« PreviousContinue »
during the pangs of such a passion, whether of love, hatred, jealousy, or revenge, would be out of keeping with the "dapper elves:" his presence would be sufficient to blight the flowers that form the couch of the fairy queen. Besides, the happiness, as also the mischances, of the lovers are partly due to the intervention of Oberon; and it is one of our most firmly established canons of criticism, that no profound interest can be felt for the victim of any human misery, from which the author has no means of relieving him but that which is superhuman. The Greek and the French stage are both against us in this respect; but we have a better authority than either in the example of Shakspeare, who has nothing of this kind. Events that are purely human are, with him, left to proceed and end in their natural course. Murder brings its own remorse and punishment. The ghost in Hamlet, and the witches in Macbeth, although giving the mainspring to the action, never interfere with the actual carrying on of the plot. They impel their hero; but they neither assist nor retard his enterprises; the results would be the same without as with them.
The underplot or episode of the "hard-handed men that work in Athens," is one of those rich pieces of humour in which Shakspeare luxuriates. Can imagination conceive a more whimsical company of comedians than Quince, Starveling, Bottom, and their fellows?— with their stage-directions and properties, their cast of characters, their tender regard for the feelings of the ladies, as exemplified in the histrionic weaver and his precautionary prologues; in which he informs his audience that he is not Pyramus, but Bottom the weaver, and that Snug the joiner is no lion, but a man as other men are!— This is not the only hit at the heroes of the sock and buskin that is to be found in the writings of Shakspeare ;-their ignorance and buffoonery are satirized pretty severely in Hamlet; while their va nity and presumption are admirably illustrated in Bottom, who as top actor would engross every capital part himself, and, though "a sweet-faced man, a proper man, as one shall see in a summer's day-a most lovely gentleman-like man," would roar in the lion as gently as any sucking dove, rather than Snug the joiner, who is slow of study, should fright the duchess and her ladies into applause by his extemporaneous roaring; and so versatile is his genius, that he volunteers to play Thisby in "a monstrous little voice," rather than let Francis Flute the bellows-mender, who has "a beard coming," speak small, and "make the grove harmonious!"
This play has been thrice revived since the year 1763: first, by David Garrick; secondly, by George Colman; and, thirdly, by Mr. Reynolds, the dramatist, at Covent-Garden Theatre. In no instance has the revival been successful. "A Midsummer Night's Dream" is written not to the eye, but to the imagination ;-its aerial beings shrink from mortal touch; and Wall and Moonshine would be re
presented with more true effect by Bottom and his compeers, than would Oberon and Robin Goodfellow by the most skilful actor that ever trod the stage. There is a charm about the personification of a good aeting play, that identifies in our minds the idea of the theatre, and " the well-graced actor," with the play itself; and, however delightful it may be to contemplate this drama as the fairy tale of our youth, or, in after-life, as a beautiful dramatic poem, we miss the charm just alluded to. The poet may give "to airy nothing a local habitation and a name," and we can accompany him in his wildest flights; but no "mortal creature of earth's mould" can ever personify his lovely fairies. They are too true to their own identity -too airy—too impalpable, to be represented by the sons of dull earth; and, however splendid the attempt to revive them in our theatres,-whatever histrionic talent may be brought to the task, no art can ever approach an embodying of "A Midsummer Night's Dream."
The chief characteristics of the language are, as the subject requires, sweetness and delicacy. The similes are taken from flowers, from stars, from dews, from fruits-from all that is brightest and loveliest in nature. Amidst Titania's flowers, which shall we select? They crowd upon us-they dazzle us :
"Earthlier happy is the rose distilled
Than that which, withering on the virgin thorn,
"Your eyes are lode-stars, and your tongue's sweet air
When wheat is green-when hawthorn-buds appear."
"The seasons alter: hoary-headed frosts
But even this midnight fancy Shakspeare makes a vehicle for some of those profound observations on life, men, and manners, that mark all his productions. What a beautiful comment on the masterpassion of our youth is the following:
"Ah, me! for aught that ever I could read,-
The course of true love never did run smooth !"
