« PreviousContinue »
“ Ye elves of hills, hrooks, standing lakes and groves,
I'll drown my book.” We must not forget to mention among other things in this play, that Shakspeare has anticipated nearly all the arguments on the Utopian schemes of modern philosophy.
“GONZALO. Had I the plantation of this isle, my lord-
GONZALO. P'th' commonwealth I would by contraries
SEBASTIAN. And yet he would be king on 't.
SEBASTIAN, No marrying 'mong his subjects :
Gonzalo. I would with such perfection govern, sir,
SEBASTIAN. Save his majesty!"
MIDSUMMER NIGHT'S DREAM
BOTTOM the Weaver is a character that has not had justice done him. He is the most romantic of mechanics. And what a list of companions he has—Quince the Carpenter, Snug the Joiner, Flute the Bellows-mender, Snout the Tinker, Starveling the Tailor; and then again, what a group of fairy attendants, Puck, Peaseblossom, Cobweb, Moth, and Mustardseed! It has been observed that Shakspeare's characters are constructed upon deep physiological principles; and there is something in this play which looks very like it. Bottom the Weaver, who takes the lead of
“ This crew of patches, rude mechanicals,
follows a sedentary trade, and he is accordingly represented as conceited, serious and fantastical. He is ready to undertake any. thing and everything, as if it was as much a matter of course as the motion of his loom and shuttle. He is for playing the tyrant, the lover, the lady, the lion. “He will roar that it shall do any man's heart good to hear him;" and this being objected to as improper, he still has a resource in his good opinion of himself, and “will roar you an 'twere any nightingale.” Snug the Joiner is the moral man of the piece, who proceeds by measurement and discretion in all things. You see him with his rule and compasses in his hand. “Have you the lion's part written? Pray you, if it be, give it me, for I am slow of study."
_“You may do it extempore," says Quince," for it is nothing but roaring.” Starveling the Tailor keeps the peace, and objects to the lion and the drawn sword. “I believe we must leave the killing out when all's done." Starveling, however, does not start the objections himself, but seconds them when made by others, as if he had not spirit to express even his fears without encouragement. It is too much to suppose all this intentional : but it very luckily falls out so. Nature includes all that is implied in the most subtle analytical distinctions; and the same distinctions will be found in Shakspeare. Bottom, who is not only chief actor, but stage-manager for the oocasion, has a device to obviate the danger of frightening the ladies: “ Write me a prologue, and let the prologue seem to say, we will do no harm with our swords, and that Pyramus is not killed indeed ; and for better assurance, tell them that I, Pyramus, am not Pyramus, but Bottom the Weaver: this will put them out of fear." Bot tom seems to have understood the subject of dramatic illusion at least as well as any modern essayist. If our holiday mechanie rules the roast among his fellows, he is no less at home in his new character of an ass, " with amiable ebeeks, and fair large ears." He instinctively acquires a most learned taste, and grows fastidious in the choice of dried peas and bottled hay, He is quite familiar with his new attendants, and assigns them their parts with all due gravity. “Monsieur Cobweb, good Monsieur, get your weapon in your hand, and kill me a red. hipt humble bee on the top of a thistle, and, good Monsieur, bring me the honey.bag,” What an exact knowledge is here showa of natural history!
Puck, or Robin Goodfellow, is the leader of the fairy band, He is the Ariel of the MIDSUNNER Night's Dreas; and yet as unlike as can be to the Ariel in The Tempest. No othor poes could have made two such different characters out of the same fanciful materials and situations. Ariel is a mioister of retri. bution, who is touched with a sense of pity at the wors ho ia. flicts. Puck is a mad-cap sprite, full of wantonness and mus. chief, who laughs at those whom he misleads Lord, w has fouls these mortals be!" Ariel cleaves the air, and executes his mission with the zoal of a winged messenger; Puek is borno along on his fairy errand like the light and glittering gossamer before the breeze. He is, indeed, a most Epicurean little gentle. man, dealing in quaint devices, and faring in dainty delights. Prospero and his world of spirits are a set of moralists : but with Oberon and his fairies we are launched at once into the empire of the butterflies. How beautifully is the race of beings contrasted with the men and women actors in the scene, by a single epithet which Titania gives to the latter, “the human mortals !” It is astonishing that Shakspeare should be consid. ered, not only by foreigners, but by many of our own critics, as a gloomy and heavy writer, who painted nothing but “gorgons and hydras, and chimeras dire." His subtlety exceeds that of all other dramatic writers, insomuch that a celebrated person of the present day said that he regarded him rather as a meta. physician than a poet. His delicacy and sportive gaiety are infinite. In the MIDSUMMER Night's Dream alone, we should imagine, there is more sweetness and beauty of description than in the whole range of French poetry put together. What we mean is this, that we will produce out of that single play ten passages, to which we do not think any ten passages in the works of the French poets can be opposed, displaying equal fancy and imagery. Shall we mention the remonstrance of Helena to Hermia, or Titania's description of her fairy train, or her disputes with Oberon about the Indian boy, or Puck's account of himself and his employments, or the Fairy Queen's exhortation to the elves to pay due attendance upon her favorite, Bottom; or Hippolita's description of a chase, or Theseus's answer? The two last are as heroical and spirited as the others are full of luscious tenderness. The reading of this play is like wandering in a grove by moonlight: the descriptions breathe a sweetness like odors thrown from beds of flowers.
Titania's exhortation to the fairies to wait upon Bottom, which is remarkable for a certain cloying sweetness in the repetition of the rhymes, is as follows =
“ Be kind and courteous to this gentleman.