Some research into MSND

INTRODUCTION
OF all the commentators on Shakespeare, perhaps the oddest is Ulrich Braker, a Swiss weaver, who in 1780 finished writing his thoughts on the plays under the title A Few Words about William Shakespeare’s Plays by a poor ignorant citizen of the world who had the good fortune to read him. Braker did not like much of A Midsummer Night’s Dream:
I don’t want to run down your dream, but I just can’t make it out. The whole tone of the piece doesn’t appeal to me. If I ever dreamt of entering a community where affairs are conducted in this tone then I’d leap out of bed, I’ll be bound, without even waking up! A certain Theseus, a certain Lysander, every fairy in fact, is busy spouting his own wooden verses. I don’t know what fairies are like, and if I did, I’d make a point of not mixing with them—they’d be too quick for me.
Only the workers appealed to this Swiss Bottom: ‘The char¬acters of the interlude in this dream—they’re the ones for me!’ (p. 29).

I doubt if there are many who would agree with Braker. A Midsummer Night’s Dream is probably the most performed of all Shakespeare’s plays, not least because, in schools, it is so often the way children first encounter Shakespeare. It has always seemed to me a play peculiarly perfect, ideally compact and coherent in its form. At this early stage in his career, in A Midsummer Night’s Dream as in The Comedy of Errors, Shakespeare’s approach to comic form is to transmute the enormous range and divergent nature of the materials that lie behind the play into a surface of disarming simplicity.

Like the work of Freudian analysts of genuine dreams, critics considering A Midsummer Night’s Dream find that the play has a ‘manifest’ level behind which lurks their own version of the ‘latent dream’. For Freudians, dreamers change their dreams as they remember them, this ‘dream-work’ trans¬forming the latent dream through a process of distortion involving four techniques, identified as condensation, displace¬ment, representation and symbolisation. The task of the critic should then be to uncover the dream-work that has made the ‘real’ subject of the play, its anxieties and repressions, acceptable. The childlike world of the play is then, along such a line, part of its attempt to avoid the repressed conflict or to resolve it through the fantasy of fictitious solutions ‘that are marked by infantile characteristics and are often contradictory among themselves’!   For Jungians, this approach to decoding the secrets of a dream is mistaken. There is for Jung no latent dream since the manifest dream is not a disguise: ‘dreams are a part of nature, which harbours no intention to deceive our eyes, but expresses something as best it can’.5 Our problem, as spectators and critics, is then to learn how to read the dream. If we cannot understand the text, the fault lies in the reader, not the text, since ‘the dream attempts to reveal rather than conceal’.1

But modern scientific analysis of dreams has moved from the psychoanalytic to the psycho-physiological, finding the source of dreams in neural activity. The most delightful sur¬prise in such research turns out to be its emphasis on the pleasure of dreaming. Dreams can be seen as a form of entertainment and their function a form of relaxation. As Hobson argues: ‘Why can’t we accept the autocreative function of dreams as something given to us … for our own pleasure?’ .5
This introduction will sometimes try to uncover the latent in A Midsummer Night’s Dream; it will more often accept that the play reveals rather than conceals; and it will, I hope, always try to keep in the foreground the pleasure of watching or reading the play. The opening sections of the introduction set out a late sixteenth-century context for dreams and dream-ing. Since dreams, even dramatic ones like A Midsummer Night’s Dream, are constructed out of odd scraps of different material, the next sections explore the play by setting out from the ‘day-residue’, the sources which fed this particular dream. The last section provides the traditional stuff of introductions, considering the play’s date and the nature of the text.
Dreams, Dreams and Dreaming.
Wittgenstein, worrying how to pinpoint his sense of disliking Shakespeare, tried comparing his work to dreams:
Shakespeare and dreams. A dream is all wrong, absurd, composite, and yet at the same time it is completely right: put together in this strange way it makes an impression. Why? I don’t know. And if Shakespeare is great, as he is said to be, then it must be possible to say of him: it’s all wrong, things aren’t like that—and yet at the same time it’s quite right according to a law of its own . .. [Shake¬speare] is completely unrealistic. (Like a dream.)’
There is no evidence to indicate whether Wittgenstein knew A Midsummer Night’s Dream and yet this passage could in so many ways be an anxious paraphrase of the exchange be¬tween Theseus and Hippolyta at the opening to Act 5. Witt-genstein’s description of a dream as ‘all wrong, absurd’ belongs firmly within the rationalist framework of Theseus’s ‘More strange than true’ (5.1.2); his awareness that it can also be ‘composite’ and ‘completely right’ shares Hippolyta’s understanding that, however strange it may be, it ‘grows to something of great constancy’ (5.1.26). Theseus wants it to ‘be possible to say of the events of the night in the wood that ‘things aren’t like that’ but the night-world has, as the audience by this stage is well aware, laws of its own that he does not understand. Indeed, like a dream, which has its ow internally consistent sense of realism, an awareness of reality that communicates itself to the dreamer, or that the dreamer creates in creating the dream, the play as a whole is both ‘completely unrealistic’ and yet ‘at the same time . . . quite right’.
How true the play is, how far it can be described as ‘quite right’ I shall come back to frequently. But, however much A Midsummer Night’s Dream is ‘like a dream’, it is not one. It contains only one description of something that may unequi-vocally be taken to be a dream, one ‘real’ dream, Hermia’s dream of the serpent:
Help me, Lysander, help me! Do thy best To pluck this crawling serpent from my breast!
Ay me, for pity. What a dream was here?
Lysander, look how I do quake with fear.
Methought a serpent ate my heart away,
And you sat smiling at his cruel prey.
(2.2.151-6)
Everything else that is recounted by mortals or fairies as having been part of a dream is not a dream at all. The experiences have been turned into dream, experienced as if they were dream—but they were not. Titania, waking, tells Oberon ‘what visions have I seen’ but her ‘love’, the image she ascribes to her dream of an ass she had fallen in love with, lies rather solidly beside her (4.1.75, 77). The lovers return ‘back to Athens’ assuming that ‘all this derision’ that they experienced in the wood is perhaps, as Oberon promises, nothing more than ‘a dream and fruitless vision’ (3.2.370-1), though they worry about whether it is indeed fruitless. Bot¬tom wakes having had what he without hesitation de¬scribes as ‘a dream past the wit of a man to say what dream it was’ (4.1.202-3). Robin even gives the whole audience the option of considering the entire play as a dream in his epilogue:
If we shadows have offended,
Think but this, and all is mended:
That you have but slumbered here,
While these visions did appear
(5.1.414-7)

If we wish to dismiss the play, we can choose to treat it as a ‘weak and idle theme, | No more yielding but a dream’ (5.1.418-19). This is the final, largest-scale version of this recurrent device in the play, reducing vision to dream or reaccommodating an accurate perception of experienced reality into the more comfortable framework provided by dream.
Oberon and Robin make it possible for the other characters—and the audience—to see the play as a dream, not, that is, like a dream but as a dream itself, a true dream experience not a similitude. This extraordinary ability to transform experience into dream needs to be placed against an under¬standing of what dream was, where it came from and what it signified.
Oneiro-criticism, to give it its pedantic title, was a standard and important part of classical divination. Only one major account of early Graeco-Roman interpretation has survived: the Oneirocritica by Artemidorus of Daldis, written in the second century AD. Artemidorus emphasizes throughout that dream-analysis must not only take into account what happens in the dream but also the name of the dreamer, his or her occupation, habits and attitudes. His method is non-supersti- tious and he scrupulously refuses to distinguish between dreams sent by the gods and dreams that are products of the dreamer or even to indicate whether dreams could be so divided.
Artemidorus is, from the start, concerned to classify dreams, providing a system of significance within which all dreams may be easily placed. The process of classifying a dream- experience, pigeon-holing it conveniently or troublingly, is central to the way that characters in A Midsummer Night’s Dream relate to their forms of dream and Artemidorus’ system is fundamental to Western thinking about dreams until well after the date of Shakespeare’s play. His basic distinction is between a predictive dream, which he terms oneiros, and a non-predictive one, termed enhypnion. The latter are simply ‘anxiety-dreams and petitionary dreams’ (1.6). There is for him nothing at all interesting in the fact that a lover may dream of the beloved, hungry people dream of food and thirsty people dream of drink. Such dreams, clearly generated by what will later be termed ‘day-residue’, are not for interpre¬tation. These dreams, belonging with apparitions and phan- tasmata, lie outside his professional concerns. Dreams of the past and present are necessarily less interesting to his clients; they will also lie outside the concerns of most subsequent dream-analysis.
But if enhypnion dreams can be disregarded as insignificant or irrational fantasies, oneiroi matter enormously. These dreams or visions, occurring to people who are not anxious, are the stuff of his analysis, the raw material on which he can work, using his simple technique: ‘the interpretation of dreams is nothing other than the juxtaposition of similarities’ (2.25). Such proper dreams can be further subdivided into two groups: direct or theorematic and indirect or allegorical. Direct dreams show without metaphor what will occur: a dream of a shipwreck may indeed mean that the next day the dreamer will be shipwrecked. Allegorical dreams signify by replacement. A dream is, for Artemidorus, a claim by the mind; ‘in a way it cries out to each of us’, he writes, ‘look at this and be attentive, for you must learn from me as best you can’ (1.2).
His attempts to categorize dreams are full and inventive. Some features of a dream are treated as tightly defined within their range of meanings. Other dream-features may have multiple possibilities. A serpent such as appeared to Hermia could signify a king, because of its strength, or time, because of its length and skin-changing, or wealth, because it often guards treasure, or any of the gods who use it as a symbol of their sacredness. A serpent is not the same as a snake: snakes signify sickness or an enemy; if a man dreams that his wife has a pet snake which she keeps in her bosom it signifies that she is adulterous. Artemidorus even analyses the different meanings for watersnakes and blindworms.
At the same time he is concerned to emphasize that the same dream may have different meanings according to the circumstances of the dreamer. He gives examples of seven women who had the same dream, during pregnancy, of giving birth to a serpent. In each case the relationship between the serpent of the dream and the son varied. One child became a famous public speaker, because speakers share with serpents the advantages of forked tongues. One son became a priest because the serpent is a sacred animal and the dreamer was a priest’s wife. A prostitute’s son was wanton because a serpent is slippery. A bad woman’s son was a thief and beheaded because serpents are beheaded when caught. A slave woman’s son became a runaway slave because serpents do not follow a straight path. Artemidorus does offer a precise explanation for Hermia’s dream; dreaming that a serpent is ‘entwined about someone and binds him . . . foretells imprison¬ment’ and ‘portends death for the sick’ (2.13).
There were sixteenth-century translations of Artemidorus into Latin, Italian, French and German. A fairly full English translation by Robin Wood—from the French translation of the Latin translation—was first published in 1606 as The Judgement or Exposition of Dreams and had reached its twenty- fourth edition by 1740.
The major late-classical statement on dreams is by Macro- bius, part of his enormous commentary on the dream of Scipio in Cicero’s De Re Publica written around AD 400. The popu¬larity of Macrobius ensured that his dream-classifications became the basis of much early medieval dream-theory. Hence Chaucer includes a lengthy summary of the dream of Scipio in The Parliament of Fowls (11. 29-112) and it is to Macrobius that Chauntecleer turns in ‘The Nun’s Priest’s
Tale’ (11. 3123-6).1 Macrobius plainly derives his ideas from Artemidorus and translates his divisions and classifications into Latin. Oneiros dreams are broken down into three types: somnium, visio and oraculum (enigmatic, prophetic and oracu¬lar). These are for Macrobius, as for Artemidorus, the only significant kinds of dream. Enhypnion dreams are divided into insomnium and visum (nightmare and apparition); neither is prophetic.
But medieval writers were less concerned with a classific- atory system for a Macrobian typology of dreams than with the means to decode those dreams that could be seen as visionary, oneiric or somnium dreams; the means to do it acquired greater sophistication. There were four types of me¬dieval dreambooks: chancebooks often used with psalters, physiological dreambooks defining dreams as indications of physiological ailments, dream-lunars which (intriguingly for A Midsummer Night’s Dream, a play recurrently and almost obsessively concerned with the moon) interpreted dreams differently according to the day of the lunar month and hence the phase of the moon, and alphabetical dreambooks.2
It is the last category that were most common, particularly the Somnia Danielis, the dreams of Daniel. Known in hundreds of different manuscripts from the ninth century to the fifteenth, the Somnia Danielis, an alphabetical list of dream topics, is ‘a library of ancient dream topoi’,3 far more reliable as a guide to medieval use of dream topoi than Artemidorus whose work was at that stage only available in Greek and Arabic. In different versions of the Somnia, Hermia’s serpent most often indicated enemies, conquered or victorious accord-

What the long tradition of dream-theory suggests above all is that the indecipherability of dreams, the ambiguity of their sources, underlines the danger for the dreamer. As Steven Kruger comments,
The dreamer stands in a precarious position . . . The realm of dreams, poised between truth and fiction, is also torn between good and evil; it provides a ground … in relation to which human beings must make complicated decisions—decisions with crucial implications for their moral lives. 
But the tradition also emphasized, particularly in late medieval theory, the extent to which dreams underline the humanity of the dreamer: ‘The dream stands … in a quintessentially human position: between brute animals on the one hand and God and the angels on the other; between the mundane and divine, body and idea, deception and truth’. Bottom and the other ‘dreamers’ are all the more human for having dreamed, Theseus, in his rejection of the dream-world, all the more limited.

Renaissance Dreams.

English Renaissance texts on dreams, their causes or interpretations, are rarely original. They derive their classificatory systems and their analysis of causality from the kind of works I have already referred to, as well as such sources as Aristotle’s brief studies of dream in the Parva Naturalia and Aquinas’s distinction between inward and out¬ward causes. The conventionality of Renaissance thinking on the subject provides the framework within which the ex¬periences within A Midsummer Night’s Dream and that of the whole play by the audience would have been understood. How the lovers understand their dream or the audience the play depend on reconciling the experience with the forms of dream with which Oberon (for the lovers) or Robin (for the audience) align the action.

Thomas Hill, in The Most Pleasant Art of the Interpretation of Dreams (1576), made perhaps the most coherent attempt in the period to provide an orthodox presentation of dream- science in English, deriving his work from Averroes, Aristotle, Artemidorus and Aquinas, filtered through Italian sources. For Hill, true dreams ‘only happen to such, whose spirits are occupied with no irrational imaginations, nor overcharged with the burthen of meat or drinks, or superfluous humours, nor given to any other bodily pleasures’ (sigs. [A] 2r-v). Any others are, as we would expect, ‘vain dreams, no true signi- fiers of matters to come but rather showers of the present affections and desires of the body’ (sig. [A]2V). Hill provides four categories according to whether the causes are bodily or not and new or not; causes can be categorized as food, humours, anxieties and, the most important group, those ‘which frame the superior cause come unto the soul’ or are divinely caused (D79. But all natural dreams, inwardly caused, are generated by the soul; as Wood’s Artemidorus states, ‘a dream therefore is a motion or fiction of the soul in a diverse form’ (p. 1). They are created through the operation of the imagination, one of the three internal senses of the sensitive part of the soul, on material provided by the other two internal senses (common sense and memory) or by the ‘vegetative’ soul, while the external senses are quiescent. The memory provides images derived from the events that imme¬diately preceded falling asleep; the vegetative soul provides images from the state of the body during sleep, for example, cold, thirst, sexual desire. Thomas Nashe, the most contemp¬tuous of Renaissance commentators on dream-theories, puts it even more forcefully:
A dream is nothing else but a bubbling scum or froth of the fancy, which the day hath left undigested; or an after-feast made of the fragments of idle imaginations … our thoughts intentively fixed all the daytime upon a mark we are to hit, are now and then over¬drawn with such force, that they fly beyond the mark of the day into the confines of the night.

Such dreams are unlikely to be true, or as Nashe puts it, ‘there is no certainty in dreams’, since the soul is working without the active support of the external senses; as Vander- cleeve suggests, in The Wisdom of Doctor Dodypoll, an anonymous play of 1600, ‘these present our idle fantasies | With nothing true, but what our labouring souls | Without their active organs, falsely work’. But, as Alphonso answers Vandercleeve, there is always the other category of dream:
My lord, know you, there are two sorts of dreams,
One sort whereof are only physical,
And such are they whereof your Lordship speaks,
The other hyper-physical: that is,
Dreams sent from heaven, or from the wicked fiends,
Which nature doth not form of her own power,
But are extrinsicate, by marvel wrought,
And such was mine.2

Wood’s Artemidorus and Hill’s accumulation of fragments of Renaissance theory are, as one would expect, full of curio¬sities, such as the belief that, dreams dreamed ‘in the hour of the full moon or change’ will come true ‘within 15 days after’.5 But, however fascinating such a timetable may be for A Midsummer Night’s Dream, it seems less significant than, for instance, the confident assertion of that sense of true under¬standing that comes through the dream. As Hill puts it, ‘And a man also doth more comprehend in his dream than waking in the day-time, because in a dream is more resolved than that in the day which is troubled through the doings of the outward sense’ (B2V). Or, as Timothy Bright will later phrase it, ‘in sleep our fantasy can perceive those truths which are denied to it when we are awake’.4 All one then has to do is to recall the dream: Wood recognises that ‘before the attempting to interpret he willeth that one should have perfect remem¬brance of the beginning, the middle, the end, and all the circumstances of his dream’ (A6V). As Demetrius will say in Act 4 of A Midsummer Night’s Dream, ‘And by the way let us recount our dreams’ (4.1.197). Similarly, Nashe’s venom for dream-interpreters matters less than his sense of dreams as part of the curative function of sleep: ‘You must give a wounded man leave to groan while he is in dressing: Dream¬ing is no other than groaning, while sleep our surgeon hath us in cure’ (C2r). But even Nashe carefully preserves the distinction between the impenetrability and untrustworthiness of dream, Artemidorus’s enhypnion or Macrobius’ insomnium, compared with the power of vision, oneiros or somnium, even while he is lambasting Artemidorus and others:
Could any man set down certain rules of expounding of Dreams, and that their rules were general, holding in all as well as in some, I would begin a little to list to them, but commonly that which is portentive in a King is but a frivolous fancy in a beggar . . . Some will object unto me for the certainty of dreams, the dreams of Cyrus, Cambyses, Pompey, Caesar, Darius and Alexander. For those I answer that they were rather visions than dreams, extraordinarily sent from heaven to foreshow the translation of Monarchies. 

