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'A MIDSUMMER-Night's DREAM' was first printed in 1600. In that year there appeared two editions of the play ;—the one published by Thomas Fisher, a bookseller; the other by James Roberts, a printer. The differences between these two editions are very slight. The play was not reprinted after 1600, till it was collected into the folio of 1623; and the text in that edition differs in few instances from that of the quartos.
Malone has assigned the composition of 'A Midsummer Night's Dream' to the year 1594. We are not disposed to dissent from this; but we entirely object to the reasons upon which Malone attempts to show that it was one of our author's "earliest attempts in comedy." It appears to us a misapplication of the received meaning of words, to talk of “the warmth of a youthful and lively imagination” with reference to 'A Midsummer-Night's Dream' and the Shakspere of thirty. Of all the dramas of Shakspere there is none more entirely harmonious than 'A Midsummer-Night's Dream.' All the incidents, all the characters, are in perfect subordination to the will of the poet. * Throughout the whole piece," says Malone, "the more exalted characters are subservient to the interests of those beneath them.” Precisely so. An unpractised author-one who had not "a youthful and lively imagi. nation” under perfect control—when he had
got hold of the Theseus and Hippolyta of the heroic ages, would have made them ultra-heroical. They would have commanded events, instead of moving with the supernatural influence around them in harmony and proportion. An immature poet, again, if the marvellous creation of Oberon and Titania and Puck could have entered into such a mind, would have laboured to make the power of the fairies produce some strange and striking events. But the exquisite beauty of Shakspere's conception is, that, under the supernatural influence, “the human mortals” move precisely according to their respective natures and habits. Demetrius and Lysander are impatient and re. vengeful ;--Helena is dignified and affectionate, with a spice of female error ;-Hermia is somewhat vain and shrewish. And then Bottom! Who but the most skilful artist could have given us such a character? Of him Malone says, “Shakspeare would naturally copy those manners first with which he was first acquainted. The ambition of a theatrical candidate for applause he has happily ridiculed in Bottom the weaver." A theatrical candidate for applause! Why, Bottom the weaver is the representative of the whole human race.
His confidence in his own power is equally profound, whether he exclaims, “Let me play the lion too;" or whether he sings alone, " that they shall
hear I am not afraid ;” or whether, conscious
That you have but slumber'd here,
While these visions did appear. that he is surrounded with spirits, he cries
And this weak and idle theme, out, with his voice of authority, "Where 's
No more yielding but a dream, Peas-blossom ?" In every situation Bottom
Gentles, do not reprehend." is the same,—the same personification of But to understand this dream-to have all that self-love which the simple cannot con- its gay, and soft, and harmonious colours ceal, and the wise can with difficulty sup- impressed upon the vision—to hear all the press. Lastly, in the whole rhythmical golden cadences of its poesy-to feel the structure of the versification, the poet has perfect congruity of all its parts, and thus put forth all his strength. We venture to to receive it as a truth-we must not supoffer an opinion that, if any single compo- pose that it will enter the mind amidst the sition were required to exhibit the power of lethargic slumbers of the imagination. We the English language for purposes of poetry, must receive itthat composition would be the ‘Midsummer
"As youthful poets dream Night's Dream.' This wonderful model,
On summer eves by haunted stream." which, at the time it appeared, must have
To offer an analysis of this subtle and ethebeen the commencement of a great poetical
real drama would, we believe, be as unsatisrevolution,-and which has never ceased to
factory as the attempts to associate it with influence our higher poetry, from Fletcher to
the realities of the stage. With scarcely an Shelley,-was, according to Malone, the work
exception, the proper understanding of the of “the genius of Shakspeare, even in its
other plays of Shakspere may be assisted by minority."
connecting the apparently separate parts of “This is the silliest stuff that ever I
the action, and by developing and reconheard,” says Hippolyta, when Wall has “dis
ciling what seems obscure and anomalous in charged” his part. The answer of Theseus
the features of the characters. But to follow is full of instruction :--" The best in this
out the caprices and illusions of the loves of kind are but shadows; and the worst are no
Demetrius and Lysander,-of Helena and Forse if imagination amend them.” It was
Hermia ;-to reduce to prosaic description in this humble spirit that the great poet
the consequence of the jealousies of Oberon judged of his own matchless performances.
and Titania ;— to trace the Fairy Queen He felt the utter inadequacy of his art, and
under the most fantastic of deceptions, where indeed of any art, to produce its due effect
grace and vulgarity blend together like the upon the mind, unless the imagination, to
Cupids and Chimeras of Raphael's Arawhich it addressed itself, was ready to con
besques ;-and, finally, to go along with the vert the shadows which presented into
scene till the illusions disappear-till the living forms of truth and beauty. “I am
lovers are happy, and “sweet bully Bottom" convinced,” says Coleridge, “that Shakspeare
is reduced to an ass of human dimensions; availed himself of the title of this play in
such an attempt as this would be worse even his own mind and worked upon it as a dream
than unreverential criticism. No, - the throughout.” The poet says so in express
Midsummer-Night's Dream' must be left words :
to its own influences. "If we shadows have offended,
Think but this (and all is mended),
THESEUS, Duke of Athens.
EGEUS, father to Hermia.
LYSANDER, in love with Hermia. Appears, Act I. sc. 1. Act II. sc. 3. Act III. sc. 2.
Act IV. sc. 1. Act V. sc. 1. DEMETRIUS, in love with Hermia. Appears, Act I. sc. 1. Act II. sc. 2; sc. 3. Act III. sc. 2.
Act IV. sc. 1. Act V. se. 1. PHILOSTRATE, master of the revels to Theseus.
Appears, Act I. sc. 1. Act V. sc. 1.
QUINCE, the carpenter. Appears, Act I. sc. 2. Act III. sc. 1. Act IV. sc. 2.
SNUG, the joiner. Appears, Act I. sc. 2. Act III. sc. 1. Act IV. sc. 2.
BOTTOM, the weaver. Appears, Act I. sc. 2. Act III. sc. 1. Act IV. sc. 1; sc. 2.
FLUTE, the bellows-mender. Appears, Act I. sc. 2. Act III. sc. 1. Act IV. sc. 2.
SNOUT, the tinker. Appears, Act I. sc. 2. Act III. sc. 1. Act IV. sc. 2.
STARVELING, the tailor. Appears, Act I. sc. 2. Act III. sc. 1. Act IV. sc. 2. HIPPOLYTA, Queen of the Amazons, betrothed
to Theseus. Appears, Act I. sc. 1. Act IV. sc. 1. Act V. sc. 1.
HERMIA, daughter to Egeus, in love with
Lysander. Appears, Act I. sc. 1. Act II. sc. 3. Act III. sc. 2.
Act IV. sc. 1. Act V. sc. I.
Act IV. sc. 1. Act V. sc. 1.
Act IV. sc. 1. Act V. sc. 2.
Act IV. sc. 1. Act V. sc. 2.
Act IV. sc. 1. Act V. se. 2. PEAS-BLOSSOM, COBWEB, MOTH, MUSTARD
SEED, fairies. Appear, Act III. sc. 1. Act IV. sc. I. Pyramus, Thisbe, Wall, Moonshine, Lion,
characters in the Interlude performed
Appear, Act V. sc. 1.
SCENE, -ATHENS, AND A WOOD NEAR.
* The old editions have no List of Characters.