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Theseus a leading character in his story, and has ascribed the unearthly incidents to mythological personages, conformable to a legend which professes to narrate events that actually happened in Greece. Shakespeare, on the other hand, has merely adopted Theseus, whose exploits he was acquainted with through the pages of North's Plutarch, as a well-known character of romance, in subordination to whom the rest of the dramatis personae, might fret their hour; and has employed for supernatural machinery those "airy nothings" familiar to the literature and traditions of various people and nearly all ages. There is little at all in common between the two stories except the name Theseus, the representative of which appears in Shakespeare simply as a prince who lived in times when the introduction of ethereal beings, such as Oberon, Titania, and Puck, was in accordance with tradition and romance.
Beyond one or two passing allusions, there is no attempt to individualize either the man or the country, and, but for these, Theseus might have been called by any other nam?, and have been lord of any other territory. There is another enunciation of the critics, which requires to be taken with considerable modification: we are told that the characters of the play are classical, while the accessories are Gothic; but the distinction implied is not perhaps so great as we have been led to believe. Godwin has called Theseus the "knight-errant" of antiquity, from which it might be inferred that the knight-errant of the middle ages was a very different person to the romantic hero of ancient times: but, in truth, the two characters were almost identical, as the history of Theseus proves. What material difference, for example, is there between his victory over the Minotaur, and that of Guy, the renowned Earl of Warwick, over the Dun cow? The combats with dragons and other ferocious monsters, the protection of the virtuous and the weak against the wicked and the strong, fluctuation of good and evil fortune, adventures with the fair sex, and engagements with supernatural enemies, these were the incidents of every story in which a warrior was made to figure as the hero of romance. Nor is there anything peculiarly Gothic in the imaginary population of the fairy-world. It is not improbable that many of our legends connected with this fabulous race were derived indirectly from Greece itself. It is impossible to read the Golden Ass of Apuleius, one of the few prose works of imagination which have been transmitted to us from ancient times, without being struck by the similarity of classic and Gothic literature in this department of romance. The Fawns, Satyrs, and Dryads of the Greeks were undoubtedly of a kindred origin with the woodland fairies of more recent times, and the intervention of an agency known as witchcraft is alike traceable in both ages.
There can be little doubt that Golding's translation of the story of Pyramus and Thisbe suggested the interlude by the hard-handed men of Athens, as North's Plutarch certainly furnished the characters of Theseus and his " bouncing Amazon;" but that which constitutes the charm and essence of the play, the union of those gross materials with the delicate, benign, and sportive beings of fairy-land, " lighter than the gossamer, and smaller than a cowslip's bell," was the pure creation of Shakespeare's own illimitable and delightful fancy.
And then the moon, like to a silver bow
The. Go, Philostrate,
Stir up the Athenian youth to merriments;
Enter Egkus, Hermia, Lysander, and DemeTrius.
Ege. Happy be Theseus, our renowned duke!
The. Thanks, good Egeus. What's the news with thee?
Ege. Full of vexation come I, with complaint Against my child, my daughter Hermia: Stand forth, Demetrius. My noble lord, This man hath my consent to marry her.— Stand forth, Lysander:—and, my gracious duke, This man hath bewitch'd the bosom of my child: Thou, thou, Lysander, thou hast given her rhymes, And interchang'd love-tokens with my child: Thou hast by moonlight at her window sung, With feigning voice, verses of feigning love; And stol'n the impression of her fantasy With bracelets of thy hair, rings, gawds, conceits, Knacks, trifles, nosegays, sweetmeats ; messengers Of strong prevailment in unharden'd youth: With cunning hast thou filch'd my daughter's
heart; Turn'd her obedience, which is due to me, To stubborn harshness.—And, my gracious duke, Be it so, she will not here before your grace Consent to marry with Demetrius, I beg the ancient privilege of Athens, As she is mine, I may dispose of her: Which shall be either to this gentleman, Or to her death; according to our law, Immediately provided in that case.
The. What say you, Hermia? be advis'd, fair maid:
» New bent in heaeen,—] The early editions read now, which was corrected by Rowe.
b Know of your youth,--) A'tiotc. here, as in the Second Part of "Henry IV." Act I. Be. S,—
"Know our own estate,"
seems to be used in the sense of ascertain.
c Unto his lordship,—] That is, dominion, authority.
