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PECULIAR CHARACTERISTICS, DATE OF COMPOSITION.
THIS is, in several respects, the most remarkable composition of 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 poetrythough 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 ingeniously 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 thoughts and images. Their fairy subjects, again,
"MUCH Orlando"-Ironically, no Orlando here; as we still say, "I shall get much by that"-meaning, I shall get nothing.
"To sleep. Look, who comes here"-The mockheroic tone assumed by Celia is well kept up by the measure, and her speech is thus printed in the original, which in later editions has been printed as prose.
"-sweet and bitter FANCY"-" Fancy" here signifies Love, as composed of contraries; probably suggested by Lodge's "Rosalynde"-"I have noted the variable disposition of fancy: a bitter pleasure wrapped in sweet prejudice."
"HURTLING"-To hurtle is to move with impetuosity and tumult. It is used in JULIUS CESARA noise of battle hurtled in the air.
ACT V.-SCENE II.
"Is't possible"-" Shakespeare, by putting this question into the mouth of Orlando, seems to have been aware of the improbability in his plot, caused by deserting his original. In Lodge's novel, the elder brother is instrumental in saving Aliena from a band of ruffians; without this circumstance, the passion of Aliena appears to be very hasty indeed."-STEVENS.
"all OBEISANCE"-The original has observance, which, as it also ends the next line but one preceding, seems to be a misprint; and I have adopted Ritson's conjecture. Malone proposed obedience.
"WHY do you speak, TOO"-This is the old reading which is perfectly intelligible, when addressed to Orlando; who replies, that he speaks "too," notwithstanding the absence of his mistress. It was altered, by Rowe and other editors, to "Who do you speak to."
ACT V. SCENE 2.-I know into what straits of fortune she is iriven.
"to be a woman of the world"-i. e. To be married.
"SONG"-This song may be seen more at large in Chappell's "Collection of National English Airs," from
MS. now in the Advocates' "Library," Edinburgh, believed to have been written within sixteen years after this play. This confirmed the previous conjecture that a transposition of the first and second stanzas had taken 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. The "ring-time" is the time for marriage.
"As those that fear; they hope, and know they fear"In the folio the line is printed thus:
As those that fear they hope, and know they fear. This, Caldecott, Collier, and others, retain unaltered, explaining it that "Orlando is in the state of mind of those who fear what they hope, and know that they fear it." Yet, with Johnson and other editors, I must confess that I cannot extract that or any other sense from the old reading. This edition, therefore, adopts the suggestion of Henley, which requires only a slight alterstion of the pointing; and then Orlando may be under stood as comparing himself to "those who fear, but yet hope while they are still conscious of real fear." Per haps, however, the text requires a still bolder correc tion; and I have been much inclined to adopt Heath's reading, which is more Shakespearian in its antithesis and its boldness of expression:
As those that fear their hope, and know their fear. "a lie seven times removed"-" Touchstone bere enumerates seven kinds of lies, from the retort courtes to the seventh and most aggravated species of lie, which he calls the lie direct. The courtier's answer to his in tended affront, he expressly tells us, was the retort courteous. When, therefore, he says that they found the quarrel was on the lie seven times removed, we must understand, by the latter word, the lie removed seven times, counting backwards, (as the word 're moved' seems to intimate,) from the last and most gravated species of lie-the lie direct."-Illast. Shak
"we quarrel in print, by the book"-"The Poet (says Warburton) has, in this scene, rallied the mode of formal duelling, then so prevalent, with the highes humour and address: nor could he have treated it with a happier contempt, than by making his Clown so know ing in the forms and preliminaries of it. The partici book here alluded to is a very ridiculous treatise one Vincentio Saviolo, entitled, 'Of Humours and Ho ourable Quarrels,' in quarto, printed by Wolf, (1594) The first part of this tract he entitles, 'A Discus most necessary for all Gentlemen that have in regard their Honours, touching the giving and receiving t Lie, whereupon the Duello and the Combat in dive Forms doth ensue; and many other Inconveniences, r lack only of true Knowledge of Honour, and the rig Understanding of Words, which here is set down 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 Nature of Lies. 2. Of the Manner and Diversity of Lies Of Lies certain, [or direct.] 4. Of conditional Les [or the lie circumstantial.] 5. Of the Lie in gener 6. Of the Lie in particular. 7. Of foolish Lies. 8. A Conclusion touching the wresting or returning back of the Lie, [or the countercheck quarrelsome.] In the chapter of conditional Lies, speaking of the particle if he says-Conditional lies be such as are given cond tionally, as if a man should say or write these words if thou hast said that I have offered my lord abuse, th liest; or if thou sayest so hereafter, thou wilt lie. Of these kind of lies, given in this manner, often arise much c tention in words-whereof no sure conclusion c arise.'"
with roses and marjoram, in his right hand a torch."-
"ATONE together"-i. e. Agree together, or are reconciled: from at one. The use of this word is very frequent by the contemporaries of Shakespeare, who also use it actively, as he too does elsewhere.
"Enter Second Brother"-So called in the old copies, to avoid confusion with the "melancholy Jaques." The name of this "second brother" must have been also Jaques, and he is mentioned in the first scene as then "at school." He is in fact the third brother introduced in the play: but what is meant is, that he is second in point of age-younger than Oliver, and older than Orlando. Collier objects that this supposition would seem to make Orlando too much of a stripling. But one so well read in Old-English literature should have remembered that school was used with great latitude by Shakespeare and his contemporaries, so as to include even the highest academic instruction-as we still say, "the School of Medicine" at Paris, etc. Thus, Hamlet writes, "Go back to school at Wittenberg"-i. e. to the University there. In Lodge's novel, (which ends very differently,) Fernandine, the second of the three brothers, is represented as "a scholar in Paris." He, like Jaques de Bois, arrives quite at the end of the story.
