C.L. Barber, Shakespeare's Festive Comedy (1959) Chapter One: Introduction: The Saturnalian Pattern; Chapter Two: Holiday Custom and Entertainment; Chapter Three: Misrule as Comedy; Comedy as Misrule; Chapter Ten:  Testing Courtesy and Humanity in Twelfth Night



·         The Saturnalian Pattern

o   Aristophanic; festive structure; vice, fools and holiday; "Merry England

·         Through Release to Clarification

o   Method: Events shape real people into holiday characters; invocation and abuse in Aristophanes; Freud on inhibition and release; Archbishop Grindal’s complaint; clarification: reconnection with nature; kill-joys as butts; satire vs. saturnalia; idealism mocked too; clarification about love; holiday’s temporary license; ‘present mirth hath present laughter’

·         Shakespeare's Route to Festive  Comedy

o   folk culture: still in the blood but no longer in the brain; Sly  in The Taming of The Shrew  is this "a Christmas gambold or a tumbling trick."?  "it is more pleasing stuff ... a kind of history."; clowning and burlesque; Jack Cade’s rebellion; Falstaff:  unending holiday: a racket; from ritual to history and professional theatre



·         The May Game

o   Festival Decline among Urban Puritans; Court Observance of Holiday; C. R. Baskervill modern  survey  of  the range of native custom

·         The Lord of Misrule

o   King of the Bean;  Holinshed on Christmas; the Feast of Fools ; farced protocol; Sir Thomas Urquhart’s Disdain;  Bacchus, prince of tavern mates;  Stubbes on “all the wildheads of the parish”; procession to the churchyard; selling my Lord of Misrule's badges; the morris dance; group dancing; Jack Cade In I Henry VI; abuse for a craven or a kill-joy;

·         Aristocratic Entertainment

o   Chambers on the Queen’s Progress; entertainments reflect the popular tradition of seasonal holidays; Leicester's garden at Kenilworth, during the famous entertainment of 1575; mythological and pastoral materials; George Kirbye from The Triumphes  of Oriana  (I601) when music crept by upon the waters of a garden lake; Peele's Arraignment of Paris (1584), where the gift of the apple to the queen resolves the jealous conflict previously  depicted  between  the rival  goddesses;  Elizabeth, her magic presence; mixing classical myth with local folklore; Julia in Two Gents, disguised as a page, she tells how she was chosen to play the woman's part; the Flora who gaily leads  a  morris  described  in  one  of  Morley's  madrigals; Laneham on the Bride-ale; Shakespeare’s use of  the incongruity between fact and fiction, and the fun of quick transitions between the two:



·         Introduction:

o   Blurring the distinctions between life and art: the tendency for Elizabethan  comedy  to be a  saturnalia, rather than to represent saturnalian experience; Aristophanic  Old Comedy: Talboys Dymoke and fellows lampoon the  avaricious  Earl of  Lincoln in  "The Death  of  the Lord  of  Kyme" on  the  "May­ pole  green" before  Sir Edward's  house (from Star Chamber testimony)

o    A direct development of comedy out of festivity, such as may  have  happened  in  Greece,  was  prevented  in  Elizabethan England by the existence of an already developed dramatic literature-- and  by  the whole moral superstructure  of Elizabethan society. When the issue was put to the test, license for festive abuse was never granted by Elizabethan officials.


·         License  and Lese Majesty in Lincolnshire

o   Disruption: When  majesty  in lords is dangerous  to  meddle  with, to  act  "My Lord  of  Misrule" or be created one of  his retainers says "We are as good as Lords" and  at  the  same  time,  "Lords  are  no  better  than  we." ; John Taylor the water-poet describes  London  apprentices  rioting  on Shrove Tuesday; “Tim Tatters, a most valiant villain…”

o   The custom of misrule obviously provided a whirligig that could catch up simmering antagonisms and swing them into the open. The Earl of Lincoln's almost insane avarice and inhumanity were repeatedly a problem to the Privy Council and a plague to his neighborhood.

o   Sir Arthur  Georges, in a letter written to Sir Robert  Cecil in 1600:His wickedness, misery, craft, repugnance to all humanity, and perfidious mind  is not  among the heathens  to be matched.”

o   Sir Edward's younger brother Talboys, who  lived  in  the  Dymoke  household,  was  just  the  sort of free-wheeling wildhead to come  into  collision  with  the  Earl.   "Commend  me, sweetheart,  to  My Lord  of  Lincoln...and tell him that he is an ass and a fool ... Is he my uncle and hath no more wit?"…

o   Summer of 1601: the Earl’s complaint  to the Star Chamber about these “disgraceful, false, and intolerable slanders, reproaches, scandalous words, libels, and irreligious profanations”

o   Star Chamber testimony: "some of  the company  had reeds tied  together  like spears, with a painted paper off the tops  of them, and one  of  them  had  a drum and another a  flag." They "did march on horseback two and two together through the streets ... to one Miles his house, who kept an alehouse" They had a drum and flag, so … to make a goodly amount of noise… There was indignant denial of their having declared that "they had drunk the town of Coningsby ... dry"…

o   When the Earl happened by, he was foolish enough to undertake to face down a mummery  Lord. They “answered with great oaths that they had a Lord as good as he [the Lord of Misrule], and … cried aloud, 'Strike up drums!  Strike up drums!” The Earl's henchman Pigott tried to intervene… a "heavy, corpulent man"…

o   Then, on the last Sunday in August, Talboys Dymoke "did frame and make a stage play to be played in for sport and merriment at the setting up of a Maypole in South Kyme"… "Talboys Dymoke… did counterfeit the person of  (the Earl) and his speeches and gesture,  and  then… fetched away by ... Roger Bayard, who acted ... the Devil... wh did declare his last will and testament and ... did bequeath his wooden dagger to ... the Earl of Lincoln, [followed by a dirge [a ragman’s roll] sung by Talboys Dymoke ... and other the ... actors ... wherein they expressed by name most of the known lewd and licentious women and  after every of their names, ora pro nobis." 

o   The defense of the Dymoke party was that the play was traditional, a part of the games, with no allusions to the Earl. Dymoke "of himself termed (it) the Death  of  the [Summer] Lord of  Kyme.

o   Henry  Machyn’s diary entry on a London procession marking the death of the Lord of Misrule.    

o   Talboysmock funeral sermon: John Cradock the elder ... in frown of religion, and the profession thereof, being attired in a minister's gown and having a corner cap on his head, and a book in his hand opened, did ... in a pulpit made for that purpose, deliver and utter a profane and irreligious prayer

o   "the book of Mab"  includes  a merry  tale  that  fits  the  holiday  mood  of  rebuking  niggardliness and, broadly, the proposition  that knaves are honest men:  the Boy who uses magic to triumph  over  his  begrudging  Stepmother  and  her  ally  the  Friar, thanks  to the magic  of  a kind  stranger  with  whom  he shares  his food;  by  the  magic,  it  happens  that  whenever   the  Stepmother glares at the Boy, she involuntarily  and thunderously  breaks wind; moreover,  whenever  the  Boy  plays  on  a magic  pipe,  everybody, however  malicious,  has  to  dance

o   posting of a bill of defiance by Talboys Dymoke

o   1610 the Star Chamber handed down a judgment in Lincoln's favor: whipping, public humiliations, ruinous fines and impressment into the Fleet: typical  discontinuity between  what  would  be  tolerated  in the  festive  liberties  of  settled  local  groups  who  did  not  need  to fear mirth, and what would be made of these same liberties if they came to be brought before the highly moral royal council or before a  court: constant  vigilance  was needed  to  cope  with  things  done  "in  frown  of  religion"  and  in contempt   of   "respective   and   due   observance   of   the   nobles."

o   In  1564,  a group   of   ardently   Protestant   Cambridge   men,   disappointed   in their  hope  of  performing  a satire before  Elizabeth  as part  of  the festivities  of  her  Cambridge  visit,  staged a lampoon of the mass. She was outraged and left the hall. Earlier in her reign, though, Elizabeth had sanctioned for the first masque of her reign, on Twelfth Night, 1559, a masquerade of crows, asses, and wolves as cardinals, bishops, and abbots.  But 1559 was, within limits, a revolutionary moment, and saturnalia, within limits, could serve it. Thereafter… the precarious religious settlement made religion an area where the authorities were particularly vigilant to exclude temporary, festive revolutions for fear that they might lead on to permanent revolutionary consequences.

·         The May Game of Martin Marprelate

o   Dover Wilson: the gifted Puritan satirist who masqueraded as Martin Marprelate  used  a  humorous  style which was "that of the stage monologue ... , with asides to the audience and a variety of 'patter' in the form of puns, ejaculations and references to current events and persons of popular  rumor”

o   Francis Bacon, writing in the year of the controversy, deplored "this immodest and deformed manner of writing lately entertained, whereby matters of religion are handled in the style of the stage."

o   Pasquill of England: mock knighting of boon companions; Opponents are sometimes spoken of-- or to-- as though they were a Vice or clown, or other stock figure of the stage or the games; Martin on the stage, probably as the subject for jigs or other brief afterpieces: "to make a May game" of somebody implies that one need only bring an antagonist  into the field  of  force of  May games to make  him ridiculous.

o   Pamphlet: The May game of Martinism:  Martin himself is the Maid Marian,  trimly  dressed up  in a cast gown, and a kercher of Dame Lawson's, his face handsomely muffied  with a diaper­ napkin to cover his beard, and a great nosegay in his  hand, of the principalest flowers I could gather out of all his works”… the wooing of a bearded Maid Marian

o   Gabriel Harvey: “the bishops have descended to Martin's level”… Pasquill: “the Vetus Comoedia began to prick him at London  in the right vein, when she brought forth Divinity with a scratched face” ala Aristophanes' Peace: "she hath been so long in the country" seems to imply that the sort of drastic ad hominem ridicule practiced on Martin had come to be confined to the frank country world

o   But in­stead of welcoming the players' help against the government's Puritan opponent, the Master of the Revels arranged for Burghley to permit the stage's enemy, the Lord Mayor, to prohibit all theatrical exhibitions.

    • The Aristophanic impulse, when directly expressed, ran head on into official prohibition. To find expression, saturnalia had to shift from symbolic action towards symbolic action, from abuse directed from the stage at the world to abuse directed by one stage figure at another.

Chapter 6: May Games and Metamorphosis on a Misdsummer Night

Chapter 10: Testing Courtesy and Humanity in Twelfth Night

·         Introduction:

o   First Performance: Don Virginio Orsino's account; John Manningham’s diary account of the Middle Temple's feast on February 2, 1602; Source: Rich's Apolonius and Silla; language as gesture

·         “A most extracting frenzy”  

o   Not only is Malvolio nearly driven mad, but all the others approach that frenzied state due to mistaken identities; Olivia’s madness; The farcical challenge and “fight” between Viola and Sir Andrew; Sebastian and Olivia; Orsino’s fury

o   The play’s action realizes dynamically general distinctions and tendencies in life: the difference between men and women, Olivia's infatuation with Cesario-Viola; Sebastian’s manly reflex: nature to her bias drew; Antonio and Sebastian’s ardent friendship; Orsino and Cesario’s love ; patience on a monument;

·         Liberty Testing Courtesy

o   Viola’s talent: courtesy; Object lessons in lack of courtesy: Sir Andrew, the would-be-reveller who is comically inadequate; Sir Toby is the sort of kinsman who would take the lead at such Christmas feasts as Sir Edward Dymoke patronized in Lincolnshire; Music in Twelfth Night: the "old and antique song" crystallizes the play's central feeling for freedom in heritage and community; the taut, restless, elegant court, where people speak a nervous verse, and the free-wheeling household of Olivia, where people live in an easy-going prose: Maria: a function of the life of "the house"; Feste chiefly sings and begs-- courtly occupations-- and radiate in his songs and banter a feeling of liberty based on accepting disillusion. "What's to come is still unsure ... Youth's a stuff will not endure"

o   Viola commands effortlessly, when there is occasion, Shakespeare's mature poetic power vs. Malvolio’s puffed up pretension: Malvolio has been called a satirical portrait of the Puritan spirit, and there is some truth in the notion. But he is not hostile to holiday because he is a Puritan; he is like a Puritan because he is hostile to holiday; He is a man of business, and, it is passingly suggested, a hard one; he is or would like to be a rising man, and to rise he uses sobriety and morality.

·         Outside the Garden Gate

o   Twelfth Night and other problem plays: Troilus and Cressida; Measure for Measure and All's Well That Ends Well; the fool in Twelfth Night has been over the garden wall into some such world as the Vienna of Measure for Measure; Feste’s final song; compare to Hamlet;






Messenger. Your honour's players, hearing your amendment, Are come to play a pleasant comedy ...
Beggar . ... Is not a comonty a Christmas gambold or a tumbling trick?
Lady.  No, my good lord; it is more pleasing stuff.
Beggar.  What, household stuff?
Lady. It is a kind of history.
Beggar.  Well, we'll see it. Come, madam wife, sit by my side and let the world slip. We shall ne'er be younger.

-Induction to The Taming of the Shrew


Much comedy is festive-- all comedy, if the word festive is pressed far enough. But much of Shakespeare's comedy is festive in a quite special way which distinguishes it from the art of most of his con­temporaries and successors. The part of his work which I shall be dealing with in this book, the merry  comedy  written  up  to the period of Hamlet and the problem plays, is of course enormously rich and wide in range; each new play, each new scene, does some­thing fresh, explores new possibilities. But the whole body of this happy comic art is distinguished by the use it makes of forms for experience which can be termed saturnalian. Once Shakespeare finds his own distinctive style, he is more Aristophanic than any other  great  English  comic  dramatist,  despite  the  fact  that  the accepted educated models and theories when he started to write were Terentian and Plautine. The Old Comedy cast of his work results from his participation in native saturnalian traditions of the popular theater and the popular holidays.  Not that he "wanted art"-- including Terentian art.  But he  used  the  resources  of  a sophisticated theater to express, in his idyllic comedies and in his clowns’ 





ironic  misrule,  the experience  of  moving  to  humorous understanding through saturnalian release. "Festive" is usually an adjective for an atmosphere, and the word describes the atmosphere of Shakespeare's comedy from Love's Labour's Lost and A Midsummer Night's Dream through Henry  IV and Twelfth Night. But in exploring this work, "festive" can also be a term for structure. I shall be trying to describe structure to get at the way this comedy organizes experience. The saturnalian pattern appears in many variations, all of which involve inversion, statement and counterstatement, and a basic movement which can be summarized in the formula, through release to clarification.


So much of the action in this comedy is random when looked at as intrigue, so many  of  the persons  are neutral  when  regarded  as character,  so  much  of  the  wit  is  inapplicable  when  assessed  as satire, that critics too often have fallen back on mere exclamations about  poetry  and  mood.  The criticism of the nineteenth century and after was particularly helpless, concerned as it was chiefly with character and story and moral quality. Recent  criticism, concerned in a variety  of  ways  with  structure, has  had  much  more  to  say. No figure in the carpet is the carpet. There is in the pointing out of patterns something that is opposed to life and art, an ungracious­ness which artists in particular feel and resent. Readers feel it too, even critics: for every new moment, every new line or touch, is a triumph  of  opportunism,  something  snatched  in  from  life beyond expectation  and  made  design  beyond  design.  And yet the  fact remains that it is as we see the design that we see design outdone and brought alive.


O body swayed to music, O brightening glance,
How can we know the dancer from the dance? (Yeats)


To get at the form and meaning of the plays, which is my first and last interest, I have been led into an exploration of the way the social form of Elizabethan holidays contributed to the dramatic form of festive comedy. To relate this drama to holiday has proved to be the most effective way to describe its character. And this historical interplay between social and artistic form has an interest of its own: we can see here, with more clarity of outline and detail than is usually possible,  how  art  develops 


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underlying configurations in the social life of  a  culture.  The saturnalian pattern came to Shakespeare from many sources, both in social and artistic tradition. It appeared in the theatrical institution of clowning: the clown or Vice, when Shakespeare started to write, was a recognized anarchist who made aberration obvious by carrying release to absurd extremes. The cult of fools and folly, half social and half literary, embodied a similar polarization of experience. One could formulate the saturnalian pattern effectively by referring first  to these traditions: Shakespeare's first completely masterful comic scenes were written for the clowns.1 But the festival occasion provides the clearest paradigm. It can illuminate not only those comedies where Shakespeare drew largely and directly on holiday motifs, like Love's Labour's Lost, A Midsummer Night's Dream, and Twelfth Night, but also plays where there is relatively little direct use of  holiday, notably As  You Like It and Henry  IV.