Lodge, too, is reminded to prove that
spirits either good or bad,
In forms, and certain apparitions clad,
Can further force, or else infuse by right,
Unfeigned dreams, to those that sleep by night. (Fir)
His reminder is Apollo, for, as Wood states, ‘dreams and their interpretations seem particularly to agree and belong to poets, because that to their Apollo … is attributed and dedicated, not only the art of Poetry, but also the knowledge and interpretation of dreams’ , a more sympathetic insight into the poet’s imagination than that offered by Theseus.
Not all dreams have such divine sources. Hermia’s dream appears to have a straightforward and direct cause. When Hermia and Lysander prepare themselves for sleep, Lysander is determined to be as close to Hermia as possible, while she, modestly and accurately, distrusts his intentions and wants to be sure he keeps his distance. Tired and lost though he may be, Lysander sees the opportunity of being alone with Hermia in the woods as too good to pass up. For all the elegant virtuosity of his reasoning (2.2.47-52) it is clear he has sex al fresco in mind and Hermia has to be fairly insistent in giving him the verbal equivalent of a goodnight peck on the cheek (2.2.62-7). Most Lysanders, however, manage to find in ‘Here is my bed’ (2.2.70) a certain begrudging indication of just how uncomfortable that spot of the stage is.
Eighteenth-century productions had difficulty with this part of the scene. Francis Gentleman, in 1774, marked the lines for omission, for, ‘though founded in delicacy, they may raise warm ideas’. The Morality of the moment was troubling: how could Lysander, a gentleman, be seen to be suggesting pre¬marital sex and how could Hermia, a virtuous maid, understand what he had in mind? In the version David Garrick prepared with George Colman the Elder in 1763, the passage is substantially rewritten. Barely into his stride, Lysander’s attempt at seduction is halted by Hermia’s firm request and he offers to stand guard:
My honor is the best security for thine.
Repose thee, love; I’ll watch thee thro’ the night,
Nor harm shall reach thee—
Sleep give thee all his rest.
Garrick’s Robin has to produce some fairy music to ‘throw this youth into a trance’, a ‘sweet enchanting harmony’ that Lysander cannot resist. Shakespeare’s awkward morality is rendered acceptable and a convenient opportunity for music found in the process, cultural adjustment combined with theatrical efficiency.
But such rewriting removes the primary source of the dream. It did not need Freud to identify the serpent of Her¬mia’s dream as a phallic threat. Lysander has presented Hermia with the problem of his sexual desire, and her dream enacts her anxiety about it. At the same time the dream represents Hermia’s careful disjunction of Lysander as phallic serpent from Lysander himself, who sits smiling and separate from the actions of his penis, thereby ensuring that the phallic threat from Lysander is dissociated from the ‘person’ Lysander to some extent. A Freudian reading of the dream would find in the object of the phallic attack, Hermia’s breast and heart, a displacement from her vagina. Lysander, in this reading of the dream, is both passive and complicit, accepting, in effect, the sexual desire that Hermia has for him but that she has refused to acknowledge.1 In Alexandra Darie’s production for the Comedy Theatre of Bucharest (1991), it was only with great difficulty that Hermia kept her modesty and her clothes on, so strong was her desire for Lysander.
But Hermia offers her own explanation of the dream when she wakes. Accusing Demetrius of having murdered Lysander she turns him into a serpent:
And hast thou killed him sleeping? 0 brave touch!
Could not a worm, an adder do so much?
An adder did it, for with doubler tongue Than thine, thou serpent, never adder stung.
(3.2.70-3)
Demetrius has, in effect, eaten Hermia’s heart out by killing her love Lysander. In her comparison with the adder and its double tongue, Demetrius’ protestations of innocence, which she sees as lies, intensify his status as serpent. Rather than facing the problem of her repressed desire and Lysander’s sexuality as represented by the dream, she displaces the fear of Lysander into fear for Lysander and fear of Demetrius. The dream is now somehow Demetrius’ fault.
This is grotesquely and comically unfair to Demetrius for, if Hermia’s dream has obvious cause in the events preceding sleeping, it is also oneiric in its warning of an event taking place as Hermia dreams: for Lysander, drugged by Robin, has transferred his affections from Hermia to Helena and is there¬fore the classic betrayer, smiling on another. Lysander is, of course, a passive actor in this change and his passivity in
1 For Freudian readings of this dream see, among many, M. D. Faber, ‘Hermia’s Dream: Royal Road to A Midsummer Night’s Dream’, Literature and Psychology, 22 (T972), pp. 179-90, and Norman N. Holland, ‘Hermia’s Dream’, in Murray M. Schwartz and Coppelia Kahn, eds., Representing Shake¬speare (1980), pp. 1-20.
Hermia’s dream seems to mimic this. The dream is then also an inner experience for Hermia reflecting the action that takes place during her sleep.
But this does not quite explain why Hermia should dream of a serpent. Where in effect does the dream come from? There seems to be something about the place where Hermia dreams that makes a dream about a serpent both likely and richly resonant. The bank where Titania sleeps has been defined by the fairies’ lullaby as a place to be guarded against snakes: ‘You spotted snakes with double tongue’ (2.2.9). Oberon had already defined it as a place where ‘the snake throws her enamelled skin’ (2.1.255), defining this beneficial snake that is a source of fairy clothes (‘Weed wide enough to wrap a fairy in’, I. 256) as female. This useful female snake contrasts with the male snakes/serpents elsewhere in the play. Lysander as the serpent of the dream and Demetrius as the serpent of Hermia’s accusation belong with the spotted snakes of the lullaby.
Demetrius is accused by Hermia of having a ‘doubler’ tongue than an adder; he has also, in Act 1, been accused by Lysander of being ‘spotted and inconstant’ (I.I.IIO) for changing from Helena to Hermia. The line links ‘spotted’ with inconstancy; the lullaby links ‘spotted’ with snakes. Hermia’s dream turns Lysander into a serpent at the very moment that he is being ‘spotted and inconstant’. The atmosphere around Titania’s bank is full of links back to the world of Theseus’ court. It is a place full of suggestions sufficient to generate the precise terms of Hermia’s dream.
The richness of this suggestiveness even allows the dream to transfer from one person to another. When Hermia does find Lysander again, now changed and spotted, she hangs on to him as he tries to shake her off: ‘Hang off, thou cat, thou burr; vile thing, let loose, | Or I will shake thee from me like a serpent’ (3.2.260-1). He has now turned her into a serpent entwined around him. Hermia has not had a chance to tell Lysander her dream; the dream seems to have caught him, entwined him into it. His first line here contains an odd and magical echo of Oberon, half-heard by a character who could not have heard it at all. Oberon’s spell on Titania conjures up her possible objects of desire: ‘Be it ounce, or cat, or bear, Pard, or boar with bristled hair’ (2.2.36-7). ‘Or cat, or bear’ has now become for Lysander ‘thou cat, thou burr’. The echo is imprecise, as echoes are wont to be. The effect is of sounds and serpents inhabiting the place, the language and the minds of characters who stray near there.
Dramatic Dreams. Hermia’s dream may, from this perspective, be a rich oneiros such as Artemidorus would have been proud to interpret, a dense enigma to be read across the whole play. But the whole play, of course, calls itself a dream. The fascination with dream as an overarching device, an embed¬ding form for poetry is an immense and powerful tradition in English medieval poetry. It may indeed be because the Chaucerian form of dream-vision was so overwhelmingly suc¬cessful, so broad in its imaginative sweep and magnificent in its application of literary form to its concerns, that the device is comparatively rarely used in the Renaissance. Dream is, in any case, a mode no longer to be comfortably trusted. Thomas Churchyard’s poem ‘A Dream’, in Churchyard’s Chal¬lenge (1593), rehearses all the warnings about dreams as the product of ‘the roving thoughts of idle braine’, ending un¬certainly,
Well, be thy visions good or bad, or swevens [dreams] of the night:
Such idle freaks as fancy had, now shall you hear aright, (p. 179)
before going on to give a serious dream-warning about death, vanity and the deceptiveness of the world.
Dream-poetry and dream-narrative seem, however, to have been of particular recurrent interest only to Robert Greene, in works like A Quip for an Upstart Courtier (1591), ‘A Maiden’s Dream’ (1591), Greene’s Vision [1592], ‘A most rare and excellent dream’ (in The Phoenix Nest, 1593), and, pub¬lished after the date of A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Greene’s
Orpharion (1599.1) At his best he considers the paradoxes of dream in terms worth considering alongside Shakespeare’s play:
Why art thou not (0 dream) the same you seem?
Seeing thy visions our contentment brings;
Or do we of their worthiness misdeem?
To call them shadows that are real things?
And falsely attribute their due to wakings?2
Dream-plays had always been a much less common device. Robin’s offer to the audience to consider the whole play as something that has taken place while they have been asleep (5.1.414-19) had been made twice before in plays by John Lyly. For Sapho and Phao (1584), Lyly offered an apologetic prologue for performance at court, speaking directly to the Queen:
Whatsoever we present, whether it be tedious (which wc fear) or toyish (which we doubt), sweet or sour, absolute or imperfect, or whatsoever, in all humbleness we all, and I on knee for all, entreat, that your Highness imagine yourself to be in a deep dream, that staying the conclusion, in your rising your Majesty vouchsafe but to say, And so you awaked.5
Lyly’s elaborate humility is an artful piece of modesty. While Sapfio and Phao has some passages on dreams there is no need to consider the whole play as a dream, except as a means of excusing its weaknesses. The dramatic device is no more than a conventional ritual of excuse. In The Woman in the Moon (performed c. 1591-3), Lyly uses the prologue to extend the notion of dream from an excuse for the experience of the play in performance to an excuse through a recognition of the play’s origin:
Our Poet slumbering in the Muses’ laps,
Hath seen a woman seated in the moon,.. .
This, but the shadow of our Author’s dream,
Argues the substance to be near at hand: . . .
If many faults escape her discourse,
Remember all is but a Poet’s dream.
The entire play is now a product of the poet’s dream ‘in Phoebus’s holy bower’ and the audience’s tolerant response is to be the result. But Lyly does not combine the two ploys, treating the performance as a dream and recognizing the poet’s work as the product of a dream.
The most intriguing version of a dream-play, not least because of its vexed relationship to Shakespeare, is the ending of The Taming of A Shrew (1594), the play that is somehow connected with Shakespeare’s The Taming of The Shrew. Shakespeare’s Induction has Sly who has fallen drunkenly asleep found by a Lord who, for fun, has Sly carried off, transformed into a gentleman and made to sit and watch a play. At a point equivalent to Shakespeare’s 5.1.102 A Shrew’s Sly falls asleep again. When the play performed for him is over, the Lord has Sly changed back into his own clothes and put back ‘in the place where we did find him’ (passage D, 1. 4).
As in the experience of the mortals who enter the wood in A Midsummer Night’s Dream, the play’s events can be taken to be nothing more than a dream, in this case a dream of metamorphosis of social status that is subordinated in the play to the dream-play that is presented for Sly. Unlike Bottom, Sly is only too keenly aware of the person he was (is) outside this ‘dream’-experience: ‘What, would you make me mad? Am not I Christopher Sly—old Sly’s son of Burton Heath’ (Induction 2.16-17). Only as the others insist does he con¬vince himself that this state is true reality and his previous existence only a dream in its turn:
Am I a lord, and have I such a lady?
Or do I dream? Or have I dreamed till now?
I do not sleep. I see, I hear, I speak.
I smell sweet savours, and I feel soft things.
Upon my life, I am a lord indeed,
And not a tinker, nor Christopher Sly.
(Induction 2.67-72)
Sly, of course, much prefers this new reality and ‘would be loath to fall into my dreams again’ (Induction 2.123).
The Lord had assumed that the experience will be for a reawakened Sly nothing more than ‘a flatt’ring dream or worthless fancy’ (Induction 1.42). But, as Sly explains to the Tapster who wakes him up at the end of the play, this dream, ‘The bravest dream . .. that ever thou | Heardest in thy life’ (passage E, 11. 11-12), will have unexpected results:
TAPSTER
Ay, marry, but you had best get you home,
For your wife will curse you for dreaming here tonight.
SLY
Will she? I know now how to tame a shrew.
I dreamt upon it all this night till now,
And thou hast waked me out of the best dream That ever I had in my life. But I’ll to my Wife presently and tame her too,
An if she anger me.
(passage E, 11. 14-21)
Sly’s assumption that he can put the dream-play into effect against the unseen stereotype of the wife waiting for the drunken husband with the Elizabethan equivalent of the rolling- pin may be comic bravado. But in A Midsummer Night’s Dream the question of what will be the consequence of the dream- play in the woods is far from simply comic. Where in A Shrew the events after awaking from the ‘dream’ occupy a brief epilogue scene, in A Midsummer Night’s Dream there is the whole of Act 5 to come. The reaccommodation of the people to the post-dream world is now not only comic but also complex and worrying.
We would expect that a play with the word ‘dream’ in its title would make fairly frequent use of the word. But Shake-speare seems to have been particularly interested in the word at this stage of his career: nearly a third of all Shakespeare’s usages of the word ‘dream’ occur in only three plays, Richard III, Romeo and Juliet and A Midsummer Night’s Dream, plays written close in time to each other.
In Romeo and Juliet, written, most probably, immediately before A Midsummer Night’s Dream,’ Shakespeare makes the matter of dreams Mercutio’s and places it in the world of Queen Mab. Romeo, trying to quiet the wild exuberance of Mercutio’s description of Mab, advises him ‘Thou talk’st of nothing’ (1.4.96) but Mercutio turns the nothing of dreams into its own fantasy:
True. I talk of dreams,
Which are the children of an idle brain,
Begot of nothing but vain fantasy,
Which is as thin of substance as the air,
And more inconstant than the wind
(11. 96-100)
Dream, that nothing that is so powerfully something, may be mocked and belittled—throughout A Midsummer Night’s Dream it often is—but it strikes back at those who mock it. Lysander defines true love as ‘short as any dream’ (1.1.144) but the play will make the true love of Lysander and Hermia endure much longer than a night of adventures in the wood. Hippolyta reassures Theseus that ‘Four nights will quickly dream away the time’ (1.1.8) before their wed¬ding but the time will be dream in senses other and far richer than her lines suggest. Oberon may say of the lovers, ‘When they next wake, all this derision | Shall seem a dream and fruitless vision’ (3.2.370-1); yet his next line suggests that this dream is not a fruitless vision at all, since the result will be that ‘back to Athens shall the lovers wend | With league whose date till death shall never end’ (11. 372-3), exactly the same contrast between the supposed empty brev¬ity of the nothing of the dream and the enduring consequences that hover over Lysander’s ‘short as any dream’. Viewed in this light, Oberon’s line suggests a different emphasis: it is not that the derision is a dream, but that it should seem so.
1 See below, p. no.
Oberon’s line has combined dream and vision. If the lovers may find the experience a ‘fruitless vision’, for Bottom it was ‘a most rare vision’ (4.1.202). Even Robin advises the audi¬ence that it has seen ‘visions’ (5.1.417). The audience can choose to take them as trivial, ‘No more yielding but a dream’ (5.1.419), but, if we have responded to the play fully, we will share with Bottom the sense of vision, of something revealed from out there, from the world of fairy, not the false or trivial world of dream but a revelation of another reality. The obligation on the audience is to treat the play as a benevolent oneiros, a true prophetic dream. This dream is an attempt to resolve the great puzzle of dream-theory, the source of dreams, for this dream is not the product of the dreamer’s imagination or the reformulation of the experiences of the day but a phenomenon generated by extra-human forces. Such dreams matter greatly.
Fairies
At a climactic moment of J. M. Barrie’s Peter Pan, when Tinkerbell lies dying, having drunk the poison that Captain Hook intended for Peter Pan himself, Peter turns to the audience for their help:
Do you believe in fairies? Say quick that you believe! If you believe, clap your hands! (Many clap, some don’t, a few hiss . . . But TINK is saved.)’
For adults in the audience it is a moment of nostalgia and embarrassed sadness, nostalgia for a time when they could believe in fairies and clap their hands in a desperate need to participate in the magic of the fairy’s resurrection, embar-rassed sadness because they no longer believe and cannot easily pretend to any longer for the sake of a theatrical trick. For them the mechanics of theatre, not least the fact that Tinkerbell only exists as a theatrical spotlight dancing around the stage, inhibit belief. Fairies are for children and the history of productions and illustrations of A Midsummer Night’s Dream has been bedevilled by the assumption that a fairy-play was essentially a childish piece of magic gossamer.
1 Peter Pan, in J. M. Barrie, Plays (1928), p. 72.
For Reginald Scot, belief in fairies was similarly something that belonged both to a past time when ‘your grandam’s maids were wont to set a bowl of milk before. . . . Robin Goodfellow’ and to childhood:
But in our childhood our mothers’ maids have so terrified us with an ugly devil. . . and they have so fraied us with bull beggers, spirits, witches, urchins, elves, hags, fairies, satyrs [and 25 other named ‘bugs’] . .. that we are afraid of our own shadows.
Scot’s switch to the present tense at the end of this colossal listing of the things that go bump in the night suggests the extent to which these childhood experiences cannot be com¬pletely dismissed, however much the rational, educated and enlightened adult might wish to do so. At Peter Pan we still clap. E. K., glossing Spenser’s Shepheardes Calendar, identifies fairy belief as ‘very old, yet sticketh very religiously in the myndes of some’ before denouncing it, in terms of which Scot would have approved, as a popish trick, explaining the words ‘elf’ and ‘goblin’ as corruptions of Guelphs and Ghibellines.
Scot places the full belief two generations ago but belief in the fairies always appears to have belonged to previous gener¬ations. Chaucer’s Wife of Bath, talking of the time of King Arthur when
Al was this land fulfild of fayerye.
The elf-queene, with hir joly compaignye,
Daunced ful ofte in many a grene mede.
This was the olde opinion, as I rede;
I speke of manye hundred yeres ago.
For now kan no man se none elves mo,
(11. 859-64)
before going on to compain that clerics have been so busy blessing everywhere that ‘This maketh that ther ben no fayeryes’ (11. 872).
Popular belief in fairies is notoriously difficult to document, in spite of the work of the two great scholars of Elizabethan airies, Minor White Latham and Katharine Briggs, but it seems reasonable to sum up what can be taken as normal rural Elizabethan assumptions about fairies as a widespread acceptance of a body of traditional belief that fairies existed. In particular there was the group of fairies dubbed ‘trooping fairies’ who shared with their Celtic ancestors certain char¬acteristics: an interest in riding, hunting, dancing and feast¬ing; abilities to shift size and shape, fly and become invisible; generosity with presents to mortals and equal generosity with punishments, particularly pinching and the removing of human children as changelings.
What the ‘normal’ size of such fairies was has been the subject of inordinate controversy, but it seems safest to accept that fairies varied in size from rare appearances at full adult height through frequent manifestations as small children to occasional sightings as tiny creatures down to the size of ants. Shakespeare’s fairies in A Midsummer Night’s Dream and elsewhere belong firmly and comfortably within this tradition. His fairies’ size seems to shift unpredictably and fluidly. They are small enough to wear snake-skins (2.1.255- 6), creep into acorn cups (2.1.31) and risk being covered with one bee’s honeybag (4.1.15-16). Their names, similarly, sug¬gest their small size: Peaseblossom, Cobweb, Mote, Mustard- seed. At the same time Titania is large enough to hold an undiminished Bottom in her arms (4.1.39) and both she and Oberon accuse each other of having had human lovers before (2.1.65-80).
This fluidity may have been reflected in the casting of the four fairies. Oberon is usually argued to have been played by an adult male actor but it is often thought that Titania’s fairies were played by boys (and therefore that the play was performed under the kind of special auspices in which a large number of boys might have been available). The assumption is a logical extension of our belief that fairies are always small. If they are of variable height there is no need for the actors to be small. As William Ringler shows the pattern of appear¬ance of the fairies and the workers (leaving out Bottom) makes it practicable for actors to take a role in each group. Proposing that ‘the four fairies are played by the same large lumbering adult actors who take the parts of four rude mechanicals’, he goes on to suggest that
the visual effect that Shakespeare intended to be conveyed by the fairies was not one of literal diminutive beauty . .. Instead he appears to have intended an effect either of bulky grotesquerie or of some¬thing quite different from and more subtle than productions in our time have indicated.
Ringler’s doubling pattern seems to be corroborated by the droll of The Merry Conceited Humours of Bottom the Weaver (1661) in which the cast-list recommends that Snout, Snug and Starveling ‘likewise may present three Fairies’. My own experiments with doubling patterns suggest that this is a necessary double if the cast is to be reduced to the normal size for a Shakespearian company. What I cannot see is why the actors should be characterized as ‘lumbering’; this is to confuse actor and role—though I am not sure that the wor¬kers are lumbering either. The result need have nothing to do with ‘grotesquerie’, only with the metamorphic world shared by the fairies and the practice of theatre itself. Adult fairies, as Peter Brook’s production showed, can be discon¬certingly strange and threatening; they need not be in the least awkward.
Presenting the fairies, finding a style for the fairies, is perhaps the most acute problem for any modern director of the play. As Hazlitt commented, on the adult fairies in Rey¬nolds’s version in 1816,
We have found to our cost, once and for all, that the regions of fancy and the boards of Covent-Garden are not the same thing.. Introduction
Fancy cannot be represented any more than a simile can be painted; and it is as idle to attempt it as to personate Wall or Moonshine. Fairies are not incredible, but fairies six feet high are so.
The history of the play in performance can be defined in terms of the treatment of the fairies on-stage. At the Royal National Theatre in 1992, the fairies were adults, half-naked, dressed in black and prone to slither through the muddy pond that dominated the set. That unmitigatedly sinister version is about as far as one can get from the long saccharine tradition of the fairies attending Titania appearing as a full-scale female corps de ballet dressed in white. That style of performance has an extremely long history: Frank Benson’s production at the Globe Theatre in 1889 included for Act 2 24 dancing girls and 12 dancing boys arranged two by two and later supplemented by 16 ladies in green; further back, Charles Kean’s production in 1858 at the Princess’s Theatre (see fig. 1) included 54 fairies to sing a chorus to the sleeping lovers at the end of 3.2 and, in Act 5 when the mortals left the stage, Snout’s earlier attempt to metamorphose into a wall paled beside the spectacle of the whole back wall of the set sinking to ‘discover Oberon, Titania and Fairies grouped all over the stage’ with nearly 90 fairies going up and down the staircases.
Brook apart, there have been three significant attempts this century to find a new way of presenting the fairies. Peter Hall’s film version (1969) took the tradition of children playing fairies but turned the sentimentality into something rougher and muddier; his fairies, accompanying Titania (Judi Dench), naked with her modesty covered by a long wig, were dirty urchins covered in mud. George Devine’s 1954 production at Stratford, designed by Motley, resisted Lilian Baylis’s dictum,
i. Troops of fairies: 2.1 in Charles Kean’s production, Princess’s Theatre, 1858.

‘I like my fairies gauzy’, and searched for a different model from ‘the dainty midget, the tutu fairy, the decorative butterfly of recent tradition’;1 his fairies were ‘beaked and feathered, Titania with white eye-streaks from crown to bill that gave her the air, light, bright and ferocious, of a falcon’ (see fig. 2).2
Granville Barker’s fairies, at the Savoy in 1914, were the most controversial of all (see fig. 3). As The Times commented, ‘Is it Titania’s Indian Boy that has given Mr. Barker his notion of Orientalizing Shakespeare’s fairies? Or is it Bakst? Anyhow they look like Cambodian idols and posture like Nijinsky in Le Dieu Bleu.’’ Almost all the fairies were adult, dressed in exotic costumes and with their faces and hands gilded with
Studies, 2? (1976/7), p. 44.
2. Motley’s costumes for George Devine’s production, Stratford- upon-Avon, 1954.

