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And the blots of nature's hand
Make no stay : Meet me all by break of day. [Exeunt Oberon, Titania, and Train.
Puck. If we shadows have offended,
Think but this (and all is mended),
have but slumbered here,
" As she is mine, I may dispose of her :
Which shall be either to this gentleman,
Act I., Scene 1. By a law of Solon, parents had an absolute power of life and death over their children. It suited the poet's purpose to suppose that the Athenians had it before.
“Your eyes are lode-stars."-Act I., Scene 1. This was a compliment not unfrequent among the old poets. The lode-star is the leading or guiding star; that is, the pole-star. The magnet is for the same reason called the lode-stone, either because it leads iron, or because it guides the sailor. Milton has the same thought in "L'ALLEGRO:"
"Towers and battlements it sees,
Bosomed high in tufted trees;
The cynosure of neighbouring eyes."
Act I., Scene 1. Perhaps every reader may not discover the propriety of these lines. Hermia is willing to comfort Helena, and to avoid all appearance of triumph over her. She, therefore, bids her not to consider the power of pleasing as an advantage to be much envied or much desired; since Hermia, whom she considers as possessing it in the supreme degree, has found no other effect of it than the loss of happiness.-Johnson. "A very good piece of work, I assure you, and a merry."
Act I., Scene 2. This is said in ridicule of the ancient Moralities and Interludes. Skelton's "MAGNIFICENCE" is called “a goodly interlude, and a merry."
" You shall play il in a mask, and you may speak as small as you will."-Act I., Scene 2.
This passage shews how the want of women on the old stage was supplied. If they had not a young man who could perform the part with a face that might pass for feminine, the character was acted in a mask; which was at that time a part of a lady's dress so much in use, that it did not give any unusual appearance to the scene; and he that could modulate his voice in a female tone might play the woman very successfully. Some of the catastrophes of the old comedies, which make lovers marry the wrong women, are, by recollection of the common use of masks, brought nearer to probability. Prynne, in his “HISTRIOMASTıx,' exclaims with great vehemence through several pages, because a woman acted a part in a play at Blackfriars, in the year 1628. "In the mean time I will draw a bill of properties."
Act I., Scene 2. Properties are whatever articles are wanted in a play for the actors, dresses and scenes excepted. The person who delivers them out is called the property-man.
" And I serve the fairy queen,
To dew her orbs upon the green."-Act II., Scene 1. The orbs here mentioned are the circles supposed to be made by the fairies upon the ground. Drayton says :
“They in their courses make that round,
“The cowslips tall her pensioners be."-Act II., Scene 1.
That is, her guards. The golden-coated cowslips are selected as pensioners to the fairy queen, the dress of the band of gentlemen-pensioners being very splendid in the time of Queen Elizabeth, and the tallest and handsomest men being generally chosen for the office. These glittering attendants on royalty are alluded to by Dame Quickly, in the “MERRY WIVES OF WINDSOR."
" Either I mistake your shape and making quite,
Called Robin Goodfellow."--Act II., Scene 1. The account given of this “knavish sprite,” in these lines, corresponds with what is said of him in Harsenet's “Declaration," 1603:"And if that the bowl of curds and cream were not duly set out for Robin Goodfellow, the friar, and Sisse the dairymaid, why then either the pottage was burnt next day in the pot, or the cheeses would not curdle, or the butter would not come, or the ale in the vat never would have good head." Scot also speaks of him, in his “DISCOVERY OF WITCHCRAFT:"_“Your grandams' maids were wont to set a bowl of milk for him, for his pains in grinding of malt and mustard, and sweeping the house at midnight. This white bread, and bread and milk, was his standing fee."
In his “NYMPIYDIA" (1619), Drayton thus speaks of Puck, "the merry wanderer of the night:"
"This Puck seems but a dreaming dolt;
Still walking like a ragged colt,
of purpose to deceive us;
He doth with laughter leave us."
" The nine-men's morris is filled up with mud."
Act II., Scene 2. “Nine-men's morris" is a game played by the shepherds, &c., in the midland counties. A figure is made on the ground, by cutting out the turf; and two persons take each nine stones, which they place by turns in the angles, and afterwards move alternately, as at chess or draughts. He who can place three in a straight line, may then take off any one of his adversary's, where he pleases, till one, having lost all his men, loses the game.-ALCHORNE.
