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dulness of mind, for Puck was occasionally swister than the wind, and notorious, 4
as the immediately subsequent passage informs us, for his shrewdness and ingenuity:
“ Either I mistake your shape and making quite,” says the fairy, after bestowing the above title,
“ Or else you are that shrewd and knavish sprite,
Callid Robin Good-fellow;"
“ Are you not he,
Are you not he?"
“ Thou speak'st aright;
Act ii. sc. 1. The greater part of these frolicks may be traced in Gervase of Tilbury, Agricola, and Scot: the misleading night-wanderers," for instance, “laughing at their harm,” and “neighing in likeness of a filly foal,” feats which Puck asterwards thus again enumerates,
" I'll follow you, I'll lead you about a round,
Through bog, through bush, through brake, through brier;
A bog, a headless bear, sometime a fire;
Like horse, hound, hog, bear, fire, at every turn. are erpressly attributed by Gervase to the goblins whom he has termed Grant and Portuni:—" Est in Anglia quoddam dæmonum genus, quod suo idiomate Grant nominant adinstar pulli equini anniculi, tibiis erectum oculis scintillantibus,” etc.—“Cum-inter ambiguas noctis tenebras Angli solitarii quandoque equitant, Portunus nonnunquam invisus equitanti sese copulat, et cum diutius comitatur euntem, tandem loris arreptis equum in latum ad manum ducit, in quo dum infixos volutatur, portunus exiens cachinnum facit, et sic hujuscemodi ludil rio humanam simplicitatein deridet." *
The domestic oflices and drudgery which Puck delighted to perform for his favourites, are mentioned by Lavaterus as belonging to his Fairies of the Earth ; by Agricola to his Cobali and Guteli, and by Scot to his Incubi and Virunculi. Thus the first of these writers observes, in the words of the English translation of 1572, that
“Men imagine there be certayne elves or fairies of the earth, and tell many siraunge and marvellous tales of them, which they have heard of their grandmothers and mothers, howe they hare appeared unto those of the house, hare done service, bave rocked the cradell, and (which is a sizne of good luck) do continually tary in the house it and he subsequently gives us from Agricola the following passage :-" There be some (demons) very mild and gentle, whome some of the Germans call Cobali, as the Grecians do, because they be as it were apes and counterfeiters of men : for they leaping, and shipping for joy do laughe, and sæme as though they did mang things, when in very dade they doo nothing. --Some other call them Elves ;- they are not much • Vide de Otis Imperialibus, dec. iii. cap. 61. 62
of Ghostes and Spirites wa'king by nyg'at, 410, 1572, p. 49.
unlike unto those whom the Germans call Guteli, bycause they sæme to beare good affection lowards men, for they keepe horses, and do other necessary businesse."* *
The resemblance which these descriptions bear both to the Brownie of the Scotch and the Puck of Shakspeare are very evident: but the combination and similitude are rendered still more apparent in the words of Scot; the
“Virunculi terrei,” says he, “are such as was Robin good fellowe, that would supplie the office of servants, speciallie of maids ; as lo make a fier in the morning, sweepe the house, grind mustard and malt, drawe water, &c. ;' + and speaking of the Incubus, he adds :-—"lo derde your grandams maides were wont lo set a boll of milke before him and his cousine Robin gootfellow, for grinding of malt or mustard, and sweeping the house at midnight : and you have also heard that he would chafe exceedingly, is the maid or goodwife of the house, having companion on his nakednesse, laid anie clothes for him, beesides his messe of white bread and milke, want nas his standing fee. For in that case he saith; What have we here? Hemlen, hamten, here will I never more tread nor stampen.”
The lines in italics point out one of the most characteristic features of the Brownie, while the preceding parts, and the last word of the quotation, are in unison, both with the passages just transcribed from our poet, and with that expression of Puck, where, describing to Oberon the terror and dispersion of the rustic comedians, he says
And, at our stamp, here o'er and o’er one falls." It may be also remarked, the idea of fixing “an ass's nowl” on Bottom's head, is most probably taken from Scot, who gives us a very curious receipt for this singular metamorphosis.
