Dido and Aeneas








While working on your assignment you will be shown many different facts about the opera. On your way you will be asked to write a number of paragraphs about them. Put them into your portfolio. If you join the paragraphs when youíve finished this quest it will be a good start for making an oral presentation.

If some of the internet-links donít work anymore donít panic! Use a search-engine to find out what you need to know, for example



The Historian    
Assignment 1
Facts about the opera


First letís find out about the political circumstances in England during the time the opera was first performed, 1689. Go to

and find out what happened to the British Royal House after the death of Charles II till the year this opera was performed. Donít forget to pay attention to the role of religion! Write one paragraph about this (A1) in your worksheet ( W.

Now read a short summary of the story of Dido and Aeneas,

Go to

and read what is said about Libretto.
Aeneas is said to represent some real-life person.
Who does he represent? And what reasons are there to think that Aeneas might represent this person?  (A2)  

  William and Mary

The opera

Look at a programme of a modern performance of Dido and Aeneas and answer the following questions:

WA3    Look at the cast of soloists who perform the opera. What is striking about the amount of men versus women that play a part?

WA4    A reason for this can be found in the historical background of the opera (see the programme). Formulate this reason.

WA5   Find out in what way the following persons played a role in the creation of the opera:  

            a Henry Purcell    

b Nahum Tate

c Josias Priest

Now write a paragraph about what roles these people had in the creations of the opera. WA6

The literary period

Look at an overview of literary periods of English literature, and write down in which period Dido and Aeneas belongs (name and dates, WA7)

Also describe how this period is sub-divided and give an explanation for the use of these names. ( WA8)


As you may have found in the programme youíve studied, the story of Dido and Aeneas was originally written by the Latin author Vergil (70-19 B.C.). What Tate did was change a few things in the story and adapt it to an opera. Look again at the literary periods youíve just investigated. According to the information given, what elements did the English writers in this period borrow from the Classical writers? (WA9)

Itís to be hoped that Nahum Tate, did not only borrow Vergilís story, but his quality of writing style as well! Letís investigate that now.

The writer of the opera was not just a teacher who happened to like writing the school-play. Look up what is said about Nahum Tate, and give one reason why he seems to have been quite successful (WA10) Also mention a fact which might suggest that he was not as good as you expect from a man in his position (WA11)

Find out what the general opinion is about the quality of Tateís  poems; use a search engine. Then write a paragraph on this poet (WA12)


The Sociologist

Assignment 2 Why witches played a part in the opera  

Visit the bbc-webpage about Dido and Aeneas:

Read again what is said under Story.
What difference is mentioned between the original story by Vergil and the story of the opera? (WB1)
To fully understand the role of the witches in the opera, it is useful to realize how people looked upon witches in these days.
Find out how witches were supposed to have tried to destroy king James of Scotland in 1591: http://www.law.umkc.edu/faculty/projects/ftrials/salem/witchhistory.html
and write one paragraph about it. (WB2)

king James

And a hundred years later, during the time the opera was written, people still believed in witchcraft.
Look up the following information:

about the persecution of witches in Europe. Write one paragraph about some striking details you find in this list, in which you also mention the last time people were actually executed for witchcraft in England and Scotland. (WB3)

If you think that it was in fact only really wacky people that were accused of being a witch, you might like to go to
and enter the experience of being accused of witchcraft. Youíll find out how easy it was to become the victim of witch-hunts!  Describe your experience in

So in the days of the first performance of Dido and Aeneas witches were still seen as dangerous creatures to be reckoned with.

Now letís look at the power witches were supposed to have. Read Act 1, scene three of Macbeth by William Shakespeare the first 25 lines (you might need a dictionary!)

Write down what action the first witch took when she was angry with a sailorís wife. Also write down what the witches were not able to do. (WB4)
Now listen to the text the witches sing in Dido and Aeneas (act 2, scene 1)
Listen to the song of the sorceress and the witches:
Listen here and write down what evil plans they are concocting (WB5).