We can get hold of the spirit of Elizabethan  holidays  because they had  form.  "Merry England" was merry chiefly by  virtue  of its community  observances of periodic sports and feast days. Mirth took form in morris-dances, sword-dances, wassailings, mock ceremonies  of  summer  kings  and  queens  and  of  lords  of  misrule, mummings,  disguisings,   masques-- and   a  bewildering   variety   of sports,  games,   shows,  and   pageants   improvised   on   traditional models. Such pastimes were a regular part of the celebration  of  a marriage,  of  the  village  wassail  or  wake,  of  Candlemas,  Shrove Tuesday,   Hocktide,   May   Day,   Whitsuntide,   Midsummer   Eve, Harvest-home,  Halloween,  and  the twelve  days  of  the  Christmas season ending with Twelfth Night. Custom prescribed, more or less definitely, some  ways  of  making  merry  at  each  occasion.  The seasonal feasts were not, as now, rare curiosities to be observed by folklorists in remote villages, but landmarks  framing  the


1 Miss Enid Welsford includes perceptive treatments of Shakespeare's 'fools in relation to tradition in her fine study, The Fool: His Social and Literary History (New York, n.d. [r 93 5]). Professor  Willard  Farnham  characterizes  Shake­speare's grotesque or fool comedy in relation to Erasmus and More and the mediaeval feeling  for man's natural  imperfection  in  ''The Mediaeval  Comic  Spirit in the  English  Renaissance, Joseph  Quincy  A dams Memorial  Studies, ed. James

G. McManaway et al. (Washington,  D.C.,  1948),  pp.  429-439.  The  use  of mediaeval elements for comic counterstatement is described in C. L. Barber,  "The Use  of  Comedy  in As  You Like  It,''  PQ, XXI  (1942),  353-367, an early version

of Ch. 9 below.



cycle of the year, observed with varying degrees of  sophistication  by most elements in the society. Shakespeare's casual references to the holidays always assume that  his  audience  is  entirely  familiar with  them:


As fit as ten groats is for the hand of an attorney ... as a pancake for Shrove Tuesday, a morris for May Day, as the nail to his hole  ...'


A great many detailed connections between the holidays and the comedies will claim our attention later, but what is most important is the correspondence between the whole  festive  occasion and the whole comedy. The underlying movement of attitude and awareness is not adequately expressed by any one thing in the day or the play, but is the day, is the play. Here one cannot say how far analogies between social rituals and dramatic forms show an influence, and how far they reflect the fact that the holiday occasion and the comedy are parallel manifestations of the same pattern of culture, of a way that men can cope with their life.


Through Release  to Clarification


Release, in the idyllic comedies, is expressed by making the whole experience  of  the play  like that  of  a revel.


Come, woo me, woo me! for now I am in a holiday humour, and like enough to consent. (A.Y.L. IV.i.68-69)


Such holiday humor is often abetted by directly staging pastimes, dances, songs, masques, plays extempore, etc. But the fundamental method  is  to  shape  the  loose  narrative  so  that  "events"  put  its persons  in  the position  of  festive celebrants:  if  they  do not  seek holiday  it  happens  to  them.  A  tyrant  duke  forces  Rosalind  into disguise;  but  her  mock  wooing  with  Orlando  amounts  to  a  dis­guising,  with  carnival  freedom  from  the  decorum  of  her  identity and  her  sex. The misrule  of  Sir Toby is  represented  as  personal idiosyncrasy, but it follows the pattern of  the Twelfth  Night occa­sion; the fighting match of Benedict and Beatrice, while appropriate to their


2 All's W. II.ii.22. Citations of Shakespeare are to The Complete Works, ed. George Lyman Kittredge (Boston, 1936). Abbreviations of titles  follow  the usage recommended by the Shakespeare Quarterly.


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special characters, suggests the customs  of  Easter  Smacks and Hocktide abuse between the sexes. Much of the poetry and wit, however it may be occasioned by events, works in the economy of the whole play to promote the effect of a merry occasion where Nature reigns.


F. M. Cornford, in The Origins of Attic Comedy, suggested that invocation and abuse were the basic gestures of a nature worship behind Aristophanes' union of poetry and railing. The two gestures were still practiced  in the "folly" of  Elizabethan  May­ game, harvest-home, or winter revel: invocation, for example, in the  manifold  spring  garlanding  customs,  ‘gathering  for  Robin Hood’; abuse, in the customary license to flout and fleer at what on other days commanded respect. The same double way of achieving release appears in Shakespeare's festive plays. There the poetry about the pleasures of nature and the naturalness of pleasure serves to evoke beneficent natural impulses; and much of the wit, mocking the good housewife Fortune from her wheel, acts to free the spirit as does the ritual abuse of hostile spirits. A saturnalian attitude, assumed by a clear-cut gesture toward liberty, brings mirth, an accession of wanton vitality. In the terms of Freud's analysis of wit, the energy normally occupied in maintaining inhibition is freed for celebration. The holidays in actual observance were built around the enjoyment of the vital pleasure of moments when nature and society are hospitable to life. In the summer, there was love in out-of-door idleness; in the winter, within-door warmth and food and drink. But the celebrants also got something for nothing from festive liberty-- the vitality normally locked up in awe and respect.


E.K. Chambers found among the visitation articles of  Archbishop Grindal  for the year I576 instructions  that  the bishops  determine


whether the ministers and  churchwardens  have  suffered  any lord of misrule or summer lords and ladies, or any disguised persons, or others, in Christmas or at May games, or any morris­ dancers, or  at any other times, to come unreverently into the church or churchyard, and there to dance, or play any unseemly parts, with scoffs, jests,  wanton gestures, or ribald talk ... .'



3              London,   1 9 I 4

4              The Mediaeval Stage (Oxford, 1903), I, r8r,  n,  I.




Shakespeare's gay comedy is like Aristophanes’ because its expression of life is shaped  by the  form  of  feeling  of  such  saturnalian occasions  as these.  The traditional  Christian culture  within  which such holidays were celebrated in the Renaissance  of  course gave a very  different  emphasis  and perspective  to Shakespeare's  art. But Dicaeopolis,  worsting  pompous  Lamachus  in  The Acharnians  by invoking the tangible benefits  of  Bacchus and Aphrodite,  acts the same festive part  as Sir Toby baffling  Malvolio's  visitation  by  an appeal to cakes and ale.


The clarification achieved by the festive comedies is concomitant to the release they dramatize: a heightened awareness of the relation between man and "nature"-- the nature celebrated on holiday. The process of translating festive experience into drama involved extending the sort of awareness traditionally associated with holiday, and also becoming conscious of holiday itself in a new way. The plays present a mockery of what is unnatural which gives scope and point to the sort of scoffs and jests shouted by dancers in the churchyard or in "the quaint mazes in the wanton green." And they include another, complementary mockery of what is merely natural, a humor which puts holiday in perspective with life as a whole.


The butts in the festive plays consistently exhibit their unnaturalness by being kill-joys.  On an  occasion  "full  of  warm  blood,  of mirth,"  they  are  too  preoccupied  with  perverse  satisfactions  like pride or greed  to "let the world slip" and join  the dance. Satirical comedy  tends  to  deal  with  relations  between  social  classes  and aberrations  in  movements  between  them.  Saturnalian comedy is satiric only incidentally; its clarification comes with movement between poles of restraint and release in everybody's experience. Figures like Malvolio and Shylock embody the sort of kill-joy qualities which  the "disguised persons" would  find in any of  Grindal's curates who  would  not  suffer them  to  enter  the  churchyard.  Craven or inadequate  people  appear, by  virtue  of  the  festive  orientation, as would-be revellers, comically  inadequate  to hear  the chimes at midnight.  Pleasure thus becomes the touchstone for judgment of what bars it or is incapable  of  it. And  though  in  Shakespeare the judgment   is  usually  responsible-- valid   we  feel  for  everyday  as well  as holiday-- it  is the  whirligig  of  impulse  that  tries  the  characters. Behind the laughter at the butts there is always a sense of solidarity about pleasure, a communion embracing the merrymakers in the play and the audience, who have gone on holiday in going to a comedy.





While perverse hostility to  pleasure  is a subject  for  aggressive festive abuse, high flown idealism is mocked too, by a benevolent ridicule which sees it as a not unnatural attempt to be more than natural. It is unfortunate that Shakespeare's gay plays have  come to be known as "the romantic comedies," for they almost always establish a humorous perspective about the vein of hyperbole they borrow from Renaissance romances. Wishful absolutes about love's finality, cultivated without reserve in conventional Arcadia, are made fun of by suggesting that love is not a matter of life  and death, but of springtime, the only pretty ring time. The lover's conviction that he will love "forever and a day" is seen as an illusion born of heady feeling, a symptom of the festive moment:


Say 'a day' without the 'ever.' No, no, Orlando! Men are April when they woo, December when they wed. Maids are May when they are maids, but the sky changes when  they are wives. (A.Y.L. IV.i.r46-r50)


This sort of  clarification  about love, a recognition  of  the seasons, of  nature's  part  in man, need  not  qualify  the intensity  of  feeling in the festive comedies: Rosalind when she says these lines is riding the  full  tide  of   her  passionate  gaiety.  Where  the  conventional romances  tried  to  express  intensity  by  elaborating  hyperbole  according to a pretty, pseudo-theological system, the comedies express the power  of  love as a compelling rhythm  in man and nature.  So the  term  "romantic  comedies"  is  misleading.  Shakespeare, to  be sure, does not always transform  his romantic plot  materials. In the Claudio-Hero  business  in  Much  Ado,  for  example,  the  borrowed plot involved negative behavior  on the basis of  romantic absolutes which was not changed to carry festive feeling. Normally, however, as in Twelfth Night, he radically  alters the emphasis  when  he employs  romantic  materials.  Events  which  in  his source  control  the mood,  and  are  drawn  out  to  exhibit  extremity  of  devotion,  producing  now  pathos,  now  anxiety,  now  sentiment,  are  felt  on  his stage,  in  the  rhythm  of  stage  time,  as incidents  controlled  by  a prevailing  mood  of  revel.  What was  sentimental  extremity  becomes impulsive  extravagance.  And  judgment,  not  committed  to systematic wishful distortion, can observe with Touchstone how




We  that  are true  lovers  run  into  strange  capers;  but  as  all  is mortal in nature, so is all nature in love mortal in folly.       (A.Y.L. II.iv.53-56)


To turn on passionate experience and identify it with the holiday moment, as Rosalind does in insisting that the sky will change, puts the moment in perspective with life as a whole. Holiday, for the Elizabethan sensibility, implied a contrast with "everyday," when "brightness falls from the air." Occasions like May day and the Winter Revels, with their cult of natural vitality, were maintained within a civilization whose daily view of life focused on the mortality implicit in vitality. The tolerant disillusion of Anglican or Catholic culture allowed nature to have its day. But the release of that one day was understood to be a temporary license, a "misrule" which implied rule, so that the acceptance of nature was qualified. Holiday affirmations in praise of folly were limited by the underlying assumption that the natural in man is only one part of him, the part that  will  fade.

"How that a life was but a flower" (A.Y.L. V.iii.29) was a two­ sided theme: it was usually a gesture preceding "And therefore take the present time"; but it could also lead to the recognition that


so,  from  hour to hour, we  ripe  and ripe,
And then, from hour to hour, we rot and rot. (A.Y.L. II.vii.26-27)


The second emphasis was implicit in the first; which attitude toward nature predominated depended, not on alternative "philosophies," but on where you were within a rhythm. And because the rhythm is recognized in the comedies, sentimental falsification is not necessary in expressing the ripening moment. It is indeed the present  mirth  and  laughter  of  the  festive  plays-- the  immediate experience  they  give  of  nature's  beneficence-- which  reconciles feeling, without recourse to sentimentality or cynicism, to the clarification conveyed about nature's limitations.



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Shakespeare's Route to Festive  Comedy


In drawing parallels between holiday and Shakespeare's comedy, it has been hard to avoid talking as though Shakespeare were a primitive who began with nothing but festival custom and invented a comedy to express it. Actually, of course, he started work with theatrical and literary resources already highly developed. This tradition was complex, and included folk themes and conventions along with the practice of classically trained innovators like Lyly, Kyd, and Marlowe. Shakespeare, though perfectly aware of unsophisticated forms like the morality and the jig, from the outset wrote plays which presented a narrative in three dimensions. In comedy, he began with cultivated models-- Plautus for The Comedy of Errors and literary romance for Two Gentlemen of Verona; he worked out a consistently festive pattern for his comedy only after these preliminary experiments.


In his third  early  comedy,  Love's  Labour's   Lost,  instead   of dramatizing a borrowed plot, he built his slight story around an elegant aristocratic entertainment. In doing so he worked out the holiday sequence of release and clarification which comes into its own in A Midsummer Night's Dream. This more serious play, his first comic masterpiece, has a crucial place in his development. To make a dramatic epithalamium, he expressed with full imaginative resonance the experience of the traditional summer holidays. He thus found his way back to a native festival tradition remarkably similar to that behind Aristophanes at the start of the literary tradition of comedy.  And in expressing the native holiday, he was in a position to use all the resources of a sophisticated dramatic art. So perfect an expression and understanding of folk culture was only possible in the moment when it was still in the blood but no longer in the brain.


Shakespeare never made another play from pastimes in the same direct fashion. But  the  pattern  for  feeling  and  awareness  which he derived from the holiday occasion in A Midsummer Night's Dream becomes the dominant mode of  organization in subsequent


5 Mr. Northrop Frye has formulated a similar view of  Shakespeare's  develop­ment in a brilliant, compressed summary of the whole  tradition  of  literary  com­edy and Shakespeare's relation to it, "The Argument of  Comedy,"  English  In­stitute  Essa'ys,   1948,  ed.  D.  A.  Robertson, Jr.  (New  York,  1949).




comedies until the period of the problem plays. The relation be­ tween his festive comedy and native folk games is amusingly rejected in the passage from The Taming of The Shrew which I have used as an epigraph. When the bemused tinker Sly is asked with mock ceremony whether he will hear a comedy to "frame your mind to mirth and merriment," his response reflects his ignorant notion that  a comedy  is some sort  of  holiday  game-- "a Christmas gambold or a tumbling trick." He is corrected with: "it is more pleasing stuff ... a kind of history." Shakespeare is neither primitive nor primitivist; he enjoys making game of the inadequacy of Sly's folk notions of entertainment. But folk attitudes and motifs are still present, as a matter of course, in the dramatist's cultivated work, so that even Sly is not entirely off the mark about comedy. Though it is a kind of history, it is the kind that frames the mind to mirth.  So it functions like a Christmas  gambol.  It often includes gambols, and even, in the case of As You Like It, a tumbling trick. Though Sly has never seen a comedy, his holiday mottoes show that he knows in what spirit to take it: "let the world slip"; "we shall ne'er be younger." Prince Hal, in his festive youth, "daff’d the world aside/ And bid it pass" (H.IV.  V.i.96). Feste sings that "Youth's a stuff will not endure" (Twel. II.iii.53).


The part  of  Shakespeare's  earliest  work  where  his  mature  patterns  of  comedy  first  appear  clearly  is, as  I  have  suggested,  the clowning. Although  he did not  find an  entirely  satisfactory  comic form  for the whole play until A  Midsummer  Night's  Dream, the clown's part is satisfactory from the outset. Here the theatrical  conventions  with  which  he  started  writing  already  provided  a  congenial  saturnalian  organization  of  experience,  and  Shakespeare  at once began working out its larger implications.  It was of  course a practice, going back beyond  The Second Shepherds'  Play, for the clowns to  present  a  burlesque  version  of  actions  performed  seriously  by  their  betters.  Wagner's  conjuring  in  Dr. Faustus  is  an obvious  example.  In the  drama  just   before   Shakespeare  began writing, there are a great many parallels  of  this  sort between  the low comedy and the main action.


6 William Empson discusses the effects achieved by such double plots in English Pastoral Poetry (New York, 1938 i originally printed with the better title, Some Versions of Pastoral, London, 1935), pp. 27-86. I am much indebted to Mr. Empson's work: festive comedy, as I discuss it here, is a "version of pastoral.''


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One suspects that they often resulted from the initiative of the clown performer; he was, as Sidney said, thrust in "by head and shoulders to play a part in majestical matters"-- and the handiest part to play was a low take-off of what the high people were doing. Though Sidney objected that the performances had "neither decency nor discretion," such burlesque, when properly controlled, had an artistic logic which Shakespeare was quick to develop.


At the simplest level, the clowns were foils, as one of the aristocrats remarks about the clown's show in Love's Labour's Lost:


'tis some policy

To have one show worse than the King's and his company. (L.L.L. V.ii.513-514)


But  burlesque  could  also  have  a positive  effect,  as a  vehicle  for expressing  aberrant impulse and thought. When the aberration was made  relevant  to  the  main  action,  clowning  could  provide  both release  for impulses  which  run  counter  to  decency  and  decorum, and the clarification  about limits which comes from going beyond the limit. Shakespeare used this  movement  from release  to clarification with masterful control in clown episodes as early as 2  Henry VI. The scenes of  the Jack  Cade  rebellion  in  that  history  are an astonishingly consistent expression of anarchy by clowning: the popular rising is presented throughout as a saturnalia, ignorantly undertaken in earnest; Cade's motto is: "then are we in order when we are most out of order" (IV.iii.199). In the early  plays,  the clown is usually represented as oblivious of what his burlesque implies. When he becomes the court fool, however, he can use his folly as a stalking horse, and his wit can express directly the function  of  his  role  as a  dramatized  commentary  on  the  rest  of  the action.


In creating  Falstaff,  Shakespeare fused the clown's part  with that of a festive celebrant, a Lord of Misrule, and worked out the saturnalian  implications  of  both  traditions  more  drastically  and more complexly  than anywhere else. If in the idyllic plays the humorous perspective can be described as looking past the reigning festive moment to the work-a-day world beyond, in I Henry IV, the relation of comic and serious action can be described by saying that holiday is balanced against everyday and




the doomsday of battle. The comedy expresses impulses and awareness inhibited by the urgency and decorum of political life, so that the comic and serious strains are contrapuntal, each conveying the ironies limiting the other. Then in 2 Henry IV Shakespeare confronts the anarchic potentialities of misrule when it seeks to become not a holiday extravagance but an everyday racket.


