« PreviousContinue »
places in Germany, where they do usually walk in little coats, some two foot long. A bigger kind there is of them, called with us hobgoblins, and Robin Goodfellows, that would, in those superstitious times, grind corn for a mess of milk, cut wood, or do any manner of drudgery work . . . And so likewise those which Mizaldus calls Ambulones, that walk about midnight on great heaths and desert places, which (saith Lavater) draw men out of the way, and lead them all night a by-way, or quite bar them of their way. These have several names in several places; we commonly call them pucks.' To the same effect writes Harsnet in his Declaration of Popish Imposture (p. 134), a book quoted in the Notes to King Lear: "And if that the bowle of curds, & creame were not duly set out for Robin good-fellow the Frier, & Sisse the dairy-maide, to meete at hinch pinch, and laugh not, when the good wife was a bed, why then, either the pottage was burnt to next day in the pot, or the cheese would not curdle, or the butter would not come, or the ale in the fat would neuer haue good head.' The
walking fire'in Lear, which Edgar takes for the foul fiend Flibbertigibbet is but one of the forms in which Robin appears. In the black-letter ballad of The Merry Puck, or Robin Goodfellow, which is reprinted by Mr. Halliwell (Phillipps) in his Introduction to a Midsummer Night's Dream, is the following stanza (p. 36):
“Sometimes he'd counterfeit a voyce,
And travellers call astray,
. And lead them from their way.' Another ballad, printed in Percy's Reliques (vol. iii. book 2), which relates “The Merry Pranks of Robin Goodfellow,' may be consulted by those who wish to pursue the subject further. See also Drayton, Nymphidia, 282 &c., Milton, L'Allegro, 100-114, and an essay by Mr. Thoms on the Folklore of Shakespeare.
It has been suggested that the device employed by Oberon to enchant Titania, by anointing her eyelids with the juice of a flower, may have been borrowed by Shakespeare from the Spanish Romance of Diana by George of Montemayor. But apart from the difficulty which arises from the fact that no English translation of this romance is known before that published by Yong in 1598, there is no necessity to suppose that Shakespeare was indebted to any one for what must have been a familiar element in all incantations at a time when a belief in witchcraft was common. Percy (Reliques, vol. iii. book 2, end) quotes a receipt by the celebrated astrologer Dr. Dee for ‘An unguent to annoynt under the Eyelids, and upon the Eyelids eveninge and morninge: but especially when you call,' that is, upon the fairies. It consisted of a decoction of various flowers.
Dr. Farmer observed to Malone that in the lines spoken by Pyramus ' Approach, ye furies fell,' &c., and in those of Thisbe's speech,
O sisters three,
With hands as pale as milk,'
• Ye furies, all at once
And present pangues of death,
With speed come stop my breath!' Certainly both in this play and in the tragical comedy of Appius and Virginia, printed in 1575, may be found doggrel no better than that which he puts into the mouth of Bottom. See for example the speech of Judge Appius to Claudius, beginning,
The furies fell of Limbo lake
My princely days do short, &c.' It is also worth while to notice that the song quoted in Romeo and Juliet, iv. 5. 128,
“When griping grief the heart doth wound &c.,' is by the author of Damon and Pythias.