"-meeting with an old religious man"-In Lodge's novel, the usurping Duke is not diverted from his purpose by the pious counsels of a hermit, but is subdued and killed by the twelve peers of France, who undertake the cause of Rosader-the Orlando of this play.
11- -the measure of their STATES"-Not 'states, for estates, as in Collier's edition, which is a useless change of the old reading" All shall receive such a share of my own returning property as may suit their several
To see no pastime"-"Amid this general festivity, the reader may be sorry to take his leave of Jaques, who appears to have no share in it, and remains behind unreconciled to society. He has, however, filled, with a gloomy sensibility, the space allotted to him in the play, and to the last preserves that respect which is due to hum as a consistent character, and an able, though solitary moralist.
"It may be observed, with scarce less concern, that Shakespeare has, on this occasion, forgot old Adam, the servant of Orlando, whose fidelity should have entitled him to notice at the end of the piece, as well as to that happiness which he would naturally have found, in the return of fortune to his master."-STEVENS.
"It is the more remarkable that old Adam is forgotten, since, at the end of the novel, Lodge makes him raptain of the king's guard."-FARMER.
'As we do trust they'll end in true delights”—“ The universal modern stage-direction here is 'a dance,' which probably followed the Duke's speech. The ancient direction, however, is exit; but there seems no sufficient reason why the Duke should go out before the conclusion of the Epilogue. Nevertheless, according to the custom of our old stage, he may have done so. Malone, Stevens, and all the modern editors, (Capell excepted,) read And instead of As,' in this line, without any reason for change, and without attempting to assign auy."-COLLIER.
4- -If I were a woman"-The female characters in plays, it is hardly necessary to observe, were at this lime, and until after the Restoration, performed by boys, ur young men.
"Every thing about Rosalind breathes of youth's sweet prune. She is fresh as the morning, sweet as the dewwakened blossoms, and light as the breeze that plays among them. She is as witty, as voluble, as sprightly Beatrice, but in a style altogether distinct. In both, the wit is equally unconscious; but in Beatrice it plays about us like the lightning, dazzling, but also alarming;
while the wit of Rosalind bubbles up and sparkles like living fountains, refreshing all around. Her volubility is like the bird's song; it is the outpouring of a heart filled to overflowing with life, love, and joy, and all sweet and affectionate impulses. She has as much tenderness as mirth, and in her most petulant raillery there is a touch of softness By this hand, it will not hurt a fly.'
"As her vivacity never lessens our impression of her sensibility, so she wears her masculine attire without the slightest impugnment of her delicacy. Shakespeare did not make the modesty of his women depend on their dress. Rosalind has in truth no doublet and hose in her disposition.' How her heart seems to throb and flutter under her page's vest. What depth of love in her passion for Orlando; whether disguised beneath a saucy playfulness, or breaking forth with a fond impatience, or half betrayed in that beautiful scene where she faints at the sight of the kerchief stained with his blood! He the recovery of her self-possession-her fears lest she should have revealed her sex-her presence of mind and quick-witted excuse, I pray you tell your brother how well I counterfeited,' and the characteristic playfulness which seems to return so naturally with her recovered senses, are all as amusing as consistent.
"Then how beautiful is the dialogue managed between herself and Orlando; how well she assumes the airs of a saucy page, without throwing off her feminine sweetness! How her wit flutters free as air over every subject! with what a careless grace, yet with what exquisite propriety :
For innocence hath a privilege in her
And if the freedom of some of the expressions used by Rosalind or Beatrice be objected to, let it be remembered that this was not the fault of Shakespeare or his women, but generally of the age. Portia, Beatrice, Rosalind, and the rest, lived in times when more importance was attached to things than to words: now we think more of words than of things. And happy are we, in these days of super-refinement, if we are to be saved by our verbal morality."-MRS. JAMESON.
"The plot of this delicious comedy was taken by our Poet from Lodge's 'Rosalynde, or Euphues' Golden Legacye.' Some of Lodge's incidents are judiciously omitted, but the greater part are preserved-the wrestling scene, the flight of the two ladies into the forest of Arden, the meeting there of Rosalind with her father and mother, and the whole happy termination of the plot, are found in the prose romance. Even the names of the personages are but slightly changed; for Lodge's Rosalind, in her male attire, calls herself Ganymede, and her cousin, as a shepherdess, is named Aliena. But never was the prolixity and pedantry of a prosaic narrative transmuted by genius into such magical poetry. In the days of James I., George Heriot, the Edinburgh merchant, who built a hospital still bearing his name, is said to have made his fortune by purchasing for a trifle a quantity of sand that had been brought as ballast by a ship from Africa. As it was dry, he suspected from its weight that it contained gold, and he succeeded in filtering a treasure from it. Shakespeare, like Heriot, took the dry and heavy sand of Lodge, and made gold out of it.
"Before I say more of this dramatic treasure, I must absolve myself by a confession as to some of its improbabilities. Rosalind asks her cousin Celia, Whither shall we go?' and Celia answers, To seek my uncle in the forest of Arden.' But, arrived there, and having purchased a cottage and sheep-farm, neither the daughter nor niece of the banished Duke seem to trouble themselves much to inquire about either father or uncle. The lively and natural-hearted Rosalind discovers no impatience to embrace her sire until she has finished her masked courtship with Orlando. But Rosalind was in love, as I have been with the comedy these forty years; and love is blind-for until a late period my eyes 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 vulgar 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 whole, 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 booksindicates 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, but Meares mentioned it 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. Malone 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, perhaps 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 afforded 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.