Write a concluding paragraph on the power witches were supposed to have in these days, paying attention to their intentions, their possibilities and their limitations. (WB6)

Now think about the question you started with and formulate your answer in 1 paragraph: why did witches play a role in the opera, instead of the gods of the original story by Vergil? (WB7)


The Musician

Assignment 3 The music


Henry Purcell was a composer who lived in the Baroque period. This period lasted from 1600-1750. Some famous composers from this period were Johann Sebastian Bach (Germany, well-known for his St.Matthewís Passion)) and Georg Friedrich Hšndel (England, who made the music of The Messiah). When people in this period made music to a song, they paid very much attention to the text. Very often they let the music show what the text said, mostly quite literally. 

An example of this: when in a religious song by Bach the word Ewigkeit (eternity) occurred, this word was sung on a very, very long note. Purcell did the something similar, when he made a song about a person who longed to die: the music of the song became slower and slower, so that it seemed the music died too. 

Music-to-word examples

Letís listen to some parts of Dido and Aeneas and see if you can detect some other examples of this. 

Dido and Belinda

C1       After the Ouverture, which doesnít have any text, Didoís friend Belinda starts singing. She has noticed that Dido is a bit melancholy: she is apparently in love with Aeneas, and Belinda thinks she shouldnít worry, because Aeneas seems to love Dido as well. She sings:  

Shake the cloud from off your brow,
Fate your wishes does allow!
Empire growing, pleasures flowing,
Fortune smiles and so should you. 

Can you imagine how the word shake is sung? Well, listen. Also pay attention to the word flowing.
Listen now.
(first 60 seconds)
Describe how the music supports the text (1 paragraph) WC1.

C2       Belinda appears to be right: Aeneas declares his love to Dido and they expect to live happily ever after. They go hunting together and enjoy themselves tremendously. But..
the witches donít like happiness. They are going to interfere.... Listen to the witchesí song (Act 2, scene 1) and pay attention to how the music portrays their evil pleasures. And when the witches sing their cave-song

In our deep vaulted cell
The charm weíll prepare
Too dreadful a practice
For this open air

listen  (the song starts at 04:22) to how the music reflects the place where they are.
Describe these two things in one paragraph (WC2).

C3       Aeneas canít stay in Carthage. The witch has told him to leave Dido and go on his way to fulfil his task: founding Rome. He is very sad, but he knows he canít disobey. Also Dido knows this and is very depressed. Only Belinda stays optimistic and tells Dido Aeneas will be true to her, but Dido sings: 

Your counsel all is urged in vain
To earth and heaven Iíll complain! 

Listen and pay special attention to the words earth and heaven, which are sung three times: what is striking in the music? (WC3)

C4       When Aeneas tells Dido he must leave, she becomes angry and accuses him that his tears are not real: 

Thus on the fatal banks of Nile
Weeps the deceitful crocodile. 

Listen  and pay attention to the music on the word weeps. Aeneas changes his mind and tells her he will stay in spite of Joveís command Ė but Dido doesnít want that either. She doesnít want a lover who had even thought of leaving her! Write a concluding paragraph on how music underlines the text in Dido and Aeneas. (WC4)

boarding school choir


On the following Dutch website
a theory the baroque people had about music is explained. This theory says that the human body contains different ďjuicesĒ, which can be stimulated by music to create a certain feeling, an affection. They are: 

            juices              affections

  • water               (phlegmatic, indifferent feelings, ever feel lazy?)
  • blood               (passionate feelings)
  • black gall         (melancholy, you feel like crying!)
  • yellow gall        (being choleric, hot-tempered)

Music has several ways to stimulate these juices, so that the music influences your feelings in such a way that you really become sad, or lazy, or whatever. 

  • time, tempo: how fast you play
  • key: in which scale you play. For example, major sounds happy, minor sounds sad.
  • intervals (distance between two notes) and harmonic combinations (does it sound  pleasant or unpleasant, dissonant?)
  • rhythm

Now look up what a lamento bass is , and what feeling it gives to the listener:

Write this down in one paragraph (WC5).

influenced by lamento bass?

You might wonder if this baroque theory is true; does music really have this effect on your body? So letís try!

For this we go to the end of the opera, where Dido is left alone by Aeneas and feels so unhappy that she sees only one way out: committing suicide. She takes poison and then sings her final song. Listen to the song, which was composed on a lamento bass  that repeats itself again and again and let your body and mind be influenced.....

Write down the words of the song she sings as a farewell to her friend Belinda (and if you miss out a few words: donít panic, every line is repeated! (WC6) 

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