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“ As she is mine, 1 may dispose of her:
" And I serve the fairy queen, Which shall be either to this gentleman,
To dew her orbs upon the green." — Act II., Scene 1. Or to her death, according to our law."
Act I., Scene 1.
The orbs here mentioned aro the circles supposed to be made by
the fairies upon the ground. Drayton says:By a law of Solon, parents had an absolute power of life and death over their children. It suited the poet's purpose to suppose that the
“They in their courses make that round, Athenians bad it before.
In meadows and in marshes found,
Of them so called the fairy ground." “ Your eyes are lode-stars." — Act I., Scene 1.
“ The cowslips tall her pensioners be."— Act II., Scene 1. This was a compliment not unfrequent among the old poets. The lode-star is the leading or guiding star; that is, the pole-star. The That is, her guards. The golden-coated cowslips are selected as magnet is for the same reason called the lode-stone, either because it pensioners to the fairy queen, the dress of the band of gentlemenleads iron, or because it guides the sailor. Milton has the same pensioners being very splendid in the time of Queen Elizabeth, and thought in L'ALLEGRO:"
the tallest and handsomest men being generally chosen for the office. “ Towers and battlements it sees,
These glittering attendants on royalty are alluded to by Dame Quick-
ly in the “MERRY WIVES OF WINDSOR.”
“ Either I mistake your shape and making quite,
Or else you are that shrewd and knavish sprite,
Called Robin Goodfellow." - Act II., Scene 1.
The account given of this “knavish sprite,” in these lines, corres
ponds with what is said of him in Harsenet's “ Declaration," 1603:
“ And if that the bowl of curds and cream were not duly set out for Act I., Scene 1.
Robin Goodfellow, the friar, and Sisse the dairymaid, why then Perhaps every reader may not discover the propriety of these lines. either the pottage was burnt next day in the pot, or the cheeses would Hermia is willing to comfort Helena, and to avoid all appearance of not curdle, or the butter would not come, or the ale in the vat nerer triumph over her. She, therefore, bids her not to consider the power would have good bead. Scot also speaks of him, in his “ DISCOVERY of pleasing as an advantage to be much envied or much desired; since OF WITCHCRAFT:-“ Your grandams' maids were wont to set a bowl Hermia, whom she considers as possessing it in the supreme degree, of milk for him, for his pains in grinding of malt and mustard, and bad found no other effect of it than the loss of happiness. — Jounson. sweeping the house at midnight. This white bread, and bread and
milk, was his standing fee.” “ A very good piece of work, I assure you, and a merry." In his “NYMPAYDIA” (1019), Drayton thus speaks of Puck, " the
Act I., Sceno 2. merry wanderer of the night:This is said in ridicule of the ancient Moralities and Interludes.
“This Puck seems but a dreaming dolt; Skelton's “MAGNIFICENCE" is called “a goodly interlude, and a merry."
Still walking like a ragged colt,
And oft out of a bush doth bolt, “ You shall play it in a mask, and you may speak as small as you
Of purpose to deceive us; will."— Act I., Scene 2.
And leading us, makes us to stray This passage shews how the want of women on the old stage was
Long winter nights, out of the way, supplied. If they had not a young man who could perform the part
And when we stick in mire and clay, with a face that might pass for feminine, the character was acted in
He doth with laughter leave us." a mask; which was at that time a part of a lady's dress so much in use, that it did not give any unusual appearance to the scene; and he
“The nine-men's morris is filled up with mud.” that could modulate his voice in a female tone might play the woman
Act II., Scene 2. very successfully. Some of the catastrophes of the old comedies,
“Nina-men's morris” is a game played by the shepherds, &c., in the which make lovers marry the wrong women, are, by recollection of midland counties. A figure is made on the ground, by cutting out the common use of masks, brought nearer to probability. Prynne, the turf; and two persons take each nine stones, which they place by in his “ HISTRIOMASTIX,” exclaims with great vehemence through turns in the angles, and afterwards move alternately, as at chess or several pages, because a woman acted a part in a play at Blackfriars, draughts. He who can place three in a straight line, may then take in the year 1628.
off any one of his adversary's, where ho pleases, till one, having lost
all his men, loses the game. — ALCHORNE. “ In the mean time I will draw a bill of properties." — Act I., Scene 2.
The foregoing explanation is probably the true one. Some, howProperties are whatever articles are wanted in a play for the actors, ever, bave thought that the “nino-men's morris” here means the dresses and scenes exceptod. The person who delivers them out is ground marked out for a morris-dance performed by nine
persons. called the property-man.
u The seasons aller : hoary-headed frosts
- "Damned spirits all,
That in crossways and floods have burial."
