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“The seasons aller: hoary-headed frosts
- * Damned spirits all,
That in crossways and floods have burial.”
Act III., Scene 2. This passage is thought to refer particularly to the year 1695. In Meaning, the ghosts of self-murderers, who are buried in crossChurchyard's poem of "CHARITIE,” published in that year, the un- roads; and of those who, being drowned, were condemned (according seasonable weather is thus described :
to the opinion of the ancients) to wander for a hundred years, as the
rites of sepulture had never been bestowed on their bodies.
“ I with the morning's love have oft made sport.” — Act III., Scene 2.
This is probably an allusion to Cephalus, the mighty hunter, and Upon the land great floats of wood may swim.
paramour of Aurora. Nature thinks scorn to do her duty right,
Because we have displeased the Lord of Light.” It appears, from contemporary authorities, that 1593 and 1594 had also been remarkable for disastrous seasons.
" So doth the woodbine, the sweet honeysuckle
Gently entwist; the female ivy so « Cupid all armed: a certain aim he took
Enrings the barky fingers of the elm." — Act IV., Scene 1. At a fair vestal, throned by the west.” -- Act II., Scene 2.
The term woodbine is here used to signify the plant, and honey. The "fair vestal” alluded to was doubtless Queen Elizabeth. Sim- suckle, the flower. In the “ FATAL UNION" (1640), there is a similar ilar compliments were not uncommon. In “TANCRED AND GISMUNDA"
use of the words :(1592), we find,
“As fit & gift
As this were for a lorda honeysuckle,
The amorous woodbine's offspring."
The ivy is called “female,” because it always requires some support,
which is poetically called its husband. Milton says, " Lore takes the meaning in love's conference." --- Act II., Scene 3.
“Led the vino That is, in the conversation of those who are assured of each oth
To wed her elm; she spoused, about him twines er's kindness, not suspicion, but love takes the meaning. No malev.
Her marriageable urins." olent interpretation is to be made, but all is to be received in the Bense which love can find, and which love can dictate.-JOHNSON.
“ Dian's bul o'er Cupit's flower
Hath such force and blessed power." — Act IV., Sceno 1. Dian's bud is the bud of the agnus castus, or chaste tree. In “MACER'S HERBAL,” by Lynacre, it is said, “the virtue of this hearbe is,
that it will keep man and woman chaste." Cupid's flower is that on "A lion among ladies is a dreadful thing." - Act III. Scene 1.
which "the bolt of Cupid fell,” the viola tricolor, love-in-idleness, or There is an odd coincidence between this passage and a real occur.
heart's-ease. rence at the Seottish court in 1594. Prince IIenry, the eldest son of James the First, was christened in August in that year. While the
“ Then my queen, in silence sad, king and queen were at dinner, a triumphal chariot, with several al
Trip we after the night's shade." — Act IV., Scene 1. lerorical personages on it, was drawn in “ by a black-moore. This Sad here signifies grave, sober; and is opposed to the dances and ebariot should have been drawne in by a lyon, but because his pres- revels, which were now ended at the singing of the morning lark.- A ence might have brought some fear to the nearest, or that the sight
the nearest, or that the sight statute of Henry VII., directs certain offenses, committed in the of the lighted torches might have commoved his tameness, it was
king's palace, to be tried by twelve sad men of the household. thought meete that the Moore should supply that roome."
“ Go one of you find out the forester: *The plain-song cuckoo gray." — Act III., Scene 1.
For now our observation is performed.” — Act IV., Scene 1. The cuckoo, having no variety of strains, is said to sing in plain
| The “observation” here spoken of is that alluded to by Lysander song; by which expression the uniform modulation or simplicity of,
in the first Act:the chant was anciently distinguished, in opposition to prick-song, or variegated music sung by note.
Where I did meet thee once with Helena,
To do observance to a morn of May.”