So far, then, the Puck of Shakspeare is in conformity with the tales of tradition, and of preceding writers ; he is the “Goblin fear'd in field and town;"** who loves all things best “ that befal preposterously,” and who, even when the poet wrote, had not ceased to excite apprehension; for Scot hath told us, nine years before the era of the Midsummer-Night's Dream, that Robin Good-fellowe ceaseth now to be much feared.++
But to these traits of customary character, Shakspeare has added some which greatly modify the picture, and which have united to the “drudging goblin," and to the demon of mischievous frolic, duties and functions of a very different cast. He is the messenger, FF and trusty servantsS of the fairy king, by whom, in these capacities, he is called gentle *** and good, itt and he combines with all his here ditary attributes, the speed, the legerity, and the intellectual skill of the highest order of the fairy world. Accordingly when Oberon says
u Fetch me this herb: and be thou here again,
Ere the leviathan can swim a league ;” he replies,
“ I'll put a girdle round about the earth
Actii. sc. 2.
Of Ghostes and Spirites walking by nyght. 4to, 1752, p. 75.
# Discoverie, p. 85 “ Cut of the head of a horse or an asse (before they be dead), otherwise the vertue or strength thereal will be the lesse effectuall, and make an earthen vessell of fit capacitie to conteine the same, and let it be filled with the oile and fat thereof; cover it close, and dawbe it over with lome: let it boile over a soft der three daies continuallie, that the flesh boiled may run into oile, so as the bare bones may be seeue : beste the haire into powder, and mingle the same with the oile; and annoint the heads of the standers bs, and they shall seeme to have horses or asses heads.”—Discoverie of Witchcraft, 1554, p. 315.
** Midsummer-Night's Dream, act iii. sc. 2. #t Discoverie of Witchcraft, 1584.-Epistle to the Readers, in which he afterwards speaks of the wast of Robin Goodfellowe and the fairies, which were woont to mainteine chat, and the common peoples talle in this behalfe.”
#1 “0b. Here comes my messenger."— Midsummer-Night's Dream, act iii. se. ?
and again, on receiving commission from the same quarter :
“ Obe. About the wood go swifter than the wind :
Swifter than arrow from the Tartar's bow." Act iii, sc. 2. l'pon the whole we may be allowed, from the preceding dissertation, to consider the following series of circumstances as entitled to the appellation of facts : namely, that the patria of our popular system of fairy mythology, was the Scandinavian Peninsula ; that, on its admission into this country, it gradually underwent various modifications through the influence of Christianity, the introduction of classical associations, and the prevalence of feudal manners; but that ultimately two systems became established; one in Scotland, founded on the wild and more terrific parts of the Gothic mythology, and the other in England, built, indeed, on the same system, but from a selection of its milder features, and converted by the genius of Shakspeare into one of the most lovely creations of a sportive imagination. Such, in fact, has been the success of our bard in expanding and colouring the germs of Gothic fairyism; in assigning to its tiny agents new attributes and powers ; and in clothing their ministration with the most light and exquisite imagery, that his portraits, in all their essential parts, have descended to us as indissolubly connected with, and indeed nearly, if not altogether, forming our ideas of the fairy tribe.
