- Purchase/rental options available:
This essay focuses on the interactions between Dido and Cupid in Christopher Marlowe's Dido, Queen of Carthage. Unlike Marlowe's source material, Marlowe's play focuses on the way Dido pretends to be the mother of Cupid, constructing herself as a kind of surrogate mother. These interactions reflect the fraught status of surrogate children, who were at increased risk of exploitation even as they were viewed as a potential threat to their adoptive parents. The performance conditions of the play exacerbate this unease as Dido was performed by a group of child actors who were viewed as surrogate children to the theater manager. Like a surrogate child, the boy player was both a commodity to be exploited and a threat because he occupied a liminal space between boyhood and adulthood. Drawing on broader cultural unease concerning surrogate parent-child relationships, Marlowe uses Cupid's status as surrogate son who is both a sexual plaything and a sinister threat to highlight anxieties about the agency of boy players on the cusp of manhood. The discrepancy between Cupid's boyish appearance and his crafty manipulation of Dido reminds the audience that the actor playing Cupid will also one day possess the full sexual and political agency of an adult.