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HARVARD
COLLEGE
LIBRARY

043*1

Entered according to Act of Congress, in the year 1898 by

RICHARD GRANT WHITE.

In the Clerk's Office of the District Court for the Southern District of

New York

Presswork by John Wilson and Son.

A MIDSUMMER-NIGHT'S DREAM.

(3)

A MIDSUMMER-NIGHT'S DREAM.

INTRODUCTION.

DR.
R. JOHNSON, doling out scarce half a dozen lines of cold

approval to this play, devotes two of them to saying, “Fairies in his (Shakespeare's] time were much in fashion : common tradition had made them familiar, and Spenser's poem had made them great.” But, unfortunately for Shakespeare's reputation, the ignorance and misapprehension displayed in this sentence sadly impair the value of that approbation of which it forms so large a part. An editor of Shakespeare should have known that the fairies of The Faerie Queen and those of A Midsummer-Night's Dream are not the same. A reader capable of appreciating either poem, on reading both, must see, untold, that they have nothing in common. The personages of Spenser's allegory are the supernatural beings of stately romance, endowed with traits typical of the moral virtues : the freakful atomies of Shakespeare's dream are the good people’ in whose actual existence every rustic in England had full faith — a faith shared by no small proportion of his superiors in rank and education, until the poet's hand transplanted elf and fay from the byways of tradition and the dim retreats of superstition into the bright and open realms of fancy and imagination.

For there seems to be no ground on which to rest a doubt that Shakespeare was the first to give the fairy of the fireside tale either an embodiment upon the stage or a place in literature, however humble. Evidence abounds that the Oberon, the Titania, and, above all, the Puck of this play are ideals, the prototypes of which figured in countless tales familiar as household words to English folk of Shakespeare's day and their immediate progenitors; and yet there is great lack of contemporary illustration of this subject, because, until attention had been directed to it by the success of A Midsummer-Night's Dream, no collection or examination of popular English fairy lore appears to have been made, except of the briefest and most unpretending character and that quite incidentally. Mr. Halliwell seems to have done all that can be done to throw light upon the origin of this unique comedy; * and it is not his fault that his labors, though evincing great research and judgment, fail of their chief object; bųt it is too plain to admit of doubt, that, except a few barren allusions, nothing has been discovered upon this subject which does not start from Shakespeare's work instead of leading to it.

The earliest allusion to Robin Goodfellow known hitherto was first quoted by Steevens from Reginald Scot's Discoverie of Witchcraft, published in 1584. There are several brief passages in that curious work which show that in his Puck Shakespeare faithfully reproduced the characteristic traits of a supernatural being who was the hero of tales often told, and commonly believed.T Mr. Halliwell has quoted a passage from Whetstone's Honourable Reputation of a Souldier, published in 1586, in which Robin Goodfellow is mentioned ; I and Mr. Collier notices, in his History of English Dramatic Poetry, &c., the occurrence of the name in Anthony Munday's comedy, The Two Italian Gentlemen, printed in 1584 ; and in his edition of Robin Goodfellow's Mad Pranks, &c., published by the Percy Society, he also cites some

* In An Introduction to Shakespeare's Midsummer-Night's Dream, 8vo., London, 1841, and Illustrations of the Fuiry Mythology of Shakespeare, 8vo., published by the Shakespeare Society. London. 1845.

† “ There goe as manie tales upon Hudgin in some parts of Germanie, as there did in England of Robin Goodfellowe.Discoverie of Witchcraft, p. 521.

“ And know you this by the waie, that heretofore Robin Good-fellow and Hobgobblin were as terrible and also as credible to the people as hags and witches be now.

And, in truth, they that mainteine walking spirits have no reason to denie Robin Good-fellow, upon whom there have gone as manie, and as credible, tales, as upon witches, saving that it hath not pleased the translators of the bible to call spirits by the name of Robin Good-fellow." Ibid., p. 153.

“ Your grandames maids were woont to set a boll of milke before Incubug and his cousin Robin Good-fellow, for grinding of malt or mustard, and sweep. ing the house at midnight; and you have also heard that he would chafe exe ceedingly if the maid or good wise of the house, having compassion of his nakedness, laid anie clothes for him beesides his messe of white bread and milke, which was his standing fee. For in that case he saith, What have we here?

Hemton hamten

Here will I never more tread nor stampen.Ibid., p. 85. $ “The Frenchmen, to scarre their children, as we doe by Robyn Good fellow, have to this day a by-word -Garde le Talbot.

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