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With this field-dew consecrate,
Make no stay ;
[Exeunt Oberon, Titania, and Train. 7 -take his gait;] i. e. take his way, or direct his steps. So, in Spenser's Fairy Queen, b. i. c. viii. :
“ And guide his weary gate both to and fro." Again, in a Scottish Proverb:
' A man may speer the gate to Rome.” Again, in The Mercer's Play, among the Chester collection of Whitsun Mysteries, p. — :
“ Therefore goe not through his cuntrey,
“ Nor the gate you came to day.” Again, and more appositely, in one of the poems of Lawrence Minot, p. 50:
Take thi gate unto Gines,
“ And grete tham wele thare ;-' Steevens. By gate, I believe, is meant, the door of each chamber.
M. Mason. Gait, for a path or road, is commonly used at present in the northern counties. HARRIS. 8 Every fairy take his gait;
And each several chamber bless, &c.] The same superstitious kind of benediction occurs in Chaucer's Miller's Tale, v. 3479, Tyrwhitt's edition ;
• I crouche thee from elves, and from wightes.
On foure halves of the hous aboute,
STEEVENS. 9 Ever shall in safety rest,] Thus all the old copies, from which I have not ventured to deviate, because there are many other instances, in these plays, where the nominative case is not expressed, but understood. Mr. Pope and the subsequent editors read: “ E'er shall it in safety rest."
Puck. If we shadows have offended,
have but slumber'd here,
Give me your
- an honest Puck,] See Mr. Tyrwhitt's note, &c. Act II. Sc. I. on the words “sweet Puck." STEEVENS.
unearned luck — ) i. e. if we have better fortune than we have deserved. STEEVENS.
3 Now to 'scape the serpent's tongue,] That is, if we be dismissed without hisses. Johnson.
So, in J. Markham's English Arcadia, 1607 :
“ But the nymph, after the custom of distrest tragedians, whose first act is entertained with a snaky salutation," &c.
STEEVENS. hands,] That is, clap your hands. Give us your applause. Johnson.
s Wild and fantastical as this play is, all the parts in their various modes are well written, and give the kind of pleasure which the author designed. Fairies in his time were much in fashion ; common tradition had made them familiar, and Spenser's poem had made them great. Johnson.
Johnson's concluding observation on this play, is not conceived with his usual judgment. There is no analogy or resemblance whatever between the Fairies of Spenser, and those of Shakspeare. The Fairies of Spenser, as appears from his description of them in the second book of the Fairy Queen, canto x. were a race of mortals created by Prometheus, of the human size, shape, and affections, and subject to death. But those of Shakspeare, and of common tradition, as Johnson calls them, were a dininutive race of sportful beings, endowed with immortality and supernatural power, totally different from those of Spenser. M. Mason.
“ Therefore the winds piping to us in vain.” This fine description refers to the bad weather with which England was visited about this time. Strype (Ann. v. 4. p. 211) has printed an extract from one of Dr. J. King's Lectures, preached at York, in which that divine reminds his hearers of the various signs of God's wrath, with which England was visited in 1593 and 1594 (if I understand the extract aright,)—as, storms, pestilence, dearth, and unseasonable weather. Of the last, he says, “ Remember that the spring (that year when the plague broke out) was very unkind, by means of the abundance of rains that fell. Our July hath been like to a February ; our June even as an April : so that the air must needs be infected.
Then, having spoken of the three successive years of scarcity, he adds,
“ And see, whether the Lord doth not threaten us much more, by sending such unseasonable weather, and storms of rain among us : which if we will observe, and compare it with that which is past, we may say that the course of nature is very much inverted. Our years are turned upside down. Our summers are no summers : our harvests are no harvests : our seed times are no seed times. For a great space of time scant any day hath been seen that it hath not rained upon us.” BLAKEWAY.
And heard a mermaid, on a dolphin's back," &c. &c. &c. Dr. Warburton, whose ingenuity and acuteness have been long admired, is now, I believe, pretty generally thought to have sometimes seen not only what no other person would ever have been able to discover, but what, in reality, unless in his own playful imagination, did not exist. Criticism is a talisman, which has, on more than one occasion, dispelled the illusion of this mighty magician. I shall not dispute, that, by the fair vestal, Shakspeare intended a compliment to Queen Elizabeth, who, I am willing to believe, at the age of sixty-eight, was no less chaste than beautiful; but whether any other part of Oberon's speech have an allegorical meaning or not, I presume, in direct opposition to Dr. Warburton, to contend that it
with rather than with Mary Queen of Scots. The “ mixture of satire and panegyrick I shall examine anon: I only wish to know, for the present, why it should have been “inconvenient for the author to speak openly” in “dispraise" of the Scotish Queen. If he meant to please “ the imperial votress,” no incense could have been half so grateful as the blackest calumny. But, it seems, · her successor would not forgive her satirist.' Who then was her “ successor whe this play was written?