Stubbs, in his “ ANATOMIE OF ABUSES” (1585), thus speaks of the
general spirit of revelry which at this season took possession of the Act III., Scene 2. community:
“ Against May, Whitsunday, or some other time of the year, every No satisfactory explanation of this obscure passage has yet been
parish, town and village, assemble themselves together, both men, given. Mr. Douce's solution of it is, perbaps, the best :-“ Helen
women and children, old and young, even all indifferently; and either Fays, we had two seeming bodies, but only one heart.' She then
going all together, or dividing themselves into companies, they go exemplifies the position by a simile,-'we had two of the first (i.e.
some to the woods and groves, some to the hills and mountains, somo bodies), like the double coats in heraldry that belong to man and wife,
to one place, some to anotber, where they spend all the night in as one person, but which, like one single heart, have but one crest.'”
pleasant pastimes, and in the morning they return, bringing with
them birch-boughs and branches of trees, to deck their assemblies “ You minimus, of hindering knot-grass made."
withal.” Act III., Scene 2.
Marvelous as it may seem, all this innocent hilarity appears to be Knot-grass was anciently supposed to prevent the growth of an an- so much heathenism to the puritanic spirit of Goodman Stubbs. imal or child.
| Chaucer, in his “ KNIGHT'S TALE” (from which Shakspeare is sup posed to have derived his Theseus and Hippolyta) has some beautiful
since established in the creed of childhood, and of those simple as lines in reference to the rites of May:
children, had never for a moment been bloddod with “ human mor
tals" among the personages of the drama.--HALLAM.
Till it fell ones, in a morne of May,
In the “MIDSUMMER NIGHT'S DREAM" there flows a luxuriant vein
of the boldest and most fantastical invention;- the most extraordiEre it was day, as she was wont to do
nary combination of the most dissimilar ingredients, seems to have She was arisen, and all redy dight,
arisen without effort by some ingenious and lucky accident; and the For May wol have no slogardie -night.
colors are of such clear transparency, that we think that the whole of The season pricketh every gentil herte, And maketh him out of his slepe to starte,
world here described resembles those elegant pieces of arabesque, And sayth, 'Arise, and do thine observance."
where little genii, with butterfly wings, rise half-embodied above the flower-cups. Twilight, moonshine, dew, and spring-perfumes, are the element of those tender spirits; they assist Nature in embroidering her carpet with green leaves, many-colored flowers, and dazzling in
sects: in the human world, they merely sport in a childish and way. “ And what poor duty cannot do, ,
ward manner with their beneficent or noxious influences. Their most Noble respect takes it in might, not meril." - Act V., Scene 1. violent rage dissolves in good-natured raillery; their passions, stripped
of all earthly matter, are merely an ideal dream. To correspond That is, what dutifulness tries to perform without ability, regard with this, the loves of mortals are painted as a poetical enchantment, ful generosity receives with complacency; estimating it not by the which, by a contrary enchantment may be immediately suspended, actual merit of the performance, but by what it might have been, and then renewed again. had the abilities of the performers been equal to their zeal.
The different parts of the plot; the wedding of Theseus, the diss.
greement of Oberon and Titania, the flight of the two pair of lovers, « Will it please you to see the epilogue, or to hear a Bergomask dance?" and the thcatrical operations of the mechanics, are so lightly and
Act V., Scene 1.
bappily interwoven, that they seem necessary to each other for the This is said to be a dauce after the manner of the peasants of Ber
formation of a whole. Oberon is desirous of relieving the lovers from gomasco, a province in the state of Venice, who are ridiculed as being
their perplexities, and greatly adds to them through the misapprehenmore clownish in their manners and dialect than any other people of
sion of his servant, till he at last comes to the aid of their fruitless Italy.
amorous pain, their inconstancy and jealousy, and restores fidelity to
its old rights. “I am sent with broom before,
The extremes of fanciful and vulgar are united when the enchanted To sweep the dust behind the door." -- Act V., Scene 2.
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. Cleanliness was always supposed to be necessary to invite the resi The droll wonder of the transinutation of Bottom is merely the trangdence and favor of the fairies. Drayton says,
lation of a metaphor in its literal sense; but, in his behavior during “These make our girls their sluttery rue, By pinching them both black and bluo;
proof how much the consciousness of such a head-dress heightens the Add put a penny in their shoe,
effect of his usual folly. The house for cleanly sweeping."
Theseus and Hippolyta are, as it were, a splendid frame for the pic
ture; they take no part in the activg, but appear with a stately “To swoep the dust bebind the door," is a common expression for pomp. The discourse of the hero and his Amazon, as they course to sweep the dust from behind the door; & necessary monition in large
through the forest with their noisy hunting train, works upon the old houses; where the doors of halls and galleries are thrown back
imagination like the fresh breath of morning, before which the shades ward and seldom shut. -SINGER.
of night disappear. -SCHLEGEL.