It might be logical to start where Shakespeare started, by considering first the festive elements present in the imitative comedies and the early clowns and in the literary and theatrical traditions of comedy into which he entered as an apprentice. Instead, because Shakespeare's development followed the route I have sketched, I start with three chapters dealing with the Elizabethan tradition of holiday and with two examples of holiday shows, then enter Shakespeare's work at Love's Labour's Lost, where he first makes use of festivity in a large way. To begin with the apprenticeship would involve saying over again a great deal that has been said before in order to separate out the festive elements with which I am properly concerned. It is important to recognize, however, here at the outset, that the order of my discussion brings out the social origins of the festive mode of comedy at the expense of literary and theatrical origins. It would be possible to start with festive affinities of the comic plots Shakespeare found at hand. One could go on to notice how Shakespeare tends to bring out this potential in the way he shapes his early comedies. And one could say a great deal about the way he uses his early clowns to extrapolate the follies of their masters, notably about Launce's romance with his dog Crab as a burlesque of the extravagant romantic postures of the two gentlemen of Verona.  Much of this "apprentice" work is wonderful. And it is wonderful what powers are in the comic machine itself, in the literary-theatrical resource for organizing experience which was there for the young Shakespeare to appropriate. But by looking first at the social resource of holiday customs, and then at the early masterpieces where he first fully uses this resource on the stage, we shall be able to bring into focus an influence from the life of his time which shaped his comic art profoundly.


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The sort of interpretation I have proposed in outline here does not center on the way the comedies imitate characteristics of actual men and manners; but this neglect of the social observation in the plays does not imply that the way they handle social materials is unimportant. Comedy is not, obviously enough, the same thing as ritual; if it were, it would not perform its function. To express the underlying rhythm his comedy had in common with holiday, Shakespeare did not simply stage mummings; he found in the social life of his time the stuff for "a kind of history." We can see in the Saint George plays how cryptic and arbitrary action derived from ritual becomes when it is merely a fossil remnant. In a self­-conscious culture, the heritage of culture is kept alive by art which makes it relevant as a mode of perception and expression. The artist gives the ritual pattern aesthetic actuality by discovering expressions of it in the fragmentary and incomplete gestures of daily life. He fulfills these gestures by making them moments in the complete action which is the art form. The form finds meaning in life.


This  process  of  translation  from  social  into  artistic  form  has great historical as well as  literary  interest.  Shakespeare's theater was taking over on a professional and everyday basis functions which until his time had largely been performed by amateurs on holiday. And he wrote at a moment when the educated part of society was modifying a ceremonial, ritualistic conception of human life to create a historical, psychological conception. His drama, indeed, was an important agency in this transformation:  it provided a "theater" where the failures of ceremony could be looked  at in a place apart and understood as history; it provided new ways of representing relations between language and action so as to express personality. In making drama out of rituals of state, Shakespeare makes clear their meaning as social and psychological conflict, as history. So too with the rituals of pleasure, of misrule, as against rule: his comedy presents holiday magic as imagination, games as expressive gestures. At high moments it brings into focus, as part of the play, the significance of the saturnalian form itself as a paradoxical human need, problem and resource.



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Chapter 2




I came once myself to a place, riding on a journey homeward from London, and I sent word overnight into the town that I would preach there in the morning because it was a holy day, and me thought it was an holy day's work. The church stood in my way, and I took my horse, and my company, and went thither. I thought I should have found a great company in the church, and when I came there, the church door was fast locked. I tarried there half an hour and more, at last the key was found and one of the parish comes to me and says: “Sir this is a busy day with us, we cannot hear you, it is Robin Hood's day. The parish are gone abroad to gather for Robin Hood. I pray you let them not.”   -- Bishop Hugh Latimer, Sixth Sermon before Edward VI


During Shakespeare's lifetime, England became conscious of holiday custom as it had not been before, in the very period when in many areas the keeping of holidays was on the decline.  Festivals which  worked  within  the  rhythm of an agricultural  calendar,  in village or market town, did not fit the way of  living of  the urban groups whose energies were  beginning  to find expression  through what Tawney has called the Puritan ethic. The Puritan  spokesmen who  attacked  the  holidays  looked  at  them  from  the  outside  as people had not had occasion to do before. The effect of the Reformation throughout the Elizabethan church was to discourage festive ceremonials along with ceremonies generally.  The traditional saturnalian customs were kept up in the unselfconscious regions of the countryside. But attitudes that meant one thing in the static, monolithic world of village and manor meant other things,  more complex and challenging,  when 




continued in  the  many-minded world of city and court. Under Elizabeth, the court circle kept high days without making an issue of them and enjoyed the elaboration of native customs in all sorts of neo-classical guises. Under James, courtiers and their literary spokesmen began to be militant in defending holiday, the king himself intervening to protect  the  popular pastimes from Puritan repression. In the Jacobean period the defense of holiday pleasures by a group whose everyday business was pleasure often became trivial and insincere. Shakespeare, coming up to London from a rich market town, growing up in the relatively unselfconscious 1570's and 80’s and writing his festive- plays in the decade of the 90's, when most of the major elements in English society enjoyed a moment of reconcilement, was perfectly situated to express both a countryman's participation  in  holiday and a city-man's consciousness of it.


The evidence about the Elizabethan  holidays  has been  thoroughly gathered and marshalled by responsible modern scholars. Renaissance accounts tend to be either cryptic or highly colored: those who take the customs for granted do not spell them out, while the fuller descriptions come from moralizing Puritans or pastoralizing poets. Some quotations, several of them very familiar, can convey what the popular holiday was like; then I shall indicate briefly how  aristocratic  entertainments  elaborated  and  supplemented the customary pastimes. C. R. Baskervill has two paragraphs which provide  a useful modern  survey  of  the range of native custom:


During  the  Middle  Ages  and  Renaissance  a  great  variety  of sports and pastimes were popular  with all classes. The occasion might be a simple gathering on the village  green  of  a summer afternoon  or in the  hall  on a winter  night.  It might  be  a mar­riage  feast,  a  harvest  supper,  or  a  local  wake  or  fair.  More likely it was one of the great festivals celebrated pretty generally throughout  Western  Europe, as those  of  Easter,  May, Whitsun tide,  Midsummer,  or  the  Christmas  season.  The nature  of  the festivities  depended  partly  on  the  occasion  celebrated,  so  that the  same  group  varied  its  pastimes  at Christmas,  May  Day, Midsummer, or Harvest. Often the chief feature was some modification of ancient pagan ritual, but even here the different parishes had their special customs....


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Of course such revelry was often of the most informal sort; but the general tendency, especially on the great festival occasions, was to organize it under leaders, usually a lord and a lady or a king and a queen, with attendants who paralleled the functionaries of a castle or a royal court. The leaders presided over the pastimes and often played a prominent  part in them.  No doubt the celebrants generally engaged in social dancing, in the pastimes that have survived as singing games of children, and in sports and contests of various sorts, the festival king or queen awarding prizes in contests or dispensing punishments in forfeit games. But there was a special group of entertainers representing the talent of the community.  Some of these prepared  a group dance like the morris, or a mummers' play, or perhaps even a dramatic performance of some sort drawn from a more sophisticated source. Much of the entertainment, however, seems to have been of a simpler type, consisting of comic speeches or of special dances and songs by one or two characters. At least one disard in the role of fool or daemon commonly took a conspicuous part in the procedure, at times as leader. After the local celebration the whole organization was often carried to the neighboring villages, and groups from villages in the same general region exchanged visits. Groups of performers also frequently went on rounds of visits to the castles of neighboring lords and to the more important towns during their holidays, becoming for the time bodies of strolling players. To the whole procedure of the organized group various names were applied, like revels, disguising, interlude, or game. (The Elizabethan Jig (Chicago, 1929), pp. 6-8.)


The May Game


For our purposes, it will be enough to consider two principal forms of festivity, the May games and the Lord of Misrule, noticing particularly how what is done by the group of celebrants involves the composition of experience in ways which literature and drama could take over. When the parish went abroad "to gather for Robin Hood" they did not need to put into words what they were  gathering,  since they  had it in  their hands in hawthorn branches: one name for hawthorn is "may." The bringing home of May acted out an experience of the relationship between vitality in people and nature. The poets have merely to describe May Day to develop a metaphor relating man and nature. In Herrick's Corinna's Going a Maying, where the tradition has become elegantly conscious art, the gesture towards nature is conveyed by witty identifications: he speaks, of "a budding Boy or Girl ..." and says deliberately impossible things like






Rise, and put  on your  foliage, and be  seen
To come forth like the Springtime, fresh and green,
And sweet as Flora.


In Spenser's more straightforward account in The Shepherd's Calendar, written early in the period, the same metaphorical action is scarcely detached from direct description of behavior:


Palinode.  Is not  thilke the mery moneth of May,
When laue lads masken  in fresh  aray 
How falles it then, we no merrier bene,
Ylike as others, girt in gawdy greener
Our bloncket liueryes bene all to sadde,
For  thilke  same  season,  when  all  is  ycladd
With  pleasaunce:  the  grownd  with  grasse,  the  Woods
With  greene leaues, the bushes  with  bloosming  Buds.
Yougthes  folke  now  flocken  in  euery  where,
To gather may buskets and smelling brere:
And home they hasten the postes to dight,
And all the Kirke pillours eare day light,
With  Hawthorne  buds,  and  swete  Eglantine,
And girlonds of  roses and Sopps in wine.
Such  merimake holy Saints  doth queme,
 But  we  here  sytten  as drownd  in a  dreme.

Piers.  For  Younkers  Palinode  such  follies fitte,
But we tway bene men of  elder witt.

Palinode.  Sicker  this  morrowe, ne  lenger  agoe,
 I sawe a shale  of shepeheardes  outgoe,
With singing, and shouting, and iolly chere:
Before them yode a lusty Tabrere,


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That  to the many  a  Horne  pype  playd, 
Whereto  they  dauncen eche one with  his mayd.
To see those folkes make such iouysaunce,
Made my heart afterthe pype to daunce.
Tho to the greene Wood  they  speeden  hem  all,
To fetchen home  May  with  their  musicall:
And home they bringen in a royall throne,
Crowned  as king: and his  Queene attone
Was Lady Flora, on whom  did attend
A fayre flocke of  Faeries, and a fresh bend
Of louely Nymphs. (0 that I were there,
To he!pen the Ladyes their Maybush beare)

Ah Piers, bene not thy teeth on edge, to thinke,
 How great sport they gaynen with little swinck!

The Poetical  Works of Edmund  Spenser,
ed. J. C. Smith and E. De Selincourt (London, 1926),  p. 436.


Palinode sets the people-vegetation metaphor in motion merely by saying "We clerics are dressed in the wrong liveries. Look at the others, all dressed in gaudy green, and the grass, and the trees." In such festive poetry, even though it had a long literary history, the activity of the holiday shapes the meaning seen and felt in nature-- a different meaning from that arrived at when people "outgo" in a different fashion, for example by taking Wordsworth's kind of contemplative walk. Nature is "May"-- what  they  dance out to, and fetch home for decorating house and church. At the same time "May" is a lord, so they can express a relation to the season by doing honor to him and his lady Flora.

A feeling for the spring stemming from actual holiday celebration appears in the earliest surviving English love poems:


Lenten  is  come  with  love  to  toune
With  blosmen  and  with  briddes  roune,
 That all this blisse bryngeth  . . .


In the manner of "Sumer is icumen in," this fourteenth-century lyric goes on to describe how all living things are stirring together. The leaves "waxen al with wille," wild creatures make merry,


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Wormes woweth under claude,
Wymmen  waxeth  wounder  proud.


The worms below and the women above are connected by the holiday institution, which is prior to  metaphor.  The  composition of the poetry follows relations made by the composition of the holiday. We shall consider later the way many of  Shakespeare's songs are similarly organized by implicit or explicit reference to a festive occasion. 4


Some  of  the  most  circumstantial  accounts  of  the  games  were produced by the Puritan  Phillip  Stubbes in his popular  Anatomie of Abuses . .. in the Country of Ailgna. The transparent fiction of describing a foreign country was not altogether inappropriate, for Merry England was becoming foreign to the pious tradesman's London for which Stubbes was spokesman. His assumptions in describing the games can serve to bring out, by contrast, several of the fundamental social conditions on which the holiday customs depended:


Against May, Whitsunday, or other time all the young men and maids, old men and wives, run gadding over night to the woods, groves, hills, and mountains, where they spend  all the night in pleasant pastimes .... And no marvel, for there is a great Lord present amongst them, as superintendent and Lord over their pastimes and sports, namely, Satan, prince of hell.


Stubbes equates the traditional summer lord with Satan!


But the chiefest jewel they bring from thence is their Maypole, which they bring home with great veneration, as thus: They have twenty or forty yoke of oxen, every oxe having a sweet nose-gay of flowers placed on the tip of his horns, and these oxen draw home this Maypole (this stinking idol, rather) which is covered all over with flowers and herbs, bound round about with strings, from the top to the bottom, and sometime painted with variable colours, with two or  three hundred men, women and children following it with great devotion. And thus being reared up with handkerchiefs and flags hovering on the top, they strew the ground round about, bind green boughs about it, set up summer halls, bowers and arbors hard by it. And then fall they to dance about it, like as the heathen people did at the dedication of the Idols, whereof this is a perfect  pattern,  or rather the thing itself. I have heard it credibly  reported  (and that viva voce) by men of great gravity and reputation, that of forty, three-score, or a hundred maids going to the wood over night, there have scarcely the third part of them returned home  again undefiled. These be the fruits which these cursed pastimes bring  forth.


Early  English  Lyrics,  ed.  E.  K.  Chambers  and  F.  Sidgwick   (London,   1947),no. V.

4 See below, pp. 113 ff.




It is remarkable how pleasantly the holiday comes through in spite of Stubbes' railing on the sidelines. Partly this appeal comes from shrewd journalism: he  is writipg  "a pleasant  invective,"  to use a phrase from the title of Stephen Gosson's similar School of Abuse. Partly it is the result of the fact that despite his drastic attitude he writes in the language of Merry England and so is betrayed into phrases like "sweet  nosegays."  And  his Elizabethan eye is too much on the object to leave out tangible details, so that, astonishingly, he describes "this stinking idol" as "covered all over with flowers and herbs." By way of emphasizing the enormity of the evil, Stubbes insists that it is not confined to young men and maids, that "old men and wives" also "run gadding to the woods," that "men, women and children" follow the Maypole home. The consequence of this emphasis, for a modern reader, is to bring out how completely all groups who lived together within the agricultural calendar shared in the response to the season.


Elsewhere Stubbes explicitly objects to people all keeping holiday together. In objecting to wakes, he acknowledges that it is proper for "one friend to visit another" and "congratulate their coming with some good cheer." "But," he says, "why at one determinate day more than at another (except business urged it) ? "


I think it convenient for one friend to visit another (at some­ times) as opportunity and occasion shall offer itself; but where­ for should the whole town, parish, village, and country keep one and the same day, and make such gluttonous  feasts as they do?


5 The Anatomie of Abuses ... in Ailgna  (1583), ed. F. V, Furnival (London, 1877-82), p. 149. Here, and elsewhere in all quotations except those from Spenser, Ihave modernized  the spelling and punctuation.




Clearly Stubbes assumes a world of isolated, busy individuals, each prudently deciding how to make the best use of his time. Another of his objections is that "the poor men that bear the charges of these feasts and wakes, are the poorer, and keep the worser houses a long time after."6  Here again he assumes that what matters is the maintenance of individual households at as respectable a level as thrift can contrive. The Puritan ethic contrasts all along the line with the sort of "housekeeping" which went with festive liberty. The excesses Stubbes deplores did not threaten people whose places in a traditional arrangement of life one gaudy night or day could not disturb. Since everyone was out together, and the high day came only at an established time, no one need be anxious. Where morality was necessary for the city merchant, and discretion for the city gentleman of leisure, to avoid bankruptcy or a rake's progress, the merrimakers could rely on a communal rhythm to bring them, all together still, back on an even keel.


No  doubt  there  were  consequences,  sometimes  unpleasant,  for some of those maids about whom the men of great gravity put their heads together. As Ophelia sings about Saint Valentine's Day:


Young men will do't if they come to't ...


Nashe, in presenting the delights of Spring in Summer's Last Will and Testament, has a song sung by "three clowns and three maids" which enjoys the same fact Stubbes deplores:


From  the  town  to  the  grove
Two and two let us rove
A  Maying,  a  playing:
Love  hath  no  gainsaying:


When this side of the holiday is isolated, the relishing of it can become merely prurient. But usually there is a recognition, coming through the  bawdry, of a larger force at work, whether the  tone be harsh or genial.  Nashe has another song, earlier in  his Spring scene, which has this wider focus:


6 Ibid,,  p.  153.

7  The Works of  Thomas Nashe, ed. R. B. McKerrow  (London,  r9ro), m, 240.




The fields breathe sweet, the daisies kiss our feet,
Young lovers meet, old wives a sunning sit;
In every street, these tunes  our ears do greet,
Cuckoo, jug,  jug,  pu we, to witta  woo.
Spring, the sweet spring.'