The pathetic lines on female friendship, beginning " Injurious Hermio” and Theseus' noble description of his hounds, are full of
poetic rapture; but the most celebrated
that ever lived bas equalled, and which Shakspeare himself has not
"The lunatic, the lover, and the poet,
Are of imagination all compact.
One sees more devils than vast hell can hold:
This is the madman. The lover, all as frantic,
Sees Helen's beauty in a brow of Egypt.
The poet's eye, in a fine phrenzy rolling,
Doth glance from heaven to earth, from earth to heaven;
The form of things unknown, the poet's pen
Turns them to shape, and gives to airy nothing
A local habitation and a name !"
The "fine phrenzy" here described receives its noblest illustration from the poet's own description; and "the imagination all compact" that could produce a piece of such high inspiration, may well claim to soar above every other to the end of time.
The Conductors of this work print no Plays but those which they have seen acted. The Stage Directions are given from their own personal observations, during the most recent performances.
EXITS and ENTRANCES.
R. means Right; L. Left; D. F. Door in Flat; R. D. Right Door; L. D. Left Door; S. E. Second Entrance; U. E. Upper Entrance; M. D. Middle Door.
R. means Right; L. Left; C. Centre; R. C. Right of Centre; L. C. Left of Centre
**The Readeris supposed to oe on the Stage, facing the Audience.
THESEUS.-Flesh-coloured arms and legs-white shirt, trimmed with silver-rich jewelled belt-richly-embroidered Grecian drapery of crimson-sandals of gold tissue-sword-rich fillet.
EGEUS.-Flesh-coloured arms and legs-dark purple shirt and robe, trimmed-black sandals.
LYSANDER. - Flesh-coloured arms and legs-white spangled shirt-light blue robe, bound with black, and richly spangled-sandals-rich belt and sword.
DEMETRIUS.-Flesh-coloured arms and legs-richly-trimmed shirt, and belt-blue robe, embroidered with silver-sandals-sword and belt.
QUINCE.-First dress: Flesh-coloured arms and legs-leather belt and buckle-russet sandals-drab shirt-canvass apron.-Second dress: black suit,
SNUG.-First dress : Flesh-coloured arms and legs-leather belt, and brass buckle-russet sandals-drab shirt-apron.-Second dress: a lion's skin.
BOTTOM.-First dress: Flesh-coloured arms and legs-belt, and shirt of light brown-russet sandals.-Second dress: armour breast plate, and blue robe.
FLUTE.-First dress: Flesh-coloured arms and legs-drab or brown shirt-belt, and sandals.-Second dress: female's white robe dress, and veil.
SNOUT-Flesh-coloured legs and arms-dark dirty-looking shirt -black belt-dirty apron-black sandals.
STARVELING.-Flesh-coloured arms and legs-light drab shirt, and leather belt-sandals.
PHILOSTRATE.- Handsome Grecian shirt and robe-flesh. coloured arms and legs-red sandals-belt and sword.
HIPPOLYTA.- Richly-embroidered dress-long train robe of crimson, trimmed and flowered with silver-jewelled tiara-sandals of gold tissue.
HERMIA.-White dress, trimmed with pink and silver-pink robe, with trimming of silver-pink sandals-waist-belt.
HELENA. White dress, trimmed with blue and silver-light. blue robe, with silver trimming-blue sandals-waist-belt.
OBERON.-Flesh coloured arms and legs-white shirt, richly spangled-blue gauze drapery, spangled-jewelled head-dress-belt -silver sandals.
TITANIA.-Blue ganze dress, with silver-spangled trimmingrobe of same-jewelled coronet-sandals,
PUCK.-White muslin shirt, trimmed with silver-flesh coloured arms and legs-silver sandals-silver-flowered head-dress-gauze and silver wings.
FAIRIES.-White muslin dresses, with gauze draperies, trimmed with silver spangles-wings.