Diamonds, Maidens, Widow Dido, and Cock-a-diddle-dow


David Golz


In early modern England, anagrammatical wordplay involving the words diamonds and maidens, and fictional names such as Amadine and Amidea, contributed to commonplace comparisons of desirable women with precious jewels. Participating in this complex was the name of the wealthy and beautiful Dido of the Aeneid, which was composed of letters in diamond, regularly imprinted on the playing-card Queen of Diamonds, and subject to puns upon “I do” and “die, do.” Because of Dido’s love-madness and the fact that her name echoes words in bawdy ballads, such as dildido and diddle-dow, she was associated with singing and mental diminution. In The Tempest, utterances of “widow Dido” echo the earthy “bow-wow” and “cock-a-diddle-dow” of the refrain to Ariel’s “Come unto these yellow sands” and participate therefore in Ariel’s music, which is both an erotic lure and a dire warning of the powers of desire.

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