“ Now, until the break of day,
Through this house each fairy stray,
Which by us shall blessed be." -- Act V., Scene 2. The ceremony of blessing the bed was in old times used at all mar. riages. Sometimes, during the benediction, the married couple only sat on the bed. It is recorded that in France, on frequent occasions, the priest was improperly detained till midnight, whilst the wedding cuests rioted in the luxuries of the table, and made use of language that was extremely offensive to the clergy, and injurious to the salva tion of the parties. It was, therefore, ordained, in the year 1577. that the ceremony of blessing the nuptial bed should for the future be performed in the day-time, or at least before supper, and in the pres. ence of the bride and bridegroom, and of their nearest relations only.
In “TAE HANDEFULL OF PLEASANT DELITES" (1584), by Clement Robe inson, there is a doleful tale of “PYRAMUS AND TUISBE,” well meriting the epithet of " very tragical mirth," although apparently written in serious sadness. It was possibly the immediate suggestor of Shaks peare's burlesque:
“A NEW SONNET OF PYRANUS AND TAISBE.
What hath been done:
And doleful news,
Which I accuse. -
A noble prince did dwell,
So far she did excel.
The “MIDSUMMER Night's DREAM" is, I believe, altogother original, in one of the most beautiful conceptions that ever visited the mind of a poet -- the fairy machinery. A few before Shakspeare had dealt in a vulgar and clumsy manner with popular superstitions; but the sportive, beneficent, invisible population of the air and earth, long |
When sorrow great that she had made,
She took in hand
By fatal hand. -
To die in distress.
But still do you lament
Did die so well content?”
Another lord of high renown,
Who had a son;
Great love begun:
(I tell you true),
Did cares renew
Beknown unto them both;
Where they their love unclothe.
Till it befell,
By Nipus' well.
In love's delight:
And she his sight.
Where she her Pyramus
To them most dolorous.
There did proceed
Made Thisbe dreed :
Her mantle fine
Till that the time
And see how lion tare
He desperately doth fare.
Fair Thisbe slain :
He slew certaine.
O wretched wight!
For Thisbe bright.
Shall never fail this need;
Shall weave Atropos threed.'
And to his heart
With painful smart.
With pleasure great:
There for to treat,
Of all her former fears;
She shed forth bitter tears.
Manifold are the opinions that have been advanced respecting the origin of the fairy mythology of our ancestors. The superstitions of the East and of the North, and of Greece and of Rome, have been resorted to in search of a clue which would lead to a consistent history of its rise and growth.
It appears safe to assume that the oriental genii in general, and the Dews and Peries of Persia in particular, are the remote prototypes of modern fairies. The doctrine of the existence of this peculiar race of spirits was imported into the north of Europe by the Scythians, and it forms a leading feature in the mythology of the Celts. Henco was derived the popular fairy system of our own country, which our ancestors modified by the mythology of the classics.
The Peries and Dews of the orientals were paralleled by the ScandiDavian division of their genii, or diminutive supernatural beings (with which their imaginations so thickly peopled the earth), into bright or beneficent elves, and black or malignant dwarfs; the former beautiful, the latter hideous in their aspect. A similar division of the fairy tribe of this country was long made: 'but, by almost imperceptible degrees, the qualities of both species were ascribed to fairios generally. They were deemed intermediate between mankind and spirits; but still, as they partook decidedly of a spiritual nature, they were, like all other spirits, under the influence of the devil:- but their actions were more mischievous than demoniacal; more perplexing than malicious; more frolicsome than seriously injurious.....
An air of peculiar lightness distinguishes the poet's treatment of this extremely fanciful subject, from his subsequent and bolder flights into the regions of the spiritual world. He rejected from the drama on which he engrafted it, everything calculated to detract from its playfulness, or to encumber it with seriousness; and, giving the rein to the brilliancy of youthful imagination, he scattered, from his superabundant wealth, the choicest flowers of fancy over the fairies' paths: his fairies move amidst the fragrance of enameled meads, graceful, lovely, and enchanting.–SKOTTOWE.
