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A MIDSUMMER NIGHT'S
WILLIAM ALDIS WRIGHT, M.A.
Bursar of Trinity College, Cambridge
AT THE CLARENDON PRESS
[ All rights reserved)
The first edition of this play was issued in quarto in 1600 by Thomas Fisher, under the title “A Midsommer nights dreame. As it hath beene sundry times publickely acted, by the Right honourable, the Lord Chamberlaine his seruants. Written by William Shakespeare.' It was entered at Stationers' Hall on the 8th of October, and in the same year a pirated edition by James Roberts appeared. Fisher's and Roberts's editions are spoken of in the Notes as the first and second quartos, and from the latter of these the play as it appears in the first folio was printed in 1623. But although it was not printed, so far as we know, before 1600, it was written at least as early as 1598, for Midsummers Night Dreame' is enumerated among Shakespeare's plays by Francis Meres in his Palladis Tamia (p. 282), which was published in that year. How long before this time it had been written is to a great extent a matter of pure conjecture. Şteevens, in his note on ii. i. 15, ' And hang a pearl in every cowslip's ear,' quotes a passage in which the same thought occurs from an old comedy called The Wisdom of Doctor Dodypoll, 1600, where an enchanter says:
“'Twas I that led you through the painted meads
Hanging on every leaf an orient pearl.' Malone pointed out that although no earlier edition is known of this anonymous comedy than that of 1600 yet Doctor Dodipowle is mentioned by Nashe in 1596, in his preface to Gabriel Harvey's Hunt is Up. This however proves nothing, for Nashe
only mentions the name 'doctor Dodypowle,' without referring to the play, and Dodipoll was a synonym for a blockhead as early as Latimer's time. In endeavouring therefore to approximate to the date of our play, we may leave out of consideration the passage quoted by Steevens; for it is, to say the least, quite as probable that the author of the Wisdom of Doctor Dodypoll borrowed from the Midsummer Night's Dream, as that Shakespeare borrowed from him a conceit which is not very far-fetched. All that we really know is that the Midsummer Night's Dream was written before 1598. Chetwood, in his British Theatre, published in Dublin in 1750, gives a list of the early editions of Shakespeare's plays, in which appears ‘A moste pleasaunte comedie, called A Midsummer Night's Dreame, wythe the freakes of the fayries,' which is said to have been published in 1595. But Chetwood's descriptions have been pronounced fictitious by Steevens, and the spelling of 'wythe’ is sufficient to condemn the present title as spurious. Malone at first placed the Midsummer Night's Dream in the year 1595, then as early as 1592, but his later opinion was that it was written in 1594.
In that year Dr. King, afterwards Bishop of London, preached at York a series of sermons upon the history of Jonah, which were published in 1618 under the title ‘Lectures upon Ionas.' The second lecture (p. 36) contains a description of the disastrous season, to which Titania is supposed to refer in her reproaches of Oberon (ii. 1. 81–117), and which she attributes to their quarrel. "The moneths of the year haue not yet gone about, wherin the Lord hath bowed the heauens, and come down amongst vs with more tokens and earnests of his wrath intended, then the agedst man of our land is able to recount of so small a time. For say, if euer the windes, since they blew one against the other, haue beene more common, & more tempestuous, as if the foure endes of heauen had conspired to turne the foundations of the earth vpside downe; thunders and lightnings neither seasonable for the time, and withall most terrible, with such effects brought
forth, that the childe vnborne shall speake of it. The anger of the clouds hath beene powred downe vpon our heads, both with abundance and (sauing to those that felt it) with incredible violence; the aire threatned our miseries with a blazing starre; the pillers of the earth tottered in
whole countries and tracts of our Ilande; the arrowes of a woefull pestilence haue beene cast abroad at large in all the quarters of our realme, euen to the emptying and dispeopling of some parts thereof; treasons against our Queene and countrey wee have knowne many and mighty, monstrous to bee imagined, from a number of Lyons whelps, lurking in their dennes and watching their houre, to vndoe vs; our expectation and comfort so fayled vs in France, as if our right armes had beene pulled from our shoulders. The marginal note to this passage shews the date to which it refers. "The yeare of the Lord 1593, and 1594.' Dr. King's description of the extraordinary disturbance of the elements is confirmed by Stowe in his Annals for the same year. Under date 1594 he says, 'In this moneth of March was many great stormes of winde, which ouerturned trees, steeples, barns, houses, &c. namely in Worcestershire, in Beaudly forrest many Oakes were ouerturned ... The 11. of Aprill, a raine continued very sore more then 24. houres long and withall, such a winde from the north, as pearced the wals of houses, were they neuer so strong ... This yeere in the month of May, fell many great showres of raine, but in the moneths of June and Iuly, much more: for it commonly rained euerie day, or night, till S. Iames day, and two daies after togither most extreamly, all which notwithstanding, in the moneth of August there followed a faire haruest, but in the moneth of September fell great raines, which raised high waters, such as staied the carriages, and bare downe bridges, at Cambridge, Ware, and else where, in many places. Also the price of graine grewe to be such, as a strike or bushell of Rie was sold for fiue shillings, a bushel of wheat for sixe, seuen, or eight shillings, &c. for still it rose in price, which dearth happened (after