‘hair like gold wood shavings, beards like golden rope, and metallic-looking moustaches’. Desmond MacCarthy, initially astonished by these ‘ormolu fairies, looking as though they had been detached from some fantastic, bristling old clock’, found that ‘the very characteristics which made them at first so outlandishly arresting now contribute to making them
3. Oriental Fairies and an English Robin: Granville Barker’s pro¬duction at the Savoy, 1914.

inconspicuous … It is without effort we believe these quaintly gorgeous metallic creatures are invisible to human eyes’.1
What the theatre history suggests is a reflection of a prob¬lem present at the moment of writing the play: the changing pattern of belief over fairies. Briggs charts implicitly the way in which, through the sixteenth century, fairies ‘proved no longer so formidable as they had been, and fairy-lore could be used for delight and ornament’; as an apparent corollary, ‘general belief in fairies declined’.2 Seen as harmless or at least less threatening, fairies no longer deserved believing. I suggested that Elizabethan belief was rural; certainly fairy-lore has always been tightly associated with the countryside, with farming and village communities. Ben Jonson brings the fairy queen to London in The Alchemist but plays that use fairies, as much as folk-tales and other accounts, restrict their ap¬pearances to the world beyond the city, a world ‘out there’ where such creatures may exist but which can also be, with anxious patronizing assurance, dismissed.
At the same time one of the major changes was the gradual appearance of fairies in drama associated with court perform¬ance and entertainment. Robert Weimann suggests that ‘the fact that the seriousness of the belief in such airy creatures was more and more widely undermined made their playfully imaginative treatment in the public theater possible’1 but the evidence clearly shows that it was not in the public theatres that fairies were seen. With the single exception of Robert Greene’s The Scottish History of James the Fourth (published 1598 but probably written c.1590), all the stage fairies were seen in court contexts.
The entertainments offered to Elizabeth at Woodstock in 1575 included a moment when ‘Her Majesty thus in the middest of this mirth might espy the Queen of the Fairy drawn with six children in a waggon of state’.2 The Fairy Queen approached, spoke to Elizabeth and presented her and her ladies with gifts of gowns, verses and nosegays. The entertainments devised by Thomas Churchyard for Elizabeth in Suffolk and Norfolk in 1578 included a scene when he decided it would be a good idea to dress seven boys Tike Nymphs of the water’ and they played ‘by a device and degrees like fairies, and to dance (as near as could be imagined) like the fairies’.* The Queen of Fairies drew attention to their unusual appearance in public:
Though clean against the fairies’ kind, we come in open view,
(And that the Queen of Fairies here, presents herself to you)4
On the fourth day of the Elvetham entertainments of 1591 the Fairy Queen, named as Aureola, appeared yet again, dancing with her maids, presented Elizabeth with a garland of flowers, ‘Given me by Auberon the Fairy King’ and sang and danced so successfully that Elizabeth ‘desired to see and hear it twice over’.5
Pinch him, pinch him, black and blue,
Saucy mortals must not view What the Queen of Stars is doing,
Nor pry into our Fairy wooing.
Fairies offered a convenient excuse for songs and dances—it is difficult to see their momentary manifestation in Gallathea in any other light—and Shakespeare responded fully to the opportunities they provided. But the fairy queen of these entertainments offered other much more resonant symbolic import. Though a fairy king is mentioned at Elvetham, he does not appear. The concept of a fairy realm with a single female monarch had obvious analogies and conceptually it is not far from this to Spenser’s Faerie Queene, however far it may be in artistic achievement. As Dr Johnson sums it up, in his observations on A Midsummer Night’s Dream in his edition of 1765, ‘Fairies in his time were much in fashion; common tradition had made them familiar, and Spenser’s poem had made them great’. In effect, Shakespeare is combining two markedly separate traditions, one in which the fairy kingdom is ruled by a fairy queen alone and another in which there is a joint and equal power-sharing monarchy of king and queen. This latter tradition is frequently linked to the presenta¬tion of Pluto as ‘kyng of Fayerye’ with Prosperpina as ‘his wyf, the queene’ in Chaucer’s ‘Merchant’s Tale’ (11. 2227 ff.). This showed rulers, dissenting, like Shakespeare’s Oberon and Titania, over mortals and, like them too, instrumental in creating a moderately happy solution to the problem. Chaucer’s choice of names is part of a tradition, of which Shakespeare makes extraordinary use, of combining the classical and the popular traditions.
While the fairy queen is usually nameless, the fairy king is more usually named as Oberon. Though briefly mentioned in Spenser’s poem and at Elvetham, Oberon is a much less potent figure than the fairy queen. Fully described and actively involved in the action of the colossal romance The Book of Duke Huon of Bourdeaux (translated by Lord Berners, 1533- 42), this fairy king who controls a wood ‘full of the Fairy and strange things’1 shares with Shakespeare’s Oberon a delight in hunting and great magical power (particularly the ability to conjure up the illusion of extremely localised storms). This Oberon is only three feet high but this is solely a result of his growth having been halted by a curse.
For the fairy queen to be connected with court entertain¬ments was inevitable but Shakespeare appears to have taken some notice of the appearance of the fairy king in Greene’s James IV. His Oberon is an observer of the action who agrees to help Slipper when needed, as Oberon had helped Huon in the later parts of the romance. He and his subjects are identified as small: the fairies who dance on are, according to Bohan, ‘puppits that hopped and skipped’ and Oberon himself Tookest not so big as the King of Clubs’2 and is a Tittle king’.3 As usual the fairies most often appear as dancers, at gaps in the action. Like Titania’s fairies in A Midsummer Night’s Dream, these fairies sing a lullaby.4
But Greene’s Oberon, like so many fairies, is restricted to the world of night:
The rising sun doth call me hence away;
Thanks for thy jig, I may no longer stay. . . /
Shakespeare’s Oberon is making an extremely unusual and powerful claim for the extent of his power and influence by calming Robin’s fears at the imminence of the dawn: ‘But we are spirits of another sort’ (3.2.388).
It is, though, in naming his fairy queen Titania that Shake¬speare is most disruptive of the isolable native fairy tradition.
James VI of Scotland, in his attack on devils ‘conversing in the earth’, a specific rebuttal of the dangerously sceptical views of Reginald Scot, identifies ‘the fourth kind of spirits’ as those who ‘by the gentiles was called Diana, and her wandering court, and amongst us was called the Phairie’,’ though he also described and mocked the belief that ‘there was a King and Queen of Phairie, of such a jolly court and train as they had .. . how they … did all other actions like natural men and women’.2 Shakespeare derives his choice of name, Titania, directly from Ovid’s Metamorphoses, where it appears five times, including once for Diana in the narrative of Actaeon (3. 173). It never appears in Golding who always uses phrases like ‘Titan’s daughter’. Golding’s translation is accurate, hence Ovid’s use of the same name for Pyrrha (1. 395) and Latona, Diana’s mother (6. 346), and for Circe (14. 382 and 14. 438), the great metamorphoser whose ability to turn men into pigs may be relevant to A Midsummer Night’s Dream.3
Shakespeare’s use of an Ovidian name is, in effect, a mir¬roring of Golding’s incorporation of English fairies in his translation of Ovid, a deliberate part of Golding’s Englishing of Ovid. Ovid’s classical nymphs become fairies with remark¬able frequency: an oread becomes ‘a fayrie of the hill’ (8. 178); naiads and dryads become ‘the Fairies which | Reported are the pleasant woods and water springs to haunt’ (6. 579-80); where nymphs dwelt is now ‘the fayres bowre’ (14. 586). But it also allows him to invoke and use extensively the complex associations of Diana and Titania.
When, at the end of the play, Robin identifies himself and the others as ‘we fairies that do run | By the triple Hecate’s team’ (5.1.374-5) he gestures at the multiplicity of the nature of Diana: as George Sandys noted in a marginal note in his translation of Ovid, ‘Hecate: called Cynthia in Heaven, Diana on earth, and Proserpina in hell: from whence she received the name of Trivia’4. As Cynthia, the goddess is associated
4 George Sandys, Ovid’s Metamorphosis Englished (1632), p. 233. with the moon, causing lunacy and change; as Diana, with hunting and chastity; as Proserpina, with the seasons. A Midsummer Night’s Dream and Titania in particular connect with all of these aspects. 1 The play is dominated by moon¬shine, associated with Diana’s bow when Hippolyta the Ama¬zon warrior-huntress first describes it (i.i.g-io). The restorative drug will be ‘Dian’s bud’ (4.1.72), the culmination of the play’s transformation of Diana from her opening status as the goddess of the ‘cold fruitless moon’ (1.1.73) into the goddess of married chastity as well as virginity. Titania describes the result of her quarrel with Oberon as the disruption of the seasons, the concern of Proserpina. The lovers, in the wood by moonlight, experience madness and inconstancy. The list is endless. Shake¬speare’s fairy queen, through her name, carries the classical tradition with her unstoppably. The play’s war of deities is as much between Diana and the unrestrained desire of Venus and her acolyte Cupid as between Oberon and Titania.

Shakespeare’s view of fairies in the rest of his work is both uniform and unlike the fairies of A Midsummer Night’s Dream. In The Comedy of Errors, for instance, when Antipholus of Syracuse and his Dromio find themselves invited to dinner with Adriana, Dromio turns to popular folk-lore:
This is the lairy land. 0 spite of spites,
We talk with goblins, oafs, and sprites.
If we obey them not, this will ensue:
‘They’ll suck our breath or pinch us black and blue.
(2.2,I 92-5)
Dromio’s expectation of being pinched seems perfectly reasonable: that is what fairies do. They sang about it when they appeared in Lyly’s Endimion. The pretend fairies that torment Falstaff at Herne’s Oak at the end of The Merry Wives of Windsor pinch him mercilessly: ‘Pinch him, fairies, mutually.
I Pinch him for his villainy’ (5.5.98 9).

Throughout fairy-lore they were held to be particularly inclined to punish, as well as willing to reward a few lucky mortals.
But the fairies of A Midsummer Night’s Dream are not tormenting, pinching, punishing elves at all. Robin apart, the fairies, from their rulers downwards, seem remarkably, con¬spicuously and consistently benevolent towards mortals. Obe-ron’s one concern, when he realizes what Robin has done, is to put things right. Everything the play indicates of the fairies’ direct relations to humans is of a piece with this benign intent. Only in their effect on the weather, a result of their internal wrangling, are they indirectly harmful to mortals and Titania pities this effect. Comically human in their passions though they may be, Oberon and Titania meet in this wood near Athens only because both are drawn by love of Theseus and Hippolyta to come to ‘give their bed joy and prosperity’ (2.1.73).
This emphasis on fairy benevolence seems to have been Shakespeare’s invention. Their dissociation from the ghosts and damned spirits is reassuring in its metamorphosis of the tradition. Even the changeling, one of the darkest and most disturbing features of fairy-lore, the notion of the healthy child removed and replaced by a weak fairy child,1 is here changed into an expression of friendship and delight, a cherished reminder of Titania’s dead friend, a mortal who shared jokes with Titania as Bottom will; the changeling is brought up ‘for her sake’ (2.1.136). Indeed, since there is no mention of a fairy child left with the boy’s father, it may be that he is a ‘changeling’ only because he has exchanged the human world for the world of fairies.
Shakespeare’s fairy-world is more than an adjunct and parallel reality with its own rules and activities. It is also a source of our actions. The blessings of Oberon and Titania are more than the well-wishes of some fascinating Eastern prince-lings; they are a genuine benediction
Robin
As far as Reginald Scot was concerned, Robin Goodfellow was no longer believed in:
Heretofore Robin Goodfellow and Hobgoblin were as terrible, and also as credible to people as hags and witches be now: and in time to come, a witch will be as much derided and condemned, and as plainly perceived, as the illustration and knavery of Robin Good¬fellow.1
For Scot, Robin belonged to a previous time when he ‘kept such a coil in the country” but he ‘ceaseth now to be much feared, and popery is sufficiently discovered’. 3 Certainly by the i 590s Robin’s place in popular culture had been trans-formed.
Robin Goodfellow, hobgoblins and pucks all belonged to the same group of fairies, a class ‘of rough, halry domestic spirits characterized by their mischievousness. Scot lists all three as distinct and separate types of ‘bugs’ with which ‘our mothers’ maids have so terrified us’.4 Nashe describes the ‘Robin Good- fellows, Elves, Fairies, Hobgoblins of our latter age, which idolatrous former days and the fantastical world of Greece ycleped fawns, Satyrs, Dryads and Hamadryads’ who ‘did most of their merry pranks in the night’.5 Shakespeare alone combines the three into a single spirit, Robin Goodfellow the puck, also known as ‘hobgoblin’ (2.1.40).
As Katharine Briggs shows, puck was a generic name, a potent genre of small devil: ‘Puckle, a small puck, comes from the same root which gave us Pixy, Phooka, Tom Poker, Bogles, Bugs and Boggarts’.6 In his more demonic form, Puck appears as Pug, ‘the lesse divell’ of Ben Jonson’s The Devil is an 11ss (1616).7 Similarly, later dramatic appearances of Robin
Goodfellow, in Wily Beguiled and Grim the Collier of Croydon linked him closely to hell and devils (see note to 2.1.34).
Pucks, poukes, pookas, puckles and plucks were still widely feared and invoked in popular culture. Pamphlets about the witches of Warboys name one of their familiars Pluck.’ In a different cultural world, Spenser’s Hpithalamion (1595) fer-vently, though patronisingly, hopes:
Ne let the Pouke, nor other evill sprights,
Ne let mischivous witches with theyr charmes,
Ne let hob Gohlins, names whose sence we see not,
Fray us with things that be not.
(11. 341-4)
Even Golding used the name to describe the ‘Chymaera that same pooke’ with ‘Goatish body, Lions head and brist, and Dragons tayle’ (9. 766-7). Identifying Robin Goodfellow as ‘the puck’ of A Midsummer Night’s Dream is automatically to underscore the more diabolic of his antecedents.
But, in any case, Robin as ‘the best-known and most often referred to of all the Hobgoblins of England in the 16th and I 7th centuries … seemed to swallow all others and their names were nicknames of his’.2 If hobgoblins and pucks were fairly universally feared, the attitude to Rohin was more ambivalent. Samuel Rowlands, in More Knaves Yet (1613), describes him as ‘a good fellow devil, I So called in kindness, cause he did no evil’.3 Yet the only early illustration of Robin, on the title-page of Robin Good-Fellow, His Mad Pranks and Merry Jests (1628) shows a figure with devil’s horns and phallus (see fig. 4). If he could be summed up as occupying ‘the unique position of the national practical joker’,4 his victims may not have been so amused. The 1628 pamphlet’s narrative of his pranks and tricks is prefaced by the language of fairy -tale, balancing his pranks and his blessings:
Once upon a Time, a great while ago, … About that time (when so ere it was) there was wont to walk many harmless Spirits called Fairies, dancing in brave order in Fairy Rings on green hills …

1 .
4. Title-page of Robin Good-Fellow, His Mad Pranks ( I 628).
(sometime invisible) in divers shapes; many mad pranks would they play, as pinching of sluts black and blue, and misplacing things in ill ordered houses, but lovingly would they use wenches that cleanly were, giving them silver, and other pretty toys … (sig. A4r)
The pamphlet belongs to the sudden efflorescence of interest in Robin in the 1620s and 16 30s’ but earlier commentators narrated similar tricks. Robin was a country spirit, operating
‘ See also 77?, Mad-merry Prattkes of Robbin Good-fellow (<‘. 162 5), Tire Merry Purk, or- Robin Goodfe/low (c. r633) and Drayton’s poem ‘Nimphidia’ (16.2.7,, heavily dependent on Midsummer .Night’s Vream. ‘Puck-hairy, Or Robtn-Good- fel/ow’ ^also appears as the witch’s servant in Act 3 of Ben fonson’s 7/ie Sad Shepherd (1637), defined as ‘her Devil’ (3.1.7), ‘my lov’d Goblin’ (3.5.16); Jonson’s argument for Act 3 mentions the ‘delusions of Puck’ (7.43). Like Shakespeare’s Robin, Jonson’s Puck-hairy has to search the wood: ‘I must go dance about the forest, now, I And firk it like a Goblin, till I find her
indoors and out in rural communities. His principal area of work was in the house, working to help tidy and hardworking maids with housework, ‘sweeping the house at midnight’ (hence his depiction with a broom) and grinding ‘malt or mustard’,’ and working equally hard to create more chaos for those who did not leave him out his reward of a bowl of milk and white bread. William Tyndale, in his commentary on the First Epistle of St John (1531), describes one of Robin’s other outdoor tricks: ‘The scripture … is become a maze unto them, in which they wander as in a mist, or (as they say) led by Robin Goodfellow, that they cannot come to the right way.” There is a massive body of reference to Robin throughout the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries but the tricks and pranks do not differ substantially. Even the groupings of stories, like Robin Good-Fellow His Mad Pranks, add nothing to the range of Robin’s activities. His place in popular culture seems to have been remarkably well defined.
There is only one significant exception. In a group of pamphlets of the I 590s Robin is conjured up in connection with popular satire and the clowns of the theatres. Tarlton’s News out of Purgatory (I 590) is spoken in the character of the ghost of Tarlton, the great clown actor of the 1 5 80s; the introduction to the satire promises that ‘sith my appearance to thee is in a resemblance of a spirit, think that I am as pleasant a Goblin as the rest, and will make thee as merry before I part, as ever Robin Goodfellow made the country wenches at their Creambowls’ (sig. A3″). The reply to this pamphlet, The Cobbler of Canterbury (1590), opens with an epistle from Robin Goodfellow himself, describing the lack of hospitality he now finds in the country, for ‘where he was wont to find a mess of cream for his labour, he should scarce get a dish of float milk’ (sig. A4′), and vowing that he will no longer ‘say as I was wont: What Hemp and Hamp, here will I never more grind nor stamp’ (sig. A4U). ’
The use of Robin in pamphlets reappears in Tell-Truth’s New-year’s Gift (1593) where, as the title-page promises, he brings ‘news out of those countries, where inhabits neither charity nor honesty’. This Robin, ‘one who never did worse harm than correct manners, and made diligent maids’ (sig. A2′), as well as inveighing against jealousy, is concerned to help young women to marry as they wish, against the wishes of authoritarian parents who ‘do not match them with the mates their children’s eyes have chosen, but with the men their own greedy desire have found out’ (p. 6).’ The pamphlet makes Robin a helper against an army of Egeuses. For the first time in published texts Robin is involved in problems of love and marriage, shifted away from his normal ground of domestic chores and misleading night-travellers.
Robin belongs firmly and almost exclusively to a popular and folk-lore tradition; only at one point does he appear to have made contact with the court. In Thomas Churchyard’s ‘A Handful of Gladsome Verses’, presented to Elizabeth I at Woodstock in 1592, his recurrent interest in fairies as a useful device for royal entertainments led him to include mention of Robin Goodfellow:
A further sport fell out,
When they to spoil did fall:
Rude Robin Goodfellow the lout,
Would skim the milk bowls all.”
Churchyard and the pamphlets of 1590 and 1593 cumul¬atively witness the extent of Robin’s new visibility in a variety of unexpected cultural forms at exactly the point at which Shakespeare was writing A Midsummer Night’s Dream. But the conjunction of Robin and the other fairies, the redefinition of Robin as also puck and hobgoblin and the decision to put Robin on-stage at all were entirely new.
Shakespeare may have found a partial dramatic source for the energetic elf, more or less obedient to his master’s com¬mands, in the character of Shrimp in Anthony Munday’s John: lovers in flight from parental opposition to their love. Moonlit woods through which they flee to join their lovers. A mischievous lairy imp, in service to a master of magic. A crew of clowns who organise bufioonish entertainments, in honour of their territorial overlord, on the occasion of a double wedding. Contention for the leading part. Malapropisms. Young men led by an invisible voice until they fall exhausted. A ‘happy ending’ with True lovers properly paired and wedded.2
Munday’s play has a few just possible verbal echoes from a number of characters. But it is the similarity of Shrimp to Robin that is most intriguing. Shrimp shares four significant characteristics with Shakespeare’s Robin: he is always rushing off the stage at high speed (‘I fly Sir, and am there already’3); he crows at his success (‘Why, now is Shrimp in the height of his bravery, I That he may execute some part of his master’s knavery’4); he is most often invisible to the other characters on-stage as he leads them up and down false trails; he frequently comments in asides about what he intends to do (‘Nay pause awhile, I’ll fetch ye company’5).
While Shrimp may be a dramatic source, Shakespeare also used a massive iconic source, for Robin is in many respects the play’s Cupid. As Leonard Barkan suggests, when ‘Helena characterizes Cupid as winged, blind, hasty, lacking in judg¬ment, and juvenile … [it] is a veritable program for the actions of Puck’.1 Oberon’s description of ‘Cupid, all armed’ in flight (2.1.155-65) makes it clear that Robin cannot in any way be wholly ider.tified with Cupid. His own relish of Cupid’s activities may be nothing more than the approval of a professional rival: ‘Cupid is a knavish lad I Thus to make poor females mad’ (3.2.440 1). But his dramatic function aligns him closely with Cupid in the play’s mythological schema, the spirit responsible for creating irrational affection and the one responsible for transforming it into a harmonious and socially acceptable desire. The Renaissance debates on the meaning of Cupid find frequent echo in the implications of Robin’s activities.
If Robin is indeed a form of dramatic Cupid then one would expect the role to have been played by a boy. Certainly Shrimp was a boy in Munday’s play but there is no suggestion that the Robin Goodfellow of folk-lore was anything other than adult, even if in such matters size is rarely a guide. The phallic Robin of the woodcut (Fig. 4) is clearly no child.
There is nothing in the text of d Midsummer Night’s Dream to clarify the problem. At the end of Merry Wives the fairies who tease Falstaff at Herne’s Oak include Mistress Quickly disguised as the Fairy Queen and looking, I suspect, rather like Titania; the group also includes a figure described as a ‘hobgoblin’ in the Folio text and as ‘Puck’ in the Quarto. The part was played either by Sir Hugh Evans (in quarto) or by Pistol or by the actor who had played Pistol earlier in the play.1 This hobgoblin or puck was certainly played by an adult male; it might suggest that Robin was as well.
When Robin first appears Titania’s fairy is not entirely sure who he is and has certainly only heard of him, never met him:
Either I mistake your shape and making quite Or else you are that shrewd and knavish sprite Called Robin Goodfellow.
(2.1.32 4)