• "whose unwished yoke
My soul consents not to give sovereignty."] That is, give sovereignty to. An elliptical mode of expression not unfrequeut in Shakespeare. Thus, in the "Winter's Tale," Act II. Sc. I:—
To you your father should be as a god j
One that compos'd your beauties; yea, and one
To whom you are but as a form in wax,
By him imprinted, and within his power
To leave the figure, or disfigure it.
Demetrius is a worthy gentleman.
Her. So is Lysander.
The. In himself he is:
But, in this kind, wanting your father's voice,
Her. I would my father look'd but with my eyes!
The. Rather, your eyes must with his judgment •» look.
Her. I do entreat your grace to pardon me.
The. Either to die the death, or to abjure
Her. So will I grow, so live, so die, my lord, Ere I will yield my virgin patent up Unto his lordship,' whose unwished yoke My soul consents not to give sovereignty.*
The. Take time to pause; and, by the next new moon, (The sealing-day betwixt my love and me, For everlasting bond of fellowship,) Upon that day either prepare to die, For disobedience to your father's will; Or else, to wed Demetrius, as he would; Or on Diana's altar to protest, For aye, austerity and single life.
Dm. Relent, sweet Hermia ;—and, Lysander, yield Thy crazed title to my certain right
Lys. You have her father's love, Demetrius; Let me have Hermia's: do you marry him.
Ege. Scornful Lysander! true, he hath my love; And what is mine my love shall render him; And she is mine; and all my right of her I do estate unto Demetrius.
Lrs. I am, my lord, as well deriv'd as he, As well possess'd; my love is more than his; My fortunes every way as fairly rank'd, If not with vantage, as Demetrius'; And, which is more than all these boasts can be, I am belov'd of beauteous Hermia: Why should not I then prosecute my right? Demetrius, I'll avouch it to his head, Made love to Nedar's daughter, Helena, And won her soul ; and she, sweet lady, dotes, Devoutly dotes, dotes in idolatry, I pon this spotted and inconstant man.
This, I must confess that I have heard so much, And with Demetrius thought to have spoke thereof, But, being over-full of self-affairs, My mind did lose it.—But, Demetrius, come; And come, Egeus; you shall go with me, I have some private schooling for you both. For you, fair Hermia, look you arm yourself To fit your fancies to your father's will; Or else the law of Athens yields you up (Which by no means we may extenuate) To death, or to a vow of single life. Come, my Hippolyta; what cheer, my love? Demetrius, and Egeus, go along: I must employ you in some business Against our nuptial; and confer with you Of something nearly that concerns yourselves. Eoe. With duty and desire, we follow you. [Exeunt Thks., Hm, P]oe., Dem., and Train. Lrs. How now, my love? Why is your cheek so pale?
How chance the roses there do fade so fast?
Her. Belike for want of rain, which I could well Beteem* them from the tempest of mine eyes.
Lys. Ay me! * for aught that I could ever, read, Could ever hear by tale or history, The course of true love never did run smooth :b But, either it was different in blood ;—
Her. O cross ! too high to be cnthrall'd to low! J
Lys. Or else misgraffed, in respect of years;
Hek. O spite! too old to beengag'd to young!
Lys. Or else it stood upon the choice of friends; §
Her. O hell! to choose love by another's eye!
Lys. Or, if there were a sympathy in choice, War, death, or sickness did lay siege to it; Making it momentanyc as a sound, Swift as a shadow, short as any dream, j Brief as the lightning in the collied11 night, I That, in a spleen,(2) unfolds both heaven and earth, And ere a man hath power to say,—Behold! The jaws of darkness do devour it up: So quick bright things come to confusion.
Her. If then true lovers have been ever eross'd, It stands as an edict in destiny: Then let us teach our trial patience, Because it is it customary cross; As due to love, as thoughts, and dreams, and sighs, Wishes, and tears, poor fancy's" followers.
L\-8. A good persuasion; therefore, hear me, Hermia. I have a widow aunt, a dowager Of great revenue, and she hath no child; From Athens is her house remote || seven leagues; And she respects me as her only son. There, gentle Hermia, may I marry thee, And to that place the sharp Athenian law Cannot pursue us. If thou lov'st me then, Steal forth thy father's house to-morrow night; And in the wood, a league without the town, Where I did meet thee once with Helena, To do observance toII a morn of May,(3) There will I stay for thee.
reads momentary. We have improvidently permitted too many of our old expressions to become obsolete.
d In the collied night,—] In the black or dark night. Cllied, literally, is imulled with coal. So, in "The Marriage of Witt and Wisdom," 1579:-"Then let her get a fooles bable on his head, and collitiy his face."
