido would unfold

His father’s acts commenced in burning Troy!
Am I not witch’d like her? or thou not false like him?
Ay me, I can no more! die, Margaret!
For Henry weeps that thou does live so long. (3.2)

Titus Andronicus

TAMORA [to Aaron]: Under their sweet shade, Aaron, let us sit,

And, whilst the babbling echo mocks the hounds,
Replying shrilly to the well-tuned horns,
As if a double hunt were heard at once,
Let us sit down and mark their yelping noise;
And, after conflict such as was supposed
The wandering prince and Dido once enjoy’d,
When with a happy storm they were surprised
And curtain’d with a counsel-keeping cave,
We may, each wreathed in the other’s arms,
Our pastimes done, possess a golden slumber;
Whiles hounds and horns and sweet melodious birds
Be unto us as is a nurse’s song
Of lullaby to bring her babe asleep. (2.3)


Speak, Rome’s dear friend, as erst our ancestor,

When with his solemn tongue he did discourse
To love-sick Dido’s sad attending ear
The story of that baleful burning night
When subtle Greeks surprised King Priam’s Troy,
Tell us what Sinon hath bewitch’d our ears,
Or who hath brought the fatal engine in
That gives our Troy, our Rome, the civil wound.
My heart is not compact of flint nor steel;
Nor can I utter all our bitter grief,
But floods of tears will drown my oratory,
And break my utterance, even in the time
When it should move you to attend me most,
Lending your kind commiseration.
Here is a captain, let him tell the tale;
Your hearts will throb and weep to hear him speak. (5.3)
Romeo and Juliet 
MERCUTIO [in response to Romeo’s arrival]:
Without his roe, like a dried herring: flesh, flesh, how art thou fishified! Now is he for the numbers that Petrarch flowed in: Laura to his lady was but a kitchen-wench; marry, she had a better love to be-rhyme her; Dido a dowdy; Cleopatra a gipsy; Helen and Hero hildings and harlots; Thisbe a grey eye or so, but not to the purpose. Signior Romeo, bon jour! there’s a French salutation to your French slop. You gave us the counterfeit fairly last night. (2.4)
Merchant of Venice
LORENZO: In such a night
Stood Dido with a willow in her hand
Upon the wild sea banks and waft her love
To come again to Carthage. (5.1)
HAMLET: One speech in it I chiefly loved: ’twas Aeneas’ tale to Dido; and thereabout of it especially, where he speaks of Priam’s slaughter: if it live in your memory, begin at this line: let me see, let me see– ‘The rugged Pyrrhus, like the Hyrcanian beast,’–it is not so:–it begins with Pyrrhus:—
‘The rugged Pyrrhus, he whose sable arms,
Black as his purpose, did the night resemble
When he lay couched in the ominous horse,
Hath now this dread and black complexion smear’d
With heraldry more dismal; head to foot
Now is he total gules; horridly trick’d
With blood of fathers, mothers, daughters, sons,
Baked and impasted with the parching streets,
That lend a tyrannous and damned light
To their lord’s murder: roasted in wrath and fire,
And thus o’er-sized with coagulate gore,
With eyes like carbuncles, the hellish Pyrrhus
Old grandsire Priam seeks.’
So, proceed you. (2.3)
Antony and Cleopatra
Eros!–I come, my queen:–Eros!–Stay for me:
Where souls do couch on flowers, we’ll hand in hand,
And with our sprightly port make the ghosts gaze:
Dido and her AEneas shall want troops,
And all the haunt be ours. Come, Eros, Eros! (4.14)
The Tempest

GONZALO: Not since widow Dido’s time.

ANTONIO Widow! a pox o’ that! How came that widow in? widow Dido!
SEBASTIAN: What if he had said ‘widower AEneas’ too? Good Lord, how you take it!
ADRIAN: ‘Widow Dido’ said you? you make me study of that: she was of Carthage, not of Tunis.
GONZALO: This Tunis, sir, was Carthage.
ADRIAN: Carthage?
GONZALO: I assure you, Carthage.
SEBASTIAN: His word is more than the miraculous harp; he hath raised the wall and houses too.
ANTONIO: What impossible matter will he make easy next?
SEBASTIAN: I think he will carry this island home in his pocket and give it his son for an apple.
ANTONIO: And, sowing the kernels of it in the sea, bring forth more islands.
ANTONIO: Why, in good time.
GONZALO: Sir, we were talking that our garments seem now as fresh as when we were at Tunis at the marriage of your daughter, who is now queen.
ANTONIO: And the rarest that e’er came there.
SEBASTIAN: Bate, I beseech you, widow Dido.
ANTONIO: O, widow Dido! ay, widow Dido. (2.1)


E. J. Kellow, HMS Dido in a hurricane or cyclone, off Raiatea (Society Islands) Pacific, Janry 21st [1856]

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