5. Frontispiece to Nicholas Rowe’s text of A Midsummer Night’s Dream in his edition of Shake¬speare’s Works (1709).
The Fairy’s lines suggest that Robin looks distinctly different from the other fairies, even the ones in Oberon’s train. But it is far from clear what Robin looked like. The costumes worn by Robin in Wily Beguiled and Grim the Collier .of Croydon (see note to 2.1.34) suggest too strongly a diabolic and perhaps mummers’ play’ reference.
For most of the play’s history the dominant images of Robin have been derived from illustrations to the play rather than
In Boydell’s Shakespeare Gallery there were paintings of Robin by Sir Joshua Reynolds and Fuseli, engraved and published in BoydeU’s Graphic Illustrations of the Dramatic Works 0/ Shakespeare in 1802 (figs. 6 and 7). Reynolds’s Puck, ‘an ugly little imp’ according to Horace Walpole,2 is clearly Robin as sentimen¬talized cherub with pointed ears. It is intended to be endearing but dissociates the character from the play, in spite of the depiction of Bottom and Titania in the background, encouraging the twee fairy mythology that would later envelop productions ami reach its apotheosis in the tradition of illustrations of the play in the work of Arthur Rackham. The illustration becomes indeed a resource for designers working 011 the play and the mushroom on which Reynolds’s Robin is seated is used for the first appearance of Robin in 2.1 by Madame Vestris for her production at Covent Garden in 1840,1 by Charles Kean in 1856 (with Ellen Terry, aged eight, as Robin)4 and by Augus¬tin Daly’s New York production in 1888.5 Such theatrical tradi¬tions were not restricted to mushrooms: Shaw fulminated against Daly’s casting of an actress as Oberon, another device in which Daly was following Madame Vestris.6
In the theatre Robin was entangled in the stage machinery, complete with flying, dummies, and even flying dummies. Not until Granville Barker’s production (Savoy, 1914) was Robin transformed and grounded! Barker recognized the extent to which Robin’s separation from the other fairies needed to be visualized on stage. Where the other fairies were covered in exotic, vaguely eastern gold (see above, p. 26), Robin was recognized as ‘a genuine English “hobgoblin”’, dressed in scarlet, with red berries in bright yellow hair which streamed ‘like a comet behind him’.’ Robin was, for Barker, ‘as Eng¬lish as he can be’ while the other fairies were ‘undoubtedly foreign” and he therefore wore an Elizabethan costume of doublet, breeches, tights and slippers. Barker’s casting of Donald Calthrop was another break with theatrical tradition: though not the first male Robin since the eighteenth century, Calthrop seems to have been the first adult professional male to play the role,3 a reversion perhaps to Shakespeare’s own practice.
In the structure of separate worlds that Shakespeare formed in A Midsummer Night’s Dream Robin’s position is more oddly isolated than anyone else. Apart from his opening dialogue with Titania’s fairy in 2. T he is only able to speak directly to one other character for the whole of the rest of the play, Oberon. It is a technique that fascinated Shakespeare and he returned to it in, for example, Othello a, distinctly comparable effect, in The Tempest, where Ariel, clearly a metamorphosis of Robin, talks directly in his own voice only to Prospero while all his speeches to other characters are either a virtuosic extension of Robin’s ventriloquism in 3.2 or a form of role-playing, as, for example, a harpy (3-3-53-82).
For large sections of the play the action is watched by Robin, an observer and commentator, a participant through his invisibility, a doubly disturbing presence in that he both disturbs the action and disturbs our reactions to it. As Alex¬ander Leggatt recognizes, in both WiZy Beguiled and Grim the Collier of Croydon,
Robin Goodlellow not only appears to mortals, but is on neighbourly terms with them. Shakespeare’s Puck, for all his mischief, is far more detached than this, appearing to mortals when he appears at all—-in an assumed shape.1
This detachment allows for and justifies Robin’s amusement at human activity. Titania is concerned at the effect of her quarrel with Oberon, saddened at its consequences for mortals: ‘The human mortals want their winter cheer. I No night is now with hymn or carol blessed’ (2.1.101-2). But ‘the mazed world’ (2.1.113) that she pities is for Robin an infinitely various source of enjoyment. The chaos he has generated is comic: ‘Then will two at once woo one. I That must needs be sport alone’ (3.2.118 19). Human behaviour is nothing more than a series of tableaux of folly, put on for Robin’s enjoyment, a spectacle with fairies the only members of the audience: ‘Shall we their fond pageant see? I Lord, what fools these mortals be!’ (3.2.114-15).
In production Robin’s invisibility generates opportunities for him to create this comedy himself. At times it can be a response to the text’s implications: Robin may show some thing of the pursuit and torment of the workmen that he promises after Bottom’s transformation (3.1.101-6). In Granville Barker’s production, for instance, the stage business is carefully charted:
During this Flute gets LC with Snout and Puck pinches them, Flute runs twice round mound, Puck follows him once … Meanwhile Snout has gone up mound LC, being tripped up by Puck as he chases Flute.’
But at other times the business becomes busy-ness, the intro¬duction of extraneous comedy. Barker’s Robin was given too ample an opportunity to become an ‘actor’ in the workers’ play, leaving the rehearsal too far behind:
[Robin] tickles Quin with wand; ditto Bot, then Snout, Starv and Snug. Then Snout again who thinking it is Star pushes him over . .. Puck tickles Bot’s legs 3 times, he thinking it is a fly tries to catch it, Puck buzzes, all rise and try to catch it.2
The interconnection of the discrete worlds of Dream is an interlocking network of comic contrasts. As Leggatt suggests, ‘Each group, so self-absorbed, is seen in a larger context, which provides comic perspective. Each in turn provides a similar context for the others.’3 But these comic perspectives cannot include Robin who travels so freely across the play, constrained only by Oberon’s orders and Oberon’s anger. Indeed he travels more freely than he at first appears to know, for he is not, as he thinks, restricted to the world of night and threatened by die arrival of the dawn: as Oberon so categorically informs—or, perhaps, reminds—him, ‘we are spirits of another sort’ (3.2.388).
Robin’s air-travel makes him the play’s importer, bringing into the play the flowers Oberon describes, changing the description into the object. Harold Bloom goes as far as calling Robin ‘a kind of flying metalepsis or trope of transumption … what the rhetorician Puttenham called a far-fetcher’.4 But such a rhetorical device seems lrrelevant. What Robin has above all is the ability to be the agent of metamorphosis, to transform himself and others. He ‘exemplifies the spirit of metamorphosis for its own sake’.’ Even his name is unfixed: he is ‘Robin Goodfellow … hobgoblin … Sweet puck’ (2.1.34, 4o). He can change himself into ‘a filly foal’ (2.1.46), ‘a roasted crab’ (2.1.48), a ‘three-foot stool’ (2.1.52), ‘a horse … a hound, I A hog, a headless bear, sometime a fire’ (3.1.103¬4), Lysander or Demetrius (3.2.360 ff.). Robin belongs to and creates a world of flux and instability, where a stool may be a stool or a metamorphosed goblin. Robin inhabits this place of shifting surfaces, of endless and almost uncontrollable transformability) It is, of course, his stage, a theatre where he is simultaneously playwright and actor and audience.
Theseus and Hippolyta
In Chaucer’s ‘Knight’s Tale’ in The Canterbury Tales, Shakespeare found a number of details he used in A Midsummer Night’s Dream; Chaucer alone gave Theseus the title of Duke and identifies as the initiating moment for his narrative his return to Athens with his new bride, Hippolyta. Though other details of Theseus’ life were taken from North’s translation of Plutarch’s ‘Life of Theseus’, paired with Romulus, in The Lives of the Noble Grecians and Romans (I 5 79), North was unsure whether the Amazon Theseus married was named Hippolyta or, as most evidence suggested, Antiopa. Shakespeare makes Antiopa one of the long list of women Theseus seduced and abandoned (2.1.80).
Neither Chaucer nor North has much to say about Ama¬zons. Though Chaucer’s Emelye is Ypolita’s sister and has no desire to marry, there is little else about her that suggests her nationality. In Chaucer the name of the Amazon’s country, ‘Femenye’, seems to evoke a perfect realm of women. Theseus conquers their kingdom outside the Knight’s narrative, after a ‘grete bataille’ (1. 879) and siege, ambiguously and simul¬taneously a siege of Ypolita as an individual woman besieged by a lover and conquered into marriage and a siege of her as queen with her kingdom conquered into subjection. North records the great war waged by the Amazons against Athens, with the women here besieging Athens itself and peace made by Hippolyta, later, according to some sources, ‘slain (fighting on Theseus’s side) with a dart’ (p. I 5). For North the war ‘methinks was not a matter of small moment, nor an enter¬prise of women’ (p. 15). Both do no more than gesture towards the threat of the self-sufficient women’s kingdom that the realm of the Amazons represented, a kingdom needing to be brought within the normal and ‘natural’ constrictions of patriarchy.
Amazons appeared throughout the range of Elizabethan writing,’ embodying a range of characteristics threatening men: female sexual desire, self-mutilation, the rejection and subjugation of men, disobedience to male dominance through their effective self-governance, uncontrolled female will, fe¬male strength and success in the male skills of war. Their traditional dress, armed with axes and shields, wearing bus¬kins and with one breast exposed or amputated, specified their intrusiveness from a distant land into accepted conventions of male control. Even the location of their country was significant; it was usually placed close to Scythia, a byword for barbarism. Shakespeare’s references to Scythia associate it directly with infanticide, in the same way that Amazons were often reported to murder their sons—or at least make them do work more usually associated with women. Signific¬antly, some association was clearly made between amazons and fairies: Caelia in the anonymous play Tom a Lincoln is queen of fairyland and her subjects are women armed with bows and arrows who have killed their husbands for refusing to come home from war for sex.&
The Amazonian inversion of gender hierarchy has been resolved before A Midsummer Night’s Dream begins and the blessing on future children at the end of the play does not in the slightest suggest that their mother is an infanticidal threat.
Hippolyta has been conquered, defeated into marriage. The seus is well aware that his courtship has been entirely military but his language leaves unclear whether she has simply agreed through defeat or whether she is now in love with him: ‘Hippolyta, I wooed thee with my sword, I And won thy love doing thee injuries’ (1.1.16-17). Her ‘love’ may be nothing more than enforced and constrained consent.
Productions have varied greatly in their representations of the degree of her consent . Traditionally she has been seen as calmly acquiescent, an image of the perfect queen. But more recently she has registered a sense of captivity. In John Hancock’s production for the Actors Workshop Company in San Francisco in 1966 she was brought on stage in a cage without her usual accompaniment of female attendants.’ Eli¬jah Moshinsky’s production for BBC television opened with a shot of Hippolyta pacing to and fro ‘restlessly, even angrily’;2 Theseus spoke his first lines while still wearing armour, con¬fronting her with a marked space between them.
Chaucer’s Ypolita is silent; Shakespeare’s Hippolyta is allowed one speech in the scene, a speech ambiguously of reassurance to Theseus at the rapid passage of time or reluct¬ant recognition that the time of her independence has nearly ended. In either case Hippolyta as an image of female mon¬arch defeated and subject to a man is unlikely to have appealed to Elizabeth.3 The subject monarch Hippolyta, a duchess through her marriage, will be opposed by the play’s complex representation of female monarchical independence in Titania whose powers are emphatically equal to Oberon’s, for all his triumph over her in the course of the play.
Theseus’ second expression of male power over female mar¬riage, in respect of Hermia, is explicitly made through a recognition of the established legal rights of the father to control the daughter. Though he offers some form of apology for the necessity of his own obedience to the law, ‘Which by no means we may extenuate’ (1.1.1 20), he fully adumbrates
To you your father should be as a god,
One that composed 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.
(I. 1.47-51)
Theseus’ antagonism towards virginity, a state that denies male power, is expressed in the implications that keep bur-sting through his attempts to praise, with appropriate relig¬ious respect, the lot of the nun, a life of barrenness and withering, ‘Chanting faint hymns to the cold fruitless moon’ (1.1.73).
Hippolyta constitutes in Act 1 an unrealized or at least unsuccessful opposition to the principles of male power that Theseus so completely embodies. There is only the implicit antagonism to male power that the audience’s conventional approval of Hermia allows it to extend towards Hippolyta, denying, however implicitly, the complex of pejorative asso-ciations that cluster around the image of the Amazon. Signific¬antly, Elizabeth’s own expression of her power, so intensely predicated on the notion of her virginity, rarely made use of the apparatus of Amazonianism;1 Spenser’s approving image of the warrior maiden in The Faerie Queene is Britomart, not the Amazon Radigund. By the end of Shakespeare’s play, however, in the complex balances of judgement that the two characters express, the balance of approval, if not of power, shifts.
But the play has already had to negotiate the complex problem represented by Theseus himself, There are few clues in Chaucer to the traditions of doubt and disapproval that cluster around Theseus. North, however, in the comparison between Theseus and Romulus heavily emphasizes the prob¬lem of Theseus’ relationships with women:
Theseus’s faults touching women and ravishments, of the twain, had the less shadow and colour of honesty because Theseus did attempt it very often: for he stole away Ariadne, Antiopa, and Anaxo the Troezenian … Then his taking of the daughters of the Troezenians, of the Lacedaemonians, and the Amazons … did give men occa¬sion to suspect his womanishness was rather to satisfy lust, than of any great love … The Athenians contrariwise, by Theseus’s marriages, did get neither love nor kindred of any one person, but rather they procured wars, enmities, and the slaughter of their citizens. (p. 43)
Theseus’ successive abandonment of women he had raped and/or married is, for North, an example of his bad govern-ment, belonging with his gradual degeneration into ‘a very tyrant’ (p. 42). For all the virtue of his exploits as a young man, the older Theseus represents a figure to be rejected, not approved. Certainly Theseus’ character was widely documented and denounced for his ‘dissolute and vicious living” in me¬dieval and Elizabethan literature, building on such classical models as the complaints by Ariadne’ and others, mentioning his ‘lechery and treachery’,3 in Ovid’s Heroides.
It is easy to see how the Theseus whose first speech dis¬misses women as irritating obstacles to a young man’s en-joying his inheritance, ‘Long withering out a young man’s revenue’ (1.1.6), belongs in this tradition. But it is equally easy to overemphasize his sins. When Theseus acknowledges that he had intended to talk to Demetrius about his treatment of Helena but had forgotten to get round to it, ‘being over-full of self affairs’ (1.1.113), this is not the same thing as ‘an inversion of ideal lordship; he has allowed private vice to destroy public virtue’.4 I cannot see that those ‘self affairs’, which presumably centre on Hippolyta, are anything as culp¬able as a sin. It is also distinctly unfair to assert, as Pearson does, that Theseus is wrong not to approve of Hermia’s choice of Lysander in Act I and equally wrong when he does approve of it in Act 4.
Whatever the extent of the play’s doubts about Theseus, in Act I his denial of Hermia’s wishes both respects the law and, above all, enables the play’s action to begin; this may be comedy’s complicity with authority but it also establishes the block the action needs to remove. The doubts about the character are redirected in Act 5 into the problem of Theseus’ limited imagination. For the rational Theseus who rejects the imaginative irrationalities of the lunatic, the lover and the poet is, quite simply, wrong. The experience of the wood has been both strange and true, not ‘More strange than true’ (5.1.2). The man who mocks ‘antique fables’ (5.1.3) is a character from one. The man who thinks himself wittily imaginative when he warns ”tis almost fairy-time’ (5.1.355) after having disparaged ‘fairy toys’ (5.1.3) does not stay on stage long enough to see fairies really arrive in his own palace.’ Theseus’ painfully and comically limited perspectives, the range of vision of rationalist daylight scepticism, are grotesquely inadequate to the experiences the play has shown. For him, ‘whatever is not “out there” for reason to contem plate, comprehend and categorise does not exist’;2 for us there is by the end of the play known to be far more out there than he can begin to suspect, let alone accept.
In the adaptation of the play into The Fairy Queen in 1692, the final great pageant of the opera is presented by the fairies directly to Theseus. No sooner has Theseus scorned the lovers’ account of their night in the wood than he hears ‘strange Musick warbling in the Air’ and Oberon appears and announces,
‘Tis Fairy Musick, sent 0y me;
To cure your Incredulity.
All was l..rue the Lovers told,
You shall stranger things behold. (p. 4 7)
The Fairy Queen’s Theseus is educated out of his mistake by being shown the fairy world; Shakespeare’s Theseus remains in his ignorant scepticism. The Fairy Queen’s Bottom is excluded from the sight of the fairies here; Shakespeare’s Bottom alone perceives what has happened.
More than a little smug in his attempt, patiently, to explain to Hippolyta all these complex ideas that are, as far as he is concerned, way beyond her intelligence, he is unable to hear her argument, to realize that the play has shown something that has transfigured the lovers’ minds, whether he can make sense of it or not. His ‘dogmatic and positivistic scepticism’1 cannot compete with her vision of constancy, for all its strangeness. When David Young dubs him ‘Poor Theseus’2 I share the sympathetic pity in the label.
Confronted with the prospect of ‘Pyramus and Thisbe’ Hip¬polyta is inordinately worried: ‘I love not to see wretchedness o’ erchllrged, I And duty in his service perishing’ (5.1.85-6). But this interlude is not the same as the pageant of the Nine Worthies at the end of Love’s Labour’s Lost. Where those performers are humiliated into silence and forced to rebuke their audience for their hurtful contempt, the workers of ‘Pyramus and Thisbe’ are not, in most productions, put out by their audience’s comments as much as by their own difficulties with managing their props and costumes. Only Starveling, as Moonshine, grinds to a halt, angry at the mockery. Theseus’ judgement is, for once, fair and accurate: ‘If we imagine no worse of them than they of themselves, they may pass for excellent men’ (5.1.214-15). Theseus’ generosity towards those who offer him artistic and rhetorical tributes, lengthily and honourably expressed (5.1.89 ff.), has an undercurrent of private sneering, suggesting a gap between the public pleasure and the private mockery that is a little disconcerting: ‘Our sport shall be to take what they mistake’ (5.1.90).
Hippolyta, alone of the three brides, speaks during Act 5. Initially she joins in the game of witty comments in which the men indulge so freely and unconcernedly (at 5.1,122-3, for example). But her open mockery of it, ‘This is the silliest stuff that ever I heard’, produces an exchange with Theseus that marks both a certain slight antagonism towards him and a disagreement on the nature of art:
THESEUS The best in this kind are but shadows, and the worst are no worse if imagination amend them.
HlPPfllYTA It must be your imagination, then, and not theirs.
(5.1.209-1 3)
It appears easy to sum up the balanced implications of such an exchange: Howard Nemerov suggests, for example, that ‘the excess of Theseus is to declare that art is entertainment; the excess of Hippolyta, to declare that art is mystery’.’ But it would he truer to say that Hippolyta recognizes art is both.
For a man of such limited imagination as Theseus to evoke the usefulness of imagination in responding to a play is hardly encouraging.’ Theseus’s description of the best actors as ‘shadows’ is both limiting and accurate: limiting in that for him it constitutes a limitation of the scope of the unreal world of theatre, the similitude rather than object which he sees as the sole truth; accurate in that the word extends far beyond his version of it, responding with a full imagination to the possibility of shadows in both its meanings in the play, the shadow world of the fairies combined with the shadow world of performance, the shadow of another reality unrecognized by the realist model superimposed with the shadow world of poetic truth which, beyond the reaches of visible reality, recognizes and reproduces this other form of reality. Robin has already referred to Oberon as ‘king of shadows’ (3.2.347) and, at the end of the play, he will make ‘shadows’ embrace both the world of fairy and the world of performance in a way that Theseus’s limited usage of the word cannot envisage: ‘If we shadows have offended’ (5.1.414).
Hippolyta’s response sounds accusatory but also recognizes the need of our imaginative engagement with those things, those forms, to which imagination can testify: the success of a performance depends far more on the audience’s imagina¬tions than on the performers; the acceptance of the fairy world depends on our awareness, not their existence. It leads her to make her subsequent comments partly in gentle mockery of Theseus; she worries about the performance’s realism (‘How chance Moonshine is gone before Thisbe comes back and finds her lover’ 5.1.306-7) and she recalls, in her own boredom with the interlude, Theseus’ opening lines in Act I (‘I am aweary of this moon. Would he would change’, 5.1.246-7).
But her understanding also leads her to praise the actors’ work, generously identifying their engagement of her imagin-ative affective sympathies with their creation: ‘Beshrew my heart, but I pity the man’ (5.1.284). Where the others can only mock, she expresses something of the seriousness that the matter of ‘Pyramus and Thisbe’ represents, a play of death, isolation and loss. Comic though Bottom is, Hippolyta can still pity Pyramus.
If imagination is to ‘amend’ the work of these actors, then it must be nearer Hippolyta’s form of it than the men in the audience, for their mockery amends nothing, subjecting the amateur actors’ efforts to ever more extreme mockery. Theseus may enunciate a theory of audience collaboration but the practice of Theseus, Lysander and Demetrius is antagonistic to the performance, a display of their own self-regarding wit which consistently denies the world of dramatic shadows the respect it deserves.
For Theseus the interlude promised to be a useful way to fill up time and proved successful in that aim: ‘This palpable- gross play hath well beguiled I The heavy gait of night’ (5.1.358-9). But as he leaves the play for bed, the appearance of Robin mocks his mockery of ‘fairy time’. Hippolyta had envisaged something more.
A Midsummer Night’s Dream ends with the fairies’ blessing on the best bride bed and the promise that the ‘issue there create I Ever shall be fortunate’ (5.1.396-7). But the child of Theseus and Hippolyta casts a strange shadow over the end of the play. The child of Theseus and his Amazon bride willbe Hippolytus, the man whose name carries the form of his own death, ‘destroyed by horses’; the child’s name means that Hippolyta’s name is a back-formation, a name passed back from son to mother. Oberon’s careful listing of the ‘blots of nature’s hand’ which ‘Shall not in their issue stand’ (11. 400-1) was right:
Never mole, harelip, nor scar,
Nor mark prodigious such as are Despised in nativity,
Shall upon their children be (402-5)
for Hippolytus was unquestionably a stereotypically gorgeous macho man. But the result of this physical beauty is Phaedra’s sexual obsession with him and Theseus’ responsibility for his own son’s death. It is as if the Theseus myth of unfaithfulness and destruction has one further trick to play on the characters of the play.’
The Lovers
Shakespeare had numerous resources to call on for the lovers. The complex interlocking of two pairs of lovers in a pattern of chaos and confusion is a staple of romance. He would have wme across it in the tangle achieved by Philoclea, Zelmane, Basilius and Gynecia in Sidney’s Arcadia. He might well have known the way Cinthio set out the same kind of problems in a tale in his Hecatommithi (ninth novella, second decade), a work which Shakespeare used as his prime source for Othello some time later. Cinthio’s treatment of his lovers is certainly closer to A Midsummer Night’s Dream than any of the other sugges¬tions: in Cinthio, love is an involuntary attraction amongst indistinguishable lovers who are trying to evade parental authority and whose escape is disrupted by a certain amount of supernatural intervention.’ But there is little even here that was not widely available, almost as a formula, elsewhere.
More problematic is Shakespeare’s possible use of Jorge de Montemayor’s Diana (15 5 9) and Gil Polo’s continuation and re-examination of the romance in Diana Enamorada (1564). Bartholomew Yong’s translation was not published until 1598 though it had probably been completed by 15 8 2.’ Shake¬speare made use of Montemayor for The Two Gentlemen of Verona, either reading the Spanish original or relying on the French translation by Nicolas Collin (I 5 78, I 58 7) or possibly through reading a manuscript copy of Yong’s version.1 A number of features of the two romances seem to be echoed by Shakespeare in A Midsummer Night’s Dream: the dominance of the goddess Diana who ‘is seen as devoted not primarily to chastity, but to finding a happy solution to lovers’ prob¬lems’, 3 the use of a love-juice to restore the lovers to their rightful pairs, the recurrent tension between reason and love4 and the lovers’ sense of their experiences after they wake up.5 Cumulatively the arguments for Shakespeare’s use of the romances are strong and I am less surprised than many seem to be by the idea that Shakespeare should return to a previously used source or carry into a later play echoes or memories from a work he seems to have known well when writing an earlier play. But that is not the same as suggesting that Shakespeare might have ‘gained the entire conception of confused lovers from the Spanish pastoral’.”
Since, after all, he was working with Chaucer’s ‘Knight’s Tale’ close at hand he need only have squared the triangle of Palamon, Arcite and Emelye.7 The onset of love is in
The crucial change is to Emelye. While Chaucer’s two men are, as far as Emelye is concerned, essentially interchangeable, Hermia and Helena are absolutely and constantly clear which of the two men they love. The men may change Hennia for Helena or Helena for Hermia, following that notion of indis- tinguishability that the names suggest in their echo of Ovid’s comment in Ars Amatoria: ‘Scilicet Hermionen Helenae prae- ponere posses’ (‘Would you be able to prefer Hermione to Helena?’, 2. 699). Emelye’s commitment to chastity leaves her effectively passive as the narrative unfolds, forced to acquiesce in the process of choice that is made for her. In Shakespeare chastity is transmuted: it is both the threat of enforced vir¬ginity, Hermia compelled to become a nun, and also the possibility of chastity through marriage. What both Hermia and Helena deny, particularly when their lovers manifest it, is the notion of male promiscuity and inconstancy, the trait that Theseus, above all, embodies.
Alongside the sources in Chaucer and romance, though, the lovers need to be set against the courtship world of Eliza-bethan England. For the only crucial difference between the processes that confront the lovers in the play and those that would have confronted almost all the young people in the audience at the Globe lies in the vehemence and absolute nature of Egeus’ interdiction. The initiative with establishing a couple, the definition of a relationship leading towards marriage, lay with young people in all but the very highest reaches of early modem English society.’ They were subject to the advice and consent of parents and kin, their ‘friends’ but the consent was rarely withheld, provided there was no financial or class impediment (as Lysander makes clear there is not, 1.1.99-100). Night-visits, like those Lysander makes to Hermia’s window, were the standard way for couples to get to know each other better and would involve the exchange of gifts.’ Such meetings were usually but by no means always conducted with parents’ knowledge. They mark the transition from friendship to being defined, socially as well as privately, as lovers, as a couple moving slowly through the complex procedures that would lead to marriage. Lysander’s anger and surprise at Egeus’ actions would match comfortably with Elizabethan conventional behaviour.
With marriages usually taking place when individuals were well into their twenties, the move to defining a couple is a move from two forms of behaviour. First came the homosocial world of peer-group friendship, of the kind that Hermia and Helena had enjoyed. Rather than referring back to a childhood friendship, their relationship had begun early and would normally have continued until the development of particular heterosexual relationships disrupted it, as, from the beginning of the play, Hermia’s friendship with Lysander takes her away from Helena.
The second was the remarkably innocent forms of hetero¬sexual contact, the ‘innocent polygamy’ of kissing games.’ It is striking how much this sort of game is associated with festivals like St Valentine’s Day or Maying, both of which are central to /I Midsummer Night’s Dream. Lysander met both Hermia and Helena to ‘do observance to a morn of May’ (I.I.167); it is not a private aclivity for a couple but a social celebration for a group, a time for friendship without too much intimacy, for in practice such events were remarkably chaste, whatever reformers may have argued. As Gillis sums it up, ‘In game, festival, and dance, young single persons were able to transcend, if only for a moment, those boundaries, social as well as sexual, that dominated ordinary life’ (p. 23). The courtship rituals of the play, the dance of the couples as they try to form themselves into fixed, unalterable pairs, were remarkably unremarkable. By the end of the play they have made the final move: ‘courtship created a personal relation¬ship; wedding made a public institution’.1 The events of the wood finalize that transition, the distinctions between the men and women that the lovers must sort out for themselves.
While audiences are encouraged to distinguish between Helena and Hermia, since Shakespeare specifies the difference in height for the two performers, they often find it difficult to separate Lysander from Demetrius. Ralph Berry suggests that the play’s ‘best epigraph, perhaps, is H. L. Mencken’s. “Love: the illusion that one woman is any different from another” But the play makes it far more difficult to tell that one man is any different from another. Though, as Joan Stansbury has shown,-5 the lovers are carefully distinguished by their language, particularly in their forms of address, it is not an effect that seems to matter all that much in production.4 It is another aspect of the play’s investigation of love that the loved object is completely self-sufficient and unique for the lover. Neither Hermia nor Helena comments on the other’s choice of loved one but there is no moment at which either of them could imagine exchanging their choice of men or making sense of the men’s willingness to do so. The influence of the drug seems, in effect, an extension of normal male practice, a habit of inconstancy that is ironically displaced from its conventional place as an attribute of women. The moon, a female deity, emblematizes inconstancy as its prin¬ciple, a process of endless change to which the frequency of the menstrual cycle seemed to link women. But in the wood dominated by the moon in A Midsummer Night’s Dream it is the men who manifest inconstancy.
The men do not even have that nostalgia of friendship which Helena conjures up. Contradicted though it may be by Helena’s warning about Hermia, ‘She was a vixen when she went to school’ (3.2.324), Helena’s long description, in the otherwise frenetic pace of the four-sided quarrelling of 3.2, of the shared childhood of the two women has an innocence that cannot quite be disrupted:
So we grew together,
Like to a double cherry: seeming parted,
But yet an union in partition,
Two lovely berries moulded on one stem.
(3.2.208-1 I)
It echoes the strength of the bond between Titania and the changeling’s mother, suggesting, fiercely, that the all-female bond has a perfect adequacy, a fulfilment that is disrupted by men:
And will you rend our ancient love asunder,
‘I’o join with men in scorning your poor friend?
(3.2.215-16)1
The play’s suggestions of disruption to patriarchal values lies strongly in such moments, a strength of friendship that the men have never had, other than in their clubbability in Act 5.
The effect of indistinguishability that all the lovers manifest from the outside and that the men are made to manifest from the inside is obviously enhanced by the lovers’ substantive restriction by verse-form. It seems at times as if they are turned into puppets by their couplets, made to speak in particularly limited ways by the style imposed upon them. The kind of metrical virtuosity enjoyed by Robin is not available for them; instead it seems that even when their language moves into elaborate stanzaic forms (at 3.2. 122-33, for in¬stance) the very elaboration marks out the narrow and effect-ively trite emotional range they are usually forced to speak. The exceptions, like Hermia’s dream, Helena’s account of their friendship or her sad exhaustion (‘sleep … I Steal me a while from my own company’, 3.2.435-6), characteristically belong to the women and mark all the more emphatically how much of their language is designedly unlike this. When in the BBC production lengthy parts of 3.2 were spoken overlappingly, all four lovers speaking at once at a number of points, the reason lay, I suspect, less with the offered explanation of the lovers’ ‘understandable confusion and … to raise the comic tone of the scene still higher’, or with the apparent gain in a species of televisual realism but in directorial distrust of the length and evenness of the scene.
As well as this linguistic constriction the lovers are re¬stricted by the action itself, forced to go through a series of permutations—twenty-three according to one count’—so that, as David Young comments, ‘almost any discussion of them is apt to resort to diagrammatic figures’.3 More sym¬pathetically and marginally less mathematically the whole action of the play can be viewed as dance:
The plot is a pattern, a figure, rather than a series of events occasioned by human character and passion … This dance-like structure makes it almost inevitable that the lovers should be as devoid of character as masquers or masque-presenters.4
This formalization of pattern has curious consequences for the audience’s reaction to the events. Viewed as pattern the complications have the classic ambience of farce: a dispassion¬ate and amused observation of events that are painful for the participants and painless for the observers. In effect the audi¬ence reproduces in its reaction to the lovers the male lovers’ own reaction to the version of their story depicted as ‘Py- ramus and Thisbe’; in both cases the action is seen as ‘sub¬jectively painful, objectively comic’.5 This quality of farce has often seemed to some critics overdone in production: Shaw complained, of Daly’s production in I 89 5, that Ada Rehan, as Helena, ‘condescends to arrant clowning’;6
Gordon Crosse complained of the lovers in Frank Benson’s company in 1900 ‘there was rather too much farce & horse-play’ (vol. 2 p. no); and John Russell Brown complained of Peter Hall’s production at Stratford in 1959, ‘The presentation of young love held little interest for Peter Hall: he was content to direct the quartet to be young, foolish and clumsy … Their actions are consistently clownish’.’ Significantly Hall cut all the lovers’ lines after the exit of Theseus and the others (4. I.I 86-97), ‘their quartet of amazement and determination’ (see fig. II)!
By contrast, Granville Barker’s production at the Savoy in 1914 did away with the nineteenth-century tradition in which the men ‘were a kind of pair of Dromios or Antipholuses’ and the women ‘quite too literally, two lovely berries moulded on one stem’.1 This contrast between male farce and fair young English women at least recognized a difference in the play’s treatment of the genders.
‘l’he farce of the lovers and the comedy of male inconstancy has, for the men at least, the excuse of the drug. Lysander’s ability to understand what has happened is hampered by the way his adventures are a dream-state imposed on him by Robin. Demetrius is in an even odder state: a dream-state that has led him from mistaking to truly taking. For many critics and audiences, there is a residual unease about the fact that Demetrius does not receive an antidote. The waking state that he is in on the following morning leaves him still under the influence of the charm and some have felt that he is therefore not ‘properly’ in love with Helena. If the play moves from the world of Cupid to that of Diana (‘Dian’s bud o’er Cupid’s flower’, 4.1.72), Demetrius appears to stay in the world of Cupid, still charmed by the ‘Flower of this purple dye, I Hit with Cupid’s archery’ (3.2.102-3).
But something has happened to the juice of the flower between its second and third applications; its properties have changed. Earlier it has had the same effect on both Lysander and Titania: each must immediately fall in love with whom-