Nashe's pageant dramatizes Spring as a prodigal gallant who flaunts unrepentant extravagance:


what I had, I have spent on good fellows. In these sports you have seen, which are proper to the Spring, and others of like sort (as giving wenches green gowns, making garlands for fencers, and tricking up children gay) have I bestowed all my flowery treasure, and flower of my youth.'


Here again the children are in it too-- as well as those old wives who sit a sunning. And it is in the grove that love hath no gain­ saying. The gathering of foliage in the woods, the setting up of summer halls, the straining towards identification in wearing garlands, even dressing entirely in foliage as "jacks o'th'green"-- all such custom relates the emotions of love to its fructifying functions. Separation of feeling from function is at the root of perversity and lust. May-game wantonness has a reverence about it because it is a realization of a power of life larger than the individual, crescent both in men and in their green surroundings.




The Lord of Misrule


In the customs which center on a Lord of Misrule, the rougher pleasures of defiance and mockery are uppermost, in contrast to the lyric gathering-in of the May games; Abuse predominates over Invocation, though both gestures are usually present, in varying degree, when a holiday group asserts its liberty and promotes its solidarity. The formal Lord of Misrule presided over the eating and drinking within-doors in the cold season. But the title was also applied to the captain of summer Sunday drinking and dancing by the young men of a parish, a leader whose role was not necessarily distinct from the Robin or King of the Maying.


8. Ibid., p. 239   

9Jhid.,  p.  240.



The winter lord of the feast reigns chiefly at night: the Duchess of Malfi, rallying her husband Antonio when he insists on staying with her overnight, says "you are a Lord of Misrule," and he answers with a wry reference to his clandestine role, "True, for my reign is only in the night." On Twelfth Night the Lord was often the King of the Bean, having found the bean in his portion of cake. Although identified especially with the twelve days of feasting at Christmas, the custom was naturally used at feasts in other seasons, notably at Shrovetide, and at harvest: Carew, in his Survey of Cornwall (1602), speaks of "next neighbors and kindred" consuming " great part of the night in Christmas rule" at the harvest dinners customarily given "by every wealthy man, or, as we term it, every good liver."  It was in the households of such men, or in the still larger establishments of institutions or of the nobility, that the more formal lords were set up at feasts. Holinshed observes that at Christmas


of old ordinary course, there is always one appointed to make sport in the court, called commonly lord of misrule: whose office is not unknown to such as have been brought up in noblemen's houses, and among great housekeepers which use liberal feasting in that season.12


One can see why formal misrule would be most used in formal households, where people regularly ate, more or less in awe, under the countenance of My Lord. My Lord of Misrule, burlesquing majesty by promoting license under the forms of order, would be useful to countenance the revelry of such a group.


And  by  giving  way  to  a  substitute,  the  master's  own  authority was kept clear of compromise. The custom seems to have been a secularized version of the Feast of Fools, when the solemn decorum of cathedral services would  be  suddenly  turned  upside  down  as the inferior clergy heard the glad tidings  that "He hath  put down the mighty from their seats, and exalted them of low degree"  (Deposuit  potentes  de sede:  et exaltavit  humiles)." 


10            John  Webster,   The  Duchess   of   Malfi,  in  The  Best  Plays  of   Webster  and Tourneur, ed.  John  Aldington  Symonds  (London,  1948), p.  1 7 5   (III.ii.9).

11            Popular  Antiquities  of  Great Britain  ... from  the  Materials  Collected  by John  Brand,  ed.  W.  Carew  Hazlitt  (London,  r87o),  I,   307.

12            Quoted by Chambers, Mediaeval  Stage, I,  403, n.  3•

13     lbid., pp. 278 ff. and 403 ff.; and Welsford, Fool, pp. 211 ff.





In the secular life of the Renaissance period, as awe of man for master diminished, so would the fun of such a custom. A decline is apparent in the discontinuance of the Lord of Misrule at court under Mary and Elizabeth-- after most  elaborate  ceremonies  at  court  and  in  the city under Edward VI and occasionally  under  Henry  VIII. There was also a decline of Christmas rule in most of the University colleges and in the Inns of Court. But the custom was perfectly familiar in such institutions, as is clear from Chambers' summary of the quite numerous occasions for which evidence survives of collegiate misrule during Elizabeth's reign. "The  few  circumstantial accounts show farced protocol and titles worked out with the completeness that young lawyers and scholars would relish, while the whole occasion is for the most part rather decorously  formal. But though it was usually misrule by the book, taking no chance, there are glimpses of moments when  the  mummery  came  alive, and occasionally something headlong would boil up. Hazlitt's edition  of  Brand's Antiquities quotes Sir Thomas Urquhart:


They may be said to use their King as about Christmas we used to do the King of Misrule, whom  we  invest  with  that  title  to no other end, but to countenance the Bacchanalian riots and preposterous  disorders of  the family where he is installed."


Herrick's treatment of the custom is  rather  insipid,  concluding with


Give then to the King
And Queen wassailing;
And  though  with  ale ye  be  whet  here;
Yet part ye from hence,
As  free from offence,
As when  ye innocent  met  here.16


Selden takes the custom  for granted in noting its relation to its Roman  prototype:


Christmas succeeds the Saturnalia, the same time, the same number of holidays; then the master waited upon the servant, like the Lord  of  Misrule.17



14            Ibid., pp. 407-4 I9•

15            Hazlittl  Antiquities,  II,  370.

16            "Twelfth  Night,  or  King  and  Queen,"  The  Poetical   Works  of   Robert  Herrick, ed. F. W.  Moorman  (New York,  1947), p.  310.


[ 26 ]


The basic pattern of a mock king or lord was adaptable to a variety of occasions less formal than seasonal feasts: the Ale-cunner, for example, had this sort of role in presiding over village wake or church ale. Mock-majesty was often improvised in taverns, as we shall see in considering how Nashe presents Bacchus as a prince of tavern mates.


In the Sunday pastimes of villages during the summer, a Lord of Misrule would be set up by  "all the wildheads  of  the parish," as Stubbes calls them in a pleasant and indignant description of the mock-king and his morris-dancing retinue. This could be a very different sort of role from that of the Lord of a gentlemen's feast. Stubbes recognizes explicitly a connection of such games with drama; he speaks of them just after denouncing the theaters, and calls them "the other kind of plays, which you call Lords of Misrule."  We shall consider in detail in the next chapter  an instance in Lincolnshire of the kind of thing he describes in general terms:


First, all the wildheads of the parish, conventing together, choose them a grand captain  (of  all mischief)  whom they ennoble with the  title  of  "my Lord of Misrule,"  and  him  they  crown  with great  solemnity,  and  adopt  for  their  king.  This  king  anointed chooseth  forth  twenty,  forty, threescore or a hundred  lusty guts, like to  himself,  to  wait  upon  his  lordly  majesty  and  to  guard his noble person. Then every one of  these his men, he investeth with  his  liveries  of  green, yellow,  or  some  other  light  wanton colour. And  as though  that  were  not  (bawdy)  gaudy  enough,  I should  say,  they  bedeck  themselves  with  scarves,  ribbons  and laces hanged all over with gold rings, precious stones, and other jewels.   This  done,  they  tie  about  either  leg  twenty  or  forty bells, with rich handkerchiefs in their hands, and sometimes laid across  over  their  shoulders  and  necks,  borrowed  for  the  most part of their pretty Mopsies and loving Besses, for bussing them in the dark.


17  Table  Talk, ed.  Frederick  Pollock  (London,  1927), p.  28.




Thus all things set in order, then have they their hobby-horses, dragons and other antiques [i.e. antics?] together with their bawdy pipers and thundering drummers to strike up the devil's dance withal. Then march these heathen company towards the church and churchyard, their pipers piping, their drummers thundering, their stumps dancing, their bells jingling, their handkerchiefs swinging about their heads like madmen, their hobbyhorses and other monsters skirmishing amongst the rout. And in this sort they go to the church (I say) and into the church (though the minister be at prayer or preaching) dancing and swinging their handkerchiefs over their heads in the church, like devils incarnate, with such a confused noise, that no man can hear his own voice.  Then the foolish people they look, they stare, they laugh, they fleer, and mount upon forms and pews to see these goodly pageants solemnized in this sort.

Then, after this, about the church they go again and again, and so forth into the churchyard, where they have commonly their summer halls, their bowers, arbors and banqueting houses set up, wherein they feast, banquet and dance all that day and (peradventure) all the night too. And thus these terrestrial furies spend the sabbath day.


They have also certain papers, wherein is painted some babblery or other of imagery work, and these they call "my Lord of Misrule's badges." These they give to everyone that will give money for them to maintain them in their heathenry, devilry, whoredom, drunkenness, pride and what not. And who will not be buxom to them and give them money for these their devilish cognizances, they are mocked and flouted at not a little. And so as sotted are some, that they not only give them money to maintain their abomination withal, but also wear their badges and cognizances in their hats or caps openly." Stubbes, Anatomie, pp. 147-148


The morris dance Stubbes here describes was thoroughly traditional: the dance typically included the skirmishing, curvetting hobbyhorse, the Besse or Maid Marian who dressed himself up in women's clothes, and the fool, usually the leading dancer, often in regalia which carried bawdy suggestions.


18 Stubbes, Anatomie, pp. 147-148. Chambers cites several instances of lords of misrule in the summer in Mediaeval  Stage, I,  173, n.  7


[28 ]


Hazlitt quotes a description from I614:


It was my hap of late, by chance
To meet a country morris dance,
When,  chiefest  of  them  all, the  fool
Played with a ladle and a tool;
When  every  younger  shak'd  his  bells"


Part of the by play was the fool's courting of the Maid Marian by dancing about her. But group dancing was the chief thing. The jerking about of handkerchiefs and the stiff kneed step of the morris conveyed a super abundance of vitality. Each foot was brought "forward alternately with a sharp swing (almost a jerk)";  frequently every alternate or every fourth step was a hop; a dancer made capers by exaggerating the regular step with a vigorous jump by the supporting foot; he made jumps by springing as high as possible with both legs straight." The virile self-assertion of such dancing is caught effectively in lines of the Duke of York in 2 Henry VI when he is plotting to incite Jack Cade to lead a rebellion and describes Cade's hardihood in the Irish wars:


his thighs with darts
Were  almost  like  a  sharp quill'd  porpentine;
And in the end being rescued,
 I have seen Him caper upright like a wild Morisco,
Shaking  the  bloody  darts  as he  his bells.
(2 H.Vl III.i.J62 J66)


Such an upstarting, indomitable gesture is perfect for the leader of a rising which is presented as a sort of saturnalia. The village saturnalia of the Lord of Misrule's men was in its way a sort of rising; setting up a mock lord and demanding homage for him are playfully rebellious  gestures, into which  Dionysian  feeling  can flow. Stubbes is clearly exaggerating when he talks as though such groups regularly interrupted divine service inside the church. But the churchyard was certainly a center for merrymaking, partly because the church had taken the place of  the pagan  fane which dances once honoured, partly because the churchyard was in any case the parish meeting place, partly perhaps because to go there was excitingly impudent. The wanton mood would be abetted by encountering someone who, refusing to give homage  to  My  Lord in return for one of his badges, declared himself a craven or a kill-joy, was "mocked and flouted not a little," and so, as we shall see, might provide an occasion for the birth of satire from festive abuse.


19 From Rablet's  Cobbes,  Prophesies  (1614), quoted  in Hazlitt, Antiquities,  II,


20 Baskervill,  Jig, pp.  353  ff. His account is based  on Cecil  Sharp, who  studied still-continuing  traditions  of  dancing  which  fit  with  illustrations  and  descriptions from the Renaissance.





Aristocratic Entertainments


Chambers  observes that


Tudor kings and queens came and went about their public affairs in a constant atmosphere of make-believe, with a sibyl lurking in every court-yard and gateway, and a satyr in the boscage of every park, to turn the ceremonies of welcome  and farewell, without which sovereigns must not move, by the arts of song and dance and mimetic dialogue, to favour and to prettiness. The fullest scope for such entertainments  was afforded by the custom of the progress, which Ied the Court summer by summer, to  remove from London and the great palaces of the Thames and renew the migratory life of the great dynasties,, wandering for a month or more over the fair face of the land, and housing itself in the outlying castles and royal manors, or claiming the ready hospitality of the territorial gentry and the provincial cities. This was a holiday, in which the sovereign sought change of air and the recreation of hunting and such other pastimes as the country yields. The Elizabethan Stage (Oxford, I923), I 1 107.


Obviously the pastimes of the court were occasions of a very different character from the free-and-easy festivities of a parish or the convivialities of a group of next neighbors and kindred at a manor. Yet the courtly entertainments tendered Elizabeth reflected the popular tradition of seasonal holidays and greatly influenced its translation into comedy. The Queen's presence inevitably made for constraint: though she herself could be wonderfully downright and spontaneous, she was not one to suspend her majesty-- misrule had to keep well clear of that. And at court play and business were not distinct: much


21 The Elizabethan Stage (Oxford, I923), I 1 107.




of the art of the courtier lay in deftly working through pleasure to profit.  Anxiety and ambition were apt to be involved in the exceedingly expensive entertainments provided by noble families. One is repeatedly surprised at how much good fun the noble company could have under the conditions of court life. Because they were habituated to decorum, they could be relatively free within its limits. A fountain in Leicester's garden at Kenilworth, during the famous entertainment of 1575, was fitted with a hidden spout, so that when unwary guests lingered to look closely at its ornate carvings,


with the wreast of a cock, water spouted upward and drenched them "from top to toe; the he's to some laughing, but the shee's to more sport. This some time was occupied to very good pastime. 22


The highest class shared in the feeling for holiday freedom. But the conditions of court life made its expression complex, and put a premium on detached artistic realization. Of course the pastimes presented were often not even indirectly expressive of festive attitudes or themes. There was much solemn flattery of Elizabeth; there were presentations of local or family history or heroes; allegorical shows of virtues and vices; romantic narratives tied to the appearance of local nymphs whom only Elizabeth could release from vile enchantments. Literary pastoral and mythology were the most common idious, frequently handled in a merely literary way. But mythological and pastoral materials often drew life from native traditions. Music, song, and dance could have the same functions as at simpler merrymakings. And the traditional popular pastimes themselves were often an element in the entertainment, either as a spectacle performed by "the country people" and watched with complacency and amusement by the court circle, or as a holiday exercise in which the courtiers themselves participated, as they participated in the disguisings of the masque.


22 From  Robert  Laneham's  account  of  the  entertainment,  reprinted  in  John Nichols,  The Progresses,  Processions,  etc. of  Queen  Elizabeth  (London,  r8z3),

I 1 476  ff.




The  commonest  style  of  pageantry  in  tribute  to  the  queen  is pleasantly epitomized in a madrigal contributed by George Kirbye to  The  Triumphes  of   Oriana  (I601):


Bright Phoebus greets most clearly
With radiant beams fair Oriana sitting.
Her  apple Venus  yields  as best  befitting
A queen beloved  most dearly.
Rich  Pluto  leaves  his  treasures.
And Proserpina glad runs in her best array.
Nymphs deck her crown with bay
(At) her feet are  lions kissing.
No joy can there be missing.
Now Thetis leaves the mermaids' tunes admired,
And  swells with pride to see this  Queen desired.
Then sang the shepherds and nymphs of Diana:
Long live fair  Oriana.


Poetic fictions such as these were acted out repeatedly at country houses. Thetis would leave "the mermaids' tunes admired" at the climax of a show where music crept by upon the waters of a garden lake. To make the most of elaborating fact with fiction, the presentation of a gift was often tied into a story, as in Peele's Arraignment of Paris (1584), where the gift of the apple to the queen resolves the jealous conflict previously  depicted  between  the rival  goddesses.24


The whole conception of  gathering  in  the  powers  reigning  in the countryside to yield them to Elizabeth, and of Elizabeth vivifying the countryside by her magic presence, has affinities with the traditional lustral visit of mummery lord and  lady,  when  they made their quete to bring the luck of the season to the village and the house. On many occasions the queen herself is put in the role of a supreme summer lady, to whom the others come to do homage. Thus at Elvetham in I 591, although she comes late in  September she is greeted with verses describing a spring renewal from her influence:


The crooked-winding  kid  trips  o'er  the lawns,
The milk-white  heifer  wantons  with  the bull;
The trees show pleasure with their quivering leaves,
The meadow with new grass ...


23            F. H. Fellowes, English Madrigal Verse (Oxford, 192o), p. 150. Chambers conjectures (Elizabethan Stage, r, 123, n. 3) that The Triumphes of Oriana ((may have been written as a whole for a royal birthday or wedding."




When the time comes for her departure,


Leaves fall, grass dies,
beasts of the wood hang head,
Birds cease to sing, and every creature wails
To see the season alter with this change:
For how can Summer stay, when  Sun departs? Nichols,  Progresses  of  Elizabeth,  III,  107  and  120


The outdoor country gods drawn from classical paganism find a natural place as patrons of native festive observances; they themselves are not distinct from native figures. Laneham, fancifully summarizing what each god contributed to the Kenilworth entertainment of I575, observes that Pan sent "his merry morris, with their pipe and tabor." This morris was part of a mimic bridal procession staged by the local people: Pan has clearly stolen here from Robin. So too, Bacchus is naturally taken as Lord of Misrule; Ceres is a harvest queen and rides on a hockcart. The grotesque Sylvanus who at Elvetham frightened the country people, "and thereby moved great laughter," is at least a first cousin of the Savage Man or Woodwose, a folk wood spirit, who at Kenilworth held a dialogue with the classical Echo. At Kenilworth, certain good-hearted men of Coventry brought their town's "old storial show": it was a Hocktide sword dance and free-for-all fight between Danes and English, the Danes in the end "led captive for triumph by our English women." The same mock-martial  spirit animated a battle at Elvetham between Sylvanus with his forest men and Neptune with his Tritons, the latter using "great squirts." The Coventry show seems to have been a rationalized version of a battle of summer and winter. Its conclusion probably reflects the Hock­ tide custom by which men and women capture each other.



