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31 -henchman.) Page of honour. This office was abolished by Queen Elizabeth.
32 At a fair vestal.] This is a compliment to Elizabeth, which was wisely enough paid by a poet to a living sovereign. When monarchs, however, have no longer the power to hurt, truth will resume its sacred throne. The political wisdom of this princess is still revered, for the best of reasons, because every act of her history proves her to have possessed it: but her beauty, her mercy, and her chastity, in spite even of Shakspeare, are “ like the baseless fabric of a vision," they “ leave not a rack behind."
33 Love-in-idleness.] Taylor, the water poet, quib. bling on the names of plants, mentions this flower,
“When passions are let loose, without a bridle, “ Then precious time is turn'd to love-in-idle.”
34 ~I am invisible.] I thought proper here to observe that, as Oberon and Puck his attendant, may be frequently observed to speak, when there is no mention of their entering; they are designed by the poet to be supposed on the stage during the greatest part of the remainder of the play; and to mix as they please, as spirits, with the other actors, and embroil the plot by their interposition, without being seen or heard but when to their own purpose.
35 -and wood within this wood;] wood is frantic, mad.
36 Come now a roundel;] a roundel, rondill, or roundelay, is a song beginning and ending with the same sentence.
Ferhaps roundel means rather a circular dance in which the parties hold hands.
37 Be it ounce-] The ounce is the tiger-cat.
38 0, take the sense, &c.] i. e.“ regard my speech with the same innocence as I meant it: in the conversation of those, who know they possess a mutual attachment, suspicion should not be permitted to enter.”
39 Speak of all loves,] of all loves is an adjuration more than once used by our author. So Merry Wives of Windsor, Act 2. Scene 8.
to send her your little page of all loves.” 40 Enter Quince, &c.] In the time of Shakspeare there were many companies of players, sometimes five at the same time contending for the favour of the public. Of these, some were undoubtedly very unskilful and very poor, and it is probable that the design of this scene was to ridicule their ignorance, and the odd expedients to which they might be driven by the want of proper decorations. Bottom was perhaps the head of a rival house, and is therefore honoured with an ass's head.
JOHNSON. 4 O Bottom thou art changed! what do I see on thee?] It is plain by Bottom's answer that Snout mentioned an ass's head. Therefore we should read,
Snout. O Bottom thou art changed! what do I see on thee? An ass's head!
JOHNSON, 42 The ousel-cock,] i.e. the cock black-bird.
43 —the fiery glow-worm's eyes.] I know not bow Shakspeare, who commonly derived his know
47 - all
ledge of nature from his own observation, happened to place the glow-worm's light in his eyes, which is only in his tail.
JOHNSON. 44 —nowl-] A head. Saxon.
45 – latch'd the Athenian's eyes.] Smeared over. Lecher, French, to lick or lacker, as the varnishers call it.
45 Extort a poor soul's patience.] Harass, torment.
yon fiery oes.]. O is used for circle. 48 Ay do perséver.] Persever was the ancient pronunciation of persevere.
49 -hindring knot grass-] It appears that knotgrass was anciently supposed to prevent the growth of any animal or child. So, in The Knight of the Burning Pestle.
“ Should they put him into a strait pair of gaskins, 'twere worse than knot-grass, he would never grow after it."
STEEVENS, 50 Thou shalt aby it,] i. e. pay dear for it.
si Jack shall have Jill, &c.] These three last lines are to be found among Heywood's Epigrams on three hundred proverbs.
52 —ncif.] i. e. fist.
53 —the female ivy-] The ivy is called female as needing the support of some tree—this tree in poetry is stiled its husband.
54 – of all these five the sense,] i.e. the five who lay asleep on the stage, viz. Demetrius, Lysander, Hermia, Helena, and Bottom.
55 so few'd, so sanded.] Flews are the large chaps of a deep-mouthed hound: and sanded means of a sandy colour, one true márk of a blood-hound.
56 - Saint Valentine is past.] Alluding to the old saying, that birds begin to couple on St. Valentine's day. 57 And I have found Demetrius like a Jewel,
Mine own, and not mine own.-) Hermia had observed that things appeared double to her. Helena replies, so methinks; and then subjoins, that Demetrius was like a jewel, her own and not her own. He is here, then, compared to something which had the property of appearing to be one thing when it was another. Not the property sure of a jewel: or, if you will, of none but a false one. We should read,
And I have found Demetrius like a Gemell,
From Gemellus, a twin. For Demetrius had that night acted two such different parts, that she could hardly think them played by the same Demetrius; but that there were twin Demetrius's, like the two Sosia's in the Farce. From Gemellus comes the French Gemeau or Jumeau, and in the feminine, Gemelle or Jumelle : So in Macon's translation of The Decameron of Boccace-Il avait trois filles plus agées que les masles, des quelles les deux qui etaient JUMELLES avaient quinze ans. Quatr. Jour. Nov.3.
This emendation is ingenious enough to deserve to be true.
JOHNSON. 58 I never may believe, &c.] These beautiful lines are in all the old editions thrown out of metre. They are very well restored by the later editors.
JOHNSON. 59 constancy.] Consistency; stability; certainty. 60 The thrice three Muses mourning for the death
Of learning, &c.- -] I do not know whether it has been before observed, that Shakspeare here, perhaps, alludes to Spencer's poem, entitled, The tears of the Muses, on the Neglect and Contempt of Learning. This piece first appeared, in quarto, with others, in 1591. The oldest edition of this play now known is dated 1600. If Spencer's poem be here intended, may we not presume that there is some earlier edition of this. But however, if the allusion be allowed, it seems to bring the play below 1591.
61 - keen and critical.] Critical means here criti. cizing, censuring.
62 Unless you can find sport in their intents.] Thus all the copies. But as I know not what it is to stretch and con an intent, I suspect a line to be lost.
JOHNSON 63 - the prologue is addrest.] i. e. ready.
64 - like a child on a recorder.] A recorder is a kind of flute. It is found in very many of the old plays.
65 Whereat, with blade, with I loody blamefulblade.) Mr. Upton righdy observes, that Shakspeare in this