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their influence is not spiritual, but throughout material ; it is effected by means of vision, metamorphoses, and imitation. They are without the higher human capacities --lords of a kingdom not of reason and morality, but of imaginations and ideas conveyed by the senses. Titania's resentment with her husband consists in separation; her reconciliation with him, in a dance. In fact their will extends only to the corporeal.” The whole passage in Gervinus deserves attentive study. Perhaps we might compare, though at a distance, Shakspere's feat in creating his Oberon and Titania, with that which in Hawthorne's novel of Transformation, imagined a being infinitely sympathetic with outward nature, and overflowing with heartfelt joy, but quite devoid of reflection, will, and conscience, until these are suddenly flashed into life by the contact, first of love, then of crime. But if the comparison may be thus far admitted, it only throws into stronger light the vigorous, healthy soundness of Shakspere's imaginings, which dislike what is morbid as much as what is grim and gnome-like. His fairies are the outcome, not of any theory about the knowledge of good and evil, but of a mind full of love for that outward nature to which these beings are so closely allied. Their poet loves the freckled cowslip, the 'paved fountain,' and the moonlight on the sea-beach as heartily and as simply as Oberon and Titania themselves ; and has hardly begun as yet, by abstruse research, to steal
“From his own nature all the natural man
in the degree which, as Coleridge has said, must inevitably interfere with the “shaping spirit of imagination,” at least in its application to the beauty of outward nature.
Shakspere's change of the Robin Goodfellow of popular song, legend, and interlude, to the 'merry Puck' of the play, was no less than an inspiration. The part was not
unknown to the stage; in fact, the celebrated Tarleton had made it the vehicle for much of the extempore humour by which he charmed all ranks, from the peasant to the Queen-telling Elizabeth, in his capacity of professional fool, more home-truths than her chaplains would have ventured on, and curing her melancholy better than the physicians. His personal appearance suited him to the part, as then understood; for he was ugly, squinting, and flat-nosed. Of its substance, apart from extemporization, we can judge from a book called Robin Goodfellow. His Mad Pranks and Merry Jests, published probably about 1588—that is, about the time of Tarleton's death—and embodying the popular notions. How different these were from Shakspere's will be plain enough if we remark that, according to them, Robin Goodfellow was son to the fairy king by a country girl; that he was apprenticed to a tailor; that he first distinguishes himself in his trade, and then runs away from his master; that in the course of his wanderings he becomes aware that his birth is to give him supernatural powers; and that the use he makes of them is, first, to command an unlimited supply of beer, and then, by turning himself to a “horse of twenty pound,” to induce an obnoxious rustic to mount, presently vanishing and depositing him in the middle of a river. Nor is the improvement much less marked in the character of Oberon. In the French romance of Huon de Bordeaux, translated by Lord Berners in 1579, he is spoken of as “the king of the fairies, in height about three feet, and crooked-shouldered, but with an angel-like visage; so that there is no mortal man that seeth him but taketh great pleasure to behold his face. And, if you speak to him, you are lost for ever, and you
shall ever find him before you; so that it is impossible that you shall escape from him without speaking to him. And if he sees that you are unwilling to speak to him, then he will be sore displeased with you; and, before you can get out of the way, he will raise wind and hail, and rain and snow, with thunder and lightning, so that it shall seem to you that the whole world will perish." A different being indeed from the Oberon whose first thought, on seeing lovers at cross-purposes, is to find some means to make all well, and who is displeased with his minister because he has rendered matters worse instead of better by bungling in his duty.
There must always be some difficulty in representing the Midsummer Night's Dream in a modern theatre, which is not provided with a sufficient number of youthful actors, such as the children of the Chapel Royal or others might supply to Shakspere. We may suppose that the celebrated Kemp, who succeeded to Tarleton's popularity, took the part of Robin Goodfellow; but farther than this the cast is unknown to us. It may be conjectured that good taste would then, as at all other times, keep the grotesque figure of Bottom, with his ass's head, somewhat in the background, giving to his scenes with Titania, as Gervinus suggests, the look of Landseer's well-known picture. We hear of the play being given in Charles II.'s time. Unluckily, however, it did not suit Mr. Pepys' taste, who calls it “the most insipid, ridiculous play which I ever saw in my life;” and accordingly he gives no details of the performance. One private representation of it in early times has, however, achieved historic celebrity. It took place on Sunday, September 21st, 1631, in the house of Williams, the Bishop of Lincoln; and his Lordship was strongly animadverted upon by the Commissary-General, John Spencer, for having allowed it. One of his household, named Wilson, “because he was a special plotter and contriver in the business, and did in such a brutish manner act the same with an asse's head," was ordered “to sit, upon Tuesday next, from six o'clock in the morning till five o'clock at night, in the porter's lodge of my Lord Bishop's house, with his feet in the stocks, and attyred with his asse's head, and a bottle of hay before him, and this superscription on his head
“Good people, I have played the beast,
And brought all things to pass;
Myself a silly asse.
In the time of the Civil Wars, when Puritanism would not allow theatres in London, an excerpt from the play, called the Merry Humours of Bottom the Weaver, used to be represented about the country by wandering actors; and in this form, according to Gervinus, it first reached Germany.
On the allusion, so unrivalled in its felicity, to Queen Elizabeth as “the fair vestal throned by the west,” and to Mary of Scotland as the “mermaid on a dolphin's back," it will be sufficient to refer to the extract from Hunter's Illustrations of Shakspere given in the notes on the passage.
COLN Rogers, April, 1881.