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SOURCE OF THE PLOT, COSTUME, MANNERS, ETC. This play has all the merit of entire originality of plot and incident—a merit which we know that Shakespeare soon learnt to hold very cheap, regarding such originality, very justly, as the humblest part of dramatic invention. Here, however, where he meant to carry the invention of his characters, with the language and thoughts, beyond the bounds of real life, or of traditional story, novelty of plot became necessary to the higher originality of effect he wished to produce otherwise. The traditions of all Europe, and the East, had given him the leading idea of fairy character, in the legends of puny immortals, whose interference in human affairs had always a mixture of waggish malice and good-nature. But the peculiar poetic colouring of that character is purely his own, as the reader may satisfy himself by comparing the fairy scenes with the materials to which the industry of the commentators has referred, as the sources of his invention :
“The Knight's Tale' of Chaucer, and the same poet's "Tysbe of Babylone,' together with Arthur Golding's translation of the story of • Pyramus and Thisbe' from Ovid, are the only sources yet pointed out of the plots introduced and employed by Shakespeare. Oberon, Titania, and Robin Good-fellow, or Puck, are mentioned, as be. longing to the fairy mythology, by many authors of the time. The Percy Society not long since reprinted a tract called Robin Good-fellow, his Mad Pranks and Merry Jests, from an edition in 1628 ; but there is little doubt that it originally came out at least forty years earlier : together with a ballad inserted in the ‘Introduction' to that reprint, it shows how Shakespeare availed himself of existing popular superstitions. In Percy's . Reliques' is a ballad entitled the 'Merry Pranks of Robin Good-fellow,' attributed to Ben Jonsou, of which I have a version in a MS. of the time: it is the more curious, because it has the initials B. J. at the end. It contains some variations and an additional stanza, which, considering the subject of the poem, it may be worth while here to subjoin :
When as my fellow elfes and I
In circled ring do trip around,
If that they
No words do say,
Each night I do
Put groat in shoe,
And wind out laughing, ho, ho, ho! • The incidents connected with the life of Robin Good-fellow were, no doubt, worked up by different dramatists in different ways: and in Henslowe's 'Diary' are inserted two entries of money paid to Henry Chettle for a play he was writing, in September, 1602, under the title of Robin Good-fellow.'"-Collier.
The heroical personages are not original, in name or history, but quite so in the peculiar combination with fairy lore, as well as in their poetical decoration, and more especially in the beautiful spirit of philosophical thought with which Theseus is filled—to whom the Poet has given a sort of regal family-likeness to Hamlet, both in the kind and thoughtful courtesy of disposition, and in the meditative cast of thought, though not, like Hamlet's, forced by painful inquiries, but employed in cheerful considerations upon man's noblest tastes and faculties.
The splendid confusion of the classical and mythological with the tastes and habits of medaval chivalry, will strike modern readers as discordant. But such was the traditionary and customary poetical costume of the heroes of Homer and Ovid, when they appeared in the songs or tales of romance. This arose at first from the ignorance of the old romancers and historians, and their readers, who conformed the habits and manners of the classical heroes to those of their own days. But afterwards, when these topics were used by more cultivated authors, they from choice continued the same confusion of times and manners. Boccaccio and Chaucer were familiar at least with Latin literature; but (the one in his “Tescide,' and the other in his · Knight's Tale') both introduced Duke The. seus in the same romantic and conventional costume, without any attempt to invest him or his times with a dress more congruous to Grecian tastes and habits. There was then no reason why a dramatist, writing for popular effect, should throw away the manifest advantage of adopting the ideas of his personages which were already familiar to his audience; nor does he betray any ignorance in comforming to them. Thus, the Athens of this play, like that of Chaucer and Boccaccio, is not a city of early Greece, but the capital of a principality which, in every thing but its religion, resembled the Ghent and Bruges of the dukes of Burgundy, or the capitals of any of the princely chiefs of the days of chivalry.
If, however, the artist thinks it expedient for the stage, or for pictorial illustration, to resort to a stricter external costume than the Poet thought necessary, he may find materials of the choicest kind, (where Mr. Planché directs him,) in the frieze of the Parthenon, the Etruscan vases, and other exquisite relics of classic taste and form.
Scene I.-Athens. A Room in the Palace of
THESEUS. Enter THESEUS, HIPPOLYTA, PALLOSTRATE, and
DER, and DEMETRIUS. Ege. Happy be Theseus, our renowned duke! The. Thanks, good Egeus : what's the news
with thee? Ege. Full of vexation come I; with complaint
Against my child, my daughter Hermia.
Or on Diana's altar to protest, Stand forth, Demetrius.-My noble lord,
For aye, austerity and single life. This man hath my consent to marry her.
