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many respects wise-Dr. Johnson, who lived | the stage do not agree well together. The in a prosaic age, and fostered in this particular the real ignorance by which he was surrounded. He sums up the merits of 'A Midsummer-Night's Dream,' after this extraordinary fashion :-" 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." It is perfectly useless to attempt to dissect such criticism: let it be a beacon to warn us, and not a "load-star" to guide us. Old Pepys, with his honest hatred of poetry-" To the King's Theatre, where we saw 'MidsummerNight's Dream,' which I had never seen before, nor shall ever again, for it is the most insipid, ridiculous play that ever I saw in my life"-is to us more tolerable.
Mr. Hallam accounts A MidsummerNight's Dream' poetical, more than dramatic; "yet rather so, because the indescribable profusion of imaginative poetry in this play overpowers our senses, till we can hardly observe anything else, than from any deficiency of dramatic excellence. For, in reality, the structure of the fable, consisting as it does of three, if not four actions, very distinct in their subjects and personages, yet wrought into each other without effort or confusion, displays the skill, or rather instinctive felicity, of Shakspeare, as much as in any play he has written." Yet, certainly, with all its harmony of dramatic arrangement, this play is not for the stageat least not for the modern stage. It may reasonably be doubted whether it was ever eminently successful in performance. The tone of the epilogue is decidedly apologetic, and "the best of this kind are but shadows' is in the same spirit. Hazlitt has admirably described its failure as an acting drama in his own day:
"The Midsummer-Night's Dream,' when acted, is converted from a delightful fiction into a dull pantomime. All that is finest in the play is lost in the representation. The spectacle was grand; but the spirit was evaporated, the genius was fled. Poetry and
attempt to reconcile them in this instance fails not only of effect, but of decorum. The ideal can have no place upon the stage, which is a picture without perspective: | everything there is in the foreground. That which was merely an airy shape, a dream, a passing thought, immediately becomes an unmanageable reality. Where all is left to the imagination (as is the case in reading), every circumstance, near or remote, has an equal chance of being kept in mind, and tells accordingly to the mixed impression of all that has been suggested. But the imagination cannot sufficiently qualify the actual impressions of the senses. Any offence given to the eye is not to be got rid of by explanation. Thus Bottom's head in the play is a fantastic illusion, produced by magic spells: on the stage it is an ass's head, and nothing more; certainly a very strange costume for a gentleman to appear in. Fancy cannot be embodied any more than a simile can be painted; and it is as idle to attempt it as to personate Wall or Moonshine.”
And yet, just and philosophical as are these remarks, they offer no objection to the opinion of Mr. Hallam, that in this play there is no deficiency of dramatic excellence. We can conceive that, with scarcely what can be called a model before him, Shakspere's early dramatic attempts must have been a series of experiments to establish a standard by which he should regulate what he addressed to a mixed audience. The plays of his middle and mature life, with scarcely an exception, are acting plays; and they are so, not from the absence of the higher poetry, but from the predominance of character and passion in association with it. But even in those plays which call for a considerable exercise of the unassisted imaginative faculty in an audience, such as 'The Tempest,' and 'A Midsummer-Night's Dream,' where the passions are not powerfully roused, and the senses are not held enchained by the interests of a plot, he is still essentially dramatic. What has been called of late years the dramatic poem-that something between the epic and the dramatic which is held to form an apology for whatever of episodical or
incongruous the author may choose to intro- | clouds, and fairies floating in ether, held up duce was unattempted by him. The by very invisible strings. And so the poetry Faithful Shepherdess' of Fletcher-a poet was borne for the sake of the sight-seeing who in some things knew how to accommo- and the songs. But, for a just comprehension date himself to the taste of a mixed audience of Shakspere's surpassing beauties in this more readily than Shakspere — was con- divine poem, we would rather hear the second demned on the first night of its appearance. scene of Act II. read as we have heard it Seward, one of his editors, calls this the read by a poet, than see the play, accomscandal of our nation. And yet it is ex- panied with every scenic propriety and