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PECULIAR CHARACTERISTICS, DATE OF COMPOSITION,
STATE OF THE TEXT, ETC.
its author, and has probably contributed more to his general
fame, as it has given a more peculiar evidence of the variety and brilliancy of his genius, than any other of his dramas. Not that it is in itself the noblest of his works, or even one of the highest order among them; but it is not only exquisite in its kind—it is also original and peculiar in its whole character, and of a class by itself. For, although it be far from rivalling As You Like It, or the MERCHANT of Venice, in the varied exhibition of human character, or the gravity or the sweetness of ethical poetry,
though it stand in no rank of comparison with OTHELLO, or LEAR, in the manifestation of lofty intellect or the energy of passion, or in unresisted sway over the reader's deeper emotions—yet Lear or Othello, or any one of Shakespeare's most perfect comedies, might have been lost by the carelessness of early editors, or the accidents of time, without any essential diminution of the general estimate of their author's genius. Possessing Hamlet, ROMEO AND JULIET, Macbeth, and the Roman tragedies, we could place no assignable limit to the genius which produced them, if exerted on any similar themes of fierce passion or tragic dignity. So, again, As You Like It is but another and most admirable exhibition of the same prolific comic invention, which revels as joyously in Falstaff and Mercutio—of the same meditative poetic spirit, in turns fanciful, passionate, philosophical, which pours forth its austerer teachings in MEASURE FOR MEASURE, or more sweetly comes upon the ear, " with a dying fall,” in the intervals of the loud jollity of the Twelfth Night. But the MIDSUMMER-Night's Dream stands by itself, without any parallel; for the Tempest, which it resembles in its preternatural personages and machinery of the plot, is in other respects wholly dissimilar, is of quite another mood in feeling and thought, and with, perhaps, higher attributes of genius, wants its peculiar fascination. Thus it is that the loss of this singularly beautiful production would, more than that of any other of his works, have abridged the measure of its author's fame, as it would have left us without the means of forming any estimate of the brilliant lightness of his “forgetive" fancy, in its most sportive and luxuriant vein. The Poet and his contemporaries seem to have regarded this piece, as they well might, as in some sort a nondescript in dramatic literature ; for it happens that, while the other plays published during their author's life are regularly denominated, in their title-page, as “the pleasant comedy,” “the true dramatic history,” or “the lamentable tragedy,” this has no designation of the kind beyond its mere title, in either of the original editions. It has, in common with all his comedies, a per petual intermixture of the essentially poetical with the purely laughable, yet is distinguished from all the rest by being (as Coleridge has happily defined its character) "one continued specimen of the dramatized lyrical.” Its transitions are as rapid, and the images and scenes it presents to the imagination as unexpected and as remote from each other, as those of the boldest lyric; while it has also that highest perfection of the lyric art, the pervading unity of the poetic spirit—that continued glow of excited thought—which blends the whole rich and strange variety in one common effect of gay and dazzling brilliancy.
There is the heroic magnificence of the princely loves of Theseus and his Amazon bride, dazzling with the strangely gorgeous mixture of classical allusion and fable with the taste, feelings, and manners of chivalry; and all embodied in a calm and lofty poetry, fitted alike to express the grand simplicity of primeval heroism, and the high thoughts in a heart of courtesy," which belong to the best parts of the chivalrous character. This is intertwined with the ingenioasly perplexed fancies and errors of the Athenian lovers, wrought up with a luxuriant profusion of quaint conceits and artificial turns of thought, such as the age delighted in. The Fairy King and Queen, equally essential to the plot, are invested with a certain mythological dignity, suited to the solemn yet free music of the verse, and the elevation and grave elegance of all their thonghts and images. Their fairy subjects, again,
SCENE IV. “ — MUCH Orlando”—Ironically, no Orlando here;
“ As those that fear; they hope, and know they fear"as we still say, "I shall get much by that”—meaning, 1 In the folio the line is printed thus :shall get nothing.