Dem. Relent, sweet Hermia ;-and, Lysander, Stand forth, Lysander ;-and, my gracious duke,
yield This man hath betwitch'd the bosom of my child : Thy crazed title to my certain right. Thou, thou, Lysander, thou hast given her rhymes, Lys. You have her father's love, Demetrius; And interchang'd love-tokens with my child : Let me have Hermia's: do you marry him. Thou hast by moon-light at her window sung, Ege. Scornful Lysander! true, he hath my With feigning voice, verses of feigning love ;
love, And stol'n the impression of her fantasy
And what is mine my love shall render him;
Lys. I am, my lord, as well deriv'd as he, With cunning hast thou filch'd my daughter's heart; As well possess'd; my love is more than his ; Turn'd her obedience, which is due to me,
My fortunes every way as fairly rank'd, To stubborn harshness.—And, my gracious duke, (If not with vantage,) as Demetrius'; Be it so, she will not here, before your grace, And, which is more than all these boasts can be, Consent to marry with Demetrius,
I am belov'd of beauteous Hermia. I beg the ancient privilege of Athens,
Why should not I then prosecute my right? As she is mine, I may dispose of her,
Demetrius, I'll avouch it to his head, Which shall be either to this gentleman,
Made love to Nedar's daughter, Helena, Or to her death, according to our law
And won her soul; and she, sweet lady, dotes, Immediately provided in that case.
Devoutly dotes, dotes in idolatry, The. What say you, Hermia ? be advis’d, fair Upon this spotted and inconstant man. maid.
The. I must confess, that I have heard so much, To you your father should be as a god;
And with Demetrius thought to have spoke thereof; One that compos’d your beauties ; yea, and one But, being over-full of self-affairs, To whom you are but as a form in wax,
My mind did lose it.—But, Demetrius, come; By him imprinted, and within his power
And come, Egeus: you shall go with me, To leave the figure, or disfigure it.
I have some private schooling for you both.Demetrius is a worthy gentleman.
For you, fair Hermia, look you arm yourself
To fit your fancies to your father's will,
Or else the law of Athens yields you up
To death, or to a vow of single life.Her. I would, my father look'd but with my Come, my Hippolyta : what cheer, my love ! eyes!
Demetrius, and Egeus, go along : The. Rather your eyes must with his judgment | I must employ you in some business look.
Against our nuptial, and confer with you Her. I do entreat your grace to pardon me. Of something nearly that concerns yourselves. I know not by what power I am made bold,
Ege. With duty, and desire, we follow you. Nor how it may concern my modesty,
[Ereunt Thes., HiP., EGE., Dem., and train. In such a presence here, to plead my thoughts; Lys. How now, my love? Why is your cheek But I beseech your grace, that I may know
so pale ? The worst that may befal me in this case,
How chance the roses there do fade so fast? If I refuse to wed Demetrius.
Her. Belike, for want of rain, which I could well The. Either to die the death, or to abjure Beteem them from the tempest of mine eyes. For ever the society of men.
Lys. Ah me! for aught that I could ever read, Therefore, fair Hermia, question your desires; Could ever hear by tale or history, Know of your youth, examine well your blood, The course of true love never did run smooth; Whether, if you yield not to your fåther's choice, But, either it was different in blood, You can endure the livery of a nun,
Her. O cross! too high to be enthrall'd to low' For aye to be in shady cloister mew'd,
Lys. Or else misgraffed, in respect of years ;To live a barren sister all your life,
Her. O spite! too old to be engag‘d to young! Chanting faint hymns to the cold fruitless moon. Lys. Or else it stood upon the choice of friends:Thrice blessed they, that master so their blood, Her. O hell! to choose love by another's eyes ! To undergo such maiden pilgrimage ;
Lys. Or, if there were a sympathy in choice, But earthly happier is the rose distillid,
War, death, or sickness did lay siege to it,
Swift as a shadow, short as any dream;
That, in a spleen, unfolds both heaven and earth, Unto his lordship, whose unwished yoke
And ere a man hath power to say, -behold! My soul consents not to give sovereignty.
The jaws of darkness do devour it up : The. Take time to pause : and by the next new So quick bright things come to confusion. moon,
Her. If, then, true lovers have been ever crossd, The sealing-day betwixt my love and me
It stands as an edict in destiny: For everlasting bond of fellowship,
Then, let us teach our trial patience, Upon that day either prepare to die,
Because it is a customary cross, For disobedience to your father's will,
As due to love as thoughts, and dreams, and sighs, Or else to wed Demetrius, as he would ;
Wishes, and tears, poor fancy's followers.
Lys. A good persuasion : therefore, hear me,
If thou lov'st me, then,
My good Lysander!
Enter HELENA. Her. God speed fair Helena! Whither away? Hel. Call you me fair ? that fair again unsay.
Demetrius loves your fair: O happy fair!
Her. I frown upon him, yet he loves me still. Hel. O, that your frowns would teach my smiles
such skill ! Her. I give him curses, yet he gives me love. Hel. O, that my prayers could such affection
move ! Her. The more I hate, the more he follows me. Hel. The more I love, the more he hateth me. Her. His folly, Helena, is no fault of mine. Hel. None, but your beauty: would that fault
were mine! Her. Take comfort: he no more shall see my
Lysander and myself will fly this place.-