Mary's son, James ? I am persuaded that, had Dr. Warburton been better read in the history of those times, he would not have found this monarch's succession quite so certain, at that period, as to have prevented Shakspeare, who was by no means the refined speculatist he would induce one to suppose, from gratifying the “fair vestal ” with sentiments so agreeable to her. However, if “the poet has so well marked out every distinguishing circumstance of her life and character, in this beautiful allegory, as will leave no room to doubt about his secret meaning,” there is an end of all controversy. For, though the satire would be cowardly, false, and infamous, yet, since it was couched under an allegory, which, while perspicuous as glass to Elizabeth, would have become opake as a mill-stone to her successor, Shakspeare, lying as snug as his own Ariel in a cowslip's bell, would have had no reason to apprehend any ill consequences from it. Now, though our speculative bard might not be able to foresee the sagacity of the Scotish king in smelling out a plot, as I believe it was some years after that he gave any proof of his excellence that way, he could not but have heard of his being an admirable witch-finder; and, surely, the skill requisite to detect a witch must be sufficient to develope an allegory; so that I must needs question the propriety of the compliment here paid to the poet's prudence. Queen Mary “is called a Mermaid, 1. to denote her reign over a kingdom situate in the sea." In that respect at least Elizabeth was as much a mermaid as herself. “ And 2. her beauty and intemperate lust; for as Elizabeth for her chastity is called a Vestal, this unfortunate lady, on a contrary account, is called a mermaid.” All this is as false as it is foolish: The mermaid was never the emblem of lust; nor was the “ gentle Shakspeare ” of a character or disposition to have insulted the memory of a murdered princess by so infamous a charge. The most abandoned libeller, even Buchanan himself, never accused her of “ intemperate lust ;” and it is pretty well understood at present that, if either of these ladies were remarkable for her purity, it was not Queen Elizabeth. "3. An ancient story may be supposed to be here alluded to: the Emperor Julian tells us that the Sirens (which with all the modern poets are mermaids) contended for precedency with the Muses, who overcoming them took away their wings.” Can any thing be more ridiculous ? Mermaids are half women and half fishes: where then are their wings? or what possible use could they make of them if they had any? The Sirens which Julian speaks of were partly women and partly birds: so that “the pollusion,” as good-man Dull hath it, by no means “holds in the exchange.” “ The quarrels between Mary and Elizabeth had the same cause and the same issue.” That is, they contended for precedency, and Elizabeth overcoming took away the other's wings. The secret of their contest for precedency should seem to have been confined to Dr. Warburton: It would be in vain to enquire after it in the history of the time. The Queen of Scots, indeed, fiew for refuge to her treacherous rival, (who is here again the mermaid of the allegory, alluring to destruction, by her songs or fair speeches,) and wearing, it should seem, like a cherubim, her wings on her neck, Elizabeth, who was determined she should fiy no more, in her eagerness to tear them away, happened inadvertently to take off her head. The situation of the poet's mermaid, on a dolphin's back, “evidently marks out that distinguishing circumstance in Mary's fortune, her marriage with the dauphin of France.” A mermaid would seem to have but a strangely aukward seat on the back of a dolphin ; but that, to be sure, is the poet's affair, and not the commentator's : the latter, however, is certainly answerable for placing a Queen on the back of her husband : a very extraordinary situation one would think, for a married lady; and of which I only recollect a single instance, in the common print of “ a poor man loaded with mischief.” Mermaids are supposed to sing, but their dulcet and harmonious breath must in this instance, to suit the allegory, allude 10“ those great abilities of genius and learning,” which rendered Queen Mary “the most accomplished princess of her age.” This compliment could not fail of being highly agreeable to the "fair Vestal.” "By the rude sea is meant Scotland incircled with the ocean, which rose up in arms against the regent, while she (Mary) was in France. But her return home quieted these disorders : and had not her strange ill conduct afterwards more violently inflamed them, she might have passed her whole life in peace.”. Dr. Warburton, whose skill in geography seems to match his knowledge of history and acuteness in allegory, must be allowed the sole merit of discovering Scotland to be an island. But, as to the disorders of that country being quieted by the Queen's return, it appears from history to be full as peaceable before as it is at any time after that event. Whether, in the revival or continuance of these disorders, she, or her ideot husband, or fanatical subjects, were most to blame, is a point upon which doctors still differ ; but, it is evident, that, if the enchanting song of the commentator's mermaid civilized the rude sea for a time, it was only to render it, in an instant, more boisterous than ever: those great abilities of genius and learning, which rendered her the most accomplished princess of her age, not availing her among a parcel of ferocious and enthusiastic barbarians, whom even the Tyre of Orpheus had in vain warbled to humanize. Binntome, who accompanied her, says she was welcomed home by a mob of five or six hundred ragamuffins, who, in discord with the most execrable instruments, sung psalms (which was supposed to dislike) under her chamber window :