I I. The lovers watched by Oberon and Robin in Peter Hall’s production, Stratford-upon-Avon, 19 59.
soever they next see. Awake they would (and do 1 refuse the object of love created arbitrarily by the charm. But Demetrius’ spell is different:
When his love he doth espy,
Let her shine as gloriously As the Venus of the sky.
When thou wak’st, if she be by,
Beg of her for remedy.
(3.2.105-9)
Demetrius’ emotion changes because his .ioved object will now appear as Venus. The charm makes Helena appear to him glorious; it does not alter the object of his affection. The random effects of the drug on Lysander and Titania have become focussed to make Demetrius more intensely in love with the person with whom he is actually, in love. He had acquiesced in Egeus’ wish that he should marry Hermia but his true love is Helena. The charm leaves him in an intensified state of his previous affection, not in a new state of unwanted and unwonted desire. As Demetrius will make clear to The-seus, he was actually betrothed to Helena before he saw Hermia (4.1.171) and was therefore, in English law, unable to marry Hermia in any case. His love for Helena is, as comedy prescribes, his ‘natural taste’ (4. 1. I 7 3).
When Hermia leaves to follow the duke ‘and my father’ (4.1.194) she has spoken her last line in the play. Helena’s voice has stopped after the recognition of Demetrius as ‘Mine own and not mine own’ (1. 191). Throughout Act 5 the women will never speak. Jonathan Goldberg, noting that after the night in the woods ‘they return to Athens as bodies, married, barred from discourse’, also emphasizes that the play
marks, but does not necessarily condone, their place in patriarchal culture. And in the last act, Hippolyta, also married, is hardly silent, and the fullness, range, complexity, and diversity of her vocality must be read in counterpoint to the silence of Hermia and Helena. 1
Hippolyta’s rich perception has to be set against the boorish¬ness and patrician arrogance of Hermia’s and Helena’s hus-bands. Lysander and Demetrius share with Theseus an intellectual snobbishness that we are right to find distasteful; indeed, the feebleness and, at times, opacity of their wit underlines the extent of our sympathies with the workers. The lovers have been given the chance to apply their experience to ‘living within the city once again, and this they do by reassuming the city’s standards’. 2 The experience of the woods can lead the lovers towards each other but it cannot necess¬arily transform them in the cold light of normal social practice
‘ jonathan Goldberg, ‘Shakespearean Inscriptions: the Voicing of Power’, in Patricia Parker and Geoffrey Hartman, eds., Shakespeare arid the Question of Theory ( 1985), p. i 34.
‘ Stephen Fender, Shakespeare: A Midsummer Night’s Dream’ (1968), p. 33
in Theseus’ court, as they take their cue from their ruler. The law against lovers has been set aside but the dream and its potency have been too quickly forgotten. We would like the lovers to recognize how far ‘Pyramus and Thisbe’ mirrors the tragic potential of their experience. But it is characteristic of dreams and their healing power that they can be quickly forgotten. The lovers can only be reunited in the terms defined by Robin, a folkloric pattern that turns the women into animals:
Jack shall have Jill,
Nought shall go ill,
The man shall have his mare again,
And all shall be well.
(3.2.461-4)
The dream has consequence, the marriages have taken place, but the pattern of patriarchy has not altered.
Bottom
In A Midsummer Night’s Dream’s transmutation of the residue of materials into its dream-world, no part of the plot has caused the adrenalin to pump through source-hunters’ veins with the same thrill as Bottom’s transformation at the hands of Robin. The search for men changed into asses, whether wholly or in part, has become a quest in which the notion of a single precise and fully adequate source becomes the critics’ Holy Grail. But Shakespeare, as usual, transmutes a variety of ‘sources’, turning materials into contexts, structures of association which the play can choose to play with, develop and differ from, in its own particular pursuit of the meaning of Bottom’s translation. As Deborah Baker Wyrick comments on asses, ‘Shakespeare had at his disposal a tantalizingly slippery word, the connotations of which ranged from the sacred to the scurrilous’.’
The most obvious source is probably Lucius Apuleius’ The Golden Ass in William Adlington’s translation of 1 566.’
‘ Deborah Baker Wyrick, ‘The Ass Motif in Errors, and A Midsummer Night’s Dream’, SQ n (1982), p. 439¬
‘ See, particularly, Sister M- Generosa, ‘Apuleius and A Midsummer Night’s Dream: Analogue or source, which?’, SP 42 (1945), pp. 198 204; DeWitt
Lucius1 transformation, by a mistaken use of an ointment, from man to ass is the consequence of his sexual desire as well as his curiosity. Adlington is concerned to moralize Lucius’ change and, by terming his version ‘the Metamor- phosie’, associate it firmly with the massive tradition of moral¬ized commentaries on Ovid’s Metamorphoses. As Adlington says in his preface,
Verily under the wrap of this transformation, is taxed the life of mortal men, when as we suffer our minds so to be drowned in the sensual lusts of the flesh, and the beastly pleasure thereof: (which aptly may be called, the violent confection of witches) that we lose wholly the use of reason and virtue (which properly should be in man) and play the parts of brute and savage beasts.’
But Adlington’s moralizing tendencies and his occasional tendency to bowdlerize Apuleius’ text cannot disguise the novel’s gentle and genial fascination with the pleasures Lucius finds when transformed. His encounters with women, even when, as with the ‘noble and rich Matron’ of Corinth, the women’s sexual fascination with the massive phallus of the ass might be paramount, have a tenderness and affection that is remarkably similar to Titania’s words to Bottom in 4.1. While Lucius is worried about how to embrace the woman and whether she can accommodate his massive penis, conjur¬ing up recurrently the encounter of Pasiphae and the bull that resulted in the conception of the Minotaur, her language comes from an alien world to his:
And I verily thought if I should hurt the woman by any kind of mean, I should be thrown out to the wild beasts: But in the mean season she kissed me, and looked on me with burning eyes, saying, ‘I hold thee, my cony, I hold thee, my nops, my sparrow’, and therewithall she eftsoons embraced my body round about, and had her pleasure with me …
T. Starnes, ‘Shakespeare and Apuleius’, PMLA 60 (1945), pp. 1021-50; Annie-Paule Mielle de Prinsac, ‘Le metamorphose de Bottom et t ‘Ane d’Or’, Etudes Ang/aises, 34 (1981 ), pp. 61-71; J. J. M. Tobin, Shakespeare’s Favorite Novel (Lanham, Md., 1984), pp. 33-40. James A. S. McPeek has argued effectively for the resonance of the Cupid and Psyche episode in Apuleius with many aspects of Shakespeare’s play (‘The Psyche Myth and A Midsummer Night’s Dream’, SQ 23 (1972), pp. 69-79).
‘ William Adlington, The ri Bookes of the Golden Asst (1 566), sigs. A2V-A.3’. ‘ Ibid., slg. 2F3′.
Similarly when Lucius rescues a damsel in distress she re¬wards him in the way Titania and her fairies treat Bottom:
I wit! bravely dress the hairs of thy forehead, and then I will finely comb thy mane, T will tie up thy rugged tail trimly, I will deck thee round about with golden traps, in such sort, that thou shalt glitter like the stars of the sky, I will bring thee daily in my apron the kernels of nuts, and will pamper thee up with dainty delicates, I will set store by t.hee … 1
There are other significant links between Adlington’s Apuleius and A Midsummer Night’s Dream, particularly the resonances between the myth of Cupid and Psyche and the events of the fairies and the wood. But Lucius’ ordeal—for, for all the pleasant interludes, his experience of transformation is an ordeal of beatings and humiliation—ends with his finally eating the roses (a flower that appears frequently in A Mid¬summer Night’s Dream) that will transform him back again to a man after the intervention of the goddess Isis, who appears to him in a dream. Adlington’s description of her ‘odoriferous feet” is temptingly reminiscent of Bottom’s problems with ‘odours’ and ‘odious’ (3.1.77–9). Lucius ends as a servant of the goddess; the experience of the transformation brings him a sense of religious awareness and obligation.
In this final transformation, a transformation of Lucius’ moral and religious sense, the ass connects powerfully with the long tradition of the Feast of the Ass, a recurrent and significant form of serious mockery of the mass, found throughout the whole gamut of European medieval church cere¬monies.’ Once such a tradition is invoked, together with the image of the ‘asinus portans mysterium’, the stupid ass carrying a religious statue and assuming itself, not the statue, to be the object of veneration,4 Bottom’s vision becomes immensely portentous.
There are two major problems with treating Apuleius as a complete and sufficient source: Lucius is completely trans-formed whereas Bottom only wears an ass’s head and Lucius is all too painfully aware of his transformation whereas Bot¬tom is not. Both features are common in productions of the play. Robert Lepage’s version at the Royal National Theatre in 1992, for instance, gave Bottom four hooves. When, in Elijah Moshinsky’s production for the BBC Shakespeare, his Bottom {Brian Glover) looks in a lake and is horrified when he sees his reflection, the whole subsequent course of the play is altered. Something similar happens when James Cagney as Bottom in the Reinhardt-Dieterle film ( I 93 5) is so upset by his awareness of the transformation that he collapses against a tree weeping. But Bottom always treats his change as something natural and unworrying; he shows, quite simply, no awareness that anything has changed. He does not need to adapt to his new circumstances and has no memory of once being more normally and completely human. He will, of course, be aware when he wakes up in 4.1 that he was different during the night (‘Methought I was, and methought I had’, 4.1.205 and note)—Cagney’s Bottom, terrified by his memories, checked his reflection in a pond and was hugely relieved to see his normality—but, while transformed, no awareness of a different past self troubles Bottom’s placidity.’ Those critics, of whom Jan Kott has been the most influen¬tial, 2 who see the transformation as reflecting above all the phallic associations of the ass, or those productions which turn the scene into a phallic celebration build on something the text never begins to suggest,3 make their own associations
‘ De Prinsac neatly contrasts ‘conscience de Lucius, naivete de Bottom’ (p. 69).
‘ Kott affirms categorically that ‘Oberon openly announces that as a punishment Titania will sleep with a beast’ and that ‘in this nightmarish summer night, the ass does not symbolize stupidity. Since antiquity and up to the Renaissance the ass was credited with the strongest sexual potency and among all the quadrupeds is supposed tc have the longest and hardest phallus’ (‘Titania and the Ass’s Head’ in Shakespeare Our Contemporanj (1967), pp. 182-3). Kott’s ideas are far from dead: see, for example, W. Thomas MacCary’s extraordinary notion that Shakespeare ‘restores …the essential concern of the original story: the insatiable sexual desire of women, their preference for beasts with huge phalluses to men’ (Friends and Lovers (New York, 1985), p. 142).
3 Peter Brook turned Titania’s exit with Bottom at the end of 3.1 into a massive parodic wedding, accompanied by Mendelssohn’s wedding march (written for the weddings in Act 5), with Bottom’s ass stimulated to a huge
dominate anything apparent in the naive and unsexual way Bottom’s language actually suggests he behaves. As William Empson chooses to emphasize,
As to whether it is ‘bestiality’ to love Bottom, many a young girl on the sands at Margate has said to her donkey, unblamed: ‘I kiss thy fair large ears, my gentle joy. If the genital action is in view, nobody denies that the genitals of Bottom remain human.’
What is so remarkable about Titania’s night with Bottom is not a subdued, suppressed sexual bestiality that has only been properly uncovered in the twentieth century but rather the innocence which transforms something that might so easily have been full of animal sexuality into something touchingly naive. It is no more erotic than Oberon, ‘in the shape of Corin’, ‘Playing on pipes of corn, and versing love I To amorous Phillida’ (2.1.66-8). The innocent tradition of pro-ductions of A Midsummer Night’s Dream as the school-play Shakespeare par excellence does not need subverting. Whatever Shakespeare’s awareness of the phallic ass, the association is never allowed to blossom in the play. In this dream, sexuality is diminished rather than intensified.
There are, though, many candidates as sources for partial transformations.’ Reginald Scot narrates a number of differ-ent transformations into asses in The Discovery of Witchcraft ( I 584), a work with a number of references to Robin Good- fellow. Scot, prejudging his readers’ scepticism, announces
If I affirm that with certain charms and popish prayers I can set a horse or an ass’s head upon a man’s shoulders, I shall not be bplieved … And yet if J. Bap. Neap. experiments be true, it is no difficult matter to make it seem so. (Bk. I 3, ch. I 9, p. 31 5).
Scot goes on to give the recipe for boiling an ass’s head and instructs the reader to ‘anoint the heads of the standers-by, and they shall seem to have … ass’s heads’. He adds that ‘if that which is called Sperma in any beast be burned, and anybody’s face therewithal anointed, he shall seem to have the like face as the beast had’ (pp. 315-16). Significantly Scot’s emphasis is on a seeming transformation, not an actual one, placing the metamorphosis in the spectator’s vision, not in an empirical reality. erection represented by an actor’s arm. Moshinsky’s Bottom was scratched to a heaving, hee-hawing orgasm in 4. 1, a curious notion of the masturbatnry efficacy of scratching.
More intriguing is his discussion of the story he narrates of the young Englishman turned into an ass by a witch for three years while on Cyprus. Scot worries ‘where was the young man’s own shape all these three years’ (Bk. 5, ch. 4, p. 97) and answers his own question in the margin: ‘His shape was in the woods: where else should it be?’, an evocative suggestion re¬membering the location of Bottom’s change. This man-ass is also like Bottom in that he ‘must either eat hay, or nothing’ (p. 99).
But Scot also follows Bodin in believing that ‘(his reason only reserved) he was truly transubstantiated into an ass; so as there must be no part of a man but reason remaining in this ass’ (p. 99). This concern about the human faculty of reason and its irrelevance to an ass connects not only to Bottom’s sage comments on reason and love while he is at least part-ass but is also central to the whole tradition of asses and folly. In Brant’s Das Narrenschiff, the main source for the ‘ship of fools’ tradition, there was an engraving of a wheel of fortune showing men changing into asses and ironically plat¬ing the full ass as a triumphant figure at the pinnacle of the wheel.1 As Barclay, Brant’s translator, asserts, ‘ass’s ears for our follies a livery is’.>
The most brilliant exploration of this notion of the ass and folly is in Erasmus’ Praise of Poll.’!, the pinnacle of the enco-mium moriae tradition. Erasmus’ Folly turns his whole audi¬ence into people as asinine as Midas, inviting them
to bestow on me your ears a while. I mean not those ears ye carry with you to sermons, but those ye give to players, to jesters, and io fools, yea those (hardly) wherewith my friend Midas whilom heark¬ened to the rural god Pan.3
Erasmus is recurrently concerned with the ass-ness of men; one segment of society after another is described as ‘ass-like’.’ He is also, particularly in Chaloner’s translation, concerned with plays; Erasmus’ ‘publicos ludos’ become ‘a midsummer watch, or a stage play’.’ Not least, as a link, Erasmus quotes the same passage of I Corinthians that Bottom mangles synaesthetically in awakening from his vision.1 Erasmus’ in¬tellectual pyrotechnics convince the reader of the folly of wisdom and the wisdom of folly. It is the wise fool who will truly understand both the reality of the world and the other reality of divine truth, Bottom who may have the clearest conception of the human and divine experience the mortals undergo during the night. Erasmus’ virtuoso mental para¬doxes, his Folly’s twistings and turnings are as subtle as the paradoxes that surround Bottom and frequently seem, at the least, analogous or parallel.’
Erasmus’ celebratory mockery of Folly frequently associates human folly with Midas whose acquisition of ass’s ears2 for preferring the music of Pan over Apollo stood both as an association of the ass with bad musical taste’ and as the iconic epitome of bad judgement.4 Like Bottom, whose taste in music runs no higher than ‘the tongs and the bones’ (4.1.29), Midas cannot see the worth of Apollo’s music. Shakespeare dramatizes the contrast in the successive musics of 4.1, the change from this ‘Rural music’ (4.1.29.1) to the ‘still music’ (4.1.82.1) and dance music (4.1.84) which the fairies choose.
Midas’ plight had been narrated in Ovid’s Metamorphoses (Golding, 11. 94-216) and had been the subject of a play by Lyly (performed 1590, published 1592).’ Lyly’s Midas is only too painfully aware of the partial nature of the change: ‘Ah Mydas, why was not thy whole body metamorphosed, and there might have been no part left of Mydas?’,6 an awareness of change like Lucius’, but again unlike Bottom’s.
By this point it should be dear that the notion of finding a particular, defined and adequate source is far less important than seeing how the associative resonances of the concept of an ass and of transformation into one might function in relation to the play. Two further suggestions rich in sugges¬tion meet here.
Along one track Bottom’s transformation into a half-man, half-animal figure is reminiscent of a character never referred to directly in the play but closely tied to the play’s mytho¬logical context, the Minotaur.’ While many of the constituent parts of the myth are present, Shakespeare never offers a direct link to Theseus’ killing of the monster at the heart of the Cretan labyrinth. The play talks directly of ‘mazes’ (2.1.99) but they are turf mazes, not the one Daedalus con¬structed. Ariadne is mentioned as one of Theseus’ abandoned lovers (2.1.80) but that is hardly enough in itself to evoke her help to Theseus in finding his way out of the labyrinth. Bottom’s transformation is into a half-ass, not a half-bull.
The myth of the Minotaur can then only function as a structure of analogy and difference, glimpsed fleetingly in the play but never sufficient to structure and control it. Seeing the wood as labyrinthine, as it plainly is fir the lovers, does not mean therefore that the monster at its centre must be murdered. Invoking the Minotaur, even for a sensitive critic, is to see the myth itself paradoxically and perhaps mockingly transformed: ‘Bottom is both the monster of this labyrinth and the thread leading the way out of it’.2 The terror and destructiveness that surrounds the image of the Minotaur is only too glaringly irrelevant to the benign and gentle harm¬lessness of Rottom . Even the terror of the labyrinth itself is only superficially similar to the terrors of the labyrinth of the wood, a maze which proves beneficial to the individuals who tread its paths. Yet it seems both permissible and even neces¬sary to see how one of Theseus’ greatest exploits is so partially, so inadequately evoked by the play, even a play that mentions some of his other adventures (for example, at 5. 1.44-5). The marginalization of the Minotaur could define how our atten¬tion is really to be directed.
‘ See David Ormerod, ‘A Midsummer Night’s Dream: the Monster in the Labyrinth’, Sh Stud, IT (1978), pp. 39-52; M. E. Lamb, ‘A Midsummer Night’s Dream: The Myth of Theseus and the Minotaur’, Texas Studies in Literature and Language, 21 (1979), pp. 478-91; on ma,es. see also T. M. Evans, ‘The Vernacular Labyrinth: Mazes and Amazement in Shakespeare and Peele’, ShakespeareJahrbuch (West) (I 980), pp. I 65-73.
2 Lamb. p. 481
The second track sees Bottom’s transformation, a type of change which Adlington was quite happy to dub a metamor-phosis, as some sort of second-level metamorphosis, a meta¬morphosis of a metamorphosis, in some ways the play’s apotheosis of its fascination with and delight in transforma¬bility, the possibilities of metamorphic change. When Leonard Barkan suggests that ‘the meeting of Bottom and Titania … is the fullest example in Renaissance literature of the Diana and Acttaeon story’,1 the suggestion, superficially ridiculous, seems, precisely through its oddity, to express the miraculous nature of the change Shakespeare explores in the play. Ovid had narrated the metamorphosis of Actaeon into a stag, torn apart by his own hounds, punished by Diana for the accident of seeing her naked while bathing, in Book 3 of Metamorphoses (Golding, 3. I 60-304). The narrative is one of the occasions on which he uses the name Titania, ‘Titan’s daughter’, here a name for Diana herself (Ovid, 3. 173).
Bottom, as the ultimately versatile actor, is himself a shape- changer, a master of metamorphosis; he can become Py- ramus, Thisbe or a lion at will, at least to his own satisfaction. Unlike Ovid’s luckless hunter, Shakespeare’s Actaeon is meta¬morphosed before he sees his Titania. He has already become a dramatized visual metaphor for his own stupidity. But, in this wood of transformations already transformed, the hounds are safely transferred to Theseus, marking the ending of the night’s dream-world with their cry, a concord of discord.
There is a further resource on which Shakespeare calls, the theatre itself. Wearing animal masks has a long folk-tradition behind it. As Muriel Bradbrook suggests, Bottom ’s ass’s head is ‘the usual masque for a country “antic”; he is properly disguised for a “rite of May” ’.2 This rural practice has other versions in medieval theatre. Willis, recalUng seeing an inter¬lude, The Cradle of Security, in the 15 70s, describes a king sung to sleep and being transformed with ‘a vizard like a swine’s snout upon his face’.3 Other interludes include trans¬forniations during sleep: in The Marriage of Wit and Science (1569), Wit’s clothes are changed with Ignorance while he sleeps; in .4 Marriage of Wit and Wisdom (I 5 79), Wit, again lulled asleep by women singing, has a fool’s bauble put on his head and his face sooted.’ In the Cappers’ play in the Chester Mystery Cycle, Balaam rides on his ass and, as the stage-direction states, ‘hie oportet aliquis transformiari in spe- ciem asinae’, somebody has to appear in the shape of an ass. 2 Animal masks were common in other forms of European medieval theatre, in entertainments by mummers and in parades. These masks, the pictorial evidence suggests, were either whole-head masks or, more often, masks that allowed part or all of the face to be seen, often through the gaping mouth.1 Later Inigo Jones, too, found a need for a costume with an ass-head.4
In performance the ass-head is carefully placed as one of three masks which are used by the workers: Flute is reassured by Quince that he can play Thisbe in a mask (1.2.45); Snug as Lion is usually equipped with some sort of head-piece in performance, with ‘half his face … seen through the lion’s neck’ (3.1.33-4). Bottom’s is a theatrical mask which becomes the actor’s head, a role that cannot be put off at will. One of the earliest records of a performance of the play connects the ass-head and the actor, denying the disjunction of actor and role in the forms of punishment: when, in 1631, the play was performed on a Sunday for the Bishop of Lincoln, the actor attired with his ass head, and a bottle of hay set before him, and this subscription on his breast:
Good people I have played the beast And brought ill things to pass:
I was a man, but thus have made Myself a silly Ass.’
In most productions rhe ass-head is usually little more than a comic prop: Gordon Crosse praised Mr Weir as Bottom with ‘a most mirth-provoking ass’s head with rolling eyes, wagging ears, and moving jaws” and an unnamed Oxford student who ‘was most amusing when, safely hidden away under the mechanical ass’s head, he let that act for him’.1 But for Samuel Phelps as Bottom in the 1860s it was much more: ‘the movements of the head were not used to provoke laughter, but only to aid in the actor’s expression of charac¬ter’ . 4 In a letter to his wife while on tour to Liverpool in r867 he wrote,
I am very glad I have brought the Donkey’s head, for though they have a new one it is not good. ft is a most impudent looking ass instead of the stupid sleek thing it should be for Bottom. It looks impossible that it should sleep. I should be dreadfully annoyed if I had to wear it. 5
There is a risk that Bottom becomes wholly identified with his transformation, nothing but the man metamorphosed into an ass. It would, of course, be wrong to take Bottom at his self-valuation, though, as Theseus advised, ‘If we imagine no worse of them than they of themselves, they may pass for excellent men’ (5.1.214-15). But the reductiveness of assum-ing Bottom to be only an ass is a patronizing contempt that
‘ See E. K. Chambers, William Shakespeare, 2 vols (Oxford, 1930), ii. 348-50. There is some doubt about the exact date and whether the play was indeed A Midsummer Night’s Dream but no other play with an ass-head has been proposed.
‘ For Frank Benson’s company, January 1890, vol. T, p 2.
February 1899, vol. 2, p. 74.
4 Shirley S. Allen, Samuel Phelps and Sadler’s Wells Theatre (Middletown, Conn., 1971), p. I 85.
belongs with many of the other comments made about the performers in ‘Pyramus and Thisbe’. Bottom is foolish, vain, and arrogant; he is also gentle, lovable and admirable. The comedy lies in the disjunction between himself and the cir-cumstances in which he finds himself, his existence beyond the bounds of his own competence. After all, we never see any of the Athenian workers at work, though Peter Brook’s Snug the Joiner displayed his carpentry talents in the manu-facture of the lion’s mask, a neat cupboard with two doors to reveal his face. Bottom may be a bad actor but then, unlike the actor who plays the part of Bottom, he is not a professional.
As J. B. Priestley commented, in the most brilliant and sympathetic description of Bottom, this is a man with a ‘passion for the drama itself … the creative artist is stirring in the soul of Bottom’.1 Bottom’s confidence may be ‘so gigantic that it becomes ridiculous’ but he has an artist’s vision (‘vanity and a soaring imagination an generally in-separable”): ‘There was a poet somewhere in this droll weaver and so he came to a poet’s destiny’.3 Through Priestley’s genuine admiration for the character, the comedy of disjunc¬tion is fully realized: Bottom is ‘a trades-unionist among butterflies, a ratepayer in Elfland. Seen thus, he is droll precisely because he is a most prosaic soul called to a most romantic destiny’.4
It is precisely this prosaic quality, his down-to-earth ordi¬nariness, that makes Bottom so naturally an ass. Whatever the loading of referential meaning which the ass-head may invoke, this ass is primarily concerned to munch hay, have his head scratched, fall asleep. Bottom, as an ass, is suddenly devoid of ambition. He is too busy being an ass to be a symbol. The experience is a comfortable one: ‘To Bottom, as to Shake¬speare, all these beings, fairy, heroic or human, are equally congenial’.’ The man-ass who becomes so quickly uncon¬cerned to find himself loved by the queen of the fairies is also the man who turns to speak to Duke Theseus himself in a
self-confident and unabashed spirit of helpful correction, even while his fellow-performers, in many productions, are in pa¬roxysms of terror at the presumption of answering the Duke back: ‘No, in truth, sir, he should not. “Deceiving me” is Thisbe’s cue … You shall see, it will fall pat as I told you’ (5.1.182-5). Bottom achieves, after all, an ambition of which many have dreamed.
One of the dreamers, ambitious for a fairy queen, was Chaucer’s Sir Thopas, the comic knight of Chaucer’s own parodic Canterbury tale:
Me dremed al this nyght, pardee,
An elf-queene shal my lemman be
And slepe under my goore.
An elf-queene wol l love, ywis,
For in this world no womman is Worthy to be my make
In towne
(‘Sir Thopas’, 11. 78 7-93)
Chaucer’s ‘Sir Thopas’ and Shakespeare’s ‘Pyramus and Thisbe’ share a numher of characteristics: ‘in either case, a master of literary fonn makes fun of old-fashioned and primit¬ive examples of that form while he is himself engaged in writing it, and then assigns his parody to the most naive and most naively self-confident of artists’.’ Bottom, the artist rather than the hero of the parody, achieves the elf-queen that Sir Thopas only dreamed of.
But Bottom is not sure when he awakes whether what he experienced was a dream. Shakespeare’s generosity towards Bottom makes him the one who remembers the ‘dream’ best. If his attempts to make tentative sense of his vision are comic, it is a comedy in which the audience shares his wonder. Though we know more than he does—or at least more clearly—we are not superior to him, even envying him the experience which he has undergone and is struggling to recall.
It is, however, dangerously easy to overvalue this ‘rare vision’ (4.1.202). Frank Kermode, the most influential expo¬nent of the visionary critics, sees Bottom’s dream as the exact opposite of the lovers’ experience:
this is the contrary interpretation of blind love; the love of God or of Isis, a love beyond the power of the eyes. To Pico, to Cornelius Agrippa, to Bruno .. . this exaltation of the blindness of love was both Christian and Orphic .. . Bottom is there to tell us that the blindness of love, the dominance of the mind over the eye, can be interpreted as a means to grace as well as to irrational animalism; that the two aspects are, perhaps, inseparable.’
It is not the strange and exalted nature of Bottom’s vision that gives me pause so much as the assumption of its con-nection with religious experiences and the manifestation of grace. When Erasmus’ Folly quotes from St Paul, he shares ‘the essential outlines of . . . these comic-Christian perspectives on faith and folly’. 2 Faith and folly and the unspeakable nature of the revelation of the divine are closely allied in Christian thought and both St Paul’s Epistles to the Corin¬thians are full of passages pinpointing the links. Erasmus’ description of the state of mind of those who return to normality, having tasted ‘this said felicity’, has strong reson¬ances with the experiences of both the lovers and Bottom:
In sort that when a little after they come again to their former wits, they deny plainly they wot where they became, or whether they were then in their bodies, or out of their bodies, waking or sleeping: remembering also as little, either what they heard, saw, said, or did than, saving as it were through a cloud, or by a dream0
But Bottom does not simply quote St Paul at I Corinthians 2: 9-10, he garbles the biblical text: ‘The eye of man hath not heard, the ear of man hath not seen, man’s hand is not able to taste, his tongue to conceive, nor his heart to report what my dream was’ (4.1.207-10). The garbling may be taken, of course, as the complex synaesthetic experience of the mystic who sees visions but it is more likely to be the kind of mistake to which Bottom and his fellow-workers are prone. There is comedy here as well as vision. In any case, Bottom’s vision has not been of Christian grace but of a night with an Ovidian
‘Pyramus and Thisbe’
Whatever else Shakespeare may or may not have been reading while he was writing A Midsummer Night’s Dream, he was certainly reading Golding and Chaucer and in both he found ample narrative material for the plot of ‘Pyramus and Thisbe’. But he also needed a style or styles to parody and his sources for that have always seemed problematic. There has been no shortage of suggestions but no clear idea of what a suggested source should provide.
It may be that, for instance, the French tradition of Pyramus and Thisbe stories places greater emphasis on the role of the lovers’ parents’ but there is no indication why Shakespeare should have gone to such obscure sources when his own work on Romeo and Juliet had made him only too aware of the relationship between parents and tragic young lovers. George Pettie had, in any case, already linked the two narratives in his collection Petite Palace ( i 576 ), warning that ‘such presiness [compulsion] of parents brought Pyramus and Thisbe to a woeful end, Romeo and Julietta to untimely death’. 2 Similarly the long series of articles for and against Shake¬speare’s use of an obscure poem by Thomas Moffett, The Silkworms and their Flies (published in I 599, after A Midsum¬mer Night’s Dream was written),3 rarely troubled to answer
Douglas Bush’s point, early in the argument: ‘Would a popu¬lar dramatist incorporate in a play a burlesque of a poem which he and a few others knew in manuscript?’1
The answer is, of course, that he would not have done if the comedy depended on the audience’s recognition of the source parodied, if, that is, the parody itself was the obj ect. But he might well have done so simply because the resultant parodic form was itself funny. Few critics, as they search for sources, seem to remember or care that modem audiences laugh almost unfailingly at ‘Pyramus and Thisbe” without having read either Golding or Chaucer, let alone Thomson, Moffett, French narratives or any of the other suggestions. In addition, audiences appear to have less difficulty than scholars in recognizing that ‘Pyramus and Thisbe’ has a complex and powerful meaning within A Midsummer Night’s Dream, far more important than any local parodic effect.
Golding’s dedicatory epistle, bringing to bear the whole massive tradition of ‘Ovide moralise’, emphasizes the usefulness of all the books of the Metamorphoses for moral understanding:
, . , in all are pithy, apt and plain
Instructions which import the praise of virtues and the shame
Of vices, with the due rewards of either of the same.
(Epistle, 11. 64-6)
Golding’s summary of the moral of Pyramus and Thisbe warns
The piteous tale of Pyramus and Thisbe doth contain;
The heady force of frantic love whose end is woe and pain.
(Epistle, II. 109-j.o)
George Sandys’s emphasis, in a later translation of Metamor¬phoses (1621) but one whose notes are densely responsive to the corpus of Ovidian commentary, is primarily on the lesson for parents: the lovers ‘whose wretched ends upbraid those parents, who measure their children’s by their own outworn and deaded affections; in forcing them to serve their avarice or ambition in their fatal marriages … more cruel therein to their own, than either the malice of foes or fortune’.’ For Sandys and his sources the responsibility lay with parents who, like Egeus, attempt to control children. Along such a line ‘Pyramus and Thisbe’ would have warned what might have happened had Egeus not been overruled. But Shake-speare’s concern is with the actions of the lovers, not their parents.
As usual with Ovid, the metamorphosis takes place at the end of the narrative: Pyramus’ blood turns the mulberry-tree’s leaves black and its berries a ‘deep dark purple colour’ (Gold¬ing 4. 252) and, ever after, ‘when the fruit is throughly ripe, the Berry is bespecked I With colour tending to black’ (Gold¬ing 4. 199-200). Golding’s translation of the blood-bath is only slightly more comic than Ovid’s Latin: ‘the blood did spin on high I As when a conduit pipe is cracked, the water bursting out I Doth shoot it self a great way off and pierce the air about’ (4. 147-9). But Shakespeare rejected this opportunity for comedy—though a production might well try a trick fountain at this point—primarily because his approach to this metamorphosis had already been completed. The bo¬tanical colour change to purple is copied directly but is now the result of Cupid’s bad aim, as Oberon narrates in 2. 1, when his arrow hits ‘a little western flower’, turning the milk-white pansy to one ‘purple with love’s wound’ (2.1,166-7). As Leonard Barkan brilliantly suggests,
Like many Renaissance Ovidians, Shakespeare is more interested in transformation as a cause than transformation as an effect. So he transfers the metamorphosis from the end of the story to the begin¬ning: instead of a memorial via the oozing blood of the dead lovers, he offers a cause for the passionate blood of the living lovers. The now-purple flower is itself an emblem of metamorphosis by love and, more important, it becomes the inspiration for the metamorphoses of passion.”
However much Shakespeare may have admired Golding, at moments such as the lovers’ apostrophes to the wall, ‘O thou envious wall’ (4. 9 1), Golding is both comic in himself and an echo of earlier or other comic moments in versions of the story. Chaucer’s ‘Legend of Thisbe’, in The Legend of Good Women, is as much source here, ‘Alas, thou wikkede wal!’ (1. 756)5 though Shakespeare ignores the rich comic possibility given by Chaucer’s Pyramus’ apostrophe to Thisbe’s ‘wympel’ (11. 847-9).
Muir claims ‘Shakespeare took very little from Chaucer …, the only [version] which was not in some way ludicrous’! But the tone of Chaucer’s version is notoriously difficult to judge: ‘he somehow manages to leave it more open to the possibility of ridicule than Ovid had’.’ There is an implicit
‘ For the parallel, see Muir. Sources, p. 70. For an argument of the importance of Golding as source nf the parody, see Robert F. Willson, Jr., ‘Golding’s Metamorphoses and Shakespeare’s Burlesque Method in .4 Midsum¬mer Night’s Dream1, ElN 7 ( r969), pp 18-25; Or an over-elaborate defence of Golding agamst the charge that Shakespeare might have found him at al ! funny, see Anthony Brian Taylor, ‘Golding’s Ovid, Shakespeare’s “Small Latint’”, and the Real Object of Mockery in “Pyramus and Thisbe” ‘, SS 42 (Cambridge, 1990), pp. 53 64. For Shakespeare’s use of Ovid in Latin see Niall Rudd, ‘Pyramus and Thisbe in Shakespeare and Ovid’, in D. West and T. Woodman, eds., Creative Imagination and Latin Literature (Cambridge, 1979), PP ■ 173-93.
‘ Muir, Sources, p. 72.
recognition in Chaucer of the potential of the events to be treated or seen as comic in their excess: ‘the lovers’ charming innocence threatens at any moment to become mere incompetence’.1 This dangerous and controlled balancing act between tragic events and nearly comic method seems to me Chaucer’s most important offering to Shakespeare from this source.’
But if the idea of a naive comic hero falling in love with an elf-queen is something that Shakespeare might have de-veloped from Chaucer’s ‘Sir Thopas’ in The Canterbury Tales, he is likely to have found Chaucer’s parodic style in that poem a useful model for his own burlesque in ‘Pyramus and Thisbe’. 1 Chaucer’s description of Sir Thopas, in particular, seems to have fed Thisbe’s lament over Pyramus’s corpse as well as Quince’s desperate padding rhyme of ‘certain’ ( 5. 1. I 2 9 )—Chaucer, after all, makes use of Quince’s preferred rhythm of ‘eight and six’ (3.1.22):
Sire Thopas wax a doghty swayn;
Whit was his lace as payndemayn,
His lippes rede as rose;
His rode is lyk scarlet in grayn,
And I yow telle in good certayn,
He hadde a semely nose.
(11. 1914-19)
Shakespeare certainly made use of at least one more version of the Pyramus and Thisbe story, finding hints in l. Thomson’s ‘A New Sonnet of Pyramus and Thisbe’4 and possibly in ‘The History of Pyramus and Thisbe truly translated’.5
None of the sources I have mentioned so far were dramatic but Shakespeare’s burlesque object must surely be in part a dramatic style, some form of performance method. While the sources may have been mostly poetic rather than dramatic, surely the workers’ method ought to relate as burlesque to some current or recent mode of play production. Ironically the most certain source of mockery is Shakespeare himself. Bottom’s endlessly repeated cries of ‘O’ (5.1.168-74 and note) may owe something to Gascoigne’s version of Euripides’ Jocas- ta (1566) but they owe at least as much to the Nurse’s lament over the ‘dead’ body of Juliet, an event which suggests some similarities with other events in ‘Pyramus and Thishe’ as a comic character mistakes living for dead. Laments are, of course, always liable to seem excessive and hence comic; Leo Salingar has suggested, by paralleling Thisbe’s lament with Neronis’s speech in Sir Clycmon and Sir Clamydes, which was the sort of play Flute at first hoped Thisbe was in (1.2.41 and note), that Shakespeare ‘and his audience had heard a num¬ber of passages in the same strain’.’ 1 am sure they had but the object of the burlesque does not appear to be straightfor¬wardly the work of rival companies or indeed of Shakespeare’s own.2
There were certainly plenty of plays from the 1580s and earlier with paradoxical titles like the one Quince announces for ‘Pyramus and Thisbe’. Indeed Romeo and Juliet would be published as ‘The Most Excellent and Lamentable Tragedy’ in 1599. Theseus’ exclamations at 5.1.58 can be rewritten for plenty of better plays: ‘excellent’ and ‘lamentable’ for Romeo, ‘tragical’ and ‘comedy’ for Lyly’s Campaspe (1584). Many older plays had abstract characters more exotic than Wall and Moonshine: Cambyses (published c. 1570) can boast Counsel, Shame, Commons’ Complaint, Trial, Proof and Execution and many more. Shakespeare may well be burlesquing such a dramatic style, together with such characters’ habitual announcement of their identity at their first appearance: ‘Com¬mons’ Complaint I represent’ (4.33), ‘I, Proof (4.59), ‘I, Trial’ (4.65)—compare ‘I, one Snout by name, present a wall’ (5.1.155), Snug’s excuse for playing Lion (5.1.217 ff.) and Starveling’s explanation of himself as ‘the man i’th’ moon’ (5.1.240).
What seems lacking, though, is evidence for the kind of performance by workers at an aristocratic celebration that takes place in A Midsummer Night’s Dream. For Quince and his company are complete amateurs’ performing a type of classical play unlike anything their Elizabethan counterparts seem to have played.2 The nearest parallel is the payment of four shillings by the Earl of Cumberland’s steward in 1606 to ‘young men of the town being his lordship’s tenants and servants, to fit them for acting plays this Christmas’.3 When¬ever Elizabeth went on progresses she was liable to find herself presented with an entertainment, usually learned and allusive and often involving amateur performers of variable abilities. But such works were presented by aristocrats as lavish dis¬plays. Groups of workers neither wrote nor initiated such shows,4 though Tumop and his crew in John a Kent and John a Cumber5 perform a welcoming emblematic display in which Turnop corrects and improves the speeches written by Hugh the Sexton with asides to the noble audience (11. 372-404) and they plan a wedding entertainment, again written by Hugh, mocking John a Kent (11. 1033-8).
Workers had performed biblical drama in cycle-plays gener¬ated by guilds like those of the crafts that some of Quince’s actors represent: carpenters, weavers, joiners. Elizabeth had seen some of the cycle plays when she visited Coventry in 1566 though all performances of cycle-drama throughout the country had ceased by the time of 4 Midsummer Night’s Dream. They performed folk-plays at festive seasons or, as at Kenilworth in 1575, had brought their traditional show to an aristocratic entertainment when local people enacted for the Queen a bridal procession and ‘certain good harted men’ of Coventry brought ‘there olld storiall sheaw’, a Hock Tues¬day dance and a battle between the Danes and the English,’ though the show had been banned from performance in Coventry after 1568.2 Montrose argues that the play is allud¬ing to the diminution over the previous thirty years of popular civic play forms, often suppressed by the state, and their replacement by celebrations of such events as the Queen’s accession,3 a shift from agrarian or religious year calendar to aristocratic celebration. A performance at a wedding might, then, be a deliberate mark of the transformation of the occa-sion for proletarian performance. Certainly the social signifi¬cance of the kind of native popular performance so recently vanished is far from the significance of the entertainment Theseus wants, a convenient way of filling the gap before bedtime, a consumerist approach that belongs firmly within an ethos of professional theatres like the Globe.
But, even so, workers seem never to have acted classical Ovidian plays like ‘Pyramus and Thisbe’. The nearest parallel I can find is, predictably, in Shakespeare himself when, in The Two Gentlemen of Verona, Julia describes to Silvia a perform¬ance she took part in:
at Pentecost,
When all our pageants of delight were played,
Our youth got me to play the woman’s part, …
For I did play a lamentable part.
Presumably Julia’s performance was a version of Ariadne’s famous lament, her letter of complaint to Theseus, which forms Book io of Ovid’s Heroides. Such a juxtaposition of festive drama (‘Pentecost’) and classical material has no direct analogy before Quince and his actors. When Barber describes Julia’s performance as ‘an entirely familiar sort of Ovidian elaboration on native ground-work’,2 he seems to me to be suggesting a more harmonious blend between aristocratic and proletarian forms of drama than ever seems to have been the case. The blend was never accomplished, only, as at Kenil¬worth, a juxtaposition. Hence Bottom and his fellows are trespassing into an area of performance usually the exclusive preserve of university students and comparable groups of educated amateur actors or the preserve of educated authors. Their trespass is part of the comedy: nothing like a bunch of workers attempting their own adaptation of a play on ‘Py¬ramus and Thisbe’ had ever been seen in England, let alone Theseus’ Athens.
In a footnote C. L. Barber suggested ‘Pyramus and Thisby almost amounts to a developed jig which has been brought into the framework of the play instead of being presented as an afterpiece, in the usual fashion’.3 Though the history of jigs is still hazy, they seem to have been the normal conclu¬sion to Elizabethan public theatre performances. A combina-tion of song and dance jigs were beginning in the I 590s to acquire greater and greater narrative complexity, becoming small-scale parodic, almost anarchic, dramas. Their subject matter was primarily a farcical action of sexual relations, usually adulterous; as Baskervill makes clear, the jigs’ em¬phasis on farce was so persistent ‘that we may be sure the jig dealt with love less often romantically than in burlesque or vulgar fashion’.4 The increasing success of jigs in the
i 590s was closely tied up with the success of Will Kemp, the chief clown of Shakespeare’s company and, most probably, the actor who played Bottom.’ The four surviving Kemp jigs
are all written as vehicles for a clown, who ends up paired with a lady. The clown always starts in a mood that is explicitly ‘sad’ or full of ‘woe’ in ord.er to offset the mirth that follows. He starts the jig in a predicament, and the audience’s pleasure consists in seeing how he extricates himself2
‘Pyramus and Thisbe’ is built around Bottom, the clown who has, in the play, ended up ‘paired with a lady’. It also occupies, thanks to the strange shape of Midsummer Night’s Dream,3 the position after the end of the narrative action usually occupied by the jig. But where the jig treats parodic¬ally anything that other forms of drama might see as roman-tic, ‘Pyramus and Thisbe’ treats seriously that tragic romantic love that the main action of the play has found by turns farcical and comedic. The parodic form of ‘Pyramus and Thisbe’ rests not in its material but in its manner and it is precisely the guying of the methods of conventional theatre that allows its on-stage audience to manage to disregard the commentary it threateningly offers on the potential tragedies of the night in the woods the lovers have just survived. If the jig is a form of inversion then ‘Pyramus and Thisbe’ offers inversion both of the matter of the rest of the play (into tragedy) and the manner (into farce). To perceive only one side of this inversion is to lose the force of the jig.4
In the current critical enthusiasm for combining Barber’s kind of festive theory with the potent analyses of carnival in the work of Bakhtin and others,1 ‘Pyramus and Thisbe’ has come to be associated with the forms of threat and social disruption which strongly marked artisan discontent in the i 590s.” Underlining the potential threats in the play and the workers’ sharp awareness of the dangers they were running in presenting a lion and a drawn sword, such an approach sees their search for dignity in tension with their desire to accommodate themselves to aristocratic demands. As Lein- wand observes, ‘Their pride in their manhood, as well as their anxiety, is merely patronized by Theseus’.3 Over and over again, the workers are concerned with their self-definition as men, for, as Bottom suggests, Snug must tell the audience ‘I am a man, as other men are’ (3.1.40). The workers fear for their lives; their ambitions rise no higher than a pension for life of ‘sixpence a day’ (4.2.18-19).
But what Bottom has already achieved, before ‘Pyramus and Thisbe’ can be performed, is to rise beyond his class. Titania, from her first words to him, has consistently defined Bottom as ‘gentle’ (3.1.130), a word that suggests ‘gentility’ much more than ‘gentleness’; to her fairies, she calls him ‘this gentleman’ (3.1.155). The drug has made her confuse his status, made him a fit match for a fairy queen but, even as Pyramus, he will be a gentleman and a lover. Flute, whose ambition was to play ‘A wandering knight’ (1.2.41), will be, at worst, a lady, and Thisbe’s death, while farcical, can also in performance have a moving pathos that recalls the ex¬hausted sadness of Helena and Hermia as they fall asleep at the end of their night of confusions. After all, with the silencing of Helena and Hermia in Act 5, Hippolyta and Thisbe are the only mortal women to speak.
‘Pyramus and Thisbe’ contains and controls the kind of social unrest that workers were demonstrating. But it also
gives the workers a chance of metamorphosis, a change in status of the kind that only the theatre can confer. For all its farcical business—and in modern productions ‘Pyramus and Thisbe’ has often become overloaded with business—the wor¬kers’ play has a seriousness of purpose and a seriousness of matter that is in deliberate tension with the mockery their clumsiness provokes. The end of this dream has to find a way of accommodating both.
Shapes
Dreams have peculiar shapes. Bizarre and illogical though they may appear when recalled on waking, the experience of the dream to the dreamer is of a logical and coherent form. Dream-narratives are condensed and compacted—hence the Herculean labours of expansion Freudian dream-analysis de¬mands—but that concision is not opposed to shapeliness. Dreams seem to take place extraordinarily quickly in waking time (‘short as any dream’ as Lysander puts it (1.1.144)) but can contain massive, epic and complex actions in that space. A night’s dreaming may contain many different dreams but for Freudian analysts the dreams of a night cohere, the separate parts converge, as the separate parts of A Midsummer Night’s Dream converge and cohere in the play’s wholeness. As a Freudian analyst describes:
Since the traumatic conflicts reactivated by the day’s events are not resolved by dreaming they continue to be active in the mind of the individual and thus present themselves in each of the successive dreams during the same period of sleep. Thus all the dreams of the same night contain the same latent meaning. Accordingly it usually occurs that each dream approaches, disguises and even seemingly solves the common genetic traumatic conflicts in a different way.’
A Midsummer Night’s Dream, too, has a compacted and shape¬ly form but one that is, like any dream, notoriously difficult to unpick and lay out coherently. Formally structured, con¬scious of the artifice of its own shaping, the play seems to draw attention to its own formalism, making its audience
aware of its own sequence. As Strindberg wrote of A Dream Play (1907), his own attempt to find the dramatic forms that would reflect dreams:
the Author has sought to reproduce the disconnected but apparently logical form of a dream … on a slight groundwork of reality, im¬agination spins and weaves new patterns made up of memories, experiences, unfettered fancies, absurdities and improvisations. The characters are split, double and multiply; they evaporate, crystalize, scatter and converge.1
One of the ways in which sixteenth-century drama created structural form was through significant doubling of roles,’ a way of reflecting Strindberg’s description of characters multi¬plying and converging. The audience’s recognition of an actor was used to underline the interconnectedness of a series of roles he performed in a play, often defining the structure of the moral argument of the work. In A Midsummer Night’s Dream, this possibility has most often been pursued through the potential for doubling Oberon and Theseus, Titania and Hippolyta.
Discussion of this pair of potential doubles is bedevilled by the rules assumed by analysts of the casting of Renaissance plays. Since Theseus and Hippolyta enter in 4.1 immediately on the exit of Oberon and Titania, it is assumed that the double is impossible.3 But as Stephen Booth comments, its use in Peter Brook’s production in 1970 ‘was so spectacularly workable and so spectacularly successful as to have since become a theatrical fad among less grand companies’.4 Though its modem use probably began with Frank Dunlop’s production in I967,s the idea was present, even though the problem in 4.1 was not, as early as 1661 when the adapter
of A Midsummer Night’s Dream into The Merry Conceited Hu¬mours of Bottom the Weaver, a shortened version of the wor-kers’ scenes performed by apprentices, suggested in the list of characters that Oberon ‘likewise may present the Duke’ and Titania ‘the Dutchesse’ (sig. [A] 2V). This early evidence at least suggests the possibility that it was pre-Restoration practice.
But this evidence only suggests that the economy of the size of company necessitates doubling. It does not indicate the interpretative meaning which an audience might attach to the double. If these doubles were in use in Shakespeare’s company—and the size of the company necessitated extensive doubling in every single performance, far more than in twen¬tieth-century practice—then the theatrical need did not pres¬cribe either a specific meaning to the connection of characters or even that a meaning should be perceived at all. Not all doubling is meaningful. Yet the performance exists outside the company’s control and the double could have been perceived as interpretative whether intended so or no.
Brook’s interest in the double was seen as a celebration of theatrical virtuosity, the actors’ delight in the quick change as ‘apparent triumph at the transparent theatricality of their physically minimal metamorphosis’.’ But it was also seen as arguing that the scenes in the forest were ‘the subconscious experience of the daytime characters’.2 Though Alan Howard, playing Theseus and Oberon, indicated that he had avoided the suggestion that the play was ‘a dream of Theseus’s … as far as we could’,3 he also describes the two characters as if they amounted to a single individual: ‘Theseus/Oberon has somehow got to explain his case’.4 This coalescence of the two characters dissolves the boundaries between the worlds to a disproportionate extent. It suggests no more than that Theseus metamorphoses into Oberon and then back into himself; it denies the separate and parallel existence of Oberon’s world alongside Theseus’ own.
Theseus is lord of one realm, Oberon of the other; doubling their roles makes excellent dramatic, psychological and symbolic sense, because they are the respective representatives of reason and of those life mysteries which reason cannot encompass or control.’
But I remain unconvinced that the doubling wou Id emphasize contrast over similarity. Rather, it allows for a slippage from similarity towards superimposition: James Calderwood, in the course of an elaborate argument about the way Oberon ‘evokes’ Theseus and vice versa, finding the one character ‘invisibly present’ in the other, moves, at one revealing mo¬ment, to finding an ‘identification’ between the pairs. 2
It is significant too that such approaches give such domin¬ance to Oberon/Theseus (as in the title of Calderwood’s ar-ticle). In the theatre the only resistance has been provided by Bill Alexander’s production for the RSC in 1986 which, by doubling Hippolyta and Titania but not Oberon and Theseus, turned the play into Hippolyta’s dream, a dream in which, on her wedding night, once the fairies had to appear at the end of Act 5, Hippolyta seemed to leave her husband for her fairy lover.
The problem of the doubling, the stress on interpretation it provides, suggests the extent to which its dominance in a production subsumes other elements of the play, other more prominent and basic structures. A Midsummer Night’s Dream depends for its form on the equal importance it attaches to each of its segments, aristocrats, workers and fairies. In particular, the stage history of A Midsummer Night’s Dream demonstrates how complex is the interrelationship of the different sections of the play’s cast, the different groupings of the characters.
Between 1661 and Frederick Reynold’s adaptation in 1816, the theatre history of A Midsummer Night’s Dream is almost entirely one of fragmentation and abbreviation, a continual reflection of the sheer difficulty of assimilating the disparate
‘ Graham Bradshaw, Shakespeare’s Scepticism (Brighton, 1987), p. 69.
parts of the text within the narrowing of culture.1 Apart from Pepys’s visit to a performance in 1662, when he described it as ‘the most insipid ridiculous play that ever I saw in my life’,4 there are no records of the play being performed com-plete. Instead, over and over again, one or more of the play’s groups were omitted so that the adaptation could focus on the others. The Merry Conceited Humours of Bottom the Weaver (1661), a version which had been used for amateur perfor¬mance by a group of apprentices, cut out anything extraneous to the action involving the workers. The unknown adapter of The Fairy Queen (1692) cut the text by half to leave space for Purcell’s brilliant reinterpretation of the action in the mas¬que-like entertainments attached to each act.1 By the early eighteenth century the text was being further fragmented to produce material for satiric attacks on the fashion for Italian opera in Richard Leveridge’s The Comic Masque of Pyramus and Thisbe (1716) and in John Frederick Lampe’s Pyramus and Thisbe: A Mock-Opera (1745).
David Garrick’s first adaptation of A Midsummer Night’s Dream, The Fairies (1755), cut the text even more savagely than The Fairi/ Queen had required, leaving barely a quarter of Shakespeare’s lines in order to leave space for the many new songs transposed from Shakespeare, Milton and others that this operatic treatment required.4 The dignity of high opera meant that the workers were eliminated completely in favour of preserving the action of the lovers and the court, leaving no space for parody so that only two and a half lines of Shakespeare’s Act 5 remained. Garrick’s second attempt to restore A Midsummer Night’s Dream to the stage, in 1763, resulted in a version further adapted by George Colman the Elder when Garrick left for a visit to Europe. This version survived only a single disastrous performance but a reviewer’s praise of the fairy action as ‘most transcendently beautiful’ ‘ may have spurred Colman to salvage something from the wreckage by producing a two-act afterpiece performed only three days later as The Fairy Tale. This eliminates the lovers and court completely to focus on the fairies, leaving only so much of Bottom as was needed to link the fairy plot together. The workers, the lovers, and finally the fairies each provided the single locus necessary for productions in this period; each reduction demonstrates the fullness and complexity of Shake¬speare’s original.”
This awareness in A Midsummer Night’s Dream of a dramatic form which marks the separation of its groups, allowing them rare and carefully controlled points of interaction, is some¬thing Shakespeare may well have derived from the work of John Lyly. Again and again, Lyly’s plays demonstrate this form, ‘balancing a number of self-contained groups, one against the other’. A Midsummer Night’s Dream shares with Lyly’s style this sense of parallelism as a means of shaping a debate-structure, setting out, for instance, ‘a dearly exposed debate subject of moonlight versus daylight or imagination versus reason, which all the groups sound ont in turn’. Leah Scragg has, indeed, argued that Lyly’s Ga/lathea con¬stitutes a fully adequate source for Shakespeare’s dramatic method in A Midsummer Night’s Dream, finding in it a move¬ment from daylight to a forest at night, four groups of characters, a world ruled by ’emotional deities whose passions bring disorder to the human frame but whose purposes toman are ultimately benign’ (p. u6), and an interest in metamorphosis, as well as numerous claimed verbal echoes, variably convincing. The case is interesting but it again only demonstrates the brilliance of the form Shakespeare created in the play.
Whatever the considerable virtues of Lyly’s Gallathea, it serves here only as a foil to set off A Midsummer Night’s Dream the brighter. The convergence of the different segments of A Midsummer Night’s Dream is barely visible in Gallathea whose components seem mostly to underline their complete isolation from each other, making it possible for a critic as sympathetic as Hunter almost entirely to ignore one major strand. It is quite likely that Shakespeare found in Lyly an abstract of dramatic shape, particularly the potentials of a multi-levelled form, that might well have appealed, but A Midsummer Night’s Dream’s virtuosity, its showy cleverness, is unprecedented.
Eighteenth-century responses to A Midsummer Night’s Dream are, again and again, troubled by the play’s plot. Francis Gentleman, editing the play for Bell’s Shakespeare in 1774, condemned its ‘puerile plot, an odd mixture of incidents, and a forced connection of various styles’.’ Edmond Malone was appalled to find ‘the fable thus meagre and uninteresting’.2 The theatrical forms of abbreviation also involved a rearrange ment of the play’s action. In The Fairy Queen, for instance, the final sequence of music, the explanation to Theseus of the world of fairy, depends on the exclusion of the lower classes and the elimination of ‘Pyramus and Tbisbe’; hence the workers perform as much of their play as they are ever going to during the rehearsal in the woods and Bottom, after being reunited with his friends (Shakespeare’s 4.2), simply vanishes from the play. A similar rearrangement happens in Reynolds’s version (1816) where Theseus watches the rehearsal in the wood; in Reynolds’s last act, just as the couples are leaving for the temple to be married, a trumpet announces the arrival of Theseus’ army and a parade displays ‘A Grand Pageant, commemorative, of the Triumphs of Theseus’ (p. 57). Again there is no room for Bottom; instead Reynolds appears to be re¬sponding to Malone’s complaint about Shakespeare’s play:
‘Theseus, the associate of Hercules, is not engaged in any adventure worthy of his rank or reputation’,1 as well as producing the military display appropriate for the year after the battle of Waterloo,
Such rearrangements of the play continued into the nine¬teenth century, even though by then most of Shakespeare’s text had been restored to the performing tradition. What is particularly problematic at this stage seems to have been the sequence of the sections that make up 4.1, the move from fairies to aristocrats to Bottom. From Madame Vestris’s pro-duction at Covent Garden in 1840 onwards it became con¬ventional to play Bottom’s awakening (4.1.198-215) immediately after the departure of the fairies (at 1. IOI), follow it with Bottom’s reunion with his friends (4.2), though this brief scene was often omitted completely, and only then play the scene between the lovers and Theseus (IL 102-97).1 This change allowed for spectacular scenic transformation. In Au¬gustin Daly’s production in New York in 1888, for instance, Bottom’s awaking and exit was followed by a dawn sequence:
After a strain of music daybreak begins to appear. The sun rises. The glen and tangled wood disappear, as the mists ascend and discover the lovers asleep as before. Music is heard, and a pleasure- barge appears in the background bearing THESEUS, HIPPOLYTA, EGEOS, PHTLOSTRATE and others. It pauses at the C., and THESEUS and the others descend.3
After the scene is finished, all the characters go back on to the barge (see fig. q) and ‘As the barge begins to move off the picture changes, showing the passage of THESEUS to his capital’.4 Such a spectacle, dependent on a moving pano-rama,5 echoes the grand transformation scenes so beloved of nineteenth-century theatre, as well as creating a stage picture to accompany Mendelssohn’s music.

