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speak for themselves. So that there need be no scruple about receiving Hallam's statement of the matter: "A Midsummer-Night's Dream is, I believe, altogether original in one of the most beautiful conceptions that ever visited the mind of a poet, the fairy machinery. A few before him had dealt in a vulgar and clumsy manner with popular superstitions; but the sportive, beneficent, invisible population of the air and earth, long since established in the creed of childhood, and of those simple as children, had never for a moment been blended with 'human mortals' among the personages of the drama."
"In A Midsummer-Night's Dream," says Schlegel, "there flows a luxuriant vein of the boldest and most fantastical invention; the most extraordinary combination of the most dissimilar ingredients seems to have been brought about without effort by some ingenious and lucky accident; and the colours are of such clear transparency that we think the whole of the variegated fabric may be blown away with a breath. The fairy world here described resembles those elegant pieces of Arabesque, where little Genii with butterfly wings rise, half embodied, above the flower-cups. Twilight, moonshine, dew, and spring perfumes are the element of these tender spirits: they assist Nature in embroidering her carpet with green leaves, many-coloured flowers, and glittering insects: in the human world they do but make sport childishly and waywardly with their beneficent or noxious influences. Their most violent rage dissolves in good-natured raillery; their passions, stripped of all earthly matter, are merely an ideal dream. To correspond with this, the loves of mortals are painted as a poetical enchantment, which, by a contrary enchantment, may be immediately suspended, and then renewed again. The different parts of the plot; the wedding of Theseus and Hippolyta, Oberon and Titania's quarrel, the flight of the two pairs of lovers, and the theatrical manœuvres of the mechanics, are so lightly and happily interwoven, that they seem necessary to each other for the formation of a whole. Oberon is desirous of relieving the lovers from their perplexities, but greatly adds to them through the mistakes of his minister, till at last he comes really to the aid of their fruitless, amorous pain, their inconstancy and jealousy, and restores fidelity to its old rights. The extremes of fanciful and vulgar are united when the enchanted 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. The droll wonder of Bottom's transformation is merely the translation of a metaphor in its literal sense; but in his behaviour during the tender homage of the Fairy Queen we have an amusing proof how much the consciousness of his new head-dress heightens the effect of his usual folly. Theseus and Hippolyta are, as it were, a splendid frame for the picture; they take no part in the action, but surround it with a stately pomp. The discourse of the hero and his Amazon, as they course through the forest with their noisy hunting-train, works upon the imagination like the fresh breath of morning, before which the shapes of night disappear. Pyramus and Thishe is not unmeaningly chosen as the grotesque play within the play it is exactly like the pathetic part of the piece, a secret meeting of two lovers in the forest, and their separation by an unfortunate accident; and closes the whole with the most amusing parody."
Other Fairies attending their King and Queen. Attendants on Theseus and
SCENE, Athens, and a Wood not far from it.
ACT I. SCENE I. Athens. A Room in the Palace of
Enter THESEUS, HIPPOLYTA, PHILOSTRATE, and Attendants.
The. Now, fair Hippolyta, our nuptial hour
Hip. Four days will quickly steep themselves in nights;
1 The verse here evidently requires revenue to have the accent on the first and third syllables. The Poet more commonly has it accented, as it should be, on the second syllable; as a little after :
"I have a widow aunt, a dowager
Of great revenue, and she hath no child."
The pale companion is not for our pomp.
Enter EGEUS, HERMIA, LYSANDER, and DEMETRIUS.
Ege. Happy be Theseus, our renowned Duke! 2
Stand forth, Demetrius. My noble lord,
I beg the ancient privilege of Athens, -
The. What say you, Hermia? be advis'd, fair maid:
you your father should be as a god;
2 Theseus is repeatedly called duk in Chaucer's Knight's Tale, to which the Poet was evidently indebted for some of the material of this play. The application of duke to the heroes of antiquity was quite common; the word being from the Latin dux, which means a chief or leader of any sort. Thus in 1 Chronicles, i. 51, we have a list of "the dukes of Edom."
3 According to present usage, this should be "verses of feigned love." Probably it is but an instance of the indifferent use of the active and passive forms so common in the Poet's time. See vol. i. page 66, note 4. Walker, however, thinks we should read "verses of feigned love."
To leave the figure, or disfigure it.1
Her. I would my father look'd but with my eyes.
In such a presence here to plead my thoughts;
The. Either to die the death, or to abjure
For aye to be in shady cloister mew'd,
Her. So will I grow, so live, so die, my lord,
The. Take time to pause; and, by the next new Moon, -
4 The language is something odd and obscure; but the meaning appears to be, "It is in his power either to let the form remain as it is, that is, to leave it undefaced, or to destroy it altogether." In the Poet's earlier period, such jingles as figure and disfigure were too much affected by him.
Blood is continually put for passions, impulses, desires, and affections, by our old writers. See vol. i. page 92, note 9.
6 So all the old copies, and such, no doubt, was the Poet's writing; though some editors have changed it to earthly happier. The meaning is, happy in a more earthly and perishable kind of happiness; which meaning is defeated by the change.
7 The folio of 1632 reads "to whose unwish'd yoke;" but the older text is merely an instance of give followed by two objectives.
For disobedience to your father's will,
Dem. Relent, sweet Hermia ; — and, Lysander, yield Thy crazed title to my certain right.
Lys. You have her father's love, Demetrius ; Let me have Hermia's: do you marry him.
Ege. Scornful Lysander! true, he hath my love,—
Lys. I am, my lord, as well deriv'd as he,
And, which is more than all these boasts can be,
Why should not I, then, prosecute my right?
Upon this spotted and inconstant man.
The. I must confess that I have heard so much,
Ege. With duty and desire we follow you.
[Exeunt THE., HIP., EGE., DEM., and Train. Lys. How now, my love! why is your cheek so pale? How chance the roses there do fade so fast?
8 Spotted is wicked, the opposite of spotless. So in Cavendish's Metricat Visions: "Spotted with pride, viciousnes, and cruelty."