pomp, tremely difficult to understand how the to show, after all, that "the best in this kind event should have been otherwise; for The are but shadows." Faithful Shepherdess' is essentially undramatic. Its exquisite poetry was therefore thrown away upon an impatient audienceits occasional indelicacy could not propitiate them. Milton's 'Comus' is in the same way essentially undramatic; and none but such a refined audience as that at Ludlow Castle could have endured its representation. But the 'Midsummer-Night's Dream' is composed altogether upon a different principle. It exhibits all that congruity of parts, that natural progression of scenes, that subordination of action and character to one leading design, that ultimate harmony evolved out of seeming confusion, which constitute the dramatic spirit. With "audience fit, though few," with a stage not encumbered with decorations, with actors approaching (if it were so possible) to the idea of grace and archness which belong to the fairy troop, the subtle and evanescent beauties of this drama might not be wholly lost in the representation. But under the
most favourable circumstances much would be sacrificed. It is in the closet that we must not only suffer our senses to be overpowered by its "indescribable profusion of imaginative poetry," but trace the instinctive felicity of Shakspere in the "structure of the fable." If the Midsummer-Night's Dream' could be acted, there can be no doubt how well it would act. Our imagination must amend what is wanting. It is no real objection to this belief that it has been acted with surpassing success since these observations were originally written. It was revived at Covent-Garden Theatre as a pantomimic opera, with exquisite scenery, and abundant music, and Oberon and Titania moving in golden chariots amongst silver
Schlegel has happily remarked upon this drama, that "the most extraordinary combination of the most dissimilar ingredients seems to have arisen without effort by some ingenious and lucky accident; and the colours are of such clear transparency, that we think the whole of the variegated fabric may be blown away with a breath." It is not till after we have attentively studied this wonderful production that we understand how solidly the foundations of the fabric are laid. Theseus and Hippolyta move with a stately pace as their nuptial hour draws on. Hermia takes time to pause, before she submits
"To death, or to a vow of single life," secretly resolving "through Athens' gates to steal." Helena, in the selfishness of her own love, resolves to betray her friend. Bottom the weaver, and Quince the carpenter, and Snug the joiner, and Flute the bellowsmender, and Snout the tinker, and Starveling the tailor, are "thought fit through all Athens to play in the interlude before the duke and duchess on his wedding-day, at night." Here are, indeed, "dissimilar ingredients." They appear to have no aptitude for combination. The artists are not yet upon the scene, who are to make a mosaic out of these singular materials. We are only presented in the first act with the extremes of high and low-with the slayer of the Centaurs, and the weaver, who "will roar you an 't were any nightingale,"—with the lofty Amazon, who appears elevated above woman's hopes and fears, and the pretty and satirical Hermia, who swears—
"By all the vows that ever men have broke, In number more than ever women spoke."
"The course of true love" does not all "run smooth" in these opening scenes. We have the love that is crossed, and the love that is unrequited; and, worse than all, the unhappiness of Helena makes her treacherous to her friend. We have little doubt that all this will be set straight in the progress of the drama; but what Quince and his company will have to do with the untying of this knot is a mystery.
To offer an analysis of this subtle and ethereal drama would, we believe, be as unsatisfactory as the attempts to associate it with the realities of the stage. With scarcely an exception, the proper understanding of the other plays of Shakspere may be assisted by connecting the apparently separate parts of the action, and by developing and reconciling what seems obscure and anomalous in the features of the characters. But to follow out the caprices and illusions of the loves of Demetrius and Lysander, of Helena and Hermia ;-to reduce to prosaic description the consequence of the jealousies of Oberon and Titania; to trace the Fairy Queen under the most fantastic of deceptions, where grace and vulgarity blend together like the Cupids and Chimeras of Raffaelle's Arabesques ;—and, finally, to go along with the scene till the illusions disappear-till the lovers are happy, and "sweet bully Bottom" is reduced to an ass of human dimensions ;-such an attempt as this would be worse even than unreverential criticism. No,—the 'Midsummer-Night's Dream' must be left to its own influences.
