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The cuckoo then, on every tree,
When shepherds pipe on oaten straws,
And merry larks are ploughmen's clocks,
And maidens bleach their summer smocks,
Winter. When icicles hang by the wall,
And Dick the shepherd blows his nail,
Joan doth keel the pot.
When all aloud the wind doth blow,
And coughing drowns the parson's saw,
And Marian's nose looks red and raw;
While greasy Joan doth keel the pot. Arm. The words of Mercury are harsh after the songs of Apollo. You, that way: we, this way.
“A Midsommer nights dreame. As it hath beene sundry times publickely acted, by the Right honourable, the Lord Chamberlaine his seruants. Written by William Shakespeare. Imprinted at London, for Thomas Fisher, and are to be soulde at his shoppe, at the Signe of the White Hart, in Fleetestreete, 1600.” 32 leaves.
“A Midsommer night's dreame. As it hath beene sundry times publikely acted, by the Right honourable, the Lord Chamberlaine his seruants. Written by William Shakespeare. Printed by James Roberts, 1600.” 82 leaves.
In the folio, 1623, it occupies 18 pages, viz., from p. 145 to 162 inclusive, in the division of " Comedies." It is of course, like the other plays, inserted in the later folios.
This drama, which on the title-pages of the earliest impressions is not called comedy, history, nor tragedy, but which is included by the player-editors of the first folio among the “ comedies” of Shakespeare, was twice printed in 1600," for Thomas Fisher" and " by James Roberts." Fisher was a bookseller, and employed some unnamed printer; but Roberts was a printer as well as a bookseller. The only entry of it at Stationers' Hall is to Fisher, and it runs as follows:“8 Oct. 1600. Tho. Fysher) A booke called a Mydsomer
nights Dreame.” There is no memorandum regarding the impression by Roberts, which perhaps was unauthorized, although Heminge and Condell followed his text when they included “Midsummer-Night's Dream” in the folio of 1623. In some instances the folio adopts the evident misprints of Roberts, while such improvements as it makes are not obtained from Fisher's more accurate copy: both the errors and emendations, if not merely trifling, are pointed out in our notes. The chief'difference between the two quartos and the folio is, that in the latter the Acts, but not the Scenes, are distinguished.
We know from the Palladis Tamia of Meres, that “Midsummer Night's Dream” was in existence at least two years before it came from the press. On the question when it was written, two pieces of internal evidence have been especially noticed. Mr. Halliwell, in his “Introduction to a Midsummer-Night's Dream " has produced a passage from the Diary of Dr. Simon Forman, which in some points tallies with the description of the state of the weather, and the condition of the country given by the Fairy Queen. The memorandum in Forman's Diary relates to the year 1594, and Stowe's Chronicle may be quoted to the same effect.
1 8vo. 1841, p. 6. The following are the terms Forman employs; and they are subjoined, that the reader may compare them with the passage in “Midsummer-Night's Dream,'' A. ii. sc. 1.
" Ther was moch sicknes but lyttle death, moch fruit, and many plombs of all sorts this yeare and small nuts, but fewe walnuts. This monethes of June and July were very wet and wonderful cold like winter, that the 10 dae of Julii many did syt by the fyer, yt was so cold; and soe was yt in Maye and June; and scarce too fair dais together all that tyme, but yt rayned every day more or lesse. Yf yt did not raine, then was yt cold and cloudye. Mani murders were done this quarter There were many great fludes this sommer, and about Michelmas, thorowe the abundaunce of raine that fell 'sodeinly, the brige of Ware was broken downe, and at Stratford Bowe, the water was never seen so byg as yt was : and in the lattere end of October, the waters burst downe the bridg at Cambridge. In Barkshire were many gret waters, wherewith was moch harm done sodenly." MS. Ashm. 384, fol. 105,
The other supposed temporary allusion occurs in Act v. 8C. 1. and is contained in the lines,
"The thrice three Muses mourning for the death
Of learning, late deceas'd in beggary,”
which some have imagined to refer to the death of Spenser. If so, it must have been an insertion in the drama subsequent to its first production, because Spenser was not dead in 1598, when “Midsummer-Night's Dream" was mentioned by Meres. It is very doubtful whether any particular reference were intended by Shakespeare, who, perhaps, only meant to advert in strong terms to the general neglect of learning. T. Warton carried the question back to shortly subsequent to the year 1591, when Spenser's “Tears of the Muses printed, which, from the time of Rowe to that of Malone, was supposed to contain passages highly laudatory of Shakespeare. There is a slight coincidence of expression between Spenser and Shakespeare, in the poem of the one, and in the drama of the other, which deserves remark : Spenser says,
“Our pleasant Willy, ah, is dead of late. And one of Shakespeare's lines is,
“Of learning, late deceas'd in beggary.” Yet it is quite clear, from a subsequent stanza in “ The Tears of the Muses,” that Spenser did not refer to the natural death of " Willy," whoever he were, but merely that he “ rather chose to sit in idle cell,” than write in such unfavourable times. In the same manner, Shakespeare might not mean that Spenser (if the allusion indeert bê to him) was actually “deceased,” but merely, as Spenser expresses it in his “ Colin Clout,” that he was “dead in dole." The allusion to Queen Elizabeth as the “fair vestal, throned by the west," in A. ii. sc. 1, affords no note of time.
It seems highly probable that “A Midsummer-Night's Dream” was not written before the autumn of 1594, and if the speech of Titania in A. ii. sc. 1, were intended to describe the real state of the kingdom, from the extraordinary wetness of the season, we may infer that the drama came from the pen of Shakespeare at the close of 1594, or in the beginning of 1595.
“ The Knight's Tale” of Chaucer, and the same poet's “Tysbe of Babylone,” together with Arthur Golding's translation of the story of Pyramus and Thisbe from Ovid, are the only sources yet pointed out of the
plots introduced and employed by Shakespeare. Oberon, Tìtania, and Robin Goodfellow, or Puck, are mentioned, as belonging_to the fairy mythology, by many authors of the time. The Percy Society not long since reprinted a tract called “Robin Good-fellow, his Mad Pranks and Merry Jests,” from an edition in 1628; but there is little doubt that it originally came out at least