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The human mortals: want their winter here;
3 The human mortals - ] Shakspeare might have employed this epithet, which, at first sight, appears redundant, to mark the difference between men and fairies. Fairies were not human, but they were yet subject to mortality. It appears from the romance of Sir Huon of Bordeaux, that Oberon himself was mortal.
The same phrase, however, occurs in Chapman's translation of Homer's address to Earth, the mother of all :
referr'd to thee
“ Of mortal humans.” STEEVENS.
This, however, (says Mr. Ritson,) does not by any means appear to be the case. Oberon, Titania, and Puck, never die ; the inferior agents must necessarily be supposed to enjoy the same privilege ; and the ingenious commentator may rely upon it, that the oldest woman in England never heard of the death of a Fairy. Human mortals is, notwithstanding, evidently put in opposition to fairies who partook of a middle nature between men and spirits.” It is a misfortune, as well to the commentators as to the readers of Shakspeare, that so much of their time is obliged to be employed in explaining and contradicting unfounded conjectures and assertions. Spenser in his Fairy Queen, b. ii. c. x. says, (I use the words of Mr. Warton ; Observations on Spenser, vol. i. p. 55,) “ That man was first made by Prometheus, was called Elfe, who wandering over the world, at length arrived at the gardens of Adonis, where he found a female whom he called Fay.—The issue of Elfe and Fay were called Fairies, who soon grew to be a mighty people, and conquered all nations. Their eldest son Elfin governed America, and the next to him, named Elfinan, founded the city of Cleopolis, which was enclosed with a golden wall by Elfinine. His son Elfin overcame the Gobbelines; but of all fairies, Elfant was the most renowned, who built Panthea of chrystal. To these succeeded Elfar, who slew two brethren giants; and to him Elfinor, who built a bridge of glass over the sea, the sound of which was like thunder. At length, Elficleos ruled the Fairy-land with much wisdom, and highly advanced its power and honour: he left two sons, the eldest of which, fair Elferon, died a premature death, his place being supplied by the mighty Oberon ; a prince, whose wide memorial still remains ; who dying left Tanaquil to succeed him by will, she being also called Glorian or Gloriana." I transcribe this pedigree, merely to prove that in Shakspeare's time the notion of Fairies dying was generally known. Reed.
Mr. Reed might here have added the names of many divines
Therefore the moon, the governess of floods,
and philosophers, whose sentiments coincide with his own position on this subject : – post prolixum tempus moriuntur omnes : " i. e. aerial and familiar spirits, &c. were all mortal. See Burton's Anatomy of Melancholy, edit. 1632, p. 42. STEEVENS.
their WINTER HERE ;] Here, in this country.-1 once inclined to receive the emendation proposed by Mr. Theobald, and adopted by Sir T. Hanmer,--their winter cheer ; but perhaps alteration is unnecessary.
“ Their winter” may mean those sports with which country people are wont to beguile a winter's evening, at the season of Christmas, which, it appears from the next line, was particularly in our author's contemplation :
“ The wery winter nights restore the Christmas games, “ And now the seson doth invite to banquet townish dames.”
Romeus and Juliet, 1562. Malone. I have already expressed my opinion, that winter-cheer is the true reading; and am confirmed in it by the following passage in Fletcher's Prophetess, where the shepherd says:
Our evening dances on the green, our songs,
M. Mason. 7 No night is now with HYMN OR CAROL BLEST:] Since the coming of Christianity, this season, (winter,) in commemoration of the birth of Christ, has been particularly devoted to festivity. And to this custom, notwithstanding the impropriety, hymn or carol blest certainly alludes. WARBURTON.
Ilymns and carols, in the time of Shakspeare, during the season of Christmas, were sung every night about the streets, as a pretext for collecting money from house to house. STEEVENS.
* That RHEUMATICK DISEASES do abound:] Rheumatick diseases signified in Shakspeare's time, not what we now call rheumatism, but distillations from the head, catarrhs, &c. So, in a
“ The State of Sir H. Sydney's Bodie, &c. Feb. 1567;” Sydney's Memorials, vol. I. p. 97: “ — he hath verie much distempered diverse parts of his bodie, as namely, his hedde, his stomach, &c. and thereby is always subject to coughes, distillations, and other rumatic diseases."' MALONE.
“ Therefore the moon, the governess of foods," &c. peated udverb therefore, throughout this speech, I suppose to have constant reference to the first time when it is used. AU these irregularities of season happened in consequence of the disagreement between the king and queen of the fairies, and not
And thorough this distemperature', we see
in consequence of each other. Ideas crouded fast on Shakspeare ; and as he committed them to paper, he did not attend to the distance of the leading object from which they took their rise. Mr. Malone concurs with me on this occasion.
