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Quin. Marry, our play is―The most lamentable comedy, and most cruel death of Pyramus and Thisby.

Bot. A very good piece of work, I assure you, and a merry.5-Now, good Peter Quince, call forth your actors by the scroll: Masters, spread yourselves."

Quin. Answer, as I call you.-Nick Bottom, the weaver. Bot. Ready: Name what part I am for, and proceed. Quin. You, Nick Bottom, are set down for Pyramus. Bot. What is Pyramus? a lover, or a tyrant?

Quin. A lover, that kills himself most gallantly for love.

Bot. That will ask some tears in the true performing of it: If I do it, let the audience look to their eyes: I will move storms, I will condole in some measure." To the rest:-Yet my chief humour is for a tyrant: I could

Perhaps, however, only the particle a may be inserted by the printer, and Shakspeare wrote to point, i. e. to appoint. The word occurs in that sense, in a poem, by N. B. 1614, called I would and I would not, stanza iii:

"To point the captains every one their fight." Warner.

4 The most lamentable comedy, &c.] This is very probably a burlesque on the title page of Cambyses: "A lamentable Tragedie, mixed full of pleasant Mirth, containing, The Life of Cambises King of Percia," &c. By Thomas Preston, bl. 1. no date.

On the registers of the Stationers' company, however, appears "the boke of Pyramus and Thisbye," 1562. Perhaps Shakspeare copied some part of his interlude from it." Steevens.

A poem, entitled Pyramus and Thisbe, by D. Gale, was published in 4to. in 1597; but this, I believe, was posterior to the Midsummer Night's Dream. Malone.

5 A very good piece of work, and a merry.] This is designed as a ridicule on the titles of our ancient moralities and interludes. Thus Skelton's Magnificence is called "a goodly interlude and a mery." Steevens.

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6 spread yourselves.] i. e. stand separately, not in a group, but so that you may be distinctly seen, and called over. Steevens. I will condole in some measure,] When we use this verb at present, we put with before the person for whose misfortune we profess concern. Anciently, it seems to have been employed without it. So, in A Pennyworth of good Counsell, an ancient ballad:

"Thus to the wall

"I may condole."

Again, in Three Merry Coblers, another old song:

"Poor weather beaten soles,

"Whose case the body condoles," Steevens.

play Ercles rarely, or a part to tear a cat in, to make all split.9

"The raging rocks,
"With shivering shocks,1
"Shall break the locks
"Of prison-gates:

"And Phibbus' car

"Shall shine from far,

"And make and mar

"The foolish fates."

This was lofty!-Now name the rest of the players.— This is Ercles' vein, a tyrant's vein; a lover is more condoling.

Quin. Francis Flute, the bellows-mender.2

Flu. Here, Peter Quince.

Quin. You must take Thisby on you.

Flu. What is Thisby? a wandering knight?

Quin. It is the lady that Pyramus must love.

Flu. Nay, faith, let me not play a woman; I have a beard coming.

8 I could play Ercles rarely, or a part to tear a cat in,] In the old comedy of The Roaring Girl, 1611, there is a character, called Tear-cat, who says: "I am called, by those, who have seen my valour, Tear-cat." In an anonymous piece called Histriomastix, or The Player Whipt, 1610, in six acts, a parcel of soldiers drag a company of players on the stage, and the captain says: "Sirrah, this is you that would rend and tear a cat upon a stage," &c. Again, in The Isle of Gulls, a comedy, by J. Day, 1606; " I had rather hear two such jests, than a whole play of such Tear-cat thunderclaps." Steevens.

9 — to make all split.] This is to be connected with the previous part of the speech; not with the subsequent rhymes. It was the description of a bully. In the second act of The Scornful Lady, we meet with “two roaring boys of Rome, that made all split." Farmer.

I meet with the same expression in The Widow's Tears, by Chapman, 1612: "Her wit I must employ upon this business, to prepare my next encounter, but in such a fashion as shall make all split." Malone.

1 With shivering shocks,] The old copy reads-" And shivering," &c. The emendation is Dr. Farmer's.



the bellows-mender.] In Ben Jonson's Masque of Pan's Anniversary, &c. a man of the same profession is introduced. I have been told that a bellows-mender was one, who had the care of organs, regals, &c. Steevens.


Quin. That's all one; you shall play it in a mask, and you may speak as small as you will.3

Bot. An I may hide my face, let me play Thisby too: I'll speak in a monstrous little voice;―Thisne, Thisne, -Ah, Pyramus, my lover dear; thy Thisby dear! and lady dear!

Quin. No, no; you must play Pyramus; and, Flute, you Thisby.

Bot. Well, proceed.

Quin. Robin Starveling, the tailor.

Star. Here, Peter Quince.

Quin. Robin Starveling, you must play Thisby's mother.4-Tom Snout the tinker.

Snout. Here, Peter Quince.

Quin. You, Pyramus's father; myself, Thisby's father;-Snug, the joiner, you, the lion's part:—and, I hope, here is a play fitted.

