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A MIDSUMMER-NIGHT'S DREAM.
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.
A MIDSUMMER-NIGHT'S DREAM.
SCENE I. Athens. The palace of THESEUS.
Enter THESEUS, HIPPOLYTA, PHILOSTRATE, and Attendants.
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.
Stir up the Athenian youth to merriments;
With pomp, with triumph and with revelling.
Enter EGEUS, HERMIA, LYSANDER, and DEMETRIUS.
Ege. Happy be Theseus, our renowned Duke!
The. Thanks, good Egeus: what's the news with thee?
Against my child, my daughter Hermia.
Stand forth, Lysander: and, my gracious Duke,
13 pert lively, without implication of reproach.
20 duke dux, leader.
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:
Of strong prevailment in unharden'd youth:
To stubborn harshness: and, my gracious Duke,
I beg the ancient privilege of Athens,
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
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.
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,
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,
Chanting faint hymns to the cold fruitless moon.
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
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,
I do estate unto Demetrius.
Lys. I am, my lord, as well deriv'd as he,
And, which is more than all these boasts can be,
Why should not I then prosecute my right?
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.