Act III., Scene 2. This passage is thought to refer particularly to the year 1595. In Meaning, the ghosts of self-murderers, who are buried in crossChurchyard's poem of " CHARITIE,” published in that year, the un roads; and of those who, being drowned, were condemned (according seasonable weather is thus described :
to the opinion of the ancients) to wander for a hundred years, as the " A colder time in world was never seen,
rites of sepulture had never been bestowed on their bodies. The skies do lower, the sun and moon wax dim;
“ I with the morning's love have oft made sport." --- Act III., Scene 2. Summer scarco known but that the leaves are green. The winter's waste drives water o'er the brim;
This is probably an allusion to Cephalus, the mighty hunter, and Upon the land great floats of wood may swim,
paramour of Aurora. Nature thinks scorn to do her duty right,
Because we have displeased the Lord of Light.” It appears, from contemporary authorities, that 1593 and 1594 bad also been remarkable for disastrous seasons.
So doth the wooctrine, the sweet honeysuckle
Gently entwist; the female ivy so “ Cupid all armed: a certain aim he looke
Enrings the barky fingers of the elm." — Act IV., Scene 1. At a fair vestal, throned by the west.” — Act II., Scene 2.
The term woodbine is here used to signify the plant, and honey. The "fair vestal” alluded to was doubtless Queen Elizabeth. Sim-suckle, the flower. In the “ FATAL UNION” (1640), there is a similar flar compliments were not uncommon. In “TANCRED AND GISMUNDA.”
use of the words:(1592), we find,
-“As fit a gift
As this were for a lord-a honeysucklo,
The amorous woodbine's offspring."
The ivy is called “female," because it always requires some support,
which is poetically called its husband. Milton says, – " Love takes the meaning in love's conference." -- Act II., Scene 3.
-“Led the vino That is, in the conversation of those who are assured of each oth
To wed her elm; she spoused, about him twines er's kindness, not suspicion, but love takes the meaning. No malev.
Her marriageable arms." olent interpretation is to be made, but all is to be received in the sense which love can find, and which love can dictate.-JOHNSON.
“ Dian's brud o'er Cupid's flower
Hath such force and blessed power.” — Act IV., Scene 1. Dian's bud is the bud of the agnus castus, or chaste tree. In “MA. CER'S HERBAL," by Lynacre, it is said, "the virtue of this hearbe is,
that it will keep man and woman chaste." Cupid's flower is that on “A lion among ladies is a dreadful thing." — Act III. Scene 1.
which “the bolt of Cupid fell,” the viola tricolor, love-in-idleness, or There is an odd coincidence between this passage and a real occur.
heart's-ease. rence at the Scottish court in 1594. Prince Henry, the eldest son of James the First, was christened in August in that year. While the
“ Then my quen, in silence sad, king and queen were at dinner, a triumphal chariot, with several al
Trip we after the night's shade." — Act IV., Scene 1. legorical personages on it, was drawn in “ by a black-moore. This
Sad here signifies grave, sober; and is opposed to the dances and chariot should have been drawne in by a lyon, but because his pres-revels, which were now ended at the singing of the morning lark.- A ence might have brought some fear to the nearest, or that the sight statute of Henry VII., directs certain offenses, committed in the of the lighted torches might have commoved his tameness, it was king's palace, to be tried by twelve sad men of the household. thought meete that the Moore should supply that roome."
“ Go one of you find out the forester: “The plain-song cuckoo gray.”- Act III., Scene 1.
For now our observation is performed." — Act IV., Scene 1. The cuckoo, having no variety of strains, is said to sing in plain
The “observation” here spoken of is that alluded to by Lysander song; by which expression the uniform modulation or simplicity of
in the first Act:the chant was anciently distinguished, in opposition to prick-song, or variegated music sung by note.
“Where I did meet thee once with Helena,
To do observance to a morn of May."
Stubbs, in his “ ANATOMIE OY ABUSES” (1585), thus speaks of the
general spirit of revelry which at this season took possession of the
Act III., Scene 2. community :No satisfactory explanation of this obscure passage has yet been
“ Against May, Whitsunday, or some other time of the year, every given. Mr. Douce's solution of it is, perhaps, the best :—“ Helen
parish, town and village, assemble themselves together, both men,
women and children, old and young, even all indifferently; and either says, “we had two seeming bodies, but only one heart.' She then exemplifies the position by a simile, 'we had two of the first (i.e. going all together, or dividing themselves into companies, they go
some to the woods and groves, some to the hills and mountains, somo bodies), like the double coats in heraldry that belong to man and wife,
to one place, some to another, where they spend all the night in us one person, but which, like one single heart, have but one crest.""
pleasant pastimes, and in the morning they return, bringing with
them birch-boughs and branches of trees, to deck their assemblies “ You minimus, of hindering knot-grass made.”
withal." Act III., Scene 2.
