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F. J. FURNIVALL, M.A., Ph.D., D.Litt.
ASSISTED BY JOHN MUNRO
A MIDSUMMER-Night's DREAM.—Here at length is Shakspere's genius in the full glow of fancy and delightful fun. The play is an enormous advance on what had gone before. But it is a poem, a dream, rather than a play; its freakish fancy of fairy-land fitting it for the choicest chamber of the student's brain, while its second part, the broadest farce, is just the thing for the public stage. E. A. Poe writes, “ When I am asked for a definition of poetry, I think of Titania and Oberon of the Midsummer-Night's Dream.” And certainly anything must be possible to the man who could in one work range from the height of Titania to the depth of Bottom. The links with the Errors are that all the wood scenes are a comedy of errors, with three sets of people, as in the Errors (and four in Love's Labour's Lost). Then we have the vixen Hermia to match the shrewish Adriana, the quarrel with husband and wife, and Titania's these are the forgeries of jealousy to compare with Adriana's jealousy in the Errors. Adriana offers herself to Antipholus of Syracuse, but he refuses her for her sister Luciana, as Helena offers herself to Demetrius and he refuses her for her friend Hermia. Hermia bids Demetrius love Helena, as Luciana bids Antipholus of Syracuse love his supposed wife Adriana. In the background of the Errors we have the father Ægeon with the sentence of death, or fine, pronounced by the Duke Solinus. In the Dream we have in the background the father Egeus with the sentence of death, or celibacy, on Hermia pronounced by Duke Theseus. In both plays the scene is Eastern : in the Errors, Ephesus ; and in the Dream, Athens. We have an interesting connection with Chaucer, in that the Theseus and Hippolyta are taken from his Knight's Tale, and used again in The Two Noble Kinsmen ; also the May-day and Saint Valentino, and the wood birds here may be from Chaucer's Parlament of Foules. The fairies too are in Chaucer's Wife of Bath's Tale. As links with Love's Labour's Lost we notice the comedy of errors in the earlier play, the forest scene, and the rough country sub-play, while, as opposed to the Love's Labour's Lost's “ Jack hath not Gill,” the fairies tell us here “ Jack shall have Gill.” Bottom's misuse of words is like Dull's. The fairies are the centre of the drama; the human characters are just the sport of their whims and fancies, a fact which is much altered when we come to Shakspere's use of fairy-land again in his Tempest, where the aerial beings are but ministers of the wise man's rule for the highest ends. The finest character here is undoubtedly Theseus. In his noble words about the countrymen's play, the true gentleman is shown. His wife's character is but poor beside his.
1 I may put M. N. D. too early, in 1591-3, as the storms of wind and rain in 1594 may be referred to in II. li. pp. 37-8. But it plainly belongs to the set of early cross-wooing, or Errors, plays. The attempt to date the play 1596, because of the line, “ Through hills and dales, througn bushes and through breres,” in Spenser's Faerie Queene, Bk. VI., canto viii., p. 460, ed. 1596, I look on as absurd : "hill and dale," "bush and
were couples known very long before both Spenser and Shakspere, and each might easily have independently used them together.
1 "In oldė dayès of the Kyng Arthour
Al was this land fulfilled of fayrie ;
(JEPASON AND BELL's text.)
Though the story is Greek, yet the play is full of English life. It is Stratford which has given Shakspere the picture of the sweet country school-girls working at one flower, warbling one song, growing together like a double cherry, seeming parted, but yet a union in partition. It is Stratford that has given him the picture of the hounds with
“ Ears that sweep away the morning dew;
Crook-kneed, and dew-lapped like Thessalian bulls ;
It is Stratford that has given him his out-door woodland life, his clowns' play, and the clowns themselves, Bottom with his inimitable conceit, and his fellows, Snug and Quince, &c. It is Stratford that has given
1 “Contrast, too,” says Munro, “these delightful beings of dream, tripping in the shadow from the light of the sun, meddling playfully in the lives of mortals, blessing the bridal bed and presiding over the golden summer-time, with those later creatures of the darkness, in Macbeth, incentive to crimes of horror, foreboding dire calamity."
him all Puck's fairy lore, the cowslips tall, the redhipt humble-bee, Oberon's bank, the pansy love-inidleness, and all the lovely imagery of the play. But wonderful the mixture of delicate and aerial fancy with the coarsest and broadest comedy is, clearly as it evidences the coming of a new being on this earth to whom anything is possible, it is yet clear that the play is quite young.
The undignified quarrelling of the ladies, Hermia with her “painted maypole,” her threat to scratch Helena's eyes,Helena with her retort
She was a vixen, when she went to school;
And, though she be but little, she is fierce." and
“ Your hands than mine are quicker for a fray ;
My legs are longer though, to run away.” the comical comparison of the moon tumbling through the earth (Act III. sc. ii, p. 64)2 incongruously put into an accusation of murder,
“I'll believe as soon
1 "The pensioners are London, tho', Queen Elizabeth's, in their smart coats ; still, some of them may have been with her at Kenilworth in 1575. She had 50 of 'em in her 'Band of Pencioners,' and their fee was £50 'apeece.'"--Household Ordinances, p. 251, col. i. See the oath they took, ib. p. 277. If any one urges that Theseus's pack was too good a one for a country town like Stratford, and must have belongd to some nobleman nearer London, I can only answer-May-be.
9 This was got, I think, from Caxton's Mirror of the World and its wood-cut; where the text speaks of two stones dropt from the world's surface here and at the Antipodes meeting in the centre of the earth.
the descent to bathos in Shakspere's passage about his own art, from 'the poet's eye in a fine frenzy rolling” to “how easy is a bush supposed a bear,” would have been impossible to Shakspere in his later development, and, says Munro, the elaboration of the char ters of the lovers is not carried to that degree to which the later Shakspere would have carried it. Those who contend for the later date of the plays from the beauty of most of the fancy, and the allusion to the effects of the rains and the floods, which they make those of 1594' (see Stowe's Chronicles, ed. 1605, pp. 1274–5, 1277–8, and Dr. King's Sermons on Jonah, 1618, and Simon Forman in Ashmole MS.; 384), must allow, I think, that the framework of the play is considerably before the date of King John and The Merchant of Venice. “ The symmetrical construction of the plot, and the seemingly fresh reminiscences of country life, all point to an early date of composition.” Possibly two dates may be allowd for the play, tho' I don't think them needful. Note in this Dream the first of those inconsistencies as to the time of the action of the play that became so markt a feature in later plays, like The Merchant of Venice, where three months and more are crowded into some eight
1 Dyce objects to this strongly: “To suppose that the words of Titania, Act II. sc. i., Therefore the winds, piping to us in vain,' &c., allude to the state of the weather in England in 1594 is ridiculous; nor is it less so to suppose that any particular allusion is contained in the lines on the neglect of learning, Act V., sc. i., p. 99.
The thrice three musés mourning for the death
Wirks, ii. 263, ed. 1864. The epithet "ridiculous" seems to me too strong, but I cannot let the possible allusion break thro' the other links of the play.