I 3. The start of the journey back to Athens in Augustin Daly’s production, New York, 1888.
It also denies the structure Shakespeare had aimed to create. A Midsummer Night’s Dream has a neat and symmetrical scenic form. Acts 1 and 5 take place in Athens, Acts 2 to 4 in the wood. Immediately preceding the move to the wood comes the casting scene for Quince, Bottom and company ( r .2); Bottom is reunited with the others immediately after the wood scenes (4.2), before the full Athenian splendours of the court in Act 5. Mark Rose describes this shape as ‘a double frame around the central panel’,’ emphasizing the central moment of the play as the union of extremes, Titania and Bottom, at the end of 3.1, the point at which modern pro¬ductions almost always place the interval.
As Rose also shows, the whole play consists of only seven scenes, fewer than any other Shakespeare play.’ Two scenes in Athens, three in the wood and then two in Athens again adds up to a structure of almost ostentatious simplicity, a form of visible shapeliness and formal discipline. Such scenic re¬straint contains and controls the opulent movement of the different groups of characters as their worlds flow and blur and collide in the wood. It also intensifies the perception of the double frame, a feature intensified in modern production by the three sets the play has conventionally been given: the court for I.I and 5.1, Quince’s house for 1.2 and 4.2, the wood for the central panel.
To some extent, the movement of the play from city to country and back again is tied to the play’s interest in May Day and its associated festivities. It was in the wood that Lysander once met Hermia with Helena, ‘To do observance to a morn of May’ (1.1.167), just as Theseus will mockingly suggest that the presence of the four lovers in the wood is because ‘No doubt they rose up early to observe I The rite of May’ (4.1.131-2).1 As Barber saw, at the beginning of his outstanding analysis of the significance of popular festivity for the play, ‘the May game, everybody’s pastime, gave the pattern for his whole action’. 2 Maying and its other games need not take place only at May Day, hence its appearance in a play explicitly linked in its title to Midsummer Eve. The best description of May games is the attack on them by Phillip Stubbes in The Anatomy of Abuses (1583):
Against May, Whitsunday, or other time all the young men and maids, old men and wives, run gadding over night to the woods, groves, hills, and mountains, where they spend all the night in pleasant pastimes … I have heard it credibly reported (and that viv« voce) by men of great gravity and reputation, that of forty, three¬score, or a hundred maids going to the wood over night, there have scarcely the third part of them returned home again un¬defiled
Others put the figures even higher: ‘I have heard of ten maidens which went to fetch May, and nine of them came home with child’.1
This rustic celebration of fertility combines neatly with the pleasures of sex in the woods that Hermia resists when Lysander proposes it (2.2.45-71).’ But its presence in the play is set against the notion of Midsummer itself, strongly associ¬ated with bonfires, watches, magic and carnival parades.3 Midsummer Eve, one of the oldest of all festivals in its cel¬ebration of the summer solstice, the turning point of the year, was particularly a time when spirits were abroad, when particular plants must be gathered and when one might see one’s future true love in the fires or through other magic.4 Spenser’s Epithalamion ( I 595) also suggests links between Midsummer and marriage. But Shakespeare makes the two festivals, Midsummer and May, into a blur, refusing to limit the associations of the two holidays in order to create ‘a more elusive festival time’.5
Such blurring of two calendrical events is echoed in the problems of the formal shape. The play’s abstract design with its symmetries and balances is in tension with two aspects of the dramatic action in Act 5, the movement necessary to balance Act I and the completion of the outermost frame. In effect, with the solution of the problems and obstacles to the marriages of the lovers, the action of A Midsummer Night’s Dream, the action that conventionally marks the process of comedy towards marriage, is complete by 4.1.197. Titania has heen reconciled with Oberon, the mortal lovers paired off.
Indeed, at 4.1.183-4, Theseus speaks what in any other play would have sounded suspiciously like a final couplet: ‘Away with us to Athens. Three and three, I We’ll hold a feast in great solemnity.’ As Anne Barton notes,
This couplet has the authentic ring of a comedy conclusion. Only one expectation generated by the comedy remains unfulfilled: the presentation of the Pyramus and Thisby play before the Duke and his bride. Out of this single remaining bit of material, Shakespeare constructs a fifth act which seems, in effect, to take place beyond the normal plot-defined boundaries of comedy.1
The exploration of art and artifice as reflection and revalu¬ation that constitutes ‘Pyramus and Thisbe’, the exploration of the nature of theatre that constitutes the workers’ perform¬ance of their play and the exploration of social assimilation that constitutes the reactions of the male members of the on-stage audience, have no place in the conventional struc¬tures of comedy. In many ways, as my discussion of ‘Pyramus and Thisbe’ as jig has already suggested, Act 5 is formally extraneous to the action of the drama, however essential it may be to the formal shaping of the structure!
This tension between dramatic action and abstract form reaches its culmination in A Midsummer Night’s Dream late in Act 5, for neither the formal shape nor the dramatic action prescribes that anything should follow the exit of the aristo-crats. Again Theseus ‘is given a couplet which sounds like the last lines of a play’ (5.r.36o-i);3 again the play proves not to have ended. The arrival of Robin and then the rest of the fairies, another opportunity in nineteenth-century produc¬tions for grand transformations and spectacle, must be unex¬pected. Just as, when Pyramus is dead, Bottom leaps up, resurrected, to offer an epilogue or a dance (5.1.345-6), so the play will offer both an epilogue and the spectacle of the fairies dancing and singing.4 For once ‘Pyramus and Thisbe’proves predictive as well as retrospective in its relation to A Midsummer Night’s Dream.
Wherever Robin comes from, the audience cannot have assumed that he would enter the world of the palace, move from wood to court, from country to city. Even though from the first the presence of the fairies near Athens has been caused by the royal wedding, with Oberon ‘Come from the farthest step of India, I … To give their bed joy and pros-perity’ (2.1.69, 73), even though Oberon has announced that they ‘will tomorrow midnight solemnly I Dance in Duke Theseus’ house, triumphantly’ (4.1.87-8), the play’s form had seemed to trap them in the forest, just as Robin has assumed that they are trapped by the hours of night (3.2.378¬87). The final arrival of the fairies, as the mortals go off to make love and to sleep, is the audience’s privilege: even more than Bottom, the audience is granted a ‘most rare vision’.
This structural peculiarity, this deliberate transformation of dramatic form and expectation is one of the great glories of the play. But the play has also posed dramatic difficulties in its central sequence in the wood. No other Shakespeare play creates the potential awkwardness of leaving members of the cast inconveniently around on stage in such profusion, im¬mobile because asleep. From the moment of Titania’s falling asleep at 2.2.30 to Bottom’s awaking in 4.1, the problem is frequently repeated. Titania stays asleep till 3.1.122, over 250 lines of text. Hermia and Lysander sleep from 2.2.71 to 109 (Lysander) and 151 (Hermia). Demetrius sleeps from 3.2.87 to 137. All four of the lovers start to fall asleep from 3.2.420, staying asleep till 4.1.137 (over 170 lines). Titania and Bot¬tom fall asleep at 4.1.44; she wakes up at 4.1.75, he sleeps on till 4. 1.198. At one point six different characters are asleep on stage at once, presumably in two distinct group¬ings. No wonder that nineteenth-century productions, as they displayed various parts of the wood, often let the lovers disappear from sight, bringing them back on, as Daly did, only when the mists clear. Fussy modern sets always leave plenty of corners for sleepers; Peter Brook’s bare white box, designed by Sally Jacobs, deliberately highlighted the problem, marking the emphatic visibility of the giant scarlet feather suspended in mid-air on which Titania and later Bottom slept (see fig. 14).
In a play about dream we should not be surprised that the stage shows us sleepers. But il Midsummer Night’s Dream also makes of sleep the mark of a series of crucial transitions in the play. Titania asleep is drugged and will wake to fall in love with Bottom, Lysander and Demetrius undergo similar transformations as they sleep. Hermia wakes, having dreamed, to find Lysander gone. Titania wakes again to find ‘My Oberon’ (4.1.75); the four lovers will wake from sleep into that wonderfully ambivalent state of half-waking half- dreaming that they describe so wonderingly in 4.1;1 Bottom wakes to try, like them, to recall his dream.
The ‘visions’ Titania had in which ‘I was enamoured of an ass’ (4.1.75-6) can be changed, by being proved no dream, into something loathsome: ‘O, how mine eyes do loathe his visage now’ (1. 78). The mortals’ experience, once they have recounted their dreams ‘by the way’ (l. 197) both to each other and to Theseus and Hippolyta, is much more complex, for they will never be able to see that their visions were no dreams at all, thanks to Oberon’s kindness in turning all ‘this night’s accidents’ into ‘the fierce vexation of a dream’ (4.1.67-8). All the lovers will have, apart from finding each other, will be their curiously coinciding dreams, ‘all their minds transfigured so together’, as Hippolyta puts it (5.1.24). She perceives it as ‘something of great constancy’ (1. 26), as Bottom will find his dream something he cannot begin to explain but whose awesome scale he is only too well aware of.