Marvelous as it may scem, all this innocent hilarity appears to be Knot-grass was anciently supposed to prevent the growth of an an- so much heathenism to the puritanic spirit of Goodman Stubbs. imal or child.
Chaucer, in his “KNIGHT'S TALE” (from which Shakspeare is supposed to have derived his Theseus and Hippolyta) has some beautiful
since established in the creed of childhood, and of those simple as lines in reference to the rites of May:
children, had never for a moment been blooded with “human mor
tals” among the personages of the drama.--HALLAM.
Till it fell ones, in a morne of May,
In the “MIDSUMMER NIGHT'S DREAM” there flows a luxuriant vein
of the boldest and most fantastical invention;— the most extraordiEre it was day, as she was wont to do
nary combination of the most dissimilar ingredients, seems to have She was arisen, and all redy dight,
arisen without effort by some ingenious and lucky accident; and the For May wol have no slogardie a-night.
colors are of such clear transparency, that we think that the whole of The season pricketh every gentil herte,
the variegated fabric may be blown away with a breath. The fairy And maketh him out of hisslepe to starte,
world here described resembles those elegant pieces of arabesque, And sayth, 'Arise, and do thine observance."
where little genii, with butterfly wings, rise balfembodied above the flower-cups. Twilight, moonshine, dew, and spring-perfumes, are the element of those tender spirits; they assist Nature in embroidering her carpot with green leaves, many-colored flowers, and dazzling in
sects: in the human world, they merely sport in a childish and way. “ And what poor duty cannot do,
ward manner with their beneficent or noxious influences. Their most Noble respect takes it in might, not meril." — Act V., Scene 1. violent rage dissolves in good-natured raillery; their passions, stripped
of all earthly matter, are merely an ideal dream. To correspond That is, what dutifulness tries to perform without ability, regard with this, the loves of mortals are painted as a poetical enchantment, ful generosity receives with complacency; estimating it not by the which, by a contrary enchantment may be immediately suspended, actual merit of the performance, but by what it might have been, and then renewed again. had the abilities of the performers been equal to their zeal.
The different parts of the plot; the wedding of Theseus, the diss.
greement of Oberon and Titania, the flight of the two pair of lovers, “ Will it please you to see the epilogue, or to hear a Bergomask dance ?"
and the thcatrical operations of the mechanics, are so lightly and
Act V., Scene 1. happily interwoven, that they seem necessary to each other for the This is said to be a dauce after the manner of the peasants of Ber formation of a whole. Oberon is dosirous of relieving the lovers from gomasco, a province in the state of Venice, who are ridiculed as being their perplexities, and greatly adds to them through the misapprehenmore clownish in their manners and dialect than any other people of sion of his servant, till he at last comes to the aid of their fruitless Italy.
amorous pain, their inconstancy and jealousy, and restores fidelity to
its old rights. “I am sent with broom before,
The extremes of fanciful and vulgar are united when the enchanted To sweep the dust behind the door." — Act V., Scene 2.
Titania awakes and falls in love with a coarse mechanic with an ass's
head, who represents, or rather disfigures, the part of a tragical lover. Cleanliness was always supposed to be necessary to invite the resi- The droll wonder of the transmutation of Bottom is merely the transdence and favor of the fairies. Drayton says, –
lation of a metaphor in its literal sense; but, in his behavior during “These make our girls their sluttery rue,
the tender homage of the Fairy Queen, we hare a most amusing By pinching them both black and bluo;
proof how much the consciousness of such a head-dress beightens the Add put a penny in their shoe,
effect of his usual folly. The house for cleanly sweeping."
Theseus and Hippolyta aro, as it were, a splendid frame for the pic.
ture; they take no part in the activg, but appear with a stately “To swoep the dust behind the door," is a common expression for pomp. The discourse of the hero and his Amazon, as they course to sweep the dust from behind the door; a necessary monition in large through the forest with their noisy bunting train, works upon the old houses ; where the doors of halls and galleries are thrown back- imagination like the fresh breath of morning, before which the shades ward and seldom shut.-SINGER.
of night disappear. -SCHLEGEL.