As those that fear they hope, and know they leer. “To sleep. Look, who comes here”—The mock. heroic tone assumed by Celia is well kept up by the
This, Caldecott, Collier, and others, retain analtered, measure, and her speech is thus printed in the original,
explaining it that “Orlando is in the state of mind of which in later editions has been printed as prose.
those who fear what they hope, and know that they
fear it." Yet, with Johnson and other editors, I must " — sweet and bitter Fancy"_" Fancy" here signifies
confess that I cannot extract that or any other sense from love, as composed of contraries; probably suggested by
the old reading. This edition, therefore, adopts the sig. Lodge's “Rosalynde"—“I have noted the variable dis
gestion of Henley, which requires only a slight alteraposition of fancy: a bitter pleasure wrapped in sweet
tion of the pointing; and then Orlando may be under prejudice."
stood as comparing himself to “ those who fear
, but yet "—HURTLING”—To hurtle is to move with impetu
hope while they are still conscious of real fear." Per. osity and tumult. It is used in Julius CÆSAR
haps, however, the text requires a still bolder anrec
tion; and I have been much inclined to adopt Heath's A noise of battle hurtled in the air.
reading, which is more Shakespearian in its antithesis.
and its boldness of expression :ACT V.-SCENE II.
As those that fear their hope, and know their few. " — Is't possible"-"Shakespeare, by putting this
"- a lie seven times removed"_" Touchstone bere question into the mouth of Orlando, seems to have been
enumerates seven kinds of lies, from the retort curartens aware of the improbability in his plot, caused by desert
to the seventh and most aggravated species of lie, which ing his original." In Lodge's novel, the elder brother is
he calls the lie direct. The courtier's answer to his is instrumental in saving Aliena from a band of ruffians ;
tended affront, he expressly tells us, was the return without this circumstance, the passion of Aliena appears
courteous. When, therefore, he says that they knees to be very hasty indeed."-STEVENS.
the quarrel was on the lie seven times removed, we “ – all OBEISANCE"—The original has observance,
must understand, by the latter word, the lie removed which, as it also ends the next line but one preceding,
seven times, counting backwards, (as the word 're seems to be a misprint; and I have adopted Ritson's
moved' seems to intimate,) from the last and met een conjecture. Malone proposed obedience.
gravated species of lie—the lie direct." – Illust. Skat. : Why do you speak, too”—This is the old reading (says Warburton) has, in this scene, rallied the role
"— we quarrel in print, by the book” –“The Pret which is perfectly intelligible, when addressed to Or. lando ; who replies, that he speaks“ too,” notwithstand.
of formal duelling, then so prevalent, with the highes ing the absence of his mistress. It was altered, by
humour and address; nor could he have treated it with Rowe and other editors, to “Who do you speak to."
a happier contempt, than by making his Clown so koor
. The partirala
, se lack only of true Knowledge of Honoar, and the right Understanding of Words, which here is set douz The contents of the several chapters are as follow :-/ What the Reason is that the Party unto whom the Le is given ought to become challenger, and of the Neter of Lies. 2. Of the Manner and Diversity of Lies? of Lies certain, (or direct.] 4. Of conditional Liens (or the lie circumstantial.] 5. of the Lio in gener: 6. Of the Lie in particular
. 7. Of foolish Lies. 8. Conclusion
touching the wresting or returning back to the Lie, (or the countercheck quarrelsome.} .le bir chapter of conditional Lies, speaking of the particle if he says— Conditional lies be such as are given cadia tionally, as if a man should say or write these words: if thou hast said that I have offered my lord abuse, thom liest; or if thou sayest so hereafter, thou wilt lie. Often
kind of lies, given in this manner, often arise much cro SCENE III.
tention in words-whereof no sure conclusion an " — to be a woman of the world”-i. e. To be mar
"Enter HYMEN"-“ Rosalind is imagined by the rest
of the company to be brought by enchantraent, nadis Chappell's “Collection of National English Airs," from
therefore introduced by a supposed aerial being in the character of Hymen." - Johnson..