In Mr. Collier's Annals of the Stage (ii. 30–36) is related a curious story of a charge made against the Bishop of Lincoln by one John Spencer for having had a play performed in his house in London on Sunday, September 27, 1631. From what follows it appears that the play in question was A Midsummer Night's Dream, but there is evidently something wrong about the story, for the 27th of September in the year 1631 was on a Tuesday. Taking it however for what it is worth, the document from which Mr. Collier quotes, which purports to be an order of the Archbishop's Court, decrees, 'that Mr. Wilson, because he was a speciall plotter and contriver of this business, and did in such a brutishe manner acte the same with an Asses head, and therefore hee shall, uppon Tuisday next, from 6 of the clocke in the morning till six of the clocke at night, sitt in the Porters Lodge at my Lords Bishopps House, with his feete in the stocks, and attyred with his asse head, and a bottle of hay sett before him, and this subscription on his breast :
•Good people I have played the beast,
And brought ill things to passe :
My selfe a silly Asse.' After the Restoration we find in 1661 a play called The Merry conceited Humors of Bottom the Weaver, in which Theseus and his court are left out altogether, and nothing remains but the fairies and the clowns. It had perhaps been played privately after the suppression of the theatres. On the 29th of September 1662, Mr. Pepys having endured a period of abstinence from drink and play-going, in accordance with a vow which came to an end on that day, rewarded his constancy by going to the King's Theatre, where, he says, 'we saw "Midsummer's Night's Dream,” which I had never seen before, nor shall ever again, for it is the most insipid ridiculous play that ever I saw in my life. Mr. Pepys was perhaps a little difficult to please, and his critical judgement was not final. The Tempest is the most innocent play he ever saw, and has no great wit. He calls The Taming of the Shrew a “silly play,' while Othello, which he had once thought "mighty good,' seemed to him but a mean thing after reading 'The Adventures of Five Houres. No doubt he reflected the taste of his time, and it is not much to be wondered at that he did not care for A Midsummer Night's Dream. There is in truth no plot in the play at all and very little dramatic movement. Indeed it is rather a masque than a play, or at any rate a play of situation rather than of plot or character. And as with a masque was combined the antimasque as a kind of comic counterpart or farce, so in the present play the fairies and the clowns supply the place of the antimasque of which they form the sub-divisions or semi-choruses.
The title of the play has often been the subject of dispute. Aubrey has a story, which is as worthless as most of his worthless gossip is, to the effect that “The humour of the constable in A Midsommer-Night-Dreame he happened to take at Crendon [or Grendon] in Bucks (I think it was Midsomer-night that he happened to be there); which is the road from London to Stratford; and there was living that constable about 1642, when I first came to Oxon.' (Shakespeare, ed. 1821, ii. 491.) In the play itself the time is about May day, but Shakespeare from haste or inadvertence has fallen into some confusion in regard to it. Theseus' opening words point to April 27, four days before the new moon which was to behold the night of his marriage with Hippolyta. He orders Hermia
•By the next new moon, The sealing day between my love and me,' to make up her mind either to wed Demetrius or be condemned to death or perpetual virginity. The next night, which would be April 28, Lysander appoints for Hermia to escape with him from Athens. 'Steal forth thy father's house to-morrow night.' The night of the second day is occupied with the adventures in the wood, and in the morning the lovers are discovered by Theseus and his huntsmen, and it is supposed that they have risen early to observe the rite of May. So that the morning of the third day is the ist of May, and the last two days of April are lost altogether.
Titania's reference to the middle-summer's spring' must therefore be to the summer of the preceding year. It is a curious fact, on which however I would not lay too much stress, that in 1592 there was a new moon on the ist of May; so that if A Midsummer Night's Dream was written so as to be acted on a May day when the actual age of the moon corresponded with its age in the play, it must have been written for May day 1592.
Midsummer Eve appears to have been regarded as a period when the imagination ran riot, and many of the old superstitions which characterised it are recorded in Brand's Popular Antiquities. For instance, 'Grose tells us that any person fasting on Midsummer Eve, and sitting in the church porch, will at midnight see the spirits of the persons of that parish who will die that year, come and knock at the church door, in the order and succession in which they will die (i. p. 331). Maidens practised divination on this night to find out their future husbands, and Levinus Lemnius ... tells us that the Low Dutch have a proverb, that when men have passed a troublesome night's rest, and could not sleep at all, they say, we have passed St. John Baptist's Night; that is, we have not taken any sleep, but watched all night; and not only so, but we have been in great troubles, noyses, clamours, and stirs, that have held us waking' (i. p. 305). We know that Malvolio's strange conduct is described by Olivia (Twelfth Night, iii. 4. 61) as very Midsummer madness, and A Midsummer Night's Dream therefore is no inappropriate title for the series of wild incongruities of which the play consists.
W. A. W. CAMBRIDGE,
20 October, 1877.