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colouring, as compared with the “Tempest,” “ Cymbeline," and “Timon,” while the darker shades of profound earnestness which are spread over the whole, are in all probability belonging to the revision.
3. MIDSUMMER NIGHT'S DREAM.—THE TEMPEST.
The “Winter's Tale” forms, as it were, the transition to a couple of purely fantastic comedies. The “Midsummer-Night's Dream” and the “Tempesť" are intrinsically and extrinsically tales of marvel, and in both Shakspeare is indebted to his own invention for the materials*. At the first glance we are no doubt puzzled what to make, in an artistic and æsthetical point of view, of the strange aerial beings which revel before us in the “Midsummer-Night's Dream." Throughout there is such a wanton play of fancy and frolic; such cameleon-like succession of tricks and complicated cross-purpose, that at the first sight we are disposed to deny that it can possess any rational meaning. Theseus and Hippolyta, the Queen of the Amazons, are about to celebrate their nuptials ; but with the proper action of the piece they have nothing to do. Then we have the loves of two noble Athenian youthis and maidens, whose happy union is hindered by the whim of a cross old father and their own caprice. In the midst of all, Oberon and Titania, in ill-humour and jealous bickering, pursue their own designs, or cross with their wanton tricks the wise plans of poor mortals; and, lastly, a company of amateur players are pressed into the service with their burlesque follies and silliness, who exhibit a play within the play, having as much connexion with the rest as the several parts have with each other. Such are the rare and heterogeneous elements of the piece, which at once give rise to the question whether it really satisfies the first requirement of art that the several parts should round themselves into an organic whole, and if so, what is the centre around which they all adjust themselves?
* Oberon and Titania had been lung known to the English through the old French romant of Huon and Auberon. The legend of the “ Love Potion” is also ancient. But it is not in these details that the subject matter and the invention of “ Midsummer-Night's Dream” consists. Of the “Tempest,” Tieck (Deutscher Theater, p. 22) conjectures that it was based on an older English piece, of which, however, no trace is discoverable, and J. Ayrer's piece of “The Fair Sidea " is not an adequate support for so bare an hypothesis.
Now it is the comic view of things itself that forms the basis of the whole piece. Its presence may be traced clearly and distinctly. Not merely in particular cases do the maddest tricks of accident, as well as of human caprice, perversity, and folly, destroy each other in turn, but generally the principal pursuits and provinces of life are made to parody and paralyze each other. It is this last particular that distinguishes the “Midsummer-Night's Dream” from all other comedies soever. Theseus and Hippolyta represent the grand heroic and historically important aspect of human life. But instead of maintaining the high dignity and exalted grandeur of history, they come down to a level with the common, every-day sort of folk; while, by seeming to exist for no other purpose than to marry with suitable pomp and splendour, they form with agreeable irony a merry parody on their own heroic importance. The Carpenter, Joiner, Weaver, Bellows-mender, and Tinker, present a merry contrast to the highest ranks in the lowest and vulgarest region, the very prose of every-day life. But they, too, instead of remaining in their own true station, wherein they at once command respect, worm themselves into the higher domain of tragedy and poetry, and render it as well as themselves ridiculous. Between the two extremes stand the lovers, who belong to the middle ranks of life. But instead of behaving agrecably to their station, and regarding life in its plain and sober aspect, they lose themselves in the fantastic humours of a capricious passion, and thereby parody themselves and the class to which they belong. Lastly, the fairy prince, with his interposition in the action, represents that higher power which guides human life with an invisible thread. But even this superintending power is not depicted in its true god-like grandeur and elevation, but, like all the other parties of the piece, is carried away by the same torrent of irony, and either appears as the nimble, frolicsome play of the personified powers of nature, or parodies itself, so far as it is subject to the universal caprice of chance and to its own waywardness; as is distinctly indicated by Titania's passion for the ass-headed Weaver.
It is on this basis of reciprocal parody that the different and heterogeneous groups first coalesce into unity. From it they all derive the same characteristic tendency. The play of the mechanics, which, at its close, so gaily ridicules the dramatic art, and thereby also the very piece, which pursues every thing with its unsparing irony, carries the parodical tendency to its utmost limit, and gives to the whole its point. But even an external bond is not wanting to combine the several parts, which, although but slight and loose, is nevertheless dexterously woven into all the parts. The marriage festival of Theseus and Hippolyta surrounds the whole picture as with a splendid frame of gold. Within it the sports and gambols of the elves and fairies, crossing and re
rossing the story of the lovers, and the labours of the theatrical artizans, connect together these two different groups, while the blessings which at the end of the piece they bestow by their presence at the nuptial festival upon the house and lineage of Theseus, give reason and dignity to the part which they have been playing throughout.