In all the allegorical shows exhibited at ancient wat a transposition of the first and second stanzas had taken
dings, Hymen was a constant personage. Ben Jones in his Hymenæi, or the solemnities of Masque Barriers, at a Marriage,' has left us instructions how to
dress this favourite character. On the other handles The “ring-time” is the time for marriage.
tered Hymen, the god of marriage, in a saffron-calmand
low veile of silke on his left arme, bis head crywind robe, his under vestures white, his sockes yellow, a yel
“Song"—This song may be seen more at large in a MS. now in the Advocates' "Library,” Edinburgh, believed to have been written within sixteen years after this play. This confirmed the previous conjecture that place in the old editions. It also clears up another difficulty, the folios in the fourth line having rang time, which Johnson and others printed rank-i. e. luxuriant.
with roses and marjoram, in his right hand a torch."- while the wit of Rosalind bubbles up and sparkles like Stevens.
living fountains, refreshing all around. Her volubility "Atone together"-. e. Agree together, or are recon.
is like the bird's song; it is the outpouring of a heart ciled: from al one. The use of this word is very fre.
filled to overflowing with life, love, and joy, and all sweet quent by the contemporaries of Shakespeare, who also
and affectionate impulses. She has as much tenderness use it actively, as he too door elsewhere.
as mirth, and in her most petulant raillery there is a
touch of softnessBy this hand, it will not hurt a fly.' "Enter Second Brother"-So called in the old copies, " As her vivacity never lessens our impression of her to avoid confusion with the "melancholy Jaques." The sensibility, so she wears her masculine attire without the uame of this "second brother" must have been also slightest impugnment of her delicacy. Shakespeare did Jaques, and he is mentioned in the first scene as then not make the modesty of his women depend on their "at school.” He is in fact the third brother introduced dress. Rosalind has in truth no doublet and hose in in the play: but what is meant is, that he is second in her disposition.' How her heart seems to throb and point of age-younger than Oliver, and older than Or. flutter under her page's vest. What depth of love in lando. Collier objects that this supposition would seem her passion for Orlando; whether disguised beneath a to make Orlando too much of a stripling. But one so saucy playfulness, or breaking forth with a fond impa. well read in Old-English literature should have remem- tience, or half betrayed in that beautiful scene where bered that school was used with great latitude by Shake. she faints at the sight of the kerchief stained with his speare and his contemporaries, so as to include even the blood! Here, the recovery of her self-possession-her lughest academic instruction—as we still say, “ the School fears lest she should have revealed her sex-her presence of Medicine" at Paris, etc. Thus, Hamlet writes, “Go of mind and quick-witted excuse, 'I pray you tell your back to school at Wittenberg"-i. e. to the University brother how well I counterfeited,' and the characteristic there. In Lodge's novel, (which ends very differently,) playfulness which seems to return so naturally with her Fernandine, the second of the three brothers, is repre- recovered senses, are all as amusing as consistent. senud as "a scholar in Paris.” He, like Jaques de “Then how beautiful is the dialogue managed between Bois, arrives quite at the end of the story.
herself and Orlando; how well she assumes the airs of "-meeting with an old religious man"-In Lodge's
a saucy page, without throwing off her feminine sweetnovel, the usurping Duke is not diverted from his pur; ject! with what a careless grace, yet with what exqui.
ness! How her wit flutters free as air over every subpose by the pious counsels of a hermit, but is subdued
site propriety :-and killed by the twelve peers of France, who under
For innocence hath a privilege in her take the cause of Rosader-the Orlando of this play.
To dignify arch jests and laughing eyes. "— the measure of their staTES"--Not 'states, for
And if the freedom of some of the expressions used by estates, as in Collier's edition, which is a useless change
Rosalind or Beatrice be objected to, let it be rememof the old reading.--"All shall receive such a share of bered that this was not the fault of Shakespeare or his my own returning property as may suit their several
women, but generally of the age. Portia, Beatrice, Ro. stations."
salind, and the rest, lived in times when more imporTo see no pastime"-"Amid this general festivity, tance was attached to things than to words: now we the reader may be sorry to take his leave of Jaques, who
think more of words than of things. And happy are apjcars to have no share in it, and remains behind un- we, in these days of super-refinement, if we are to be reconciled to society. He has, however, filled, with a saved by our verbal morality.”—Mrs. JAMESON. gloomy sensibility, the space allotted to him in the play, and to the last preserves that respect which is due to “ The plot of this delicious comedy was taken by our fum as a consistent character, and an able, though soli- Poet from Lodge's 'Rosalynde, or Euphues' Golden tary moralist.
