Imagens das páginas
[ocr errors][ocr errors]
[ocr errors]

a colcrcnt and symmetrical plot and a definite purposc; but, while it moves toward a final result of absolutc order, it presupposes intermediary progress through a rcalm of motley shapes and fantastic vision. Its per. sons arc crcatures of the fancy, and all cffort to make them solidly actual, to set them firmly upon the carth, and to accept them as rcalitics of com. mon lisc, is labor ill-bestowed.

The German Shakspercan commentator Ulrici-who commonly has an excess of thcory and errs by explaining too much-has made certain. obscrvations upon this comcdy which are cxceptionally heipful toward a clear view of Shaksperc's drift. “It is the comic vicw of things,” says this writer, " that forms the basis of the whole piece.

Not merely in particular cases do the maddest tricks of accident, as well as of human caprice, perversity, and folly, destroy cach other in turn, but, generally, the principal pursuits and provinces of life are made to parody and paralyze each other.

The particular modification of the general comic view, which results from this ironical parodying of all the domains of lisc, at once determines and gives expression to tlic special ground-idca which first reduces the whole into organic unity. Life is throughout regarded in the light of a midsummer night's dream. Lisc appears in travesty. . . The mind seems to have lost its sell. consciousness, while all the other faculties, such as sceling and fancy, wit and humor, arc allowed the fullest scope and license.

Gen. crally the characters are drawn in keeping with the pervading idea, with a few finc touches, and without depth of shade, in a vanishing chiaro. oscuro.

Every character is pervaded by and represents the general idea, that the individual, in and by himself, is as nothing, and without importance except as a moment in the development of the whole."

To body forth the form of things is, in this case, maniscstly, a difficult task : and yet the truc course is obvious. Actors who yield themselves to the spirit of whim, and drist along with it, using a delicate mcthod and avoiding insistence upon prosy rcalism, will succeed with this picce -provided, also, that their audience can bc fanciful, and can accept the performance, not as a comedy of ordinary life, but as a vision scen in a drcam. The play is full of intimations that this was Shaksperc's mood. Even Botlom, the consummate Power of unconscious humor, is at his height of significance in his moment of suprenie illusion : "I have had a drcam,“past the wit of man to say what drcam it was: Man is but an ass if he go about to expound this drcam. Mcthought I was—there is no man can tell what. Mcthought I was, and mcthought I had

But man is but a patched rool if lic will offer to say what mcthought I had. The eye of man hath not heard, the car of man hath not scen, man's hand is not able to taste, his tongue to conceivc, nor his hcart to report, what my dream was." The whole philosophy of the subject, comically stated,

[ocr errors]

is hcrc. A scrious statement of it is in the words of the poet Camp


“ Well may sleep present us fictions,

Since our waking moments tecm
With such fanciful convictions

As make life itself a drcam."


Various actors in the past-although“ A Midsummer Night's Dream" has not had grcat currency upon thc stage, at any pcriorl, whether in England or America-have laid a marked stress upon the character of Boltom. Samuel Phelps, upon the London stage, was cstcemod excellent in it. He acted the part in his own production of the Dream, at Sad. Icr's Wells, and he again acted it in 1870 at the Queen's Theatre, in Long Acrc-now demolished. On the American stage, William E. Burton was accounted wonderfully good in it. “As Mr. Burton renders thc character," says Richard Grant Whitc, "its traits arc brought out with a delicate and masterly hand; its humor is exquisite." And Mr. William L. Kocsc, in his carcful and very serviccable biography of Burton, makes equally cordial rcférence to this achievement of the grcat comedian : How striking it was in sustained individuality, and how fincly cxcmplificd was the potential vanity of Bottom! What pleased us greatly was the vein of engaging raillery which ran through the delivery of his speeches to the fairics." Burton produced the Dream at his own theatre, in 1854, withi such wcalth of finc scenery as in those days was accounted prodigious. The most notable impersonation of Bottom that has been given licrc since Burton's time was, probably, that of the late George L. Fox-already men. tioned in this prcface. Self-conceit, as the essence of the character, was thoroughly well understood and cxpressed by him. He wore thc ass's head, but hic did not know that he was wcaring it ; and when, afterward, the vaguc scnsc of it came upon him for an instant, hic put it by as somcthing inconceivable and intolerablc. His “Not a word of me !"-spoken to the other hard-handed men of Athens, after his return to them out of the enchanted "palace wood "-was, perhaps, his fincst single point. Certainly it expressed to the utmost the colossal self-love and swelling pomposity of this miracle of bland and opaque sapicnce. But Fox was stronger in pantomime than in a consistent character of sustained comedy. The essential need of acting, in a portrayal of this play, is whimsicalitybut it must be whimsicality cxalted by poctry.


[ocr errors]
[ocr errors][merged small][merged small][merged small][subsumed][subsumed][subsumed][subsumed][subsumed][subsumed]
[subsumed][subsumed][ocr errors][merged small]
[ocr errors]


Midsommer nights


Asithath beenesundry times pub-
lickely atted, by the Right bonoura.
ble, the Lord Chamberlaine his

Written by William Shakespeare.

[ocr errors]
[graphic][ocr errors][ocr errors][subsumed]

Imprinted at London, for Toomas Fisher, and are to be lowde ac bis choppe, at dsc Signe of the White Hart,

in Flecteforecte. 7600,

(The above is a facsimile of the title page of a reprint of the first Quarto

Edition of the play.)

« AnteriorContinuar »