The particular modification of the general comic view which results from this ironical parodying of all the domains of life, at once determines and gives expression to the special ground-idea, which first reduces the whole into organic unity. Life is throughout regarded in the light of a “Midsummer-Night's Dream.” With the rapidity of wit the merry piece passes like a dream over our minds; the most rare and motley elements, and the most fantastic shapes, are blended together as in a vision of the night, and form a whole, highly wonderful, both in form and composition. Dreamlike does the play within the play hold up its distorting mirror, while a shadow of reason comments upon its own visionary creations, and half-doubting, half-believing their reality, at one moment opposes, and at the next is hurried along by the light gambol which frolics before it in a magic light and darkness.
To look upon life as a dream is no new idea in poetry. In the ideal and poetical philosophy of Plato, it is represented in this light, where he supposes the soul of man to possess an obscure memory of an earlier and truer sphere of existence, out of which it spins in this life a motley web of truth and falsehood. Calderon, too, has treated the same idea in a serious but not properly tragic drama. To treat it seriously, however, is obviously a mistake in art. For, in sober truth, human life is no dream, nor was it in truth regarded as such by Plato. It is only in a one-sided mode of view (which even as such required to be dialectically refuted) that it appears so; it is merely as one moment in the whole, as one of many aspects of life, that there is a truth in its dreaminess. In dreams, indeed, all the powers of the mind and soul operate in their usual way, and in them, as well as in waking reality, a single faculty at different times maintains a certain ascendancy over the others; so that we may distinguish between dreams of sense, feeling, understanding, or intellect. In a dream, however, that selfconsciousness which centres in all the mental faculties, and assigns to them their intrinsic and relative value, is withdrawn from its right place, as the central and gravitating point, and is merged into some of the other faculties, which, however, rightly considered, are but its members or servants. This accounts for the want of connection in dreams: they are without order or reason, and all is fluctuating and confused. Moreover, they proceed entirely from the subjectivity of the mind forcibly isolated from the objective and external world, which does not yield to nor adopt the outward reality, so as to modify and be modified by it, but treats the objects of its perceptions as if they were its own reflex and subjective presentations. It is on this account that a dream appears to us a mere cheat and illusion, which at once vanishes and disappears before the solid reality of the waking understanding. So far, then, as this life subsists only to terminate in a higher existence, and as, consequently, it possesses no true substance and reality in this world, where it cannot fulfil its destination completely and independently, and cannot attain to its proper end except in a future state, the present life does appear, in comparison with the latter, as unsubstantial, unreal, and transitory as a dream. But, on the other hand, it is no dream when considered as the beginning of a future state of existence, which is to issue from it like the moth from the chrysalis ; for, as a transition to the future, it must already possess within itself, and to a certain extent be fulfilling, its vocation; as the reality and substance of the future perfection are already contained in a state of development within the existing germ, the future ceases in consequence to be such absolutely. If, however, the poet would,
notwithstanding, represent life as a dream, he cannot do so, legitimately, except within the limits of the comic view, which even as such dialectically destroys the one-sided error of its own representation, and thereby brings to light the perfect truth.
Because, then, Shakspeare has regarded human life in this play as a dream, he is right in denying to it both reason and order. In conformity with such a view, the mind seems to have lost its self-consciousness, while all the other faculties, such as feeling and fancy, wit and humour, are allowed the fullest scope and license. With the withdrawal of mental order and reason, the intrinsic connection of the outer world, and consequently its truth and reality also, are overthrown. Life appears in travestie; the most ill-assorted elements, the oddest shapes and events which mock reality, dance and whirl about in the strangest confusion. The whole appears a cheat and delusion, which flits before us without form or substance. At last, however, the dialectic of irony which reigns within the comic view assorts the heterogeneous elements; the strange and wonderful creations vanish and dissolve into the ordinary forms of reality: order is finally restored, and out of the entangled web, right and reason result.
But Shakspeare does not call his piece a dream merely; it is a Midsummer Night's Dream. This closer determination of the title indicates, what indeed its whole structure loudly bespeaks, that we are not to expect a sad and gloomy vision of a dreary and benumbing winter's night; but such motley, cheerful, and aerial creations as the mind might call before it on some bright meditative and suggestive summer's night-on the eve, for instance, of a festival of St. John, on which probably the piece was first acted.
It must be obvious that gravity and depth of character, or fulness and consistency of delineation, would be out of place in a poem of this kind. It would be the grossest æsthetical mistake to look for completeness or accuracy of drawing in what is of necessity a light sketch. Generally the characters are drawn, in keeping with the pervading idea, with a few fine touches, and without depth of shade in a vanishing chiaro-oscuro. All are equally full of feeling and fancy, conceit and humour ; some are light and trifling, some sentimental dreamers, or, like Bottom and his companions, replete with amusing absurdities. The action in like manner con