25 Nichols,  Progresses  of  Elizabeth,  III,  107  and  120.

26            Ibid., m,  135.

27            Ibid., m, xq II5 and I,  436 and 494 498. At Bisham  (1592), the"Wilde

Man" is one of Sylvanus' satyrs (Ibid., m, I31). Chambers effectively sum marizes the fusion  and medley of  literary and folk elements at noble  entertainments in Elizabethan Stage, r, 124



The  practice  of  superimposing  classical  motifs  on  the  holiday games, as perhaps in an earlier epoch a battle of the seasons at Coventry had been rationalized as a conflict of Danes and English, appears in a passage from  The Two Gentlemen of Verona. Forsaken Julia, in her page's disguise, tells Silvia that at Pentecost


When all our pageants of delight were play'd,
Our youth got me to play the woman's part,
And I was trimmed in Madam Julia's gown.
(T.G.V. IV.iv.r63-r65)


Chambers, in The Mediaeval Stage, assumes that "the pageants of delight" were May games, and "the woman's part" Maid Marian's."  He happened to neglect  what  Julia  goes  on  to say that the part was                                 

                                   Ariadne passioning
For  Theseus'  perjury  and unjust  flight. (T.G.V. IV.iv.r73-I74)


And yet the pageants undoubtedly were to be understood as May games, and Ariadne is conceived as taking over the May Lady's part by an entirely familiar sort of Ovidian elaboration on native groundwork. Many pagan goddesses, as well as nymphs, could play  "the woman's  part":  Proserpina  glad,  running  in  her  best array, might with no change of costume be the Flora who gayly leads  a  morris  described  in  one  of  Morley's  madrigals."  On other  occasions  there  is an English  name  for  the  goddess,  the Fairy Queen;  she may come with her maids to dance and sing in the garden, or may be "drawen with six children in a wagon of state."31


In the written accounts of entertainments, the formal part is obviously more adequately recorded than the impromptu or traditional humor, since a principal motive for publication was to give to the world at large verses written for the occasion. Clearly, therefore, Nichols' collection of documents does not do justice to the informal traditional games and shows used at entertainments. Gascoigne's account of the great Kenilworth festivities gives in full the verse he contributed, including a masque which was not


so Fellowes,  Madrigals,  p.  129.

Nichols, HI,  II9;  and Chambers, Elizabethan  Stage,  III,  401. At Elvetham in 1591 her name is Aureola; she speaks of her consort as "Auberon,  the  Fairy King." One of Campion's madrigals ( 1591) is addressed to "the fairy queen Proserpinal> (Fellowes, p. 593). The relation of the Elvetham occasion to Dream, much  handled  by speculators  about  court  intrigue,  is  effectively  treated  by Alice

S. Venezky in Pageantry on the Shakespearean Stage (New York, 1951), pp. 139 :ff. See below,  pp.  121-22.





finally used; he merely mentions the comical shows presented by the common people. Laneham, the  lively  little  hanger-on  whose unusual pamphlet Scott used for Kenilworth, had no literary equity to salvage; it is from him that we learn  of the folk bride-ale and Battle of Danes and English, "whereat her Majesty laughed well." The Bride-ale seems to have been presented very solemnly by "his lordship's simple neighbors," yet for his lordship's guests it was burlesque. Laneham has art enough to make it funny in the telling. The "bride," by someone’s contrivance, was "a maid of thirty-five years"; and the "bridegroom" had "this special grace by the way, that ever as he would have  formed  him  the  better  countenance, with the worse face he looked." When holiday was translated  to the stage, such shows were a natural for the clowns; and the comments of Shakespeare's aristocrats on their performance are in the same vein as Laneham's.


Another source of fun at entertainments, which is merely glanced at in the accounts of them, must have been the incongruity between fact and fiction, and the fun of quick transitions between the two. When one reads the texts of welcomes, of presentation ceremonies, where nymphs appear when trees rive, etc., they often seem almost tediously solemn. But they were witty, or "conceited," when they were performed, by virtue of the deftness with which they extended actuality into make-believe. Because this dramatic dimension was furnished by the occasion, it did not need to be expressed in the language of occasional verses. When Shakespeare puts pageantry on the stage, he makes comedy out of incongruity between make-believe and reality. He contrives dramatic  situations  which will give the lie to fiction; and he makes the language of  the pageant  figures themselves betray  their  dubious  status.


But before  we look at the way  Shakespeare  made  holiday  pastimes  into  comedy  for  the  theater's  everyday  use,  we  must  look at dramatic games and shows produced  on holiday for holiday use.


32 Nichols, I,  443




Chapter Three




" … is it fit infirmities of holy men should be acted upon a stage ... ! ...no passion wherewith the king was possessed, but is amplified, and openly sported with, and made a May game to all the beholders."

--Henry Crosse, Virtues Common-wealth, 1603


DISTINCTIONS between life and art, the stage and the world, which are  obvious  for  our  epoch  were  not  altogether  settled  for  Elizabethans.  Such  distinctions  are  not  settled  for  us  either  in  areas where  new  circumstances  are leading  to the development  of  new artistic forms, notably  in the case of  television.  This chapter will consider the tendency for Elizabethan  comedy  to be a  saturnalia, rather than to represent saturnalian experience. Renaissance  critics discussed  this  difference  in  distinguishing  between  Old  Comedy and   New  and  by  regularly   explaining  how  Old   Comedy   was banned for its scurrility in abusing actual individuals. We can make out, as they did not, rudimentary  English versions of  Old Comedy, produced  on  holiday  where festive abuse turned  into ad  hominem satire,  and  in  the  newly   established  professional   theater   when players  borrowed  forms  of  festive  abuse  from  holiday.  In  1601, the  "Summer  Lord   Game"  of   the  village   of   South   Kyme  in Lincolnshire  developed  into  such  satire  under  the  leadership  of one Talboys Dymoke, the younger brother of Sir Edward Dymoke, whose  house  had  a  bitter  and  long  standing  antagonism  to  the Dymoke's  uncle,  the  avaricious  Earl of  Lincoln.  In  dramatizing what  he called  "The Death  of  the Lord  of  Kyme" on  the  "May­ pole  green" before  Sir Edward's  house,  Talboys  Dymoke  and  his yeomen  friends seem  to  have  alluded  to  the  Earl,  and  taken  off his  mannerisms,  in a  fashion  which  he regarded  as lese majesty.

1 Printed by Chambers, Elizabethan Stage, rv, 247.




Although we have no text of the performance, only descriptions of it in Star Chamber testimony, its similarity to vetus comoedia is clear.  It was composed for performance with the license of a festival; it used traditional roles and stock scenes instead of a fully developed narrative plot; the zest of it came from abuse directed at an actual spoil-sport alazon. But of course, although the occasion and form were broadly Aristophanic, Dymoke's art was  rudimentary. A direct development of comedy out of festivity, such as may  have  happened  in  Greece,  was  prevented  in  Elizabethan England by the existence of an already developed dramatic literature-- and  by  the whole moral superstructure  of Elizabethan society. When the issue was put to the test, license for festive abuse was never granted by Elizabethan officials. The performers of the South Kyme play learned this to their cost; so did the professional players when they tried to step into the Marprelate controversy. Yet the tendency which we shall be examining in this chapter has significance beyond its abortive fruits, because it witnesses to the saturnalian impulse which did find expression in dramatic fiction. Saturnalia could come into its own in the theater by virtue of the distinction between the stage and the world which Puritans were unwilling to make in London but which  fortunately  prevailed across the river on the Bankside.


License  and  Lese Majesty in Lincolnshire


When we write  about  holiday  license  as custom,  our  detached position is apt to result in a misleading impression that no tensions or  chances are involved.  For  those  participating,  however, license is  not  simply  a  phase  in  a  complacent  evolution  to  foreknown conclusions:  it means, at some level, disruption. When  majesty  in lords is dangerous  to  meddle  with, to  act  "My Lord  of  Misrule" or be created one of  his retainers says "We are as good as Lords" and  at  the  same  time,  "Lords  are  no  better  than  we."  The  man who acts as a mock  lord enjoys building up  his dignity, and also exploding  it by  exaggeration,  while  his  followers  both  relish  his bombast  as a fleer  at proper  authority  and  also  enjoy turning  on him and insulting his majesty. Huff-snuff bombast asks for cat-calls. The  instability  of  an  interregnum  is built  into  the  dynamics  of misrule:  the  game at 




once appropriates  and  annihilates the mana of authority. In the process, the fear which normally maintains inhibition is temporarily overcome, and the revellers become wanton, swept along on the freed energy normally occupied in holding themselves in check.


To reach this fear and so defy it with intoxicating impunity, misrule has to take a chance.  Give it an  inch and it must take an ell-or at least more than the allowed inch. One way to  get beyond bounds was to move from flouting in general to flouting particular people,  from  symbolic  action  toward  symbolic  action, to use a distinction  of Mr. Kenneth Burke’s. This impulse is amusingly graphic in a satirical description, written by John Taylor the water-poet, of  London  apprentices  rioting  on Shrove Tuesday:


Then Tim Tatters, a most valiant villain, with  an  ensign made of a piece of a baker's mawkin fixed upon a broom staff, he displays his dreadful colors, and calling the ragged regiment together, makes an illiterate oration, stuffed with most plentiful want of  discretion, the conclusion whereof is, that somewhat they will do, but what they know not. Until at last comes marching up another troop of tatterdemalions, proclaiming wars against no matter who, so they may be doing. Then  these youths ... put play houses to the sack, and bawdy houses to the spoil, in the quarrel breaking a thousand quarrels (of glass I mean) ... tumbling from the tops of lofty chimneys, terribly un-tilling houses, ripping up the bowels of feather beds.


2  Jack a Lent His Beginning and Entertainment: With the mad prankes of his Gentleman-Usher Shrove-Tuesday that goes before him, and his Footman hunger attending. By John Taylor (London, 1630), p. 12, in The Old Book Collector's Miscellany, ed. Charles Hindley (London, r87z), Vol. II. There seems to have been a positive tradition of sacking bawdy houses on Shrove Tuesday-- a festive way to give them up  for Lent!  One is reminded of Doll Tearsheet's indignant scorn of Pistol (2 H.IV IIiv.): "You  a captain/ You slave, for what/ For tearing a poor whore's ruff in a bawdy house?" See Brand's Popular Antiquities, ed.  J.  0.  Halliwell   (London,   1848)




The custom of misrule obviously provided a whirligig that could catch up simmering antagonisms and swing them into the open. In the Dymoke case, it was the animus of a county family and their retainers against a tyrannical nobleman. The Earl of Lincoln's almost insane avarice and inhumanity were repeatedly a problem to the Privy Council and a plague to his neighborhood. The case will be worth following in the full human dimensions which have been skillfully presented through excerpts from the Star Chamber Records and the Duke of Northumberland's papers, in Mr. Norreys Jephson O'Conor's study of the Norreys family and their conflict with the Earl, Codes  Peace  and  the  Queenes.  Since the customs involved are clearly of long standing, the fact that the episode took place in 1601 does not diminish its significance in relation to festive comedy written in the previous  decade.


The repugnance  which the Earl of  Lincoln could inspire can be suggested by  the  remarks  of  his  son-in-law,  Sir Arthur  Georges, in a letter written to Sir Robert Cecil in 1600 when Lincoln was attempting to deprive his own daughter and Sir Arthur of an estate:


None  can testify  my  careful zeal towards  this ungrateful  miser (better)  than you, whom  I have so often solicited with  excusing his vices. The love I bore his daughter made me do so, and his cankered disposition requites me accordingly.... He has already brought my poor wife to her grave, as I fear, with his late most odious and unnatural despites that he has used towards her, the most obedient child of the world. His wickedness, misery, craft, repugnance to all humanity, and perfidious mind  is not  among the heathens  to be matched.  God bless me from him. To have his  lands  after  his  death,  I  would  not  be  tied  to  observe  him in  his life.  (pp. 98-99)


The  council  repeatedly   intervened   in  attempts  to  persuade   the Earl to do  justice   to  his  wife,  his  children,  old  retainers,  and neighbors;  at one point  he had to be put  in the Tower  to compel the payment  of  a judgment  against him. Sir Edward Dymoke and his  Lady  lived  near  the  Earl's  castle  at  Tattershall in  Lincoln. That  there  was  very  bad  blood  between  them  appears  from  the fact that  in  1595 Sir Edward  complained  to  Cecil that  he had  at one point been  "forced by his Lordship's  molestations to break up my house and disperse my servants."  Sir Edward's younger


3  Cambridge, 1934. I am grateful to Harvard University Press for permission to use the very substantial excerpts which follow. I have modernized the spelling and punctuation of Mr. O'Conor's quotations from the records. In the rest of this chapter, references to his text are given by page numbers in parentheses after quotations.  My few  interpolations,  as  well  as  Mr.  O'Conor's, are enclosed  in parentheses.





brother Talboys, who  lived  in  the  Dymoke  household,  was  just  the  sort of free-wheeling wildhead to come  into  collision  with  the  Earl.  We catch a glimpse of him, through the Star Chamber testimony, stopping at the door of an alehouse kept by one William Hollings­head in Tattershall:  "and at that time  Anne  (Hollingshead) brought forth drink to him and his company as they sat on horse­ back." "At which time with a loud voice," according to Hollings­ head, he said,  "Commend  me, sweetheart,  to  My Lord  of  Lincoln...and tell him that he is an ass and a fool ... Is he my uncle and hath no more wit?" Dymoke contended that he had spoken only "about a fortification which the Earl had made about his castle," saying only "What a foolish fortification is this! My Lord sayeth that I am a fool, but I would to God he had a little of my wit in the making of it, for this is the most foolish thing that ever I saw" (pp. 109-IIO). By either version, Dymoke was a man who called his soul his own, aptly named Talboys.


In the summer  of  1601, Talboys' summer  games gave the  Earl a chance to attack the Dymoke family by  a bill  of  complaint  to the Star Chamber. The bill emphasized the offense of lese majesty done  to  the  Earl:


Whereas your Royal Majesty in the whole course of your happy and flourishing reign ... have ever had a gracious regard of the honour and estate of the nobility and peers of this your highness' realm, and men of more inferior condition to them have carried such respective and due observance to the nobles of this kingdom, as they have not once presumed to scandalize or deprave their persons  and place by public frowns and reproaches, yet how so it is ... one Talboys Dymoke, a common contriver and publisher of infamous pamphlets and libels, Roger Bayard of Kyme, in your highness' county of Lincoln, yeoman, Marmaduke Dickinson,  John  Cradock,  the  elder,  and  John  Cradock,  the younger, of  Kyme ... yeomen, and other their accomplices, intending as much as in them consisted to scandalize and dishonour your  ... subject  (i.e. Lincoln)  and to bring  him into the frown and contempt of the vulgar people  of  his country, have  of  late, and  since your  majesty's  last  free and  general pardon, by the direction, consent, or allowance of Sir Edward Dymoke of Kyme, ... Knight, contrived, published, used, and acted, these disgraceful, false, and intolerable slanders, reproaches, scandalous words, libels, and irreligious profanations ensuing.  (pp.  108-109)


[40 l


The principal basis for the charges lay in two episodes of the summer games. The Earl first ran foul of Talboys Dymoke in the course of Sunday misrule of the kind that Stubbes described.  Mr. O'Conor has  presented  the  encounter  by  quoting  from  testimony of  both  sides before the Star Chamber:


The May day games at South Kyme, where some of the Dymoke family seem then to have been living, were  carried on through most of the summer, and,  on  Sunday,  July  25th  or 26th, 1601, twelve or thirteen  of  those  who  had  been  taking part in the games went to the neighbouring village of Coningsby "to be merry . . . as Coningsby men had been with them a fortnight before." Among those who rode from South  Kyme were: John Cradock,  the younger; Richard Morrys, or Morris; Roger Bayard, and Talboys Dymoke; with John, or  Henry, Cocke, of Swinstead; John Easton, of Billinghay; and John Patchett, "who were all present at Coningsby . . . and are retainers to Sir Edward Dymoke."  Evidently  they  took  with them a few of the  theatrical properties used in the games,  for "some of  the company  had reeds tied  together  like spears, with a painted paper off the tops  of them, and one  of  them  had  a drum and another a  flag." They "did march on horseback  two and two together through the streets ... to one Miles his house, who kept an alehouse" "and there lighting, set up their  horses" and "dined."


After dinner the company visited two or three other alehouses; Morris said he did not know how many, adding "he knoweth not certainly whether it were on the Sabbath day ... but ... he rather thinketh it was ... because they were at Evening Prayer." There was indignant denial of their having declared that "they had drunk the town of Coningsby ... dry"; however, in the afternoon they resumed their parade through the town. Besides the visitors' drum and flag, Coningsby men had another drum and flag, so that they all must have been able to make a goodly amount of noise, which caused "a great number of people" to come outdoors for the purpose of "looking upon the company."


