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(3) Many features in the play suggest that it may have been composed for some marriage-celebration at Court. A wedding, announced with stately emphasis in the opening lines, is the focus upon which the whole action converges; and Puck's parting song has much of the air of an actual epithalamium. This hypothesis has naturally led to attempts to discover the actual marriage in question. Tieck proposed that of Southampton in 1598, Elze and Kurz that of Essex in 1590. Mr. Fleay more recently has argued for the marriage of William Stanley, Earl of Derby, 24th January 1595. The first two, besides being too early or too late, were secret marriages, and may therefore be left out of account. The third conjecture is more plausible both as regards the date and the occasion, Lord Derby's marriage having taken place at Court, and been, as Stowe says, 'most royally kept.' Shakespeare's company had, moreover, been the 'servants' of Stanley's elder brother till his death, some months before. Against these plausibilities must be set the facts that Shakespeare's company is stated to have played at Court on 5th January and 22nd February 1595, but not on 24th January, the date of the marriage;1 and that the title-page of neither quarto contains any allusion to the Court performance, which on this hypothesis was the original occasion of the play.

A Midsummer-Night's Dream is, as a whole, one of the most original creations in the history of poetry; but its nucleus already existed in the noble opening of Chaucer's Knightes Tale, the home-coming and wedding of Theseus and Hippolyta, and several hints of the imaginings with which Shakespeare has embroidered this simple incident, are to be found in the sequel. None of Chaucer's Tales was more famous; 1 Fleay, Life of Shakespeare.

it had twice been dramatised in Elizabeth's reign,1 and Shakespeare himself is thought to have shared in the fine Jacobean Two Noble Kinsmen. Plutarch's Life of Theseus (translated by North, 1579) was clearly known to him. Shakespeare's Theseus is neither the ruthless soldier of Chaucer nor the heroic Don Juan of Plutarch, but a spirit of the finest temper and the noblest breed who has played both these parts and put them definitely by. A single phrase reminds us of his deluded Ægles and Ariadnes; another, of the injuries he had done his future wife in winning her at the point of the sword. His union with Hippolyta marks his final emergence from the barbarisms and infidelities of his youth into mature humanity and loyal love. His relations with the Athenian lovers have tragic possibilities, like those of Chaucer's Theseus with Arcite and Palamon; but their peril lies no longer in the ferocity of Theseus, but in that of the law he unwillingly administers, and instead of being hardly won to qualified mercy by the tears of his wife and sister he himself 'overbears' the despotic vindictiveness of Egeus.

But Palamon and Arcite seem to have actually suggested the group of Athenian lovers in whose fortunes Theseus similarly intervenes on the eve of his marriage. Their rivalry in the love of Emilie reappears, heightened and complicated after Shakespeare's wont, in the double rivalry of Demetrius and Lysander for Hermia and Helena. Theseus' master of the Revels also bears the name chosen by Arcite in disguise.

The wedding festivities, as of no moment for the

1 Palamon and Arcyte, by Richard Edwards, 1566; Palamon and Arcite, acted at the Rose Theatre, September 1594.

Both are lost. The second may possibly be subsequent to the Dream and a consequence of its

success.

story, Chaucer had passed lightly by. Shakespeare availed himself of this opening for an unmatched comic interlude. Bottom and his crew are doubtless drawn from life, and with a still fresher and more native touch than the corresponding comic group in Love's Labour's Lost, whose absurdities still savour of the traditional braggart and pedant. And Bottom's 'translation,' which links him with the story of the lovers, is incomparably more dramatic, because it brings his character into vivid relief, than the blunder of Jaquenetta by which Armado involuntarily brings about the comic climax of the earlier play. The story of Pyramus and Thisbe has, moreover, as we shall see, a sly relevance to the solemnities which it relieves, hardly to be found in the corresponding mummery of the Nine Worthies. Shakespeare probably read it in Ovid (Metamorphoses, lib. iv.), but it was widely familiar both in Chaucer's Legend of Good Women, in Golding's translation of Ovid (1565), and in a ballad by Thompson, the two latter couched in a doggerel not greatly above the measure of Peter Quince.

For the country-bred Shakespeare, however, the wedding motive touched the springs of yet another world of poetry. Elves in Germanic folklore were wont to haunt weddings, and, on this hint, coloured perhaps by the myths of the classic Hymen, Shakespeare has made his fairies hallow the house with song and bless the bridal bed. To this the whole fairy action attaches itself. Shakespeare's fairydom is, with all its magical unity of effect, a very composite growth, and nearly all the fairy plot, as distinguished from the fairy ritual, is drawn from the alien worlds of Latin poetry or mediæval romance. Shakespeare was here, however, only carrying a step farther a process of assimilation which

had been going on for centuries.

Even in Chaucer's day the Germanic elf-world was not intact; the name 'fairy,' drawn from the wholly unrelated 'fay,' or enchanter, of romance, was already synonymous with 'elf,' and the classical Pluto and Proserpina were the King and Queen of 'Faerie.'1 Pluto, when Shakespeare wrote, had long been replaced by Oberon; but Oberon himself owed his translation from the homely German dwarf Albrich, to the feudal and courtly imagination of French romance.2

Shakespeare's Oberon is, however, still many degrees further than his namesake and probable prototype in Huon of Bordeaux 3 from the Albrich of German myth. Huon's Oberon is still a dwarf in stature and in temperament, capricious, ardent, and irascible, loading his favourite with magic gifts and kingdoms, and ordering his instant execution for a supposed slight. Shakespeare's Oberon has the caprice without the violence; he displays mild beneficence towards the lovers, and calculated malice towards his queen. It seems as if Shakespeare had already devised a fairy psychology, and meant their attenuated emotions to emphasise their diminutive forms.

On the other hand, he adopted to the full the Romance scheme of a fairy-court, and brilliantly

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extended it by turning the rustic Puck, familiar to every English homestead, into Oberon's court-jester. 'I jest for Oberon and make him smile,' is Robin's description of his quality. Yet he remains for the most part little removed from his folk-lore prototype. It is only in the epilogue that he becomes, at parting, a mouthpiece for the quintessence of fairy-poetry.

Shakespeare's elf-queen seems to be more original than either. Tradition had less definitely fixed her character. Spenser had quite recently (1590) been able to apply the name to a being as little related to the legendary mistress of Thomas of Ercildoun as to Chaucer's Proserpina. Shakespeare himself gave her a Puck character as Mab in Romeo and Juliet. Classical scholars widely Titania is distinct from

connected her with Diana. all these, but she seems to have affinities both with Diana and Proserpina. Like the queen of Hades, Shakespeare's fairies are of the night; they 'run from the presence of the sun, following darkness like a dream.' It was an easy step thence to bring them into a special relation to the moon, and thus they are made to pursue the chariot of the 'triple Hecate,' to sing hymns and carols to her, or neglect to sing them. (ii. 1.). The poet of the Midsummer-Night's Dream was evidently attracted by the classical legends of the Moon, and Lyly's mythic drama on the Endymion story had probably contributed to the attraction. This aspect of his fairydom seems to have had its share in suggesting the name Titania, which he found in Ovid's Metamorphoses (iii. 173) as a synonym for Diana. Titania herself is, however, a very different being from the chaste maiden-deity. She is no goddess but a fairy, childlike in her innocence and her impulsiveness and, above all, helplessly subdued by the shafts of that casual and irrational love which the 'cold beams

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