Legacye. Some of Lodge's incidents are judiciously "It may be observed, with scarce less concern, that
omitted, but the greater part are preserved -the wrestShakespeare has, on this occasion, forgot old Adam, the
ling scene, the flight of the two ladies into the forest of servant of Orlando, whose fidelity should have entitled Arden, the meeting there of Rosalind with her father him to notice at the end of the piece, as well as to that and mother, and the whole happy termination of the happiness which he would naturally have found, in the plot, are found in the prose romance. Even the names retura of fortune to his master."-STEVENS.
of the personages are but slightly changed; for Lodge's "It is the toore remarkable that old Adam is forgot
Rosalind, in her male attire, calls herseli Ganymede, and len, since, at the end of the novel, Lodge makes him her cousin, as a shepherdess, is named Aliena. But raplain of the king's guard."-FARMER.
never was ihe prolixity and pedantry of a prosaic narAs we do trust they'll end in true delights"-" The
rative transmuted by genius into such magical poetry. universal modern stage-direction here is 'a dance,'
In the days of James I., George Heriot, the Edinburgh which pmbably followed the Duke's speech. The an
merchant, who built a hospital still bearing his name, ciput direction, however, is ezil; but there seems no
is said have made his fortune by purchasing for a ufficient reason why the Duke should go out before the trifle a quantity of sand that had been brought as ballast onclusion of the Epilogue. Nevertheless, according to
by a ship from Africa. As it was dry, he suspected the custom of our old stage, he may have done so. from its weight that it contained gold, and he succeeded Malone, Stevens, and all the modern editors, (Capell ex- in filtering a treasure from it. Shakespeare, like Heriot, tepled, ) read and instead of As,' in this line, without took the dry and heavy sand of Lodge, and made gold any reason for change, and without attempting to assign
out of it. aug."-COLLIER,
“Before I say more of this dramatic treasure, I must
absolve myself by a confession as to some of its improb- If I were a woman"--The female characters in
abilities. Rosalind asks her cousin Celia, Whither plays
, it is hardly necessary to observe, were at this ime, and until after the Restoration, performed by boys,
shall we go?' and Celia answers, 6 To seek my uncle in
the forest of Arden.' But, arrived there, and having puruit young men.
chased a cottage and sheep-farm, neither the daughter
nor niece of the banished Duke seem to trouble them. ** Every thing about Rosalind breathes of youth's sweet selves much to inquire about either father or uncle. prizne. She is fresh as the morning, sweet as the dew. The lively and natural-hearted Rosalind discovers no zwakened blossorns, and light as the breeze that plays impatience to embrace her sire until she has finished among thein. She is zs witty, as voloble, as sprightly her masked courtship with Orlando. But Rosalind was * Beatrice, but in a style altogether distinct.
In both, in love, as I have been with the comedy these forty ther wit is equally unconscious; but in Beatrice it plays years; and love is blind—for until a late period my eyes uboyat us like the lightning, dazzling, but also alarming; were never couched so as to see this objection. The
are the gayest and most fantastic of Fancy's children. All these are relieved and contrasted by the grotesque absurdity of the mock play, and still more by the laughable truth and nature of the amateur “ mechanicals" who present it. The critics have, indeed, been disposed to limit the praise of truth and nature, in this part of the play, to the portraiture of green-room jealousies or vanity, such as the Poet might have observed in his own professional life. But in truth he has here contrasted to the finer idealities of heroic and of playful fancy, a vivid delineation of vul. gar human nature-not confined to any one occupation or class in life, but such as often displays itself in the graver employments of real life, and the higher as well as the lower castes of society. Bottom, for instance, may be frequently found in high official or representative stations, among the legislative and municipal bodies of the world ; and so near (according to Napoleon's well-known adage) is the sublime to the ridiculous, that it depends entirely upon external circumstances, with a little more or a little less sense in himself and his hearers, whether the Bottom of the day is doomed to wear the ass's head for life, or becomes the admiration of his companions, and roars “ like a nightingale,” in his own conceit, from the high stations of the law or the state.