The canvas, it is true, which he stretched, has been since expanded, and new groups have been introduced; but the outline and the mode of colouring which he employed, have been invariably followed. It is, in short, to his picture of the fairy world, that we are indebted for the “Nymphidia" of Drayton;* the “Robin Goodfellow” of Jonson;t the miniatures of Fletcher and Browne;f the full-length portraits of Herrick: the sly allusions of Corbet, ** and the spirited and picturesque sketches of Milton.tt
To Shakspeare, therefore, as the remodeller, and almost the inventor of our fairy system, may, with the utmost propriety, be addressed the elegant compliment which Browne has paid to Occleve, certainly inappropriate as applied to that rugged imitator of Chaucer, but admirably adapted to the peculiar powers of our bard, and delightfully expressive of what we may conceive would be the gratitude, were such testimony possible, of these children of his playful fancy:* Many times he hath been seene
Mints perfume the gentle ajre, With the faeries on the greene,
And where Flora spreads her treasure, And to them bis pipe did sound
There they would beginn their measure. As they danced in a round;
If it chanc'd night's sable shrowds Mickle solace would they make him,
Muffled Cynthia up in clowds, And at midnight often wake him;
Safely home they then would see him, And convey him from his roome
And from breakes and quagmires free him. To a fielde of yellow broome,
There are few such swaines as he Or into the meadowes where
Now a days for harmonie." #1
• This beautiful and highly fanciful poem could not certainly have been written before 1605; for the Don Quixote of Cervantes, which was first published in Spain during the above year, is expressly menluced in one of the stanzas; and Mr. Malone thinks that the earliest edition of the Nymphidia' was printed in 1619.
+ Peck attributes this song to Ben Jonson ; and Percy observes, that it seems to have been originally inlended for some masque.---Reliques, vol. iii. p. 203. ed. 1594.
see Fletcher's Faithfull Shepherdess, and Browne's Britannia’s Pastorals. $ Herrick, as I have observed in a former work, seems more particularly to have delighted in drawing the manners and costume of the fairy world.-He has devoted several of his most elaborate poems to these spartire creations of fancy. Under the titles of The Fairy Temple, Oberon's Palace, The Fairy Queen, and Oberon's Feast, a variety of curious and minute imagery is appositely introduced. --Literary Hours, 3. edit. vol. iii, p. 85. To these may be added another elegantly descriptive piece, entitled, King Obe mon's Apparel, written by Sir John Mennis, and published in The Musarum Deliciæ, or The Muses Rectration. 1656
** la his political ballad entitled The Fairies Farewell.
Observations on Romeo and Juliet ; on the Taming of the Shrew; on The Two Gentlemer of Te
rona ; on King Richard the Third ; on King Richard the Second ; on King Henry the Fourt, Parts First and Second; on The Merchant of Venice; and on Hamlet-Dissertation on the Agency of Spirits and Apparitions, and on the Ghost in Hamlet.
In endeavouring to ascertain the chronological series of our author's plays, we must ever hold in mind, that, in general, nothing more than a choice of probabilities is before us, and that, whilst weighing their preponderancy, the slightest additional circumstance, so equally are they sometimes balanced, may turn the scale. It appears to us, that an occurrence of this kind will be found to point out, more accurately than hitherto, the precise period to which the first sketch of the following tragedy may be ascribed.
7. ROMEO AND JULIET: 1593. The passage in this play on which the commentators have chiefly relied for the establishment of their respective dates, runs thus:
“ Nurse. Even or odd, of all days in the year,
She could have run aud waddled all about." Act i. sc. 3. Building on Shakspeare's usual custom of alluding to the events of his own time, and transferring them to the scene and period of the piece on which he happened to be engaged, Mr. Tyrwhitt with much probability conjectured, that the poet, in these lines, had in view the earthquake which, according to Stowe,' and Gabriel Harvey, took place in England on the 6th of April, 1580; but then, relying, unfortunately too much, on the computation of the good nurse, he hastily concludes, that Romeo and Juliet, or a part of it at least, was written in 1591.
Mr. Malone, after admiiting the inference of Mr. Tyrwhitt, adds another conjecture, that the foundation of this play might be laid in 1591, and finished at a subsequent period, which period he has assigned in his chronology to the year 1595.
Lastly, Mr. Chalmers, principally because Shakspeare appears to have borrowed some imagery in the filth act, froin Daniel's Complaint of Rosamond," which was entered at Stationers' Hall on the 4th of February, 1592, has ascribed the first sketch of Romeo and Juliet to the spring-time of the same year.
Now, adopting the opinion of Mr. Tyrwhitt as to Shakspeare's reference to the carthquake of 1580, a little attention to the lines which the poet has put into the mouth of his garrulous nurse, will convince us that these gentlemen are alike mistaken in their chronological calculations.