"It is probable," says Steevens, "that the hint of this play was received from Chaucer's 'Knight's Tale.' We agree with this
opinion. Malone has, with great hardihood, asserted that the part of the fable which relates to the quarrels of Oberon and Titania was "not of our author's invention." He has nothing to show in support of this, but the opinion of Tyrwhitt, that Pluto and Proserpina, in Chaucer's 'Merchant's Tale,' were the true progenitors of Oberon and Titania; that Robert Greene boasts of having performed the King of the Fairies, and that Greene has introduced Oberon in his play of 'James IV.' Malone's assertion, and the mode altogether in which he speaks of this drama, furnish a decisive proof of his incompetence to judge of the higher poetry of Shakspere. Because the names of Oberon and Titania existed before Shakspere, he did not invent his Oberon and Titania! The opinion of Mr. Hallam may correct some of the errors which the commentators have laboured to propagate. "The MidsummerNight's Dream' is, I believe, altogether original in one of the most beautiful conceptions that ever visited the mind of a poet, the fairy machinery. A few before him had dealt in a vulgar and clumsy manner with popular superstitions; but the sportive, beneficent, invisible population of the air and earth, long since established in the creed of childhood, and of those simple as children, had never for a moment been blended with human mortals' among the personages of the drama. Lyly's 'Maid's Metamorphosis' is probably later than this play of Shakspeare, and was not published till 1600. It is unnecessary to observe that the fairies of Spenser, as he has dealt with them, are wholly of a different race."
*Literature of Europe,' vol. ii. p. 388.
ROMEO AND JULIET.
'ROMEO AND JULIET' was first printed in the year 1597, under the following title:An excellent conceited Tragedie of Romeo and Juliet. As it hath been often (with great applause) plaid publiquely, by the right honourable the L. of Hunsdon his Seruants.' The second edition was printed in 1599, under the following title:-The most excellent and lamentable Tragedie, of Romeo and Juliet. Newly corrected, augmented, and amended: As it hath bene sundry times publiquely acted, by the right Honourable the Lord Chamberlaine his Seruants.'
The subsequent original editions, and the folio of 1623, are founded upon the quarto of 1599, from which they differ very slightly. | The quarto of 1599 was declared to be "newly corrected, augmented, and amended." There can be no doubt whatever that the corrections, augmentations, and emendations were those of the author. There are typographical errors in this edition, and in all the editions, and occasional confusions of the metrical arrangement, which render it more than probable that Shakspere did not see the proofs of his printed works. But that the copy, both of the first edition and of the second, was derived from him, is, to our minds, perfectly certain. We know of nothing in literary history more curious or more instructive than the example of minute attention, as well as consummate skill, exhibited by Shakspere in correcting, augmenting, and amending the first copy of this play. We would ask, then, upon what canon of criticism can an editor be justified in foisting into a copy, so corrected, passages of the original copy, which the matured judgment of the author had rejected? Essentially the question ought not to be determined by any arbitrement whatever other than the judgment of the author. Even if his corrections did not appear, in every case, to be improvements, we should be still bound to receive them with respect and deference.