This clustering of the sweetest flowers of fanciful and of heroic poetry around the grotesque yet substantial reality of Bottom and his associates, gives to the whole play that mixed effect of the grotesquely ludicrous with the irregularly beautiful, which the Poet himself has painted in his picture of Titania “ rounding the hairy temples" of the self-satisfied fool
With coronet of fresh and fragrant flowers. All this profusion of pure poetry and droll reality is worked up with the dramatic skill of a practised artist, in embodying these apparently discordant plots and personages into one perfectly connected and harmonious wbole, out of which nothing could well be removed without injury to the rest. This artistic skill, though it may not be an excellence of the very highest order, is yet one that results only from practice and experience; and connected, as it is here, with great variety and richness of allusion, and knowledge—as well of life and nature as of books, indicates that the play cannot have been the production of a youth of limited experience of life, and little exercise of his dramatic talent. Yet it has been most commonly classed among the author's more youthful works, and it must be allowed that there is a good deal in the play to support this conjecture. It was first printed in 1600, bat Meares mentioned in his list before 1598; and the remarkable allusion to the ungenial summer and confusion of seasons which occurred in England, in 1594, (see note on act ii. scene 2—“Therefore the winds, piping," etc.,) affords evidence that the play, as it first appeared in print, must belong to a period about 1595, or 1596. This would place it in its author's thirty-first or thirty-second year, when, as his ROMEO AND JULIET shows, he had acquired a familiar freedom of poetic diction, in its widest range, and a mastery of metrical power and sweetness, far more bold and varied than is seen in his first dramatic efforts; and to this period the MIDSUMMER-Night's Dream, as it was printed in 1600, certainly belongs. Yet the comparison of this beautiful poem with those of his other dramas, (which we know, from the collation of the successive old editions of some, or from the title-pages of others, were first written in a comparative immaturity of the author's genius, and afterwards received large alterations and additions,) strongly impresses me with the opinion that such was also the history of this drama. Ma lone places the whole of it as contemporary with Love's LABOUR's Lost, the Two GENTLEMEN OF VERONA, etc. Without agreeing to this arbitrary assignment of its date, I yet think that the rhyming dialogue and the peculiarities of much of the versification in those scenes, the elaborate elegance, the quaint conceits, and artificial refinements of thought in the whole episode (if it may be termed so) of Helena and Hermia, and their lovers, do certainly partake of the taste and manner of those more juvenile comedies; while, in the other poetic scenes, “ the strain we hear is of a higher mood," and belongs to a period of fuller and more conscious power.
It, therefore, seems to me very probable, (though I do not know that it has appeared so to any one else,) that the MIDSUMMER-Night's Dream was originally written in a very different form from that in which we now have it, several years before the date of the drama in its present shape—that it was subsequently remoulded, after a long interval, with the addition of the heroic personages, and all the dialogue between Oberon and Titania, per. haps with some alteration of the lower comedy; the rhyming dialogue and the whole perplexity of the Athenian lovers being retained, with slight change, from the more boyish comedy. The completeness and unity of the piece would indeed quite exclude such a conjecture, if we were forced to reason only from the evidence affonled by itself; but, as in Romeo and Juliet (not to speak of other dramas) we have the certain proof of the amalgamation of the products of different periods of the author's progressive intellect and power, the comparison leads to a similar conclusion here.
The play is said never to have been popular, as an acted drama, on the modern stage; as may well be the case ; for dramatic imitation must deal in too material realities to pourtray the “airy nothings' which the Poet's " fine frenzy" had “turned to shapes.” Mrs. A. Browne has even conjectured that it failed in its first representation, and that it was the author's mortification on this result, and his consequent disgust for the drama, for a time, that Spenser alluded to in his “Tears of the Muses," in 1591, when he lamented that his “ pleasant Willey" should 'chuse to sit in idle cell.” If this supposition be well founded, it must have been the primitive sketch that was unsuccessful; for we learn, from the title-page of the edition of 1600, that the piece then printed was often acted, and it was so popular that two different printers brought out rival editions.
It was originally printed in quarto, in those two editions, with much more care than was usual with other dramatic writings of the day, and especially than the generality of Shakespeare's other plays printed during his lifetime. It accordingly furnishes less food than usual for critical correction and controversy in settling the text, which offers few difficulties of this nature.