14- Oberon and Robin watch Titania and Bottom in Peter Brook’s production, Stratford-upon-Avon, 1970.
Throughout this introduction one of my major concerns has been the metamorphic processes of the play.’ ii. Midsummer Night’s Dream is endlessly fascinated by the possibilities of transformation and translation within its action and by its metamorphoses of its materials. The richness of its fascination has been finely explored by Barkan and others. Rut where in Ovid metamorphosis is the final consequence of the narrative, in A Midsummer Night’s Dream it initiates action. Barkan ‘s emphasis that ‘Shakespeare is more interested in transforma¬tion as a cause than transformation as an effect’2 is reflected in the significance of sleep as the greatest, the most pro¬found and unknowable of all transformative states. Carroll’s recognition that ‘the metamorphs in the play notice nothing’1 is epitomized by this state of sleep. We cannot consciously know that we are asleep, though we can be strangely aware that we are dreaming. Sleep in A Midsummer Night’s Dream is the embodiment for unknowing metamorphosis, dream the most complete state of transformed existence that we ever, let alone nightly, undergo.
It is in the process of recall of metamorphosis that /I Midsummer Night’s Dream distinguishes between the mortals. As Carroll observes, ‘Only Bottom experiences metamorphosis, finally, by remembering it, though he was unaware of it at the time; the four lovers shrug it off like a hangover’.2 Yet even the hangover involves transfiguration, as Hippolyta recog¬nizes. Living with one’s dreams is never an easy process.
Date
.4 Midsummer Night’s Dream was written and first performed in 1595 or 1596. The exact date is unknown and impossible to establish more precisely. A reference to the play in the list of Shakespeare’s work mentioned by Francis Meres in Palladis Tamia ( 1598) provides the latest possible date; the assumption that the problem over the lion relates to an event at the Scottish court in August 1594 (see note to 1.2.70-1) provides an earliest date. Stylistically the play fits with the other plays of the same date, especially Romeo and Julie/.3
Determining whether A Midsummer Night’s Dream preceded or followed Romeo and Juliet is difficult The weight of opinion tends towards seeing A Midsummer Night’s Dream as the later,4 though Oxford is more cautious, placing Dream before Romeo. I have, at a number of points in the Commentary, indicated possible reasons for thinking that Dream followed Romeo but, in the final analysis, all that matters is that the two plays were clearly being worked on at roughly the same moment.
A Midsummer Night’s Dream’s place in the canon does not, in any case, help very much to determine the date further. To do that editors have relied on supposed allusions in the text. Such allusions have included the bad weather of which Tita¬nia speaks so eloquently (2.1.88-114) or the exact identity of someone who might fit ‘the death I Of learning, late deceased in beggary’ (5.1.52-3). The problem is that there are always more candidates than one might desire: in Eng¬land, predictably, the weather is often bad and the lines could apply just as easily to 1594, 1595 or 1596;1 poor scholars regularly die, not only Robert Greene (died 1 592). It is not even clear that such passages are direct allusions to recent events.
Much more common have been attempts to fix on the exact date of the first performance of the play by assuming that the play must have been performed at the celebrations for a particular noble wedding and that the play’s references to the phases of the moon, particularly Theseus’ opening reference to a new moon, describe the exact state of the moon on the night of that performance.’ Such arguments are often com¬bined with assumptions that, since the play includes a direct reference to Queen Elizabeth as ‘a fair vestal throned by the west’ (2.1.158), the Queen must have been present at the first performance.
As W. J. Lawrence pointed out in 1922, the first play, rather than masque-like entertainment, certainly written specifically for a wedding celebration was Daniel’s pastoral Hymen’s Triumph in 1614.’ In any case, arguments from the particular nature of the play and its supposed casting demands fail to take into account the certain fact that, as the title-page of Qi makes dear, the play was performed on the public theatre stage as well and must therefore have been within the normal capabilities of the Lord Chamberlain’s Men. As regular stage players gave no play publicly that had not been written for public use’.1
Of the eleven weddings proposed, the most popular candid¬ate is the marriage of Sir Thomas Berkeley to Elizabeth Carey in February I 5961 but the detailed contemporary family his¬tory makes no mention either of the Queen’s presence or of the performance of any play, let alone one especially written for the event.3 There is no better evidence for any other of the suggested weddings. The wedding occasion theory appeals to critics who like the concept of a site-specific play, with fairies running through the noble house to bless the real wedding of members of the audience, and to those who wish to rescue the play from the clutches of the popular theatre audience. I fail to see the need to want either.
The Text
A Midsummer Night’s Dream presents probably fewer textual problems than any other Shakespeare play published both as a quarto and as a part of the Folio of 1623. There has been such widespread agreement about the nature of the copy for both quarto texts and such convincing arguments analys¬ing the slightly more difficult problem of the Folio copy that there is comparatively little for me to do other than rehearse, briefly, what has been much more extensively discussed else¬where.4
Qi. 1600. The first Quarto (Qi) of A Midsummer Night’s Dream was published by Thomas Fisher in 1600. The play had been entered in Fisher’s name in the Stationers’ Register on 8 October 1600 in the regular fashion:
It was the first work to be entered for Fisher whose career as a publisher seems to have been fairly brief. The work was almost certainly printed by Richard Bradock, a regular printer of play quartos at the time. Its title-page makes clear that, whatever other auspices the play may have been acted under, it had been performed ‘sundry times’ by Shakespeare’s company: ‘as it hath been sundry times publicly acted by the Right Hon¬ourable the Lord Chamberlain his Servants’. The only major study of the printing of Qi argued for setting by formes.1 But Turner’s argument has been questioned by Blayney’ and there is insufficient evidence as yet to establish tLie setting-order. No one has yet undertaken a full collation of the extant copies of Qi in search of press-variants, though Oxford found one at 2.2.49. That tedious search still remains to be done.
There is more than enough evidence, according to the canons of bibliographical proof, to show that the copy for Qi was autograph foul papers.3 In other words, Bradock’s compositors) worked from a manuscript in Shakespeare’s hand, effectively his rough draft, while the fair copy made from the draft stayed with the Lord Chamberlain’s Men. The evidence for this is derived from a number of features of QI:
(i) Qi’s stage directions are both incomplete and inconsistent. It lacks a number of necessary entries (e.g. for Robin at 3.1.97, for Lysander at 3.2.412) and even more exits. Its speech prefixes vary for a number of characters: Robin is sometimes Puck and sometimes Rob or Robin;4 Titania is often Que(eit); in Act 5 Theseus and Hippolyta become Du(ke) (at 107 and from 205) and Dutch (from 209); Bottom is C/owne in 4. I. Entrances often indicate who is included only in a general way: Qi reads ‘Enter the Ciownes’ at the beginning of 3. I and ‘Enter Theseus and all his traine’ at 4.1. IO 1.3-4; at the opening of 4.2 the direction ‘Enter Quince, Flute, Thisby and the rabble’ manages both to confuse Flute and his role and to cover Starveling and Snout as ‘the rabble’. Helena is wrongly included in the entry at 1.1.19, presumably because Shakespeare was thinking of all four lovers as a group. Shakespeare could afford such abbreviated terms for groups or varied descriptions for a character like ‘Titania, Queen of the Fairies’; the bookholder, or prompter, at the theatre would have needed to be more exact.
(ii) While Elizabethan compositors often varied the spelling of words, a number of the more unusual spellings in Qi agree with the spellings used by Hand D in the manuscript of the play of Sir Thomas More, a handwriting usually held to be Shakespeare’s own. In particular Hand D and Qi share a preference for using ‘oo’ (in, for instance: prooue, hoord, boorde, shooes, mooue), for ‘ea’ (in, for instance: pearce, vneauen) and for ‘z’ (in, for instance: practiz’d, mouzd).
All the evidence makes Qr an unusually authoritative text and all modem editions take it as copy-text, while incorpor-ating some of Folio’s corrections and variants. The only problematic feature of the text, the mislineations in Act 5, is discussed in the Appendix (pp. 257 65).
suit, all its emendations being pretty obvious from the context. Inevitably Q2 managed to include a few errors of its own. There is nothing in this text to give it any authority for an edition.
Fi. 1623. A Midsummer Night’s Dream next appeared in the first collected edition of Shakespeare’s works, the First Folio of 1623, put together primarily by John Heminges and Henry Condell, two fellowmembers of Shakespeare’s company, the King’s Men (as the Lord Chamberlain’s Men had become). It was the eighth play in the section devoted to the comedies, occupying pp. 145-62.1
Fi was set up from a copy of Q2, repeating many of its corrections and errors. But it is clear that the copy for Fi was prepared by an editor by checking Q2 every so often against some other authority. The changes are by no means complete enough to suggest anything very systematic in the checking but their source is generally accepted to have been a play¬house prompt-book.
Most of these alterations and additions affect stage direc¬tions. The most important change, assigning Philostrate’s speeches in Act 5 to Egeus, I discuss in the Appendix, pp. 26 5-8. Many of the others are helpful clarifications of stage business. Q (that is, both Qi and Q2) had, for instance, failed to include any entrance for the transformed Bottom at 3.1.97; the Folio not only adds the entrance but specifies the neces¬sary prop: ‘Enter Piramus with the Asse head.’ But Fl’s additions are occasionally made without the necessary and corollary deletions: after Quince’s prologue, FI added a direction ‘Exit all but Wall’ (5.1.150.1) but failed to remove Q’s direction three lines later, ‘Exit Lyon, Thysby, and Mooneshine’. At other moments the collator’s enthusiasm seems to have got the better of him: seeing a line of names at 3.1.153, ‘Pease- blossome, Cobweb, Moth, and Mustard-seede?’, he interpreted it as a stage direction, rather than Titania’s summoning her four fairies by name; Q’s direction ‘Enter Joure Fairyes’ was incorporated as ‘and Joure Fairies’, leaving a direction that brings eight fairies on to the stage. Sometimes Fi adds a degree of helpful specificity: for example, ‘Manet Lysander and Hermia’ at I.I.I27 after the ‘Exeunt’ for Theseus and his court; ‘solus’ for Oberon’s entry at 3.2.0, removing Q’s entrance for Robin with him at this point and putting ‘Enter Pucke’ at 3.2.3; ‘Quince’ as a marginal addition to explain Q’s ‘Enter the Prologue’ at 5.1.107 (also giving the playhouse instruction ‘Flor. Trum’ for the flourish of trumpets to accompany this entry).