We would not, indeed, attempt to establish it as a rule implicitly to be followed, that an author's last corrections are to be invariably adopted; for, as in the case of Cowper's 'Homer,' and Tasso's 'Jerusalem,' the corrections which these poets made in their first productions, when their faculties were in a great degree clouded and worn out, are properly considered as not entitled to supersede what they produced in brighter and happier hours. Mr. Southey has admirably stated the reason for this in the advertisement to his edition of Cowper's 'Homer.' But, in the case of Shakspere's 'Romeo and Juliet,' the corrections and augmentations were made by him at that epoch of his life when he exhibited "all the graces and facilities of a genius in full possession and habitual exercise of power.' The augmentations, with one or two very trifling exceptions, are amongst the most masterly passages in the whole play, and include many of the lines that are invariably turned to, as some of the highest examples of poetical beauty. These augmentations, further, are so large in their amount, that, in Steevens's reprint, the first edition occupies only seventy-three pages; while the edition of 1609, in the same volume, printed in the same type as the first edition, occupies ninety-nine pages. The corrections are made with such exceeding judgment, such marvellous tact, that of themselves they completely overthrow the theory, so long submitted to, that Shakspere was a careless writer. Such being the case, we consider ourselves justified in treating the labour of Steevens and other editors, in making a patchwork text out of the author's first and second copies, as utterly worthless. We most readily acknowledge our own particular obligations to them; for, unless they had collected a great mass of materials, no modern edition could have been properly undertaken. But we, nevertheless, cannot conceal * Coleridge's 'Literary Remains.'
"I never shall forget it,— Of all the days of the year"
our opinion, that as editors they were rash, | All this particularity with reference to the and as critics they were cold and unimagi- earthquakenative; and we hold it to be the highest duty to attempt to undo what they have done, when they approach their author, as in their manufacture of a text for 'Romeo and Juliet,' “without reverence." We believe, as they did not, "that his own judgment is entitled to more respect than that of any or all his critics;"* and we shall attempt to vindicate that judgment on every occasion, upon the great principle laid down by Bentley :-"The point is not what he might have done, but what he has done."
In attempting to settle the Chronology of Shakspere's plays, there are, as in every other case of literary history, two species of evidence to be regarded-the extrinsic and the intrinsic. Of the former species of evidence we have the one important fact that a 'Romeo and Juliet,' by Shakspere, however wanting in the completeness of the 'Romeo and Juliet' which we now possess, was published in 1597. The enumeration of this play, therefore, in the list by Francis. Meres, in 1598, adds nothing to our previous information. In the same manner, the mention of this play by Marston, in his tenth satire, first published in 1599, only shows us how popular it was:
"Luscus, what's play'd to-day? i' faith, now I know;
I see thy lips abroach, from whence doth flow Nought but pure Juliet and Romeo."
Of the positive intrinsic evidence of the date of Romeo and Juliet,' the play, as it appears to us, only furnishes one passage. The Nurse, describing the time when Juliet was weaned, says,
"On Lammas-eve at night shall she be fourteen; That shall she, marry; I remember it well. "T is since the earthquake now eleven years;
was for the audience. The poet had to exhibit the minuteness with which unlettered people, and old people in particular, establish a date, by reference to some circumstance which has made a particular impression upon their imagination; but in this case he chose a circumstance which would be familiar to his audience, and would have produced a corresponding impression upon themselves. Tyrwhitt was the first to point out that this passage had, in all probability, a reference to the great earthquake which happened in England in 1580. Stow has described this earthquake minutely in his Chronicle, and so has Holinshed. "On the 6th of April, 1580, being Wednesday in Easter week, about six o'clock toward evening, a sudden earthquake happened in London, and almost generally throughout all England, caused such an amazedness among the people as was wonderful for the time, and caused them to make their earnest prayers to Almighty God!" The circumstances attendant upon this earthquake show that the remembrance of it would not have easily passed away from the minds of the people. The great clock in the palace at Westminster, and divers other clocks and bells, struck of themselves against the hammers with the shaking of the earth. lawyers supping in the Temple ran from the tables, and out of their halls, with their knives in their hands." The people assembled at the theatres rushed forth into the fields, lest the galleries should fall. The roof of Christ Church, near to Newgate Market, was so shaken, that a large stone dropped out of it, killing one person, and mortally wounding another, it being sermontime. Chimneys toppled down, houses were shattered. Shakspere, therefore, could not have mentioned an earthquake with the minuteness of the passage in the Nurse's speech without immediately calling up some associations in the minds of his audience. He knew the double world in which an excited audience lives,-the half belief in the world