3 as small, &c.] This passage shows how the want of women on the old stage was supplied. If they had not a young man, who could perform the part with a face that might pass for feminine, the character was acted in a mask, which was, at that time, a part of a lady's dress, so much in use, that it did not give any unusual appearance to the scene: and he that could modulate his voice in a female tone, might play the woman very successfully. It is observed, in Downes's Roscius Anglicanus, that Kynaston, one of these counterfeit heroines, moved the passions more strongly than the women that have since been brought upon the stage. Some of the catastrophes of the old comedies, which makes lovers marry the wrong women, are, by recollection of the common use of masks, brought nearer to probability. Johnson.

Dr. Johnson here seems to have quoted from memory. Downes does not speak of Kynaston's performance in such unqualified terms. His words are-"It has since been disputable among the judicious, whether any women that succeeded him. (Kynaston) so sensibly touched the audience as he." Reed.

4 you must play Thisby's mother.] There seems a double forgetfulness of our poet, in relation to the characters of this interlude. The father and mother of Thisby, and the father of Pyramus, are here mentioned, who do not appear at all in the interlude; but Wall and Moonshine are both employed in it, of whom there is not the least notice taken here. Theobald.

Theobald is wrong as to this last particular. The introduction of Wall and Moonshine was an after-thought, Sce Act III, sc. i. It may be observed, however, that no part of what is rehearsed is afterwards repeated, when the piece is acted before Theseus.


Snug. Have you the lion's part written? pray you, if it be, give it me, for I am slow of study.5

Quin. You may do it extempore, for it is nothing but roaring.

Bot. Let me play the lion too: I will roar, that I will do any man's heart good to hear me; I will roar, that I will make the duke say, Let him roar again, Let him roar again.

Quin. An you should do it too terribly, you would fright the duchess and the ladies, that they would shriek; and that were enough to hang us all.

All. That would hang us every mother's son.

Bot. I grant you, friends, if that you should fright the ladies out of their wits, they would have no more discretion but to hang us: but I will aggravate my voice so, that I will roar you as gently as any sucking dove; I will roar you an 'twere any nightingale."

Quin. You can play no part but Pyramus: for Pyramus is a sweet-faced man; a proper man, as one shall see in a summer's day: a most lovely, gentleman-like man; therefore you must needs play Pyramus.

Bot. Well, I will undertake it.

best to play it in?

Quin. Why, what you will.

What beard were I

Bot. I will discharge it in either your straw-coloured beard, your orange-tawny beard, your purple-in-grain beard, or your French-crown-colour beard, your perfect yellow.7


slow of study.] Study is still the cant term used in a theatre for getting any nonsense by rote. Hamlet asks the player if he can "study" a speech. Steevens.


an 'twere any nightingale.] An means as if. So, in Troilus and Cressida ::-" He will weep you, an 'twere a man born in April." Steevens.


•your perfect yellow.] Here Bottom again discovers a true genius for the stage, by his solicitude for propriety of dress, and his deliberation which beard to choose among many beards, all unnatural. Johnson.

So, in the old comedy of Ram Alley, 1611:

"What colour'd beard comes next by the window?

"A black man's, I think;

"I think, a red: for that is most in fashion."

This custom of wearing coloured beards, the reader will find

more amply explained in Measure for Measure, Act IV, sc. ii.


Quin. Some of your French crowns have no hair at all, and then you will play bare-faced.8-But, masters, here are your parts: and I am to entreat you, request you, and desire you, to con them by to-morrow night; and meet me in the palace wood, a mile without the town, by moon-light; there will we rehearse: for if we meet in the city, we shall be dog'd with company, and our devices known. In the mean time, I will draw a bill of properties, such as our play wants. I pray you, fail me not.

Bot. We will meet; and there we may rehearse more obscenely, and courageously. Take pains; be perfect; adieu.


Quin. At the duke's oak we meet.

Bot. Enough; Hold, or cut bow-strings.1 [Exeunt.

French crowns, &c.] That is, a head from which the hair has fallen, in one of the last stages of the lues venerea, called the corona veneris. To this our poet has too frequent allusions.


9 - properties,] Properties are whatever little articles are wanted in a play for the actors, according to their respective parts, dresses and scenes excepted. The person who delivers them out is, to this day, called the property-man. In The Bassingbourne Roll, 1511, we find " garnements and propyrtes." See Warton's History of English Poetry, Vol. III, p. 326. Again, in Albumazar, 1615:

"Furbo, our beards,

"Black patches for our eyes, and other properties." Again, in Westward-Hoe, 1607:

"I'll go make ready my rustical properties." Steevens. 1 At the duke's oak we meet.

Hold, or cut bow-strings.] This proverbial phrase came originally from the camp. When a rendezvous was appointed, · the militia soldiers would frequently make excuse for not keeping word, that their bow-strings were broke, i. e. their arms unserviceable. Hence when one would give another absolute assurance of meeting him, he would say, proverbially-hold or cut bow-strings-i. e. whether the bow-strings held or broke. For cut is used as a neuter, like the verb fret. As when we say, the string frets, the silk frets, for the passive, it is cut or fretted.


This interpretation is very ingenious, but somewhat disputable. The excuse, made by the militia soldiers, is a mere supposition, without proof; and it is well known that while bows were in use, no archer ever entered the field without a supply of strings in his pocket; whence originated the proverb, to have two strings

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