The foregoing explanation is probably the true one. Some, however, have thought that the "nine-men's morris" here means the ground marked out for a morris-dance performed by nine persons.-MALONE,
“Damned spirits all,
Act III., Scene 2. Meaning, the ghosts of self-murderers, who are buried in cross-roads; and of those who, being drowned, were condemned (according to the opinion of the ancients) to wander for a hundred years, as the rites of sepulture had never been bestowed on their bodies.
“I with the morning's love have oft made sport."
Act III., Scene 2. This is probably an allusion to Cephalus, the mighty hunter, and paramour of Aurora.
“So doth the woodbine lhe sweet honeysuckle
Gently entwist; the female ivy so
Act IV., Scene 1. The terin woodbine is here used to signify the plant, and honeysuckle, the flower. In the “FATAL UNION" (1640), there is a similar use of the words :
-"As fit a gift
The amorous woodbine's offspring." The ivy is called "female,” because it always requires some support, which is poetically called its husband. Milton says, —
“Led the vine
“Dian's bud o'er Cupid's flower
Act IV., Scene 1. Dian's bud is the bud of the agnus castus, or chaste tree. In “Macer's HERBAL," by Lynacre, it is said, "the virtue of this hearbe is, that it will keep man and woman chaste." Cupid's flower is that on which "the bolt of Cupid fel," the viola tricolor, love-in-idleness, or heart's-ease.
“Then, my queen, in silence sad,
Trip we after the night's shade."- Act IV., Scene 1. Sad here signifies grave, sober; and is opposed to the dances and revels, which were now ended at the singing of the morning lark.-A statute of Henry VII. directs certain offences, committed in the king's palace, to be tried by twelve sad men of the household.
"The seasons alter : hoary-headed frosts
Act II., Scene 2. This passage is thought to refer particularly to the year 1595. In Churchyard's poem of “CHARITIE," published in that year, the unseasonable weather is thus described :
“A colder time in world was never seen:
It appears, from contemporary authorities, that 1593 and 1594 had also been remarkable for disastrous seasons.
"Cupid all armed: a certain aim he took
Act II., Scene 2. The “fair vestal" alluded to was doubtless Queen Elizabeth. Similar compliments were not uncommon. In “TANCRED AND GISMUNDA" (1592), we find,
“There lives a virgin, one without compare,
“ Love takes the meaning, in love's conference."
Act II., Scene 3. That is, in the conversation of those who are assured of each other's kindness, not suspicion, but love takes the meaning. No malevolent interpretation is to be made, but all is to be received in the sense which love can find, and which love can dictate.-Johnsox.
"A lion among ladies is a most dreadful thing."
Act III., Scene 1. There is an odd coincidence between this passage and a real occurrence at the Scottish court in 1594. Prince Henry, the eldest son of James the First, was christened in August in that year. While the king and queen were at dinner, a triumphal chariot, with several allegorical personages on it, was drawn in “by a black-moore. This chariot should have been drawne in by a lyon, but because his presence might have brought some fear to the nearest, or that the sight of the lighted torches might have commoved his tameness, it was thought meete that the Moore should supply that roome.”
“ The plain-song cuckoo gray.-- Act III., Sceue 1. The cuckoo, having no variety of strains, is said to sing in plain-song; by which expression the uniform modulation or simplicity of the chant was anciently distinguished, in opposition to prick-song, or variegated music sung by note.
“So with two secming bodies, but one heart:
Two of the first, like coats in heraldry,
Act III., Scene 2. No satisfactory explanation of this obscure passage has yet been given. Mr. Douce's solution of it is, perhaps, the best :-"Helen says, 'we had two seeming bodies, but only one heart.' She then exemplifies the position by a simile,
we had two of the first (i. e. bodies), like the double coats in heraldry that belong to man and wife, as one person, but which, like one single heart, have but one crest.'" "You minimus, of hindering knot-grass made."
Act III., Scene 2. Knot-grass was anciently supposed to prevent the growth of an animal or child.
“Go one of you find out the forester : For now our observation is performed."—Act IV., Scene 1.