[ 41 l

While this display was taking place, and "at such time as they were marching homeward," the Earl of Lincoln ... had occasion of business to ride through a narrow lane" in Coningsby "through which he was to pass by or near the ... company," who, according to Thomas Pigott, gentleman, one of his followers, "behaved themselves very rudely, with shoutings, noises ... that some accompted them to be madmen." To these joyous villagers Pigott was sent "to entreat them to hold still their drums, flags and noise until the ... Earl might quietly pass by them for scaring of his horse." John Cock, the drummer, said that he "did stay till the Earl was gone, and, after he was passed by, Mr. Talboys Dymoke and one Richard Hunt did call to him to strike up his drum." Edward Miles, the alehouse keeper, saw that " Mr. Pigott was cast down from his horse, but by what means he knoweth not, neither what hurt he had; but he did see him presently afoot again and come to his horse." With this statement the companions of Miles agreed, but Pigott himself declared that when he gave the Earl's message, "Talboys Dymoke, Richard Hunt, and some others . . . answered with great oaths that they had a Lord as good as he, and called the company and drums to them back again, and cried aloud, 'Strike up drums!  Strike up drums!” (pp.  II0-II2)



"They had a Lord as good as he" clearly refers to their Lord of Misrule. John Cradock, the younger, was "the Summer Lord  of Kyme" (p. I57). He wore a piebald coat that went with the other insignia of  misrule, for one of  the Earl's retainers testified that he "did hear that there was very ill rule at Coningsby ... and that young Cradock was there in a piebald  coat, and that the (Earl) did  there  call  ... Cradock  'piebald  knave'"  (p.  II6). Thus it appears that the real Lord  was foolish  enough  to undertake  to face down a mummery  Lord. At any rate, the Earl's henchman Pigott tried to do so, and the fact that he was a "heavy, corpulent man" must have been more grist for the merrymakers' mill.

Pigott testified that:


therewithal   (Dymoke and Hunt) caused the drummers  and flag bearers to run at (him) with their drums and flags, and the whole company after and amongst them in such violent sort, that his horse did fling and plunge, and the more he entreated them to be quiet, the more fierce and angry they were upon him and his horse, insomuch as his horse cast him . . . to the ground to his great bruising, hurt and damage, being a heavy corpulent man. And it had like to cost him his life; and he was forced to keep to his bed a good space after, and to take physic for the same . . . When he was helped up by one of his acquaintance that stood by ... Hunt and some others cried "Strike him down! Knock him down!"  (p.  II2)




The antagonism which the revellers were expressing was active elsewhere at this same time on a practical plane. At nearby Horn­ castle, Sir Edward or his men made entry into the parsonage  to claim "diverse duties" which according to the Earl belonged  by right to him.


Then five weeks later, on the last Sunday in August, Talboys Dymoke "did frame and make a stage play to be played in for sport and merriment at the setting up of a Maypole in South Kyme" (p. II4). Neighbors were invited "to take part at some venison" at the house of John Cradock the elder, "yeoman, servant to" Sir Edward Dymoke, and in the afternoon they saw "an interlude"  "hard by a  Maypole  standing  upon  the  green."


"Talboys Dymoke,  being  the  then  principal  actor... , did first ... counterfeit the person of  (the Earl) and his speeches and gesture,  and  then  and there  termed  and  named  . . . the Earl  of  Lincoln,  his good uncle, in scornful manner,  and  as actor  (he)  then  took  upon  him  . . . representing  (the  Earl) fetched away by ... Roger Bayard, who acted ... the Devil. And  . . . Roger  Bayard  in another  part  of  the play  did  . . . represent ...the part of the Fool, and the part of the Vice ... and there acting the ... part did declare his last will and testament and ... did bequeath his wooden dagger to ... the Earl of Lincoln, and his cockscomb and bauble unto all those that would  not  go  to  Horncastle  with  ... Sir  Edward  Dymoke against him" ... And in the interlude there was "a dirge sung by Talboys Dymoke ... and other the ... actors ... wherein they expressed by name most of the known lewd and licentious women in the cities of London and Lincoln and town of Boston, concluding in their songs after every of their names, ora pro nobis."  (p. II5)





The defense of the Dymoke party was that the play was traditional, a part of the games, with no allusions to the Earl. Dymoke "of himself termed (it) the Death of the Lord of Kyme, because the same day should make an end of the  summer  lord  game  in South Kyme for that year" (p. 114). Dickinson  testified that about "a fortnight  before  the  day"  Talboys  Dymoke  left  at  his  house "a certain writing in English, some part whereof was in verse or rhymes, which (Dickinson)  doth  not  now  perfectly  remember, with request that (he) would learn the same without book." But Dymoke insisted that he and the others were simply playing customary  roles, explaining  the remark  about  "his good  uncle"  as a reference  to  the  summer  lord  of  the  next  village.  The  author of the play testified  that he


"did represent and take upon him the title and term of Lord Pleasure ... and did call the Lord of North Kyme (being another summer lord that year) my Uncle Prince," and he did not do this "in scornful manner." ... Roger Bayard as the Fool "Did bequeath his wooden dagger to the Lord of North Kyme because he had the day before called the Lord of South Kyme piebald knave." Dickinson declared that Bayard spoke "these words in rhyme: ... That Lord shall it have Which called the Lord of Kyme piebald knave, whereunto ... Talboys answered, that same was his good uncle."


According to their testimony, it was not Dymoke playing the Earl that the Devil carried off, but John Cradock, the younger "(being before the Summer Lord of Kyme) and acting that part in the play," was "feigned to be poisoned and so carried forth" (p. II7).





There is not evidence to determine how commonly this sort of Death of the Summer Lord served as the finale of the season's games. It must have been fairly common, or Dymoke's group could not have relied for their defense on the traditional character of such a play. But the only other case I have run onto is Nashe's far more sophisticated  Summer's  Last  Will and  Testament. Certainly, the particular   formulae   which   Dymoke   combined   were thoroughly  traditional.  The Vice  or  clown  was  still being  carried off the London stage by the Devil in the period when Shakespeare's first  plays  were  appearing;  the  burlesque  testament  was  also  a hardy   perennial.   The  dirge   was   an  equally  popular   form   for satiric burlesque;  in the South Kyme performance it was combined with  listing actual people  by  their names  in what  was  sometimes called  a  "ragman's  roll"  (with  perhaps  the  implication   that  the "known   lewd  women"  would   be  appropriate  mourners   for  the Lord  of  Kyme,  having  been  close  to  him  during  his  life).'  To conclude the career of a mummery lord by a death and dirge, was, moreover,  an  obvious  move  for people  familiar  with  accounts  of notable deaths in the literature of  the  Ars Moriendi. Winter  reigns of  Lords  of   Misrule  might  end  with  formal  mourning:  for  example, the "Christmas Lord,  or  Prince  of  the Revels"  whose  rule after  a lapse of  thirty years was  elaborately  revived  at  St. John's, Oxford, in I607, reigned  through  the winter until  Shrove Tuesday, when  "after a show called Ira seu  Tumulus Fortunae, the Prince was conducted to his private chamber in mourning procession" and there expired."  Jack a Lent was another such  figure liable to feel Fortune's  Wrath.  Henry  Machyn  noted  in  his  diary  how  on  the 17th of  March,  1553, in a  magnificent  London  procession  which included   giants  great  and  small,  hobby-horses,   "my  lo(rd)   late being  lord  of  misrule,"  and the  Devil  and the  Sultan, there  came a priest  "shreeving  Jack  of  Lent  on  horseback,  and  a  doctor  his physician, and then Jack of  Lent's wife brought him his physician and  bad  save  his  life, and  he  should  a  thousand  pounds  for  his labour.  . . .'" This  was  in  the  brief  heyday  which  the  reign  of Edward  VI  granted  to  old-


4 Baskervill  has  a  packed  discussion  of  the  ragman's  roll  in  Jig, pp.  22-23: Udall  used  the   term,  which  is  associated  with  misrule,  to  translate  fescennina carmina  in  the  Apophthegmes  of  Erasmus;  a fifteenth-century  poem  called  Rag­man Roll is "a series of  satiric sketches of  women  which  are represented  as drawn by lot at the command  of  King Ragman Holly, obviously  a Christmas  festival leader presiding over the medieval game of fortune drawing.)

5 Chambers, Mediaeval Stage, I, 410. See the discussion of the death of Carnival, below, pp.  206  and  213.

6  The Diary  of  Henry  Machyn, ed. J. G. Nichols  (London,  1948), p. 33




fashioned  pageantry  in  London;   but what the city elaborated on a splendid scale then, were holiday games which continued to be customary in humbler places. Also during Edward's reign, Bishop Gardiner complained that satirists had attacked the discipline of Lent by publishing "Jack of Lent's Testament." Somerset reassured him that "Lent remaineth still ... although some light and lewd men do bury him in writing."' As we shall see in the next section, a satirist also “buried in writing" the Puritan "Jack," Martin Marprelate.


It is unfortunate for us that Dickinson did not repeat more than a scrap of the verses Talboys wrote for  him-- though  no doubt it was wise for Dickinson to forget them. We do get a little of the actual language of a mock funeral sermon which Talboys added to the program. It was "an old idle speech which was made two or three years before," which John Cradock's father, the bailiff, was persuaded to deliver on the spur of the moment, after the play was over. In the heavy language of the Earl's Bill of Complaint,


John Cradock the elder ... in frown of religion, and the profession thereof, being attired in a minister's gown and having a corner cap on his head, and a book in his hand opened, did ... in a pulpit made for that purpose, deliver and utter a profane and irreligious prayer .... (p. II8)


The  opening  of  the fustian  prayer,  which  Cradock  read  out  of a "paper  book,"  went


De profundis  pro  defunctis.
Let us pray  for our dear Lord  that died  this present  day,
Now blessed be his body and his bones;
I  hope  his  legs  are hotter  than  gravestones
And  to that  hope  let's all  conclude  it then,
Both men and women pray, and say, 'Amen' … (p.119)


Originally the sermon had been delivered "about Christmas," "in the presence of ... Sir Edward and a number of gentlemen there assembled." This information was furnished by the testimony of a pious neighbor, Robert Hitchcock, who heard it from another neighbor, and  who added, "all which  manner 


7 Baskervill, Jig, p. 47




of counterfeiting was by many godly ministers held to be very blasphemous" (p. I22). It seems likely that the sermon was originally spoken at the end of the rule of a Christmas prince. Another scrap of the sermon's language also suggests an indoor feast: "The mercy of Mustardseed and the blessing of Bullbeef and the peace of Potluck be with you all. Amen." (p. I 20)  In an age when everybody  had to hear long sermons, the minister's  hour-glass  must  often  have been the focus of the congregation's attention; it is easy to see why a crowd would enjoy seeing Sir Edward's bailiff wearing "a counterfeit beard, and, standing in a pulpit fixed to the Maypole on Kyme green, having ... a pot of  ale or beer  hanging by him  instead  of an hourglass, whereof he ... did drink at the concluding of any point or part of  his speech"  (p. I20). The speech was  organized like a proper sermon, but its divisions were filled  with  merry morals, tales and local folklore.


the said person did read a text which he said was taken out of the Heteroclites ...viz., "Cesar Dando sublevando, ignoscendo gloriam  adeptus  est, and  did  English  it  thus:  Bayard's  Leap of Ancaster hath the bownder  stone in Bollingsbrookes  farm. I say the more knaves the honester men." And the ... parson then divided his text into three parts, viz., the first, a colladacion (collation?) of the ancient plane of Ancaster Heath; the second, an ancient story of  Mab as an appendix,  and the third, concluding knaves honest  men by an ancient story of  The Friar and The Boy. (p. I20)


Though it is not possible to get the comic point of  all this, it is clear that a main part of the fun for the audience lay in encountering familiar and unpretentious  lore  in  a  form  where  normally the matter would be religious or moral and require constraint. Mr. O'Conor  found  accounts  of  Bayard's  Leap  which  described  it  as a lonely house on an old Roman road, the haunt of a witch, and also the place where four holes in the ground were left  by  the hooves of the magic horse, Bayard, in taking  a  prodigious  leap. Other testimony in the Star Chamber  records  makes  it clear  that the Heteroclites-- a surprisingly sophisticated word for  "deviations from  the  standards"-- was  by  another  name  the 


[ 47 l


Book of Mab. There is  of  course  no  need  to  assume  an  influence  from  Romeo and  Juliet  or A  Midsummer  Night's  Dream;  three  witnesses  take "the book of Mab"  in  stride,  apparently  using  the  phrase  as  a general  name  for  the  strange  and  fantastic  among  stories  and beliefs.  The ancient story of the  Friar and the Boy,  on  the  other hand, was a particular  narrative and has survived. It is the sort of merry  tale  that  fits  the  holiday  mood  of  rebuking  niggardliness and, broadly, the proposition  that knaves are honest men. The Boy triumphs  over  his  begrudging  Stepmother  and  her  ally  the  Friar, thanks  to the magic  of  a kind  stranger  with  whom  he shares  his food;  by  the  magic,  it  happens  that  whenever   the  Stepmother glares at the Boy, she involuntarily  and thunderously  breaks wind; moreover,  whenever  the  Boy  plays  on  a magic  pipe,  everybody, however  malicious,  has  to  dance-- the  Stepmother,  the  Judge  to whom   she  appeals,  and  the  Friar,  who  dances  himself   into  a thorn bush.


Mr. O'Conor points out that  one  further  offense  charged  by the Earl concerned the posting of a bill of defiance by Talboys Dymoke:


"At the time that the May-game sports were used in South Kyme" he "did make and write a rhyme" which he "did fix and nail upon the Maypole." These lines, in the allegorical fashion typical of the age, referred to the fact that the Earl "had purchased a messuage, and certain lands, in Kyme ... of one Ambrose Marshe, Sir Edward Dymoke, and Talboys Dymoke," signifying by the ban dog (a dog chained to guard a house, or else because of his ferocity) the Earl, who had for his crest a white greyhound. According to Talboys Dymoke, the bull was "the cognizance of the town of Kyme ... And ... the Lord of the ... May game John Cradock, the younger, did subscribe to the ... rhyme with these words, 'Lord Cradock.'" (p.  I22)


The elder Cradock's testimony gave "the bull" a more particular meaning as "the only device" of Talboys Dymoke. So  the  lines which follow, though  written  presumably  by  Talboys  Dymoke, are addressed,  in the running fiction  of  the game,  from  the  May- game Lord, Cradock,  to his henchman or champion or champion­ in-arms,  Tom  Bull  Dymoke:



s The  Frere  and  tlte  Boye  ({(printed  at  London  in  Fleet  Street  by  Wynkyn  de Warde, about the year  15n"), ed. Francis Jenkinson  (Cambridge, Eng.,  1907).


[ 48  ]


The Bandog now, Tom Bull, comes to our town,
And swears by Ambrose  Marshe  and much  ado,
To signorize,  to seat, and sit him  down:
This marsh must marshall him and his whelps too.
But let them heed Tom Bull, for, if they stir,
I'll make it but a kennel for a cur
.             (p.  I23)


Here, as elsewhere, the "summer lord game" permits Dymoke, clearly the moving spirit, to project his feelings towards the Earl into a dramatic fiction in which he and his feelings become only a part of the composition. The Earl's lawyers, concerned to demonstrate damage by individuals to an  individual, insisted that the show was directed entirely at Lincoln. Actually, it is clear that the Earl was caught in a wheel of merriment which had been turning before he came along and which kept turning after he had been flung off. The fustian sermon had nothing to do with Lincoln; yet Talboys Dymoke came to Cradock's house after the play was over "and very much begged him to come unto the ... green and there to deliver an old idle speech"-- not to finish off the Earl, but to finish off the occasion, the whirling composition.


When in 1610 the Star Chamber handed down a judgment in Lincoln's favor, the consequences for the Dymoke  family  and their yeomen  friends were drastic. Talboys himself had died by I603, but the court provided that


Roger Bayard, John Cradock, and Marmaduke Dickinson, being the chief actors, be committed to the Fleet, led through West­ minster Hall with papers, and there to be set on the pillory, and afterwards to be whipped under the pillory; also to be set in the pillory  at  the assizes  in  Lincolnshire  and  acknowledge  their offenses and ask God and the Earl forgiveness, and then to be whipped under the pillory, and to pay 300 pounds apiece line, and be bound to good behavior before enlargement. That Sir Edward Dymoke, who was privy and consenting to the offenses ... be committed to the Fleet during the King's pleasure and pay 1000 pounds fine. (p. I25)




The Dymoke party had pleaded that all was done "in a merriment at the time of the ... May games" (p. 124). The humiliations and ruinous fines imposed show how little such a plea availed in the cold, sober, authoritarian atmosphere of the Council  sitting as the Star Chamber. It may be, as Mr. O'Conor 1610 worked to the detriment of the Dymokes; the court's judgment stressed the outrage done religion by Cradock's sermon.


