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“ Hail, bright Titania!
TYRWHITT was of opinion that the Pluto and
Proserpina of Chaucer's Merchant's Tale were the true progenitors of Oberon and Titania ; and in this conjecture he is followed by Malone. We believe Shakespeare to have formed his beautiful creations out of the popular fairy mythology of the age.
Much has been said and written on the source of the fairy drama, as exhibited in the Midsummer Night's Dream. Some writers have even gone to the early literature of Wales.* We prefer confining our researches to a field that Shakespeare himself might have had an opportunity of access.
Fairies were then so woven into the popular belief, and were supposed to exert so wide and general an influence, that Shakespeare considered it no
* With all due respect for Welsh literature, we certainly must say that the idea of its being the origin of romance and of fairy land is not very probable. We have heard that the following note was once discovered on the side of a Welsh pedigree roll" About this time the world was created ;" but we were never inclined to believe the anecdote until we found the following entry in the “inventory of Mr. Morgan, shentleman,” in MS. Harl. 2127:-"One pedegree since before Adame to shoe the antiquitte of hur shentilitte."
absolute anomaly to introduce them at Athens in the time of Theseus. Fairies were beings that always existed, whose presence was not confined to one quarter or part of the world. Would they not, therefore, be properly introduced into a drama of this nature? We cannot for a moment think that Shakespeare ever considered whether the inhabitants of Greece believed in the existence of Fairies, or whether the subjects of Theseus were ever haunted by them. No, he was writing for a people that believed, or knew that others believed in their universal existence; and we know enough of Shakespeare's originals, to be convinced that he seldom, if ever, cared for raising a substantial foundation of correct minute facts like these.
It would answer no useful purpose, as far as we can see, to enter into any discussion of the fairy mythology of Greece. In what important particulars do the fairies of Greece, as described by Allatius, or the kalat twv opewv of Psellus, differ from those of England? We do not think that we should be affording illustration to Shakespeare's play, in attempting to prove the source of the latter. The account given by Allatius, however, agrees very remarkably with the beings of the Midsummer Night's Dream. They haunted especially shady trees, and might frequently be seen dancing their rounds beside the cool streams which watered the woody dales. They sometimes fell in love with handsome young men, and they were extremely fond of little children, often carrying them away, and educating them amongst themselves. Many people had seen them, sometimes dancing, at other times, two engaged in
conversation under the shade of a tree, or one or more wandering about the woods or meadows.*
One thing appears probable, that Shakespeare seems to have considered one of the fairy haunts to be in the eastern bounds of India. Titania thus taunts Oberon :
“ Then I must be thy lady. But I know
To give their bed joy and prosperity.”
as her attendant, hath A lovely boy, stolen from an Indian king,” which is not, however, very easily reconcilable with Titania' own account of the boy's mother, “ in the spiced Indian air, by night.”
Lane, in his Triton's Trumpet, speaks of the “land of faerie;" and as this poem has never been printed, we may, perhaps, be justified in introducing the following extract:
“ From Faerie Lande, I com, quoth Danus now.
See an interesting paper on the popular superstitions of modern Greece, in Frazer's Magazine for February, 1835, written by Thomas Wright, Esq. M.A., &c.
Wheare is that happie land of Faerie,
No marveile that, quoth Danus mirrelie,
MS. Bibl. Reg. 17. B xv. Be it where it may, the abode of Pliny's pigmies may have originated the locus of the fairies in the farthest steep of India.” We rest our conjecture on the following extract from a popular work, at the same time, not daring to hint that there ever was the slightest similarity between the men of one cubit, and the καλαι αρχοντισαι of Shakespeare or of Greece:
Pigmei be little men of a cubite long, and the Greekes call them Pigmeos, and they dwell in mountaines of Inde, and the sea of occean is nigh to them, as Papias sayth. And Austen sayth in this wise, that pigmei bee unneth a cuibite long, and bee perfect of age in the thirde yeare, and ware old in the seaventh yere, and it is said, that they fight with cranes. Lib. 7. ca. 3. Plinius speaketh of Pigmeis, and sayth, that pigmei be armed in yron, and overcome cranes, and passe not theyr bounds, and dwell in temperate lande under a merrye parte of heaven, in mountains in the north side. And the fame is, that cranes pursue then, and pigmei armed, ride on goat bucks with arowes in springing time, and gather an hoast, and come to the sea and destroye their egs and birds with all their might and strength, and doe such voyages in three moneths, and except they did so, cranes should increase, and be so many, that pigmei shuld not withstand them, and they make them houses to dwell in of feathers, and with the pens of cranes, and of shells of their egges, as he sayth, and saith also, that Aristotle meaneth, that Pigmei lyve in dennes. All the later writers affirme this to be true, they are in the uttermost mountaines of Indie.”— Bartholomæus de proprietatibus rerum, fol. Lond. 1582, fol. 377.
Tarlton, in his Newes out of Purgatory, first printed in 1589, says of Robin Goodfellow, that he was “ famosed in everie old wive's chronicle, for his mad merrie prankes.” There is, indeed, sufficient evidence to show that there were fairy rhymes and fairy tales, of beings like those of A Midsummer Night's Dream, in circulation if not in print before that play was written.
We will bere insert an anecdote from a manuscript in the Bodleian Library at Oxford, which was written in the same year to which we have assigned the composition of this play, and serves to show that common tradition at that period admitted the existence of fairy haunts, and illustrates the common opinion of the nature of those beings :-
“ A farmer bired a grange commonly reported to be haunted with fairies, and paid a shrewd for it every half year. A gentleman asked him how he durst live in the house, and whether no spirits haunted him? Truth, quoth he, there be two saints in Heaven do vex me more than all the devills in hell,