The nurse in the first place tells us, that Juliet was within little more than a fortnight of being fourteen years old, an assertion in which she could not be incorrect, as it is corroborated by Lady Capulet, who thinks her daughter, in consequence of this age, fit for marriage. In the next place she informs us that Juliet was weaned on the day of the earthquake, and as she could then stand and run alone, we must conceive her to have been at this period at least a twelvemooth
See Stowe's Chronicle, and Gabriel Harvey's Letter in the Preface to Spenser's Works, edit. 169
old; and thirdly, and immediately afterwards we are told, with a contradiction which assigns to Juliet but the age of twelve,
“ 'Tis since the earthquake now eleven years." There can be no doubt, therefore, that this miscalculation of eleven for thirteen years, was intended as a characteristic feature of the superannuated nurse, and that, assuming the era of 1580 as the epoch meant to be conveyed in the allusion to the earthquake at Verona, the composition of Romeo and Juliet must be allotted, not to the years 1591, 1592, or 1595, but to the year 1593.
It appears somewhat singular, indeed, that Mr. Malone, contrary to his usual custom, should have given a place in his Chronology not to the first sketch of this play, but to a supposed completion of it in 1595; more especially when we find, from his own words, that this, like several other dramas of our bard, was gradually and successively improved, and that, though first printed in 1597, it was not filled up and completed as we now have it, until 1599, when a second edition was published.
Some surprise also must be excited by the reasons which induced Mr. Chalmers to date the first sketch of this tragedy in the spring of 1592. Of these the first, he remarks, “ is plainly an allusion to the Faerie Queene, the three first books of which were published in 1590; and which was continually present in our poet's mind; Mercutio, in his airy and satiric speech, cries out, —
« 0, then, I see Queen Mab hath been with you.
She is the fairies midwife; and she comes,
On the fore-finger of an alderman :" forgetting, that between the popular fairies, the tiny elves, of Shakspeare, and the allegorical fairies of Spenser, there is not the smallest similarity, not even a point in contact. The second, drawn from the imitation of Daniel, has been noticed above, and might with as much, if not more, probability be assigned for its date in 1593 as in the year preceding.
There is much reason to suppose, from a late communication by Mr. Haslewood, that this play was not altogether founded on Arthur Broke's “ Tragicall Historye of Romeus and Juliet,” but partly ou a theatrical exhibition of the same story which had taken place anterior to 1562; for in a copy of Broke's poem of this date in the Collection of the Rev. H. White, of the Close, Lichfield, occurs an address
To the Reader," not found in Mr. Capell's impression of 1562, and omitted in the edition of 1577, which closes with the following curious piece of information:
—“ Though I saw," observes Broke, speaking in reference to his story,“ the same argument lately set forth on the stage with more commendation, then I can looke for (being there much better set for then I have or can doe), yet the same matter penned as it is, may serve to lyke good effect, is the readers do brynge with them ly ke good myndes, to consider it, which hath the more incouraged me to publishe it, suche as it is.”
Here we find three important circumstances announced : that a play on this subject had, previous to 1562, been set forth with no little preparation; that it contained the same argument and matter with the Tragical History, and that it had been well received and productive of a good effect! Thirty years, consequently, before Shakspeare's tragedy appeared, had the sta e been familiar with this pathetic tale. +
British Bibliographer, vol. ii. p. 115.—The title, which is wanting in Mr. Capell's copy of 1562, is thus given by Mr. Haslewood:
The Tragicall Historye of Romeus and Juliet, written first in Italian by Bandell, and nowe in Englishe by Ar. Br. In ædibus Richardi Tottelli. Cum Priuilegio. (Col.) Imprinted at London in Flete strete within Temble barre, at the signe of the hand and starre, by Richard Toutill the xix day of November. An do. 1502."
+ "Steevens,” remarks Mr. Haslewood, "in a note prefixed to the play, rather prophetically observes, 'we are not yet at the end of our discoveries relative to the originals of our author's dramalie pieces :