“ Now, until the break of day,
Through this house each fairy stray,
In "TaE HANDEFULL OF PLEASANT DELITES” (1584), by Clement RobThe ceremony of blessing the bed was in old times used at all mar inson, there is a doleful tale of “ PYRAMUS AND TUISBE,” well meriting riages. Sometimes, during the benediction, the married couple only the epithet of " very tragical mirth,” although apparently written in sat on the bed. It is recorded that in France, on frequent occasions, serious sadness. It was possibly the immediate suggestor of Shaksthe priest was improperly detained till midnight, whilst the wedding peare's burlesque:guests rioted in the luxuries of the table, and made use of language that was extremely offensive to the clergy, and injurious to the salva
“A NEW SONNET OF PYRAMUS AND THISBE. tion of the parties. It was, therefore, ordained, in the year 1577, that the ceremony of blessing the nuptial bed should for the future be
“ You dames (I say) that climb the mount
Of Helicon, performed in the day-time, or at least before supper, and in the pres.
Come on with me, and give account ence of the bride and bridegroom, and of their nearest relations only.
What hath been done:
And doleful vews,
Which on these lovers did befall, The “MIDSUMMER Nigar'g DREAM” is, I believe, altogether origin
Which I accuse. al, in one of the most beautiful conceptions that over visited the mind
In Babylon, not long agone, of a poet - the fairy machinery. A few before Shakspeare had dealt
A noble prince did dwell, in a vulgar and clumsy manner with popular superstitions; but the
Whose daughter bright dimmed each one's sight, sportive, beneficent, invisible population of the air and earth, long
So far she did excel.
When sorrow great that she had made,
She took in hand
By fatal hand. -
To die in distress.
But still do you lament
Did die so well content?”
Another lord of high renown,
Who had a son;
Great love begun :
(I tell you true),
Did cares renew
Beknown unto them both;
Where they their love unclothe.
Till it befell,
By Ninus' well.
In love's delight:
And sbe his sight.
Where she her Pyramus
To them most dolorous.
There did proceed
Made Thisbe dreed :
Her mantle fine
Till that the time
And see how lion taro
He desperately doth fare.
Fair Thisbe slain :
He slew certaine.
O wretched wight!
For Thisbe bright.
Shall never fail this need;
Shall weave Atropos threed.'
And to his heart
With painful smart.
With pleasure great:
There for to treat,
Of all her former fears;
She shed forth bitter tears.
Manifold are the opinions that have been advanced respecting the origin of the fairy mythology of our ancestors. The superstitions of the East and of the North, and of Greece and of Rome, have been resorted to in search of a clue which would lead to a consistent history of its rise and growth.
It appears safe to assume that the oriental genii in general, and the Dews and Peries of Persia in particular, are the remote prototypes of modern fairies. The doctrine of the existence of this peculiar race of spirits was imported into the north of Europe by the Scythians, and it forms a leading feature in the mythology of the Celts. Hence was derived the popular fairy system of our own country, which our ancestors modified by the mythology of the classics.
The Peries and Dews of the orientals were paralleled by the ScandiDavinn division of their genii, or diminutive supernatural beings (with which their imaginations so thickly peopled the earth), into bright or beneficent elves, and black or malignant dwarfs; the former beautiful, the latter bideous in their aspect. A similar division of the fairy tribe of this country was long made: "but, by almost imperceptible degrees, the qualities of both species were ascribed to fairies generally. They were deemed intermediate between mankind and spirits ; but still, as they partook decidedly of a spiritual nature, they were, like all other spirits, under the influence of the devil:— but their actions were more mischievous than demoniacal; more perplexing than malicious; more frolicsome than seriously injurious.
An air of peculiar lightness distinguishes the poet's treatment of this extremely fanciful subject, from his subsequent and bolder flights into the regions of the spiritual world. He rejected from the drama on which he engrafted it, everything calculated to detract froin its playfulness, or to encumber it with seriousness; and, giving the rein to the brilliancy of youthful imagination, he scattered, from his superabundant wealth, the choicest flowers of fancy over the fairies' paths: his fairies move amidst the fragrance of enameled meads, graceful, lovely, and enchanting.-SKOTTOWE.
If it be asked, how we may best increase our chance of approximating to the great and beneficent intellect that has achieved this wondrous vision? the answer is, - by enlarging our sympathies. Sheer genius is not to be acquired by a wish or an effort; but the most mod. erate talent may be fructified by a diligent cultivation of benevolent impulses. By stirring out of ourselves, we become something more than ourselves; and by the time we have acquired (as we may) a tithe of Shakspeare's spirit of sympathy with all that is great, genial, and beautiful, in the sister worlds of fancy and of fact, we shall at least become worthy sharers in the rich product of his “ “MIDSUMMER Night's DREAM," although we may never hope, dreaming or waking, to witch the world, and immortalize ourselves, by a similar display of poetic excellence.-0.