If it be asked, how we may best increase our chance of approximating to the great and beneficent intellect that has achieved this wondrous vision? the answer is, - by enlarging our sympathies. Sheer genius is not to be acquired by a wish or an effort; but the most moderate talent may be fructified by a diligent cultivation of benevolent impulses. By stirring out of ourselves, we become something more than ourselves; and by the time we have acquired (as we may) a tithe of Shakspeare's spirit of sympathy with all that is great, genial, and beautiful, in the sister worlds of fancy and of fact, we shall at least become worthy sharers in the rich product of his “MIDSUMMER Night's DREAM," although we may never hope, dreaming or waking, to witch the world, and immortalize ourselves, by a similar display of poetic excellence.-0.
If Love's labor is apparently lost on the beauteous dames and sprightly courtiers of Navarro and France, poetic readers have still to be grateful for the many fine things that his inspiration has caused his votaries to utter. The play is not for those who see no merit but in broad and striking effects, for it really is deficient in dramatic interest; still it has an infinite variety of beauties; there is a rich vein of gold running through the lode, although the earthly mixture is greater in proportion than in most of the metal from the same prolific mine. The characters are numerous and well contrasted; the one thing wanting to them, and consequently to the play, is determined purpose. It is, however, pleasant to consort with a happy lot of Fortune's darlings, who seem to carve out penance for themselves simply to get rid of their superfluous leisure; and who have nothing to do throughout the long, delightful, summer day, but to amuse, baffle, laud, and depreciate each other, in blissful ignorance of time and business, vice and sorrow.
Biron and Rogaline have been often noted as the precursors of Benedick and Beatrice, and well deserve the compliment. The King and Princess, in their general courtesy and intellectual gifts, advance much more than conventional claim to the title of “Matchless Navarre," and the “Maid of grace and complete majesty." The scholastic enthusiasm of Holofernes and Nathaniel is not without its interest to those who, in the language of the Curate, have “ learned to feed upon the delicacies of a book.” The sentence in which this phrase occurs, rivals, in merit, his praise of the Schoolmaster's table-talk; - an eulogium, which Johnsop (an unexceptionable judge in such a case), calls, “a finished representation of colloquial excellence."
Costard is admirable throughout, — bating the occasional coarseness, which he shares with his betters in the scene. His mode of meeting the accusation of Armado, in the first Act, would have been worthy of Touchstone, Launcelot, or Ferto. Equally good is his overflowing delight in the witty impertinence of Moth; his exaltation, on successfully standing for “Pompion the Great,” though “he knows not the degree of the worthy;" and his triumphant compassion on the histrionic failure of the poor Curate: “He is a marvelous good neighbor, in sooth, and a very good bowler; but for Alexander, alas! you see how it is; a little o’er parted.”
Among the finer passages of the play (albeit they abound beyond the power of enumeration), are Biron's enthusiastic praise of Rosaline; her description of him; his expostulation with the King and Courtiers, in the first Act; and his glowing laudation of love and women in the last. Dumain's exquisite Sonnet, “On a Day," must not be forgotten; nor the “ Dialogue of the Owl and the Cuckoo;" words which, married to the exquisite music of Arne, contribute to form as auspicious a conjunction as ever was ratified at the altar of Apollo.
At what time the first edition of this play appeared is altogether uncertain; probably about 1590: it is, undoubtedly, one of Shakspeare's earlier productions. The edition of 1598 has the following title: “A pleasant conceited comedie, called Love's Labor's Lost.' As it was presented before her Highness this last Christmas. Newly corrected and augmented by W. Sbakspeare.” The drama was, probably, on various accounts especially pleasing to Elizabeth. The voluntary, yet unwilling, maiden Queen — she who was so peevishly jealous of the marriage of her maids of honor — must have relished, intensely, the postponement of so many sexual unions for a twelvemonth and a day," with a tolerable prospect of the matches failing altogether. The learning of the pedants must have been anything but caviare to the accomplished pupil of Ascham; while the grandiloquence of Armado would provoke a smile, both for herself and the author, from the lion-hearted woman who had so heroically defied alike the thunder and the machinations of the wily and redoubtable Philip.
" It is not unimportant (says Mr. Coleridge) to notice how strong a presumption the dictions and allusions of this play afford, that, though Shakspeare's' acquirements in the dead languages might not be such as we suppose consistent with a learned education, his habits had nevertheless been scholastic and those of a student."