Oldalképek
PDF
ePub

The childing autumn, angry winter, change
Their wonted liveries; and the 'mazed world,
By their increase, now knows not which is which :
And this same progeny of evils comes
From our debate, from our dissension;

We are their parents and original." It will be remembered that the phrase “ rheumatic diseases” is not here used in its modern acceptation. Colds, coughs, &c. were included under this class of complaints, and their prevalence agrees with Forman's statement," ther was moch sicknes but lyttle death."

Forman's account is, indeed, altogether too remarkably similar to Shakespeare's to have been the result of chance. No one, we think, can read them both without being convinced that they relate to one and the same period. In pursuing this argument, we shall not perhaps be blamed for hinting at the possibility of the plenty of nuts, as mentioned by Forman, having suggested Titania's offer of “new nuts” to Bottom (Act iv. Sc. 1); and “new nuts” could scarcely have been procured at any other season than autumn.

“ This yere,” says Stowe the Chronicler, “ in the month of May, fell many great showers of rain, but in the months of June and July much more; for it commonly rained every day or night till St. James' day, and two days after together most extremely ; all which notwithstanding, in the month of August, there followed a fair harvest, but in the month of September fell great rains, which raised high waters, such as stayed the carriages, and broke down bridges at Cambridge, Ware, and elsewhere in many places.”

Steevens has quoted the following from Churchyard's Charitie, published in 1595, although he does not seem to be aware that the author of course alludes to the preceding year :

A colder time in world was never seene :
The skies do lowre, the sun and moone wax dim;
Somnier scarce knowne, but that the leaves are greene.
The winter's waste drives water ore the brim;
Upon the land great flotes of wood may swim.
Nature thinks scorne to do hir dutie right,
Because we have displeasde the Lord of Light.”

Churchyard, as Steevens observes, was not enumerating, on this occasion, fictitious, but real misfortunes. He wrote the present poem to excite charity on his own behalf; and among his other sufferings very naturally dwelt on the coldness of the season, which his poverty had rendered the less supportable.

It is remarkable that Churchyard, in the preface to the above-mentioned volume, states that “ a great nobleman told me this last wet sommer, the weather was too colde for poets.” How singular that A Midsummer Night's Dream should have been written at such a time! Would that some of our modern

poets could be induced to profit by the hint.

Chetwood, in his work entitled “ The British Theatre,” 12mo. Dublin, 1750, has given a list of titles and dates of the early editions of Shakespeare's Plays, among which we find “A moste pleasaunte comedie, called A Midsummer Night's Dreame, wythe the freakes of the fayries,” stated to have been published in the year 1595. No copy either with this date or under this title has yet been discovered. It is, however, necessary to state, that Steevens and others have pronounced many of the titles which Chetwood has given to be fictitious.

In an old comedy called, The Wisdome of Doctor Dodypoll, first printed in 1600, but known to have been written as early as 1596, occurs a passage, which is conjectured by Steevens, to have been borrowed from a similar passage in the Midsummer Night's Dream :

“ 'Twas I that lead you through the painted meades,
Where the light fairies daunst upon the flowers,
Hanging on every leaf an orient pearle,
Which, strooke together with the silken winde,
Of their loose mantels made a silver chime.”

There is another allusion in the Midsummer Night's Dream, which may hereafter be found to be corroborative of the date to which we have assigned its composition. But of this more particularly in another chapter.

Early in the year 1598, appeared Meres' Wit's Treasury, being the Second Part of Wit's Commonwealth, in which (fol. 282) he mentions A Midsummer Night's Dream of Shakespeare. It was probably not then a new performance, or it could scarcely have found its way into Meres' list. This is the only direct notice of it we possess, previously to the publication of two small quarto editions in the year 1600, one printed “ for Thomas Fisher,” and the other,“ printed by James Roberts." We think there can be little doubt, on an examination of these editions, that Fisher's is the genuine one, and the earliest.* It was entered at Stationer's Hall on the

For the sake of the bibliomaniac, we may state, that Fisher's edition is very rare and difficult to meet with. Steevens' copy, which was imperfect, sold for the sum of £25 10s., and Heber's copy, a remarkable fine one, produced thirty-six pounds. The edition by Roberts is comparatively common, and worth from five to ten pounds.

8th October, the same year. The play was not reprinted after 1600, till it was inserted in the folio of 1623; and the text in that edition differs very slightly from that in the preceding quartos.

CHAPTER III.

“ The characters in The Midsummer Night's Dream are classical, but the costume is strictly Gothic, and shews that it was through the medium

of Romance that be drew the knowledge of them.”—Letter on Shakespeare's authorship of the Two Noble Kinsmen. CHAUCER'S Knight's Tale has long been con

sidered as the source whence Shakespeare derived the hint of A Midsummer Night's Dream. We have a few general obervations to offer on the sources of this play, at the same time expressing our firm conviction, that the plot as a whole, was one of the “ heirs of his own invention.”

Chaucer's Knight's Tale, the Legende of Thisbe of Babylon, by the same author, and Golding's translation of Ovid's Metamorphoses, were all well known to Shakespeare, and together furnished materials for the basis of this play.

From the first of these, several corresponding extracts have been given by the commentators, but they appear to have overlooked the following passage, which occurs nearly at the end of the Knight's Tale, and may have furnished Shakespeare with the idea of introducing an interlude at the end of his play

“ ne how the Grekes play The wake-plaies ne kepe I not to say:

Who wrestled best naked, with oile enoint,
Ne who that bare him best in no disjoint.
I woll not tellen eke how they all gon
Hom till Athenes whan the play is don.”

The introduction of the clowns and their interlude was perhaps an afterthought.

Again, in the Knight's Tale, we have this passage,

“ Duke Theseus, with all his cumpany,
Is comin home to Athenes the cité,
With alle bliss, and grete solempnité."

which bears too remarkable a resemblance to what Theseus says in the Midsummer Night's Dream, to have been accidental :

Away

1

with us, to Athens : Three and three, We'll hold a feast in great solemnity.” In the Legende of Thisbe of Babylon, we read,

“ Thus would thei saine, alas! thou wicked wal,
Thorough thine envie thou us lettist al."

which is certainly similar to the following line in Pyramus's address to Wall:

[ocr errors]

“ O wicked Wall, through whom I see no bliss !" Golding's translation of Ovid was published in 1567, and the many similarities between the tale of Pyramus and Thisbe as there related and Shakes

interlude, satisfactorily prove the source of the latter. We give the whole passage, and let the reader judge for himself:

Within the towne (of whose huge walles so monstrous high and

thicke, The fame is given Semiramis for making them of bricke.) Dwelt hard together two young folke in houses joynde so nere,

« ElőzőTovább »