Two of the changes are particularly intriguing: at 3.1.49 FI gives an entry for Robin well before Q’s entry at 3.1.71 but duplicates Q’s entry as well; at 4.1.0 FI copies Q’s direction for Oberon to enter ‘behinde them’ but also indicates an entry for Oberon at 4.1.44. Both suggest substantially different stagings from Q, an earlier entry for Robin in 3.1 and a later one for Oberon in 4.1. The latter may however also be parallel to the entry F marks at 3.2.344, ‘Enter Oberon and Pucke’, when they have never left the stage but have been on stage observing the action. Foakes wonders where Oberon and Robin stood ‘aside’ after 3.2.116 and where Oberon stood ‘behind them’ at 4.1.0 (p. 141) and hence whether they were far enough removed to necessitate a call for an entry when they were to return to the main part of the stage, leaving its trace in the stage direction; but neither case gives any indi¬cation of using the gallery or a tarras at the back of the stage and there is ample space on stage for concealment.
A further new stage direction may give a slight indication of the period in which this new staging was implemented. At the end of Act 3 Fi includes a direction ‘They sleepe all the Act.’ In spite of Foakes’s argument that this means the section of the play that follows (pp. 141-3) it seems most likely that it relates to a pause between the acts in performance (see my note). Ft, in line with its editor’s general intentions, divides the play into acts throughout. But this stage direction seems on balance to suggest a playhouse practice of act-divisions, dating this direction—and by implication perhaps other stage directions varying from Qi—no earlier than about 1609?
At 5.1.125.1 Fi adds ‘Tawyer with a Trumpet before them’ before Q’s stage direction for the entrance of the workers. This is the earliest reference to William Tawyer who was buried as ‘Mr Heminges man’ in 1625 and was included in a list of ‘Musitions and other necessary attendantes’ of the King’s Men in 1624;’ this might suggest that the prompt-book consulted for Fi contains performance practice for the period close to the printing of Fi but, given the paucity of references to individual actors, many years could have passed between the date of the performances the prompt-book reflects and 1623.

Fi’s variants in the dialogue fall into two broad categories: a significant number of new errors of substitution, transposi¬tion or misreading which seem likely to have no authority; a small but important group of corrections or alterations which seem to rely on some other authority than the compositor’s or editor’s ingenuity. The correction of Q2’s ‘Minnock’ (Qi Minnick) to ‘Mimmick’ (3.2.19) might just be a lucky guess but it is difficult to see in that light such changes as, for instance: ‘merit’ for ‘friends’ at i.i. I 39; the addition of ‘passionate’ at 1.2.220 where a word is clearly missing; the alteration of Q’s ‘knit now againe’ to ‘knit up in thee’ (5.1.190) or of ‘Moon vsed’ to ‘morall downe’ (5.1.205). If some of these are inadequate corrections (see, for example, notes at 1.1.139 and 5.1.205) they certainly cannot be disregarded. In weighing these, editors have come to treat Fi as an important indicator of new evidence; they have been more reluctant to pay the same serious attention to Fi’s significant evidence for stage movements even if some of these may have been introduced after Shakespeare’s death.

0 0 vote
Article Rating
Subscribe
Notify of
guest
0 Comments
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments

Ken again, but maybe not for long.......?

Some research into MSND
                   

Newsfeed

YOUTUBE CONCERT: Sevenoaks Welcomes Refugees

YOUTUBE CONCERT: Sevenoaks Welcomes Refugees

Ayman Jarjour and Maya Youssef

0
Would love your thoughts, please comment.x
()
x