But the same sort of  discontinuity was present  I think throughout  the  reign  of  Elizabeth,  between  what  would  be  tolerated  in the  festive  liberties  of  settled  local  groups  who  did  not  need  to fear mirth, and what would be made of these same liberties if they came to be brought before the highly moral royal council or before a  court.  The  official  world,  highly  conscious  of  the  disruptive potentialities  of  innovation, assumed that a constant  vigilance  was needed  to  cope  with  things  done  "in  frown  of  religion"  and  in contempt   of   "respective   and   due   observance   of   the   nobles." Incongruities  between   the  official  and  the  informal  are  always present,  of  course;  but  they  were  made  more  marked  in  Elizabethan  times  by  the  difference  between  tradition-directed   local communities,  which  could  accommodate  holiday  license,  and  the centers  of  change and  growth, which  were  anxiously  involved  in innovating  and resisting  innovation.  Early  in  Elizabeth's  reign  an episode is recorded  which  makes  clear  how,  where  innovation  is a  possibility,  saturnalian  inversion  becomes  suspect.  In  1564,  a group   of   ardently   Protestant   Cambridge   men,   disappointed   in their  hope  of  performing  a piece  before  Elizabeth  as part  of  the festivities  of  her  Cambridge  visit,  followed  her  to  Hinchinbrook, and secured her permission  to present  their  satire after  all:


The actors came in dressed as some of the imprisoned Catholic Bishops. First came the Bishop of London (i.e. Bonner)  carrying a lamb in his hands as if he were eating it as he walked along, and then others with different devices, one being in the figure of  a dog with the Host in his mouth.'


Elizabeth was outraged by this burlesque of the Mass, and abruptly quitted the chamber, taking the torchbearers with her and leaving the would-be satirists in the dark. They had tried a kind of game which had been tolerated in feasts of fools before the status of the mass became an issue, in the days when a reduction of the ceremony to the physical could only be read as the expression of a saturnalian mood. But in 1564 their burlesque was a taking advantage of holiday to advocate doctrinal revision at issue in every day controversy. Elizabeth had sanctioned for the first masque of her reign, on Twelfth Night, 1559, a masquerade of crows, asses, and wolves as cardinals, bishops, and abbots." But 1559 was, within limits, a revolutionary moment, and saturnalia, within limits, could serve it. Thereafter, as Elizabeth's response at Hinchinbrook testifies, the precarious religious settlement made religion an area where the authorities were particularly vigilant to exclude temporary, festive revolutions for fear that they might lead on to permanent revolutionary consequences.


9 Baskervill 1 p. 5 r; see also Chambers 1 Elizabethan Stage, 1 128.





The May Game of Martin Marprelate


It is beyond my scope here to try to do justice, even in summary, to the way the holiday games contributed to the popular comedy of jig, interlude, clown's recitation, and flyting.  As Baskervill's work shows almost poignantly, the evidence of this sort of influence  is  extraordinarily  widespread-- and  tantalizing  cryptic.  To look briefly at the use of May-game motifs in the Martin Marprelate controversy, however, can serve to provide a sort of spot sample of the relation of the stage to holiday at the formative period of the drama, the end of the decade of the  1580’s.  As Dover Wilson has remarked, the gifted Puritan satirist who masqueraded as Martin Marprelate  used  a  humorous  style which was "that of the stage monologue ... , with asides to the audience and a variety of 'patter' in the form of puns, ejaculations and references to current events and persons of popular  rumor .''11


10 Elizabethan Stage, I, 155.

11 The Cambridge History of English Literature, ed. A. W. Ward and A. R. Waller  (New York 1  1933), m, 436.




Francis Bacon, writing in the year of the controversy,  deplored "this immodest and deformed manner  of writing lately entertained, whereby matters of religion are handled in the style of the stage." Martin's huff-snuff tone was taken up by his opponents. Like much of the other satire of the period, the Martinist and anti-Martinist pamphlets show a curious mingling of buffoonery and invective, of relish for the opponent with scorn, which goes with the satirist's playing the fool to make a fool of his antagonist. The likeness of this tone to a Lord of Misrule's vaunting and abuse is suggested by several passages alluding to the games. Thus Pasquill of England swaggers on to a title page to challenge Martin Junior like one Summer  Lord  challenging  another:


A countercuff given to Martin Junior, by the venturous, hardy, and renowned Pasquill of England, Cavaliere. Not of old Martin's making, which newly knighted the Saints in Heaven with rise up Sir Peter and Sir Paul; but lately dubbed for his service at home in the defense of his country, and for the clean breaking of his staff upon Martin's face."


The knighting of boon companions was a tavern game in which "Rise up, Sir Robert Tosspot" was a formula; here Martin is pictured as a Lord of Misrule who presumes to dub the very saints in heaven cavalieros in his retinue. Elsewhere Pasquill asks his friend Marforius to "set up ... at London stone" a bill, called "Pasquill's Protestation," enlisting aid against Martin: "Let it be done solemnly with drum and trumpet, and look you advance my colors on the top of the steeple right over against it."" This is a procedure like Lord Cradock's defiant rhyme on the Maypole at South Kyme. Opponents are sometimes spoken of-- or to-- as though they were a Vice or clown, or other stock figure of the stage or the games:


Now Tarleton's dead, the consort lacks a vice:
For knave and fool thou may'st bear  prick and price."



12 Chambers, Elizabethan Stage, IV1 229 and also 1, 294.

13 McKerrow, Nashe, I, 57 H "The Returne of the Renowned Cavaliere Pasquil, in in The Complete Works of   Thomas Nashe, ed. Alexander  B. Grosart  (London,  r88 3-84),  I,  I35-1 3 6.

16 Quoted by Chambers, Elizabethan Stage, IV, from A Whip for an Ape: Or Martin Displaied. Chambers reprints many relevant excerpts in "Documents of Criticism/' IV, 229-233; it was in reading this collection that I was first struck with the prominence of holiday motifs in the controversy.




The  actors did  in  fact  take  the  opportunity  to  put  Martin on the stage, probably as the subject for jigs or other brief afterpieces.


The anatomy lately taken of him, the blood and the humours that were taken from him, by lancing and worming him at London upon the common stage ... are evident tokens that, being thorough soused with so many showers, he had no other refuge but to run into a hole and die as he lived, belching.


This dramatization of Martin's illness was referred to also in another pamphlet, which observed that Martin "took it very grievously, to be made a May game upon the stage," specifying "The Theater."  A satirical excursion,  called  "A true report  of the death and burial of Martin Marprelate," amounts to a description of a playlet in which Martin is put through stages included in Dymoke's "Death of the Lord of Kyme" and Nashe's Summer's Last Will and Testament. Martin grows sick, with allegorically appropriate ills; he gives repentant advice to his sons, in a burlesque in the manner of men dying in the Ars Moriendi literature; he makes his testament, including the bequest of "all his foolery" to the player Lanam; he dies, is allegorically anatomized, buried in a dunghill, and honoured with a collection of mock epitaphs and a jingling Latin dirge.


The phrase "to make a May game" of somebody implies that one need  only bring an antagonist  into the field  of  force of  May games to make  him ridiculous. A pamphlet  promises  its readers a "new  work"  entitled  The May game of  Martinism  and  gives  a preview which is worth quoting in full as an example of the practice of mocking individuals by identifying them with traditional holiday roles.  Various  prominent  Puritans,  along  with  Martin,  are put  in the game:



16            Elizabethan  Stage, IV,  231 1  from A  Countercuffe given to Martin  Junior: .. by Pasquill  of  England, in McKerrow, Nashe, r, 59•

17 Elizabethan Stage, rv, 230,  from Martins Months Minde in Grosart, Nas!te, I,I7 5.

18 In Martins Months Minde (1589), reprinted in Grosart, Nashe, I, 168.  Bishop  Bonner  was  satirized  by  a  similar  burlesque   Commemoration  described  by Baskervill (Jig, p. 5 I) as "in the vein of burlesques designed for feasts of misrule."




Penry the Welshman is the forgallant of the Morris, with the treble bells, shot through  the wit  with  a Woodcock's  bill.  I would not for the fairest hornbeast in all his country, that the Church of England were a cup of Metheglin, and came in his way when he is over-heated! Every bishopric would prove but a draught, when the mazer is at his nose. Martin himself is the Maid Marian,  trimly  dressed up  in a cast gown, and a kercher of Dame Lawson's, his face handsomely muffied  with a diaper­ napkin to cover his beard, and a great nosegay in his  hand, of the principalest flowers I could gather out of all his works. Wiggenton dances round about him in a cotton coat, to court him with a leathern pudding and a wooden ladle. Pagit marshalleth  the way, with a couple of  great  clubs, one  in  his  foot, another  in his head; and he cries to the people with a loud voice, "Beware of the man whom God hath  marked."  I cannot yet  find any so fit to come lagging behind, with a budget on his neck, to gather the devotion of the lookers on, as the stock-keeper of the Bride­ well-house of Canterbury; he must carry  the  purse,  to  defray their  charges,  and  then  he  may be  sure to  serve himself.


The vivid description of such business as the wooing of a bearded Maid Marian suggests how, quite apart from any ridicule of persons, the performers would farce their roles just for the fun of it. To make such farce into satire of a sort, or  more  properly,  into festive abuse, Nashe or whoever  wrote the pamphlet  needed  only to add proper names and a few scurrilous allusions like the reference  to  Pagit's  club  foot.


It is striking that the  May game of  Martin  is promised  as a show rather than a pamphlet, "very deftly set out, with pomps, pageants, motions, masks, scutchions, emblems, impresses, strange tricks, and devices, between the Ape and the  Owl,  the  like  was never yet seen in Paris Garden." Stage and holiday were thus close enough together to admit the envisaging of a show, fairly similar in character to the Morris dance and marching of a summer lord game, as an entertainment to rival those of the Bear Garden. Stage satire and holiday abuse are spoken of in one breath by Gabriel Harvey when, taking his cue from the notion of a May game of Martinism, he heaps scorn on the unworthiness of the spokesmen by whom the established church  has  answered  Martin's  attacks:


19 The Returne  of  the renouned  Cavaliero  Pasquil  of  England  (1589)  in McKerrow, Nashe, I, 83. Also printed in Elizabethan Stage, IV, 231.





Had I been Martin ... it should have been one of my May­ games, or August triumphs, to have driven Officials, Commissaries, Archdeacons, Deans, Chancellors, Suffragans, Bishops and Archbishops (so Martin would have flourished at the least) to entertain such an odd, light-headed  fellow for their defense: a professed jester, a Hickscorner, a scoff-master, a playmonger, an interlude... 20


Here Martin is set up explicitly as a summer lord; he defies his enemies with a "flourish"; reference to his "August triumphs" suggests Talboys' sort of Sunday marching.  Harvey is saying that the bishops have descended to Martin's level, but, significantly, he doesn't put it that way; instead he says that they have entered Martin's May game. They do so by having recourse to a May­ game sort of fellow, a professed jester, a scoffmaster, a playmonger.  Foolery and comedy are equivalent: "I am threatened with a bauble, and Martin menaced with a comedy," Harvey writes, and goes on to describe ironically a reign of terror by those “that have the stage a commandment, and can furnish-out Vices, and Devils at their pleasure.”


The stage satire of Martin is referred to as Vetus Comoedia in the same Pasquill pamphlet which describes the May game of Martinism:


Methought Vetus Comoedia began to prick him at London  in the right vein, when she brought forth Divinity with a scratched face, holding her heart as if she were sick, because Martin would have forced her, but missing of his purpose, he left the print of his nails upon her cheeks, and poisoned her with a vomit which he ministered unto her, to make her cast up her dignities and promotions. 22


Vetus Comoedia certainly was an apt term for the theater's way of making a May game of Martin. Such a rough and ready symbolic figure as Divinity is comparable to, say, Aristophanes' Peace;  while Martin, when he played opposite  to  Divinity  and  tried  to  force her,  must  have  been  a manic  sort  of  clown  similar  to,  say,  the


20 Elizabethan  Stage,  IV,   232 1  from  G.  Harvey, An  Advertisement   for   Papp­ Hatchett.

21 Elizabethan  Stage,  IV,   233               
22 Elizabethan  Stage, IV,   232.




Sausage Seller in the Knights. Aristophanes' use of traditional formulae or scenarios, such as the alazons' interrupting the feast and being thrown out by the eiron hero, is similar to the use of the device of carrying Martin off on the Devil's back. To enact physically a phrase normally used figuratively, like "cast up" dignities, is thoroughly Aristophanic, as is also the connecting of several such fancies into an allegorical plot which is grossly physical in execution. A connection of the Old Comedy sort of mockery with country merriments is suggested near the end of the Anti-Martinist dialogue, when Pasquill asks "But who cometh yonder,  Maforius, can you tell me?” and Marforius sees Vetus Comoedia coming with a garland, apparently dancing:


MARFORIUS. By her gait and her garland I know her well, it is Vetus Comoedia. She hath been  so long in the country, that she is somewhat altered. This is she that called in a council of physicians about Martin, and found by the sharpness of his humour, when they had opened the vein that feeds his head,  that  he would  spit out his lungs  within  one year....

PASQUILL. I have a tale to tell her in her ear, of the sly practice that was used  in  restraining  of  her.


The remark that "she hath been so long in the country" seems to imply that the sort of drastic ad hominem ridicule practiced on Martin had come to be confined to the frank country world, the world of Talboys Dymoke. After a summer of manhandling Martin, the players had been brought up short by the authorities, as Pasquill was going "to tell her in her ear." Lyly in a pamphlet complained that if "these comedies might be allowed to be played that are penned, ... (Martin) would be deciphered." But in­stead of welcoming the players' help against the government's Puritan opponent, the Master of the Revels arranged for Burghley to permit the stage's enemy, the Lord Mayor, to prohibit all theatrical exhibitions. And shortly afterwards the Privy Council directed that the Archbishop of Canterbury and the Lord Mayor appoint representatives to work with the Master of the Revels in passing on the books of plays and striking out or correcting "such parts or matters as they shall find unfit and undecent to be handled in plays, both for Divinity and State.” Here again the Aristophanic impulse, when directly expressed, ran head on into official prohibition. To find expression, saturnalia had to shift from symbolic action towards symbolic action, from abuse directed from the stage at the world  to abuse directed by one stage figure at another.


23 Ibid.  
24 Ibid.

25 Elizabethan Stage, I, 295. Chambers handles the dramatic part of the Mar­ prelate controversy as an episode in "The Struggles of Court and City.n McKer­ row's account is in his Nashe, IV, 44• Baskervill relates the pamphleteers' descrip­ tions of stage satires to other similar shows in Jig, pp. 50-55•





Chapter 6

Such shaping fantasies, that apprehend
More than cool reason ever comprehends.

IF Shakespeare had called A Midsummer Night's Dream by a title that referred to pageantry and May games, the aspects of it with which I shall be chiefly concerned would be more often discussed. To honor a noble wedding, Shakespeare gathered up in a play the sort of pageantry which was usually presented piece-meal at aristocratic entertainments, in park and court as well as in hall. And the May game, everybody's pastime, gave the pattern for his whole action, which moves "from the town to the grove" and back again, bringing in summer to the bridal. These things were familiar and did not need to be stressed by a title.

Shakespeare's young men and maids, like those Stubbes described in May games, "run gadding over night to the woods, . . . where they spend the whole night in pleasant pastimes" and  in  the fierce vexation which often goes with the pastimes of falling in and out of love and threatening to fight about it. "And no marvel," Stubbes exclaimed about such headlong business, "for there is a great Lord present among them, as superintendent and Lord over their pastimes and sports, namely, Satan, prince of hell.” In making Oberon, prince of fairies, into the May king, Shakespeare urbanely plays with the notion of a supernatural power at work in holiday: he presents the common May game presided over by an aristocratic garden god. Titania is a Summer Lady ‘who waxeth wounder proud’:

1. The passage in Stubbes is quoted more fully above, pp. 2 1-22, in the course of a summary of May day  custom.

[  II9  ]

I  am  a spirit  of  no  common rate,
The summer still doth tend upon my state . . .
                                                      (III.i. 157- 158)

And Puck, as jester, promotes the "night-rule" version of misrule over which Oberon is superintendent and lord in the "haunted grove." The lovers originally meet 

in the wood, a league without the town,
Where I did meet thee once  with  Helena
To do  observance  to a  morn  of May.
                                                     (I.i. 165-I 67)

Next morning, when Theseus and Hippolyta find the lovers sleeping, it is after their own early "observation is performed"­-- presumably some May-game observance, of a suitably aristocratic kind, for Theseus jumps  to the conclusion  that

No doubt  they  rose  up  early  to  observe
The rite of May; and, hearing our intent,
Came  here  in  grace  of   our  solemnity.
                                                   (IV.i. 135-137)

These lines need not mean that the play's action happens on May Day. Shakespeare does not make himself accountable for exact chronological inferences; the moon that will be new according to Hippolyta will shine according to Bottom's almanac. And in any case, people went Maying at various times, "Against May, Whit­ sunday, and other time" is the  way  Stubbes  puts  it. This Maying can be thought of as happening on a midsummer night, even on Midsummer Eve itself, so that its accidents are complicated by the delusions of a magic time. (May Week at Cambridge University still comes in June.) The point of the allusions is not the date, but the kind of holiday occasion.2  The Maying is  completed  when Oberon and Titania with their trains come into the great chamber to bring the blessings  of  

2 A great deal of misunderstanding has come from the assumption of commentators that a Maying must necessarily come on May Day, May 1. The confusion that results is apparent throughout Furness'  discussion  of  the title and  date  in his preface to the Variorum edition. He begins by quoting Dr. Johnson downright:  "I know not why Shakespeare calls this play 'A Midsummer Night's Dream' when he so carefully informs us that it happened on  the night  preceding  May day"   (p.  v.).

