« PreviousContinue »
Quin. Francis Flute, the bellows-mender?.
Flu. Nay, faith, let me not play a woman; I have a beard coming.
Quin. That's all one; you shall play it in a mask, and you may speak as small as you will 3.
Bor. An I may hide my face, let me play Thisby too: I'll speak in a monstrous little voice;—Thisne, Thisne,—Ah, Pyramus, my lover dear ; thy Thisby dear! and lady dear!
was exhibited in 1595, by the Lord Admiral's and Lord Chamberlain's servants, and I suspect was formed on a still older piece. In Green's Groats-worth of Wit, 1592, a player who is introduced says : “ The twelve labours of Hercules have I terribly thundered on the stage." MALONE.
2 – the belloWS-MENDER.] In Ben Jonson's Masque of Pan's Anniversary, &c. a man of the same profession is introduced. I have been told that a bellows-mender was one who had the care of organs, regals, &c. Steevens.
3 — as small, &c.] This passage shows 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. It is observed in Downes's Roscius Anglicanus, that Kynaston, one of these counterfeit heroines, moved the passions more strongly than the women that have since been brought upon the stage. 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. JOHNSON.
Dr. Johnson here seems to have quoted from memory. Downes does not speak of Kynaston's performance in such unqualified terms. His words are-“ It has since been disputable among the judicious, whether any woman that succeeded him, (Kynaston,) so sensibly touched the audience as he.” REED.
Prynne, in his Histriomastix, exclaims with great vehemence through several pages, because a woman acted a part in a play at Blackfryars in the year 1628. STEEVENS.
Quin. No, no; you must play Pyramus, and, Flute, you Thisby.
Bot. Well, proceed.
Quin. Robin Starveling, you must play Thisby's mother 4.—Tom Snout, the tinker.
Snout. Here, Peter Quince.
Quin. You, Pyramus's father; myself, Thisby's father ;-Snug, the joiner, you, the lion's part :and, I hope, here * is a play fitted.
Snug. Have you the lion's part written; pray you, if it be, give it me, for I am slow of study".
Quin. You may do it extempore, for it is nothing but roaring.
Bor. Let me play the lion too: I will roar, that I will do any man's heart good to hear me; I will roar, that I will make the duke say, Let him roar again, Let him roar again.
Quin. An you should do it too terribly, you would fright the duchess and the ladies, that they would shriek; and that were enough to hang us all.
* So quartos ; folio, there. 4 — you must play Thisby's mother.] There seems a double forgetfulness of our poet, in relation to the characters of this interlude. The father and mother of Thisby, and the father of Pyramus, are here mentioned, who do not appear at all in the interlude ; but Wall and Moonshine are both employed in it, of whom there is not the least notice taken here. THEOBALD.
Theobald is wrong as to this last particular. The introduction of Wall and Moonshine was an after-thought. See Act III. Sc. I. It may be observed, however, that no part of what is rehearsed is afterwards repeated, when the piece is acted before Theseus.
STEEVENS. s slow of study. Study is still the cant term used in a theatre for getting any nonsense by rote. Hamlet asks the player if he can “ study a speech." STEEVENS.
Steevens wrote this note to vex Garrick, with whom he had quarrelled. Study is not more a cant term than any other word of art, nor is it applied necessarily to nonsense. MALONE.
All. That would hang us every mother's son.
Bor. I grant you, friends, if that you should fright the ladies out of their wits, they would have no more discretion, but to hang us : but I will aggravate my voice so, that I will roar you as gently as any sucking dove; I will roar you * an 'twere any nightingale.
Quin. You can play no part but Pyramus : for Pyramus is a sweet-faced man; a proper man, as one shall see in a summer's day; a most lovely, gentleman-like man; therefore you must needs play Pyramus.
Bot. Well, I will undertake it. What beard were I best to play it in ?
Quin. Why, what you will.
Bot. I will discharge it in either your straw-coloured beard, your orange-tawny beard, your purple-in-grain beard, or your French-crown-colour beard, your perfect yellow.?
Quin. Some of your French crowns have no hair at all, and then you will play bare-faced. But,
* First folio omits you.
ehtingaleontsamoume 6 – AN 'twere any nightingale.] An means as if. So, in Troilus and Cressida : -“ He will weep you, an 'twere a man born in April.” Steevens.