The "observation" here spoken of is that alluded to by Lysander in the first Act:
“Where I did meet thee once with Helena,
To do observance to a morn of May." Stubbs, in his “ANATOMIE OF ABUSES" (1585), thus speaks of the general spirit of revelry which at this season took possession of the community:
Against May, Whitsunday, or some other time of the year, every parish, town, and village, assemble themselves together, both men, women, and children, old and young, even all indifferently; and either going all together, or dividing themselves into companies, they go some to the woods and groves, some to the hills and mountains, some to one place, some to another, where they spend all the night in pleasant pastimes, and in the morning they return, bringing with them birch-boughs and branches of trees, to deck their assemblies withal."
Marvellous as it may seem, all this innocent hilarity appears to be so much heathenism to the puritanic spirit of Goodman Stubbs.
Chaucer, in his “Knight's Tale" (from which Shakspere is supposed to have derived his Theseus and Hippolyta) has some beautiful lines in reference to the rites of May:
“Thus passeth yere by yere, and day by day,
"And what poor duty cannot do,
Act V., Scene 1. That is, what dutifulness tries to perform without ability, regardful generosity receives with complacency; estimating it not by the actual merit of the performance, but by what it might have been, had the abilities of the performers been equal to their zeal.
“Will it please you lo see the epilogue, or to hear a Bergomask dance ?"-Act V., Scene 1.
This is said to be a dance after the manner of the peasants of Bergomasco, a province in the state of Venice, who are ridiculed as being more clownish in their manners and dialect than any other people of Italy.
“I am sent with broom before,
Act V., Scene 2 Cleanliness was always supposed to be necessary to invite the residence and favour of the fairies. Drayton says,
" These make our girls their sluttery rue,
The house for cleanly sweeping." " To sweep the dust behind the door" is a common expression for to sweep the dust from behind the door; a necessary monition in large old houses; where the doors of halls and galleries are thrown backward and seldom shut.SINGER
“Now, until the break of day,
Through this house each fairy stray.
Which by us shall blesséd be." -Acê V., Scene 2. The ceremony of blessing the bed was in old times used at all marriages. Sometimes, during the benediction, the married couple only sat on the bed. It is recorded that in France, on frequent occasions, the priest was improperly detained till midnight, whilst the wedding guests rioted in the luxuries of the table, and made use of language that was extremely offensive to the clergy, and injurious to the salvation of the parties. It was, therefore, ordained, in the year 1577, that the ceremony of blessing the nuptial bed should for the future be performed in the day-time, or at least before supper, and in the presence of the bride and bridegroom, and of their nearest relations only.
invisible population of the air and earth, long since established in the creed of childhood, and of those simple as children, had never for a moment been blended with "human mortals" among the personages of the drama.HALLAM
In the “MIDSUMMER NIGHT'S DREAM" there flows a luxuriant vein of the boldest and most fantastical invention; --the most extraordinary combination of the most dissimilar ingredients, seems to have arisen without effort by some ingenious and lucky accident; and the colours are of such clear transparency, that we think that the whole of the variegated fabric may be blown away with a breath. The fairy world here described resembles those elegant pieces of arabesque, where little genii, with butterfly wings, rise half-embodied above the flower-cups. Twilight, moonshine, dew, and spring-perfumes, are the element of those tender spirits; they assist Nature in embroidering her carpet with green leaves, many-coloured flowers, and dazzling insects : in the human world, they merely sport in a childish and wayward manner with their beneficent or noxious influences. Their most violent rage dissolves in good-natured raillery; their passions, stripped of all earthly matter, are merely an ideal dream. To correspond with this, the loves of mortals are painted as a poetical enchantment, which, by a contrary enchantment, may be immediately suspended, and then renewed again.
The different parts of the plot; the wedding of Theseus, the disagreement of Oberon and Titania, the flight of the two pair of lovers, and the theatrical operations of the mechanics, are so lightly and happily interwoven, that they seem necessary to each other for the formation of a whole. Oberon is desirous of relieving the lovers from their perplexities, and greatly adds to them through the misapprehension of his servant, till he at last comes to the aid of their fruitless amorous pain, their incoustancy and jealousy, and restores fidelity to its old rights.
The extremes of fanciful and vulgar are united when the enchanted Titania awakes and falls in love with a coarse mechanic with an ass's head, who represents, or rather disfigures, the part of a tragical lover. The droll wonder of the transmutation of Bottom is merely the translation of a metaphor in its literal sense; but, in his behaviour during the tender homage of the Fairy Queen, we have a most amusing proof how much the consciousness of such a headdress heightens the effect of his usual folly.