That the festivity and hospitality attending Christmas, des creased, was the subject of complaint to many of our ludicrous writers. Among the rest to Nash, whose comedy called Summer's Last Will and Testament, made its first appearance in the same year with this play, viz. 1600. There Christmas is introduced, and Summer says to him :
“ Christmas, how chance thou com’st not as the rest,
Accompanied with some music or some song ? “ A merry carrol would have grac'd thee well,
Thy ancestors have us’d it heretofore. “ Christmas. Ay, antiquity was the mother of ignorance,” &c. and then proceeds to give reasons for such a decay in mirth and house-keeping
The confusion of seasons here described, is no more than a poetical account of the weather, which happened in England about the time when the Midsummer-Night's Dream was written. For this information I am indebted to chance, which furnished me with a few leaves of an old meteorological history.
The date of the piece, however, may be better determined by a description of the same weather in Churchyard's Charitie, 1595, when, says he, “a colder season, in all sorts, was never seene." He then proceeds to say the same over again in rhyme :
“ A colder time in world was neuer seene :
swim. “ Nature thinks scorne to do hir dutie right,
“ Because we have displeasde the Lord of Light.” Let the reader compare these lines with Shakspeare's, and he will find that they are both descriptive of the same weather and its consequences.
Churchyard is not enumerating, on this occasion, fictitious but real misfortunes. He wrote the present poem to excite Charity on his own behalf; and among his other sufferings very naturally dwelt on the coldness of the season, which his poverty had rendered the less supportable.
L'Allegro, and Il Penseroso, will naturally impute one incident to different causes. Shakspeare, in prime of life and success, fancifully ascribes this distemperature of seasons to a quarrel beFall in the fresh lap of the crimson rose"; And on old Hyems' chin', and icy crown, tween the playful rulers of the fairy world; while Churchyard, broken down by age and misfortunes, is seriously disposed to represent the same inclemency of weather, as a judgement from the Almighty on the offences of mankind. Steevens.
Therefore the moon, the governess of the floods,” &c. This line has no immediate connection with that preceding it (as Dr. Johnson seems to have thought). It does not refer to the omission of hymns or carols, but of the fairy rites, which were disturbed in consequence of Oberon's quarrel with Titania. The moon is with peculiar propriety represented as incensed at the cessationnot of the carols, (as Dr. Warburton thinks) nor of the heathen rites of adoration, (as Dr. Johnson supposes,) but of those sports, which have been always reputed to be celebrated by her light.
As the whole passage has been much misunderstood, it may be proper to observe, that Titania begins with saying:
“ And never, since the middle summer's spring,
“ But with thy brawls thou hast disturb’d our sport.” She then particularly enumerates the several consequences that have flowed from their contention. The whole is divided into four clauses :
1.“ Therefore the winds, &c.
“ That they have overborne their continents :
“ The ploughman lost his sweat ;
“No night is now with hymn or carol blest ;
“ That rheumatick diseases do abound :
and the 'mazed world,
“ From our debate, from our dissention." In all this there is no difficulty. All these calamities are the consequences of the dissention between Oberon and Titania; as seems to be sufficiently pointed out by the word therefore, so often repeated. Those lines which have it not, are evidently put in apposition with the preceding line in which that word is found.
MALONE. 9 — this distEMPERATURE,] Is, this perturbation of the elements. STEEVENS.
By distemperature, I imagine is meant, in this place, the per
An odorous chaplet of sweet summer buds Is, as in mockery, set: The spring, the summer, turbed state in which the king and queen had lived for some time past. MALONE.
Perhaps Mr. Malone has truly explained the force of the word in question. So, in Romeo and Juliet : “ Thou art up-rous'd by some distemperature.”
Steevens. · Fall in the fresh LAP of the crimson rose ;] To have “ in the lap of June,” is an expression used in Northward Hoe, 1607, and Shakspeare himself in Coriolanus, talks of the “ secrated snow that lies on Dian's lap: and Spenser in his Fairy Queen, b. ii. c. ii, has : “ And fills with flow'rs fair Flora's painted lap."
STEEvens. This thought is elegantly expressed by Goldsmith in his Traveller: “And winter lingering chills the lap of May.".
M. Mason. 2 – Hyems' chiN,) Dr. Grey, not inelegantly, conjectures, that the poet wrote:
on old Hyems' chill and icy crown. It is not indeed easy to discover how a chaplet can be placed on the chin. STEEVENS.
I believe this peculiar image of Hyem's chin must have come from Virgil, (Æneid iv. 253,) through the medium of the translation of the day;
tum flumina mento “ Precipitant senis, et glacie riget horrida barba." S. W. Thus translated by Phaer, 1561: “ And from his hoary beard adowne, “ The streames of waters fall; with yce and frost his face doth
frowne." This singular image was, I believe, suggested to our poet by Golding's translation of Ovid, book ii. :
“ And lastly, quaking for the colde, stood Winter all forlorne, “ With rugged head as white as dove, and garments all to torne, “ Forladen with the isycles, that dangled up and downe Upon his gray and hoarie beard, and snowie frozen crown."
Malone. I should rather be for thin, i. e. thin-hair'd. Tyrwhitt. So, Cordelia, speaking of Lear :
to watch, poor perdu ! “ With this thin helm.” Again, in King Richard II. :