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A MIDSUMMER-NIGHT'S DREAM:
En Five Acts,
BY WILLIAM SHAKSPEARE,
PRINTED FROM THE ACTING COPY, WITH REMARKS,
To which are added,
A DESCRIPTION OF THE COSTUME,-CAST OF THE CHARACTERS,
As now performed at the
THEATRES ROYAL, LONDON:
EMBELLISHED WITH A FINE WOOD ENGRAVING,
By Mr. BONNER, from a Drawing taken in the Theatre, by
JOHN CUMBERLAND, 19, LUDGATE HILL.
A Midsummer Night's Dream.
A MIDSUMMER NIGHT'S DREAM is Shakspeare's first attempt on fairy ground. The chronology of Dr. Drake is at variance with that of his brother commentators ;-it has however, where all rests upon conjecture, the same title to correctness; and he has given some cogent reasons for fixing its date at 1593. The characters represented are spirits, exercising their magic influence over the material agents, and producing the delusion of a wild fantastic dream. To look for strong passion and force of character, where the scene passes nature's bounds, and the actors are ethereal essences flitting in the moonbeams, is to expect them where they can never be consistently found -in the regions of enchantment. But, however barren in fable, and deficient in that interest which arises from a well-drawn picture of real life-in sportive invention and appropriate imagery, it yields to none of the most celebrated productions of Shakspeare. The ima gination is held captive by scenes of high creative power and exqui site poetry, interspersed with much delicate feeling, and enlivened by humour the most frolic and grotesque. It is strictly a midsum. mer night's dream-a fairy vision that may be supposed to pass before the mind during that luxuriant and romantic season. A tale of sadness was in ancient times considered best adapted to winter; and where shall we find, in any language, two dramas with more appropriate titles thau "A Midsummer Night's Dream," and "The Winter's Tale ?"
In commenting on this play, it may be well to distinguish between the fairy mythology of the north of Europe, as (according to some writers) adopted by Shakspeare, and that which, transplanted from Persia and Arabia, became the common property of the romancewriters of Spain, Italy, and France. The former belongs to that remote period of history, when the kingdoms of the Ostrogoths and Wisigoths were first established by colonies from Scandinavia; an event which led to the invasion and conquest of the southern provinces of the Roman empire, and lastly of England. The Gothic mythology may therefore claim a priority of three centuries over the Arabian; for the invasion of Spain by the Moors did not take place until 712, whereas the Goths had held dominion over that country since the year 409 ;—and it was the practice of those warriors to im
pose their manners, customs, religion, and language, upon every people that submitted to their power; and to this day England bears greater marks of her Gothic progenitors in her popular super. stitions, but more especially in her language, than any other nation. The Gothic system of fabling comprehended two species of preternatural beings-the beneficent elves and the malignant elves. The one were considered as the source of all good, the other of all evil; the first were exquisitely beautiful, and inhabited a region of the purest ether-the second were hideous and unsightly, and their dwelling was in mountains, caves, or barrows. The Persian and Arabian mythology, however, differed little from the Gothic but in terms. The Peri and the Dives were gifted with nearly the same attributes as the Bright Elves and the Swart Elves; though, in eastern fairy. land, we no where encounter so merry, mischievous a sprite as the Brownie of Scotland, or the Puck of Shakspeare.
There is extant an oid black-letter ballad, entitled “ Robin Goodfellow" from which it is conjectured Shakspeare might have borrowed some hints for this play, as most of the pranks played by Pack are therein detailed. This ballad has been attributed to Ben Jonson; but it contains nothing to warrant the opinion but the last line, in which the fairy is made to speak Latin; in conformity, we presume, with a certain great scholar, who wrote a long treatise to prove that Latin was spoken in paradise!
What a delightful study is this fine play for the closet, or "the pleached bower, where honey-suckles, ripened by the sun, forbid the sun to enter!”—a play, in which the imagination of the most imaginative of poets seems to have run riot! The brilliant creatures of it burst forth from the rich treasure-house of his fancy; his pencil is dipped in the dews of heaven; and his language, according with the dazzling imagery, falls on the ear in all the silver melody of sound. Great pains have been taken to show from which mythology, the Oriental or the Gothic, Shakspeare borrowed his fairies; but we say from neither. Shakspeare's fairies are his own: his juvenile reading had given him an idea of an airy being between man and angela being so far connected with humanity as to hover o'er us in our vocations by day, and our dreams by night; to help us in our need; or, as his humour pleased, to thwart us in our amusements, or more intricately entangle us in our perplexities-" to haunt, to startle, and waylay."
But when, in after years, he brought this creature of fancy into action, to animate his dramas, and shed its spells o'er their magic scenes-although glimpses were retained of that which had charmed him in youth, the characters of his fairies, like all that passed through the alembic of his brain, came forth enriched, adorned, exalted;
nor can any mythology, whether northern or eastern, produce a being comparable to Ariel. His very Puck, his "Lob of spirits," he who delights in "things that befall preposterously," in his hands, is not the "lubber fiend;" he is the "merry wanderer of the night," the genius of harmless mirth and mischief. Titania, even in her "dotage," breathes nothing that should not fall from lips that feed on dew and honey. Shakspeare's is indeed fairy-land; its spirits flitting about amidst violets, musk-roses, and eglantines; their occupation to hang pearls of dew in the "tall cowslip," to keep fresh the magic circle of their dance; their whole existence one course of midnight revelry. How delightful to dream out a summer season in
"Some bright little isle of our own,
In a blue summer ocean far off and alone;
Where a leaf never dies in the still-blooming powers,
And the bee banquets on through a whole year of flowers!”
And there dwell with such beings as Shakspeare's fairies, to→
"Hop in our walks, and gambol n our eyes;
We have not as yet been able to discover from what source Shakspeare derived this play. "Sir Huon, of Bordeaux," has been instanced as one, because Oberon is the name of Shakspeare's king of the fairies, and of the fairy, who bestows the enchanted horn upon Sir Huon, without one single trait of similitude in the two stories.Chaucer is mentioned on similar grounds-the mutual use of one term, "Duke Theseus ;" which is all the obligation that "A Midsummer Night's Dream" owes to Palemon and Arcite. The title of duke is common with the old dramatists for their character of highest rank, and is sometimes given without assigning his grace any local dominions. It was esteemed the more, perhaps, from its scarcity; for, during the greater part of Shakspeare's time, there was but one duke in England. A third source has been discovered in " Ozier le Danois;" but the adventure of Morgana with Ozier bears far too little resemblance to that of Titania with Bottom, for our poet to have had it in his mind's eye when he wrote this play.
Want of interest has been attributed to this drama; but has it not all the interest that a fairy tale will bear? The loves and crosses of Hermia and Helena are sufficient for a midsummer night's dream. It is not intended for a history of deep passion. A human being en