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-as small, &c.] This passage shews how the want of women on the old stage was supplied. If they had not a young man who could perform the part with a face that might pass for feminine, the character was acted in a mask, which was at that time a part of a lady's dress so much in use that it did not give any unusual appearance to the scene: and he that could mo, dulate his voice in a female tone might play the woman very successfully. It is observed in Downes's Memoirs of the Playhouse, that one of these counterfeit heroines moved the passions more strongly than the women that have since been brought upon the stage. Some of the catastrophes of the old comedies, which make lovers marry
wrong women, are, by recollection of the common use of masks, brought nearer to probability. Johnson. Line 337.
-slow of study.] To study, is the theatrical term for learning a part. Line 344.
-an -] i. e. As if. 365. - your perfect yellow.) Here Bottom again discovers a true genius for the stage by his solicitude for propriety of dress, and his deliberation which beard to chuse among many beards, all unnatural.
JOHNSON, Line 366. -French crowns, &c.] That is, a head from which the hair has fallen in one of the last stages of the lues venerea, called the corona veneris. To this our poet has frequent allusions.
STEEVENS. Line 374. - properties,] Properties are whatever little articles are wanted in a play for the actors, according to their respective parts, dresses excepted. The person who delivers them out is to this day called the property-man.
STEEVENS. Line 380. At the duke's oak we meet.
hold, or cut bow-strings.] This proverbial phrase came originally from the camp. When a rendezvous was appointed, the militia soldiers would frequently make excuse for not keeping word, that their bowstrings were broke, i. e, their arms unserviceable. Hence when one would give another absolute assurance of meeting him, he would say proverbially-hold or cut bow-strings—i e. whether the bow-string held or broke. For cut is used as a neụter, like the verb frets. As when we say, the string frets, the silk frets, for the passive, it is cut or fretted.
ACT II. SCENE I.
Line 2. Over hill, over dale, &c.] So Drayton in his Court of Fairy,
Thorough brake, thorough brier,
Johnson. Line 9. To dew her orbs upon the green :] The orbs here mentioned are the circles supposed to be made by the Fairies on the ground, whose verdure proceeds from the fairy's care to water them.
They in their courses make that round,
JOHNSON. Line 10. The cowslips tall her pensioners be;] The cowslip was a favourite among the fairies. There is a hint in Drayton of their attention to May morning.
-For the queen a fitting tow'r,
train there's not a fay
JOHNSON. Line u. In their gold coats 'spots you see;] Shakspeare, in Cymbeline, refers to the same red spots.
A mole cinque-spotted like the crimson drops
PERCY. Line 16. -lob of spirits.] Lob, lubber, looby, lobcock, all denote both inactivity of body and dulness of mind. JOHNSON.
Line 23. —changeling:] Changeling is commonly used for the child supposed to be left by the fairies, but here for the child
JOHNSON. -sheen.] Shining, bright, gay. Johnson. 30. But they do square.]'To square here is to quarrel.
Line 35. Robin-good-fellow ;] Reginald Scot gives an account of this frolicksome spirit, in his Discovery of Witchcraft, London, 1588, 4to. p. 66. “ Your grandames, maids, were “wont to set a bowl of milk for him, for his pains in grinding of “malt and mustard, and sweeping the house at midnight-this • white bread, and bread and milk, was his standing fee."
Steevens. Line 37.
Skim milk; and sometimes labour in the quern,
And bootless make the breathless houswife churn.] The sense of these lines is confused. Are not you he, says the fairy, that fright the country girls, that skim milk, work in the hand-mill, and make the tired dairy-women churn without effect? The mention of the mill seems out of place, for she is not now telling the good but the evil that he does. I would regulate the lines thus :
And sometimes make the breathless housewife churn
Skim milk, and bootless labour in the quern.
And bootless, make the breathless housewife churn
quern. Yet there is no necessity of alteration.
JOHNSON. Line 39.
-no barm ;] Barme, a name for yeast, yet used in the midland counties. So in Mother Bombie, a comedy, 1.594: “It behoveth my wits to work like barme, alias yeast.” Steev. Line 41. Those that Hobgoblin call you, and sweet Puck,
You do their work.] To those traditionary opinions Milton has reference in L'Allegro,
Then to the spicy nut-brown ale, —
A like account of Puck is given by Drayton,
He meeteth Puck, which most men call
Of purpose to deceive us ;
He doth wilh laughter leave us. It will be apparent to him that shall compare Drayton's poem with this play, that either one of the poets copied the other, or, as I rather believe, that there was then some system of the fairy empire generally received, which they both represented as accurately as they could. Whether Drayton or Shakspeare wrote first, I cannot discover.
JOHNSON, Line 44. Puck. Thou speak'st aright.] It seems, that in The Fairy Mythology, Puck, or Hobgoblin, was the trusty servant of Oberon, and always employed to watch or detect the intrigues of Queen Mab, called by Shakespeare Titania. For in Drayton's Nymphidia, the same fairies are engaged in the same business, Mab has an amour with Pigwiggen; Oberon being jealous, sends Hobgoblin to catch them, and one of Mab's nymphs opposes him by a spell.
JOHNSON. Line 50. -a roasted crab ;] i.e. A wild apple.
56. And tailor eries,] The custom of crying tailor at a sudden fall backwards, I think I remember to have observed. He that slips beside his chair falls as a tailor squats upon his board. Besides, the trick of the fairy is represented as producing rather merriment than anger.
JOHNSON Line 58. And waxen- -] And increase, as the moon waxes.
JOHNSON. 60. But room, Faery,] All the old copies read—But room Fairy. The word Fairy or Fuery, was sometimes of three syllables, as often in Spenser.
ACT II. SCENE II. Line 80. Didst thou not lead him through the glimmering night.] The glimmering night is the night partially light, or but faintly illuminated by the stars.
Line 81. From Perigenia, whom he ravished !] Our author, who diligently perus’d Plutarch, and glean'd from him, where his subject would admit, knew, from the life of Theseus, that her name was Perigyne, (or Perigenia) by whom Theseus had his son Melanippus. She was the daughter of Sinnis, a cruel robber, and tormentor of passengers in the Isthmus. Plutarch and Athenæus are both express in the circumstance of Theseus ravishing her.
THEOBALD, Line 85. And never,
since the middle summer's spring, &c.] By the middle summer's spring, our author seems to mean the beginning of middle or mid summer. Spring, for beginning, our author again,uses, Henry IV. Part 2.
As flaws congcaled in the spring of day. which expression has its original from scripture, St. Luke, c. i. v. 78. “ whereby the day-spring from on high hath visited us.”
Steevens. Line 87. Paved fountain,] A fountain laid round the edge with stone.
JOHNSON. Line 91. -the winds piping-) So Milton,
While rocking winds are piping loud. JOHNSON.
94. -pelting river-] Shakspeare has in Lear the same word, low pelting farms. The meaning is plainly, despicable, mean, sorry, wretched; but as it is a word without
reasonable etymology, I should be glad to dismiss it for petty, yet it is undoubtedly right. We have petty pelting officer in Measure for Measure.
JOHNSON. Line 95. Overborne their continents :) Born down the banks that contain them. So in Lear:
Close pent up guilts
JOHNSON. Line 101. The nine-men's morris is filld up with mud,] Is a country game played by the labourers in the fields and farm-yards; it is performed on the turf, from which certain parts are cut out,