4 out of 4 stars
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In a fresh take on characters featured in Virgil’s Aeneaid, playwright David Lane presents a new play: Dido: The Tragedy of a Woman. After the destruction of Troy, Aeneas has led the survivors to safe haven of Carthage. While there, Aeneas and Carthage’s queen, Dido, fell in love and began a family. As the play opens, Aeneas is spurred by Mercury to leave his erstwhile home and his family and voyage away to found a new society for the former Trojans. This proves to be the metaphorical domino that is the catalyst for the events and twists of the play.
For readers considering this play, the first thing they must understand about it is that it is written in blank verse. Blank verse is a distinct poetic writing style that uses metered lines with no rhyming scheme. Blank verse is most commonly written in iambic pentameter, which is the structure used by David Lane in this play. For comparison, readers might think of Shakespearean plays, which are also written in iambic pentameter (but are rhymed, so Shakespearean plays are not considered blank verse).
While blank verse is a challenging literary form both to read and to write, one advantage is that it demands the creative use of language. Playwright David Lane excels at adopting language reminiscent of plays written by either Shakespeare or Sophocles. Words like “bugword”, which are not commonly used in modern English, lend vividness to a the play and help it enter a genre that seldom gains new entrants. As I read through the play, I took particular pleasure in noticing certain phrases that stood out as especially wonderful. My two favorites were when the writer had one character describe another as “Lord Earwig to the Queen” and when he made Aeneas instruct, “Bedpressers cast adrift”. These examples of Lane’s unique phrasing give evidence of the writer’s creativity and command of the language and meter.
As one might expect with plays of this type, it is not very lengthy. The word and page count are modest. However, because it is in blank verse, the average reader should plan to spend a longer time than normally allotted to read it. Not having any prior familiarity with this particular story, I found myself re-reading at times to be sure that I was understanding the progression of events and the development of the characters. Reading this play took concentration and was not something that I could do while multitasking.
I found only one editing oversight, when “hoised” was printed on page 18 instead of the obviously appropriate “hoisted”. With superb writing and seemingly careful editing, this play clearly merits 4 out of 4 stars. David Lane’s Dido: The Tragedy of a Woman is a masterful work that adds new content to a genre that seems mostly static. Those who remember high school or college literature classes with fondness might enjoy how much this play will resurrect those memories. Those who love the canon of ancient Greek literature will enjoy this new addition. Those who love poetry will enjoy the skilled use of blank verse. If you, like me, are one of these readers, this is definitely a play you should try.
Dido: The Tragedy of a Woman
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