Theseus and Hippolyta are, as it were, a splendid frame for the picture; they take no part in the acting, but appear with a stately pomp. The discourse of the hero and his Amazon, as they course through the forest with their noisy hunting train, works upon the imagination like the fresh breath of morning, before which the shapes of night disappear.--SCHLEGEL.
In "THE HANDEFULL or PLEASANT DELITES" (1584), by Clement Robinson, there is a doleful tale of “PYRAMUS AND T'HISBE," well meriting the epithet of “very tragical mirth," although apparently written in serious sadness. It was possibly the immediate suggester of Shakspere's burlesque:
“A NEW SONNET OF PYRAMUS AND TUISBE.
What hath been done :
And doleful news,
Which I accuse.-
A noble prince did dwell,
So far she did excel.
The "MIDSUMMER Night's DREAM" is, I believe, altogether original, in one of the most beautiful conceptions that ever visited the mind of a poet--the fairy machinery. A few before Shakspere had dealt in a vulgar and clumsy manner with popular superstitions ; but the sportive, beneficent, You ladies all, peruse and see
To die in distress.
But still do you lament
Did die so well content!"
Another Lord of high renown,
Who had a son;
Great love begun:
(I tell you true),
Did cares renew.
Beknown unto them both;
Where they their love unclothe. This love they use long tract of time;
Till it befel,
By Ninus' well ;
In love's delight:
And she his sight.
Where she her Pyramus
To them most dolorous.
There did proceed
Made Thisbe dreed :
Her mantle fine
Till that the time
And see how lion tare
He desperately doth fare. For why? he thought the lion had
Fair Thisbe slain :
He slew certaine.
O wretched wight!
For Thisbe bright.
Shall never fail this need;
Shall weave Atropos threed.'
And to his heart
With painful smart.
With pleasure great :
There for to treat,
Of all her former fears ;
She shed forth bitter tears.
Manifold are the opinions that have been advanced respecting the origin of the fairy mythology of our ancestors. The superstitions of the East and of the North, and of Greece and of Rome, have been resorted to in search of a clue which would lead to a consistent history of its rise and growth.
It appears safe to assume that the oriental genii in general, and the Dews and Peries of Persia in particular, are the remote prototypes of modern fairies. The doctrine of the existence of this peculiar race of spirits was imported into the north of Europe by the Scythians, and it forms a leading feature in the mythology of the Celts. Hence was derived the popular fairy system of our own country, which our ancestors modified by the mythology of the classics.
The Peries and Dews of the orientals were paralleled by the Scandinavian division of their genii, or diminutive supernatural beings (with which their imaginations so thickly peopled the earth), into bright or beneficent elves, and black or malignant dwarfs; the former beautiful, the latter hideous in their aspect. A similar division of the fairy tribe of this country was long made; but, by almost imperceptible degrees, the qualities of both species were ascribed to fairies generally. They were deemed intermediate between mankind and spirits; but still, as they partook decidedly of a spiritual nature, they were, like all other spirits, under the influence of the devil :--but their actions were more mischievous than demoniacal; more perplexing than malicious; more frolicsome than seriously injurious
.. An air of peculiar lightness distinguishes the poet's treatment of this extremely fanciful subject, from his subsequent and bolder flights into the regions of the spiritual world. He rejected from the drama on which he engrafted it, everything calculated to detract from its playfulness, or to encumber it with seriousness; and, giving the rein to the brilliancy of youthful imagination, he scattered, from his superabundant wealth, the choicest flowers of fancy over the fairies' paths : his fairies move amidst the fragrance of enamelled meads, graceful, lovely, and enchanting.SKOTTOWE.
If it be asked, how we may best increase our chance of approximating to the great and beneficent intellect that has achieved this wondrous vision ? the answer is,- by enlarging our sympathies. Sheer genius is not to be acquired by a wish or an effort ; but the most moderate talent may be fructified by a diligent cultivation of benevolent impulses. By stirring out of ourselves, we become something more than ourselves; and by the time we have acquired (as we may) a tithe of Shakspere's spirit of sympathy with all that is great, genial, and beautiful, in the sister worlds of faucy and of fact, we shall at least become worthy sharers in the rich product of his " MIDSUMMER Night's DREAM," al. though we may never hope, dreaming or waking, to witeb the world, and immortalise ourselves, by a similar display of poetic excellence.-0.
When sorrow great that she had made,
She took in hand
By fatal hand.