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Few of Shakespeare's plays are more strongly marked with his peculiarities of thought and style than this; very few have furnished the world with phrases more widely known and recognized as vehicles of what the world professes or wishes to believe; and yet it is very surely, in great part at least, one of its writer's very earliest works. Nor is there lacking ground for the supposition that in some of its scenes we may trace the hand of another writer, one of the playwrights of the elder school which Shakespeare supplanted, but in which, and with the craftsmen of which, he was at first obliged to work. Certainly there is no play of his in which in various parts incongruity of style is so strongly marked. Without assuming that Shakespeare was always doing the best that he could do at any particular time, it is yet difficult to believe that, for example, the first scene of Act I. and the first part of Act V. were written by the same man who wrote most of the scenes in which the Athenian lovers appear. Possibly the play may have been revised and partly rewritten; in which case I should place the first writing quite as early as 1592, if not earlier. Indeed, many years ago I suggested, in my first edition of it, that this fanciful comedy may have been, in an imperfect form, Shakespeare's maiden dramatic work. All that we know from positive evidence upon this point is that it was written some time before 1598, when Francis Meres cited it as proof of Shakespeare's excellence in comedy. No play or story that can be regarded as its original or its foundation has yet been discovered; but that there was such a play or story is rather probable than improbable. As to time and place of action and costume, they are all in delightful uncertainty and confusion; as well ask what is the native place, and what the proper apparel of Robin Goodfellow and the fairies whom this midsummer night's dream first made visible to human eyes. All of them are mere shadows; but there is no need of our imagination to amend them.

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SCENE I. Athens. The palace of THESEUS.


The. Now, fair Hippolyta, our nuptial hour Draws on apace; four happy days bring in Another moon: but, O, methinks, how slow This old moon wanes! she lingers my desires, Like to a step-dame or a dowager

Long withering out a young man's revenue.

Hip. Four days will quickly steep themselves in night; Four nights will quickly dream away the time;

And then the moon, like to a silver bow

New-bent in heaven, shall behold the night

Of our solemnities.

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Stir up the Athenian youth to merriments;
Awake the pert and nimble spirit of mirth:
Turn melancholy forth to funerals;
The pale companion is not for our pomp.
Hippolyta, I woo'd thee with my sword,
And won thy love, doing thee injuries;
But I will wed thee in another key,

With pomp, with triumph and with revelling.


Ege. Happy be Theseus, our renowned Duke!

[Exit Philostrate.

The. Thanks, good Egeus: what's the news with thee?
Ege. Full of vexation come I, with complaint

Against my child, my daughter Hermia.
Stand forth, Demetrius. My noble lord,
This man hath my consent to marry her.

Stand forth, Lysander: and, my gracious Duke,

13 pert lively, without implication of reproach.

20 duke dux, leader.

him Duke.


Dante calls Theseus Duke of Athens, and Chaucer also calls

1 Egeus: properly a dissyllable accented on the first; but here made a trisyllable accented on the second.

This man hath bewitch'd the bosom of my child:
Thou, thou, Lysander, thou hast given her rhymes
And interchang'd love-tokens with my child:
Thou hast by moonlight at her window sung
With feigning voice verses of feigning love,
And stolen the impression of her fantasy
With bracelets of thy hair, rings, gawds, conceits,
Knacks, trifles, nosegays, sweetmeats,


Of strong prevailment in unharden'd youth:
With cunning hast thou filch'd my daughter's heart,
Turn'd her obedience, which is due to me,

To stubborn harshness: and, my gracious Duke,
Be it so she will not here before your grace
Consent to marry with Demetrius,

I beg the ancient privilege of Athens,
As she is mine, I may dispose of her:
Which shall be either to this gentleman
Or to her death, according to our law
Immediately provided in that case.

The. What say you, Hermia? be advis'd, fair maid:

To you your father should be as a god;

One that compos'd your beauties, yea, and one

To whom you are but as a form in wax

By him imprinted and within his power
To leave the figure or disfigure it.
Demetrius is a worthy gentleman.
Her. So is Lysander.


In himself he is;

But in this kind, wanting your father's voice,

The other must be held the worthier.

Her. I would my father look'd but with my eyes.
The. Rather your eyes must with his judgement look.
Her. I do entreat your grace to pardon me.

I know not by what power I am made bold,

Nor how it may concern my modesty,

In such a presence here to plead my thoughts,
But I beseech your grace that I may know
The worst that may befall me in this case,
If I refuse to wed Demetrius.

The. Either to die the death or to abjure

For ever the society of men.

Therefore, fair Hermia, question your desires;

Know of your youth, examine well your blood,





82 stolen the impression of her fantasy: that is, secretly impressed her fancy; impres sion impressing.

44 Or to her death. Solon's laws gave the father power of life and death over his chil dren.

Whether, if you yield not to your father's choice,
You can endure the livery of a nun,
For aye to be in shady cloister mew'd,
To live a barren sister all your life,

Chanting faint hymns to the cold fruitless moon.
Thrice-blessed they that master so their blood,
To undergo such maiden pilgrimage;
But earthlier happy is the rose distill'd,
Than that which witkering on the virgin thorn
Grows, lives and dies in single blessedness.

Her. So will I grow, so live, so die, my lord,

Ere I will yield my virgin patent up

Unto his lordship, whose unwished yoke

My soul consents not to give sovereignty.

The. Take time to pause; and, by the next new moon —

The sealing-day betwixt my love and me,

For everlasting bond of fellowship

Upon that day either prepare to die
For disobedience to your father's will,

Or else to wed Demetrius, as he would;

Or on Diana's altar to protest

For aye austerity and single life.

Dem. Relent, sweet Hermia: and, Lysander, yield




Thy crazed title to my certain right.

Lys. You have her father's love, Demetrius;

Let me have Hermia's: do you marry him.

Ege. Scornful Lysander! true, he hath my love,
And what is mine my love shall render him.
And she is mine, and all my right of her

I do estate unto Demetrius.

Lys. I am, my lord, as well deriv'd as he,
As well possess'd; my love is more than his;
My fortunes every way as fairly rank'd,
If not with vantage, as Demetrius';

And, which is more than all these boasts can be,
I am belov'd of beauteous Hermia:

Why should not I then prosecute my right?
Demetrius, I'll avouch it to his head,
Made love to Nedar's daughter, Helena,
And won her soul; and she, sweet lady, dotes,
Devoutly dotes, dotes in idolatry,

Upon this spotted and inconstant man.

The. I must confess that I have heard so much, And with Demetrius thought to have spoke thereof; But, being over-full of self-affairs,

93 crazed crazy, quasi foolish.



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