7- your perfect yellow.] Here Bottom again discovers a true genius for the stage by his solicitude for propriety of dress, and his deliberation which beard to choose among many beards, all unnatural. Johnson. So, in the old comedy of Ram-Alley, 1611 :
“ What colour'd beard comes next by the window?
“ I think, a red : for that is most in fashion.” This custom of wearing coloured beards, the reader will find more amply explained in Measure for Measure, Act IV. Sc. II.
STEEVENS. 8 - French crowns, &c.] That is, a head from which the hair has fallen in one of the last stages of the lues venerea, called · the corona veneris. To this our poet has too frequent allusions.
masters, here are your parts : and I am to entreat you, request you, and desire you, to con them by to-morrow night; and meet me in the palace wood, a mile without the town, by moon-light; there will we rehearse: for if we meet in the city, we shall be dog’d with company, and our devices known. In the mean time I will draw a bill of properties", such as our play wants. I pray you, fail me not.
Bot. We will meet; and there we may rehearse more obscenely, and courageously. Take pains; be perfect; adieu.
Quin. At the duke's oak we meet.
9 — properties,] Properties are whatever little articles are wanted in a play for the actors, according to their respective parts, dresses and scenes excepted. The person who delivers them out is to this day called the property-man. In The Bassingbourne Roll, 1511, we find “ garnements and propyrts." See Warton's History of English Poetry, vol. iii. p. 326. Again, in Albumazar, 1615:
“ Furbo, our beards,
“ Black patches for our eyes, and other properties." Again, in Westward-Hoe, 1607 :
“ I'll go make ready my rustical properties." STEEVENS. 1 Quin. At the duke's oak we meet.
Bot. - Hold, or cut BOW-STRINGS.] This proverbial phrase came originally from the camp. When a rendezvous was appointed, the militia soldiers would frequently make excuse for not keeping word, that their bow-strings were broke, i. e. their arms unserviceable. Hence when one would give another absolute assurance of meeting him, he would say proverbially—“hold or cut bow-strings ”-i. e. whether the bow-strings held or broke. For cut is used as a neuter, like the verb fret. As when we say, the string.frets, the silk frets, for the passive, it is cut or fretted.
WARBURTON. This interpretation is very ingenious, but somewhat disputable. The excuse made by the militia soldiers is a mere supposition, without proof; and it is well known that while borus were in use, no archer ever entered the field without a supply of strings in his pocket; whence originated the proverb, to have two strings to one's bow. In The Country Girl, a comedy by T. B. 1647, is the following threat to a fiddler :
ACT II. SCENE I.
A Wood near Athens.
Enter a Fairy at one door, and Puck at another.
Thorough * bush, thorough * briar,
Thorough flood, thorough fire,
* So quarto H. ; quarto R. and first folio, through.
fiddler, strike; “ I'll strike you, else, and cut your begging bowstrings." Again, in The Ball, by Chapman and Shirley, 1639:
" — have you devices to jeer the rest ? “ Luc. All the regiment of 'em, or I'll break my borstrings."
The bowstrings in both these instances may only mean the strings which make part of the bow with which musical instruments of several kinds are struck. The propriety of the allusion I cannot satisfactorily explain. Let the curious reader, however, consult Ascham's Toxophilus, edit. 1589, p. 38. b. Steevens.
To meet, whether bowstrings hold or are cut, is to meet in all events. To cut the bowstring, when bows were in use, was probably a common practice of those who bore enmity to the archer. “ He hath twice or thrice cut Cupid's bowstring, (says Don Pedro in Much Ado about Nothing,) and the little hangman dare not shoot at him.” Malone.
2 Over hill, over dale, &c.] So Drayton, in his Nymphidia, or Court of Fairy:
“ Thorough brake, thorough brier,
“ Thorough water, thorough fire.” Johnson. 3 — the MOONES sphere ;] Unless we suppose this to be the Saxon genitive case, (as it is here printed,) the metre will be defective. So, in Spenser's Fairy Queen, b. iii. c. i. st. 15:
“ And eke through feare as white as whales bone." Again, in a letter from Gabriel Harvey to Spenser, 1580 : “ Have we not God hys wrath, for Goddes wrath, and a thousand