"And now of a scollar
So, too, in Ben Jonson's " Poetaster:"—
"Thou hast not collied thy face enough."
* Fancy's follower!.] Fancy is used here in the same sense as in Act II. Sc. 2:—
*' In maiden meditation, fancy free;—"
And in Act IV. Sc. I :—
"Fair Helena infancy following me."
Heb. My good Lysander!
I swear to thee by Cupid's strongest bow;
Lys. Keep promise, love. Look, here comes
Hf.r. God speed fair Helena! Whither away?
Hbl. Call you me fair? that fair again unsay.
More tuneable than lark to shepherd's ear,
Were the world mine, Demetrius being bated,
Heb. I frown upon him, yet he loves me still.
Hbl. O that your frowns would teach my smiles such skill! .
Her. I give him curses, yet he gives me love.
Hers. O that my prayers could such affection move!
Her. The more I hate, the more he follows me. Hf,l. The more I love, the more he hateth me. Her. His folly, Helena, is no fault of mine." Hel. None, but your beauty; would that fault were mine! [face;
Heb. Take comfort, he no more shall see my Lysander and myself will fly this place.
» And prospers loves;] This is the reading of the quarto published by Fisher ; that by Roberts, and the folio, have love.
b Your fair:] That is, your beauty. See "Love's Labour's Lost," note («), p. 69, and the " Comedy of Errors," note (*>), p. 121. The folio reads, you fair.
c O, were favour so,—] Favour, in Shakespeare sometimes means countenance, features, and occasionally, as here, good graces generally.
a Your words I'd catch, fair Hermia, ere I go,—] The old copies read, "Your words I catch, fair Hermia, ere I go." The very slight alteration, which gives intelligibility to the line, was first made in the folio, 1632. Helena would catch not only the beauty of her rival's aspect, and the melody of her tones, but her language also. If the lection here proposed is inadmissible, we must adopt that of Hanmer,—" Yours would I catch," for the old text will never be accepted as the author's.
• Hit folly, Helena, is no fault of mine.] Thus, Fisher's quarto;
Before the time I did Lysander see,
0 then, what graces in my love do dwell,
Lys. Helen, to you our minds we will unfold: To-morrow night, when Phoebe doth behold Her silver visage in the wat'ry glass, Decking with liquid pearl the bladed grass, (A time that lovers' flights doth still conceal,) Through Athens' gates have we devis'd to steal.
Hf.r. And in the wood, where often you and I Upon faint primrose beds were wont to lie, Emptying our bosoms of their counsel sweet, There my Lysander and myself shall meet: And thence, from Athens, turn away our eyes, To seek new friends and stranger companies/ Farewell, sweet playfellow, pray thou for us, And good luck grant thee thy Demetrius!—■ Keep word, Lysander: we must starve our sight From lovers' food, till morrow deep midnight.
Lys. I will, my Hermia.—Helena, adieu: As you on him, Demetrius dotef on you!
Hbl. How happy some o'er other-some can be! Through Athens I am thought as fair as she. But what of that? Demetrius thinks not so; He will not know what all but he do know. And as he en's, doting on Hermia's eyes, So I, admiring of his qualities. Things base and vile, holding no quantity, Love can transpose to form and dignity: Love looks not with the eyes, but with the mind, And therefore is wing'd Cupid painted blind. Nor hath love's mind of any judgment taste, Wings, and no eyes, figure unheedy haste; And therefore is love said to be a child, Because in choice he is so oft| beguil'd. As waggish boys in game themselves forswear, So the boy love is perjur'd everywhere: For ere Demetrius look'd on Hermia's eyne. He hail'd down oaths, that he was only mine; And when this hail some heat from Hermia felt, So he dissolv'd, and showers of oaths did melt.
I will go tell him of fair Hermia's flight:
(«) First folio, into. (t) First folio, dotes.
(t) First folio, is often.
that by Roberts, and the folio, have, " m"" of mine."
'And stranger companies.] In the old text the passage runs as follows:—
11 And in the wood, where often you and I
The restoration of 11 counsel sweet," and 11 stranger companies," is due to Theobald, and as the rest of the scene from the entrance of Helena is in rhyme, there can be no reasonable doubt that these four lines were originally in rhyme also.