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A MIDSUM MER-NIGHT'S DREAM,

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A Midsommer nights dreame. As it hath beene sundiy times publickely acted, by the Right honourable, the Lord Chamberlaine his servants. Written by William Shakespeare. Imprinted at London, for Thomas Fisher, and are to be soulde at his shoppe, at the Signe of the White Hart, in Fleete-streete, 1600.” 32 leaves.

“ A Midsommer night's dreame. As it hath beene sundry times publikely acted, by the Right Honourable, the Lord Chamberlaine his seruants. V Vritten by VVilliam Shakespeare. Printed by James Roberts, 1600.” 32 leaves.

A Midsummer Night's Dream occupies eighteen pages in the folio of 1623, viz., from p. 145 to p. 162, inclusive, in the division of Comedies. It is there divided into Acts, but not into Scenes, and is without a list of Dramatis Personæ.

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A MIDSUMMER-NIGHT'S DREAM.

INTRODUCTION.

DR

R. JOHNSON, doling out scarce half a dozen lines of cold

approval to this play, devotes two of them to saying, • Fairies in his [Shakespeare's] time were much in fashion : common tradition had made them familiar, and Spenser's poem had made them great.” But, unfortunately for Shakespeare's reputation, the ignorance and misapprehension displayed in this sentence sadly impair the value of that approbation of which it forms so large a part. An editor of Shakespeare should have known that the fairies of The Faerie Queen and those of A Midsummer Night's Dream are not the same. A reader capable of appreciating either poem, on reading both, must see, untold, that they have nothing in common. The personages of Spenser's allegory are the supernatural beings of stately romance, endowed with traits typical of the moral virtues : the freakful atomies of Shakespeare's dream are the good people' in whose actual existence every rustic in England had full faith

a faith shared by no small proportion of his superiors in rank and education, until the poet's hand transplanted elf and fay from the byways of tradition and the dim retreats of superstition into the bright and open realms of fancy and imagination.

For there seems to be no ground on which to rest a doubt that Shakespeare was the first to give the fairy of the fireside tale either an embodiment upon the stage or a place in literature, however humble. Evidence abounds that the Oberon, the tania, and, above all, the Puck of this play are ideals, the prototypes of which figured in countless tales familiar as household words to English folk of Shakespeare's day and their immediate progenitors; and yet there is great lack of contemporary illustration of this subject, because, until attention had been directed to it by the success of A Midsummer-Night's Dream, no collection or examination of popular English fairy lore appears to have been made, except of the briefest and most unpretending character and that quite incidentally. Mr. Halliwell seems to have done all that can be done to throw light upon the origin of this unique comedy; * and it is not his fault that his labors, though evincing great research and judgment, fail of their chief object; but it is too plain to admit of doubt, that, except a few barren allusions, nothing has been discovered upon this subject which does not start from Shakespeare's work instead of leading to it.

The earliest allusion to Robin Goodfellow known hitherto was first quoted by Steevens from Reginald Scot's Discoverie of Witchcraft, published in 1584. There are several brief passages in that curious work which show that in his Puck Shakespeare faithfully reproduced the characteristic traits of a supernatural being who was the hero of tales often told, and commonly believed.Mr. Halliwell has quoted a passage from Whetstone's Honourable Reputation of a Souldier, published in 1586, in which Robin Goodfellow is mentioned ; I and Mr. Collier notices, in his History of English Dramatic Poetry, &c., the occurrence of the name in Anthony Munday's comedy, The Two Italian Gentlemen, printed in 1584 ; and in his edition of Robin Goodfellow's Mad Pranks, &c., published by the Percy Society, he also cites some verses from Skialethia or a Shadow of Truth, printed in 1598, in which Opinion is called

* In An Introduction to Shakespeare's Midsummer-Night's Dream, 8vo., London, 1841, and Illustrations of the Fairy Mythology of Shakespeare, 8vo., published by the Shakespeare Society. London. 1845.

† “ There goe as manie tales upon Hudgin in some parts of Germanie, as there did in England of Robin Goodfellowe.” Discoverie of Witchcraft, p. 521.

“ And know you this by the waie, that heretofore Robin Good-fellow and Hobgobblin were as terrible and also as credible to the people as hags and witches be pow.

And, in truth, they that mainteine walking spirits have no reason to denie Robin Good-fellow, upon whom there have gone as manie, and as credible, tales, as upon witches, saving that it hath not pleased the translators of the bible to call spirits by the name of Robin Good-fellow.” Ibid., p. 153.

“ Your grandames maids were woont to set a boll of milke before Incubus and his cousin Robin Good-fellow, for grinding of malt or mustard, and sweeping the house at midnight; and you have also heard that he would chafe exceedingly if the maid or good wife of the house, having compassion of his nakedness, laid anie clothes for him beesides his messe of white bread and milke, which was his standing fee. For in that case he saith, What have we here?

Hemton hamten

Here will I never more tread nor stampen.” Ibid., p. 85. $ “The Frenchmen, to scarre their children, as we doe by Robyn Goodfellow, have to this day a by-word - Garde le Talbot."

“ The Proteus, Robin-good-fellow of change.” No other allusion of the kind which has been adduced in illustration of the play (except one in Tarleton's Newes out of Purgatorie, which will be particularly noticed hereafter) was made before its publication.* But to these I am able to add another of yet earlier date than either, though its seniority is but little. In Guazzo's Civile Conversation, a translation from the Italian, first published in 1581, three years before the appearance of Scot's book, there is this sentence: “And thereof wee may gather the great wrong that fathers, mothers, and nurces doe to young children when they will make it a sport to put their children in feare with tales of Robin goodfellow, and such like, whereby they offend God, and make their children feareful and dastardlie.” of We see by this passage, not only that the fashions of the nursery have changed but little in three centuries, but that Robin Goodfellow was something more than a mischievous" merry wanderer of the night,” stories about whom would rather amuse children than make them fearful and dastardly, and that Shakespeare has shorn him of some horrors which it is safe to say were incongruous with the typical traits of his nature. This use of his name to awaken fear is quite consistent with a wood-cut representation of him which

* Sir Francis Madden has pointed out a story in a Latin MS. of the thirteenth century, in the Bodleian Library at Oxford, of which, as some "writers well qualified to judge” have thought that it introduces Robin Goodfellow, Mr. Halliwell has thought it worth while to give the following translation:

“Once Robinet was in a certain house in which soldiers were resting for the night, and after having made a great clamour during the better part of the night, to their no small annoyance, he was suddenly quiet. Then said the soldiers to each other, 'Let us now sleep, for Robinet himself is asleep.' To which Robinet made reply, 'I am not asleep, but am resting me, in order to shout louder after. And the soldiers said, 'It seems, then, we shall have no sleep to-night.' So sinners sometimes abstain for a while from their wicked ways, in order that they may sin the more vigorously afterwards. The soldiers are the angels about Christ's body; Robin is the devil or sinner."

† As I have not access to the Italian original of this book, I cannot determine how far this passage conforms to that of which it professes to be a translation. Probably, however, it is rather a paraphrase ; for it was quite common with our early translators to substitute allusions to their own time and country for the national traits of such foreign books as they undertook to introduce to English readers. This passage will be found on fol. 159 b. of the second edition of Guazzo. 4to. 1586. I do not possess that of 1581.

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