[ 120 ]

fertility.  They are at once common andspecial, a May king and queen  making  their  good  luck  visit  to the manor house, and a pair of country gods, half-English and half-Ovid, come to bring their powers  in tribute to great lords and ladies.

The play's relationship to pageantry is most prominent in the scene where the fairies are introduced by our seeing their quarrel. This encounter is the sort of thing that Elizabeth and the wedding party might have happened on while walking about in the park during the long summer dusk. The fairy couple accuse each  other of the usual weakness of pageant  personages-- a  compelling  love for royal personages :

                                        Why art thou here,
Come  from  the  farthest  steep  of  India,
But  that,  forsooth,  the bouncing Amazon,
Your buskin'd mistress and your warrior love,
To Theseus  must  be wedded,  and you  come
To give their bed joy  and  prosperity?

Oberon describes an earlier entertainment, very likely one in which the family of the real-life bride or groom had been concerned:

My gentle Puck, come hither. Thou rememb'rest
Since once I sat upon a promontory
And heard a mermaid, on a dolphin's back . . .
That very time I saw  (but  thou  couldst  not)
Flying between the cold moon and the earth
Cupid,  all arm'd. A  certain  aim  he took
At  a  fair Vestal,  throned  by  the West,
And loos'd his love-shaft smartly from his bow,
As  it should  pierce  a  hundred  thousand hearts.
But  I might  see young  Cupid's fiery shaft
Quench'd in the chaste beams of the wat'ry  moon,
And  the  imperial  vot'ress  passed on,
In maiden  meditation, fancy-free.

At the entertainment at Elvetham  in  1591, Elizabeth  was throned by the west side of a garden lake to listen to music from the   water; the fairy queen came with a round of dancers and spoke of herself

[ 121 ]

as wife to Auberon. These and other similarities make it quite possible, but not necessary, that Shakespeare was referring to the Elvetham occasion.3  There has been speculation, from Warburton on down, aimed at identifying the mermaid and discovering in Cupid's fiery shaft a particular bid for Elizabeth's affections; Leicester's Kenilworth entertainment in 1575 was usually taken as the occasion alluded to, despite the twenty years that had gone  by when Shakespeare wrote.4 No one, however, has cogently demonstrated any reference to court intrigue-which is to  be expected in view of the fact that the play, af ter its original per­ formance, was on the public stage. The same need for discretion probably accounts for the lack of internal evidence as to the par­ ticular marriage the comedy originally celebrated.5 But what  is not  in doubt, and what matters for our purpose here, is the kind of occasion Oberon's speech refers to, the kind of occasion Shake­ speare's scene is shaped by. The speech describes, in  retrospect,  just such a joyous overflow of pleasure into music and make-believe, as is happening in Shakespeare's own play. The fact that what Shakespeare handled with supreme skill was just what was most commonplace no doubt contributes to our inability  to connect  what he produced  with  particular historical circumstances.

As we have seen, it was commonplace to imitate Ovid. Ovidian fancies pervade A Midsummer Night's Dream, and especially the scene of the fairy quarrel: the description of the way Cupid "loos'd his love shaft" at Elizabeth parallels the Metamorphoses'  account of the god's shooting "his best arrow, with the golden head" at Apollo; Helena, later in the scene, exclaims that "The story shall be chang'd:/ Apollo flies, and Daphne holds the chase"-- and proceeds to invert animal images from  Ovid.6  The game was  not so much to lift things gracefully from Ovid as it was to make up fresh things in Ovid's manner, as Shakespeare here, by playful mythopoesis, explains the bad weather by his fairies' quarrel and makes up a metamorphosis of the little Western flower to motivate

3 See  E.  K. Chambers,  Shakespearean  Gleanings  (Oxford,  1944),  pp. 63-64 ; and Venezky, Pageantry, pp.  140:ff.
4 The conjectures are summarized in Variorum, pp.  7 5-9 I.
5 Chambers, Gleanings, pp.  61-67.
6  Ovid,  Metamorphoses,  with  an  English  translation  by  Frank  Justus   Miller
(New  York,  1916), pp.  34  and  36-37,  Bk.  I,  11.  465-474  and 505-506.

[ 122 ]

the play's follies and place Elizabeth superbly above them.The pervasive Ovidian influence accounts for Theseus' putting fables and fairies in the same breath when he says, punning on ancient and antic, 

                                           I never may  believe
These  antique  fables  nor  these  fairy toys.

The humor of the play relates superstition, magic and passionate delusion as "fancy's images." The actual title emphasizes a sceptical attitude by calling the comedy a "dream." It  seems unlikely  that the title's characterization of the dream,  "a  midsummer  night's dream," implies association with the specific customs of Midsummer Eve, the shortest night of the year, except as "midsummer night" would carry suggestions of a magic time. The observance of Midsummer Eve in England centered on building bonfires or "bonefires," of which there is nothing in Shakespeare's moonlight play. It was a time when maids might find out  who  their true love would be by dreams or divinations. There were customs of decking houses with greenery and hanging lights,  which just possibly might connect with the fairies' torches at the comedy's end. And when people gathered fern seed at midnight, sometimes they spoke of spirits whizzing invisibly past. If one ranges through the eclectic pages of  The Golden Bough, guided by the index for Midsummer Eve, one finds other customs suggestive of Shakespeare's play, involving moonlight, seeing the moon in water, gathering dew, and so on, but in Sweden, Bavaria, or still more  remote  places,  rather  than  England.8   

7 See above, pp. 83f., for a similar compliment to the Queen by Nashe in Summer's Last Will and Testament. Nashe also elaborates meteorology into make­ believe: Summer blames the  drying up  of  the Thames  and  earlier  flooding  of  it on the pageant  figure,  Sol  (McKerrow, Nashe, III,  250, 11.    541-565) .
8 A  good  summary  of  English  Midsummer  Eve  customs  is  in  Brand's  Antiqui­ties, ed. Ellis, pp. 298-337,  which  gives simply and  briefly  examples  of  almost  all the English customs included in Frazer's far more complete survey (see The Golden Bough, Vol. xn, Bibliography and General Index, London, 1915, pp. 370-371) . Ellis cites (p. 319) a song from Penzance which describes what  is in  many respects a Maying, held  on  Midsummer  Eve  with  a  Midsummer  bonfire for the men  and maids to dance around  (such  a local  combination  of  the  customs is to  be  expected)  : 

Bright Luna spreads its light around,
The  gallants  for  to  cheer, 
As they lay sporting on the ground,

At  the  fair  June bonfire.
All  on  the  pleasant dewy  mead,

They   shared   each   other's  charms,
Till Phoebus' beams began to spread,

And   coming   day alarms.

Although reported as "sung for a long series of years at Penzance and the neighbourhood," the piece obviously was written after Shakespeare's  period.  But  the  customs it describes in its rather crude way are interesting in relation to A  Midsummer Night's Dream, particularly the moonlight and dew, and the sun's beams coming to end it all.

[ 123 ]

One  can  assume  that parallel English customs have been lost, or one can assume that Shakespeare's imagination found its way to  similarities  with  folk cult, starting from the custom of  Maying and  the general feeling that spirits may be abroad in the long dusks and short nights of midsummer. Olivia in Twelfth Night speaks of "midsummer  madness" ( IIl.iv.61). In the absence of evidence, there is no way  to settle just how much comes from  tradition.  But  what is clear is that Shakespeare was not simply writing out folklore  which  he heard in his youth, as Romantic critics liked to assume. On the contrary, his fairies are produced by a complex fusion of pageantry and popular game, as well as popular fancy. Moreover, as we  shall see, they are not serious in the menacing way in which the people's fairies were serious. Instead they are serious in a  very different  way, as embodiments of the May-game experience oferos in  men and women  and trees and  flowers, while any superstitious  tendency to believe in  their  literal  reality is mocked.  The whole night's action is presented as a release of shaping fantasy which brings clarification about the tricks of strong imagination. We watch a  dream; but we are awake, thanks to pervasive humor about the tendency to take fantasy  literally,  whether  in  love,  in  superstition, or in Bottom's mechanical dramatics.  As in Love's Labour's Lost the folly of wit becomes the generalized comic subject in the course of an astonishing release of witty invention, so here in the course of a more inclusive release of imagination,  the folly of fantasy becomes the general subject, echoed back and forth between the strains of the play's imitative counterpoint.

[124 ]

The Fond Pageant

We can best  follow  first the strain  of  the lovers;  then  the fairies,their persuasive and then their humorous aspects; and finally the broadly comic strain of the clowns. We feel what happens to the young lovers in relation to the wedding of the Duke. Theseus and Hippolyta have a quite special sort of role: they are principals without being protagonists; the  play  happens  for  them  rather than to them. This relation goes with  their  being  stand-ins  for  the noble couple whose marriage the play originally honored. In expressing the prospect of Theseus'  marriage,  Shakespeare  can fix in ideal form, so that it can be felt later at performance in the theater, the mood that would obtain in  a palace  as the  "nuptial hour  / Draws  on  apace."  Theseus  looks  towards  the  hour with masculine impatience, Hippolyta with a woman's  happy  willingness to dream away the  time.  Theseus  gives  directions  for  the  "four happy  days"  to  his  "usual manager of mirth,"  his   Master of  the  Revels,  Philostrate:

                                                   Go, Philostrate,
Stir up the Athenian youth to merriments,
Awake the pert and nimble spirit of mirth,
Turn  melancholy  forth  to funerals;
The pale  companion  is not  for  our pomp.
                                                                ( Ii.I 1-15)

The whole community is to observe  a  decorum  of the  passions,  with Philostrate as choreographer of a pageant where Melancholy's float will not appear. After  the  war  in  which  he  won  Hippolyta, the  Duke  announces  that  he  is  going  to  wed  her

                                                                in another key,
With  pomp,  with  triumph, and with revelling.
                                                                            ( l.i.  8- 9)

But his large, poised line is interrupted by Egeus, panting out vexation. After the initial invocation of nuptial festivity, we are confronted by the sort of tension from which merriment is a  release. Here is Age, standing in the  way of Athenian  youth ; here are the locked conflicts of  everyday.  By  the dwelling  here on "the sharp Athenian law," on the fate  of  nuns  "in shady  cloister mew'd," we  are  led  to  feel  the  outgoing  to  the  woods as  an  escape  from  the  inhibitions  imposed  by  parents  

[ 125 ]

and  the organizd comunity. And  this  sense  of  release  is  also  prepred by looking for just a moment at the tragic potentialities of passion. Lysander and Hermia, left alone in their predicament, speak a plaintive, symmetrical duet on the theme, learned "from tale or history," that  "The  course  of  true  love never  did run smooth":

Lysander.        But, either it was different  in blood­
Hermia.    O cross! too high to be enthrall'd to low!
Lysander.        Or else misgraffed in respect of years­
Hermia.    O spite! ,too old to be engag'd to  young!
                                                                           ( l.i.135-138 )

Suddenly the tone changes, as Lysander describes in little the sort of tragedy presented in Romeo and Juliet, where Juliet exclaimed that their  love  was  "Too  like  the  lightning,  which  doth  cease  to be / Ere one can say 'It lightens' " ( II.ii.I  I 9-120).

Lysander.    Or, if  there  were  a  sympathy in choice,
War, death,  or  sickness  did  lay siege to it,
Making  it  momentany  as  a sound,
Swift as a shadow, short as any dream,
Brief  as the lightning  in the collied night,
That, in a spleen, unfolds both heaven and earth,
And  ere a man  hath  power  to  say 'Behold!'
The  jaws  of  darkness  do  devour it up:
So quick  bright  things  come  to confusion.
                                                                  ( I.i.141-149)

But Hermia  shakes  herself  free of  the tragic vision, and  they turn to thoughts of stealing forth tomorrow night to meet in the Maying wood and go on to . the dowager aunt, where  "the sharp  Athenian  law  /  Cannot  pursue  us."

If they had reached . the wealthy aunt, the play would be a  romance. But it is a change of heart, not  a  change  of  fortune,  which lets love have its way. The merriments  Philostrate  was  to have directed happen inadvertently, the lovers walking into them blind, so to speak. This is characteristic of the way game is transformed into drama in  this  play,  by  contrast with the disabling of the fictions in Love's Labour's Lost. Here the roles which the young people might play in a wooing  game,  they  carry  out  in earnest. And anybody is shown setting about to  play the parts  of Oberon or Titania. Instead the pageant fictions are presented as "actually" happening-- at least so it seems at first glance.

[ 126  ]

We see the fairies meet by moonlight in the woods before we see the lovers arrive there, and so are prepared to see the mortals lose themselves. In The Winter's Tale, Perdita describes explicitly the transforming and liberating powers of the spring festival which in A Midsummer Night's Dream are embodied in the nightwood world the lovers enter. After Perdita has described the spring flowers, she concludes with

                                                               O, these I lack
To make you garlands of ; and my sweet friend,
To  strew  him  o'er  and  o'er!
Florizel.                                   What,  like  a corse?
Perdita.    No, like a bank for love to lie and play on ;
Not like a corse; or if-- not to be buried,
But quick, and in mine arms. Come, take your flow'rs.
Methinks  I play  as  I  have  seen them do
In Whitsun pastorals. Sure this robe of mine
Does change my disposition.
                                                         (WT IV.iv.127-135)

Her recovery is as exquisite as  her impulse towards  surrender: she comes back to herself by seeing her gesture as the expression of the occasion. She makes the festive clothes she wears mean its transforming  power.  Florizel  has  told  her that

These your unusual weeds to each part of you
Do give a life-- no shepherdess  but  Flora
Peering  in  April's front!

Holiday disguising, her humility suggests, would be embarrassing but for the license of  the sheep-shearing  feast:

                                         But  that  our  feasts
In every mess have folly, and the feeders
Digest  it with  a custom, I should blush
To see you so  attired.

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The lovers in A Midsummer Night's Dream play "as in Whitsun pastorals," but they are entirely without this sort of consciousness of their folly.   They are unreservedly in the passionate protestations which they rhyme at each other as they change  partners:

Helena.    Lysander, if  you live, good  sir,  awake.
Lysander.    And run through fire I will for thy  sweet sake
Transparent  Helena!   
                                                        ( Il.ii.102-104)

The result of this lack of consciousness is that they are often rather dull and undignified, since however energetically they elaborate conceits, there is usually no qualifying irony,  nothing  withheld. And only accidental differences can be exhibited,  Helena  tall, Hermia short. Although the men think that "reason says"  now Hermia, now Helena, is "the worthier maid," personalities have nothing to do with the case: it is the flowers that  bloom  in  the spring. The life in the lovers' parts is not to be caught in individual speeches, but by regarding the whole movement of the farce, which swings and spins each in turn through a common pattern, an evolution that seems to have an impersonal power of its own. 

Miss Enid Welsford  describes  the  play's  movement  as  a dance:

The plot is a pattern, a figure, rather than a  series  of  human events occasioned by character and passion, and this pattern, especially in  the  moonlight  parts of the play,  is the  pattern of a dance.

"Enter a Fairie at one doore, and Robin Goodfellow at an­ other. . . . Enter the King of Fairies, at one doore, with his traine; and the Queene, at another with hers."

The appearance and disappearance and reappearance  of the various lovers, the will-o'-the-wisp movement  of  the  elusive Puck, form a kind of figured ballet.  The  lovers quarrel in a dance pattern : first, there are two men to one woman  and  the other woman alone, then a brief space  of  circular  movement,  each one pursuing and pursued, then a return to the first figure  with the position of the woman reversed, then a cross-movement, man  quarrelling  with  man  and  woman  with  woman,  and  then, as finale, a general setting to partners, including not only the lovers but fairies and royal personages as  well.9

9 The Court Masque, pp. 331-332. Although Miss Welsford's perceptions about dance and revel make her account of A M idsummer Night's Dream extremely effective, the court masque, to which she chiefly refers it, is not really a formal prototype for this play. It is a direct and large influence in shaping The Tempest,  and her account of that play brings out fundamental structure such as the early masterpiece  gets  from  entertainment  and  outdoor  holiday,  not  the court masque.

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This is fine and right, except that one must add that the lovers' evoiutions have a headlong and helpless quality that  depends  on their not being intended as dance, by contrast with those of the fairies. (One can also contrast the courtly circle's intended though abortive dances in Love's Labour's Lost.)  The  farce  is  funniest, and most meaningful, in the climactic scene where the lovers are most unwilling, where they try their hardest to use personality to break free, and still are willy-nilly swept along to end in pitch darkness, trying to fight. When both men have arrived at wooing Helena, she assumes it must be voluntary mockery, a "false sport" fashioned "in spite." She appeals to Hermia on the basis of their relation as particular individuals,  their  "sister's vows." But Hermia is at sea, too; names no longer work: "Am I not Hermia? Are not  you Lysander?" So in the end Hermia  too,  though  she has  held off, is swept into the whirl, attacking Helena  as a thief  of  love.  She grasps at straws to explain what has happened by something manageably  related  to  their  individual  identities:

Helena.  Fie, fie!  You  counterfeit,  you  puppet you.
Hermia.  Puppet?  Why so!  Ay, that way  goes the game.
Now  I  perceive  that  she hath  made compare
Between our statures; she hath urg'd her height . . .
How low am I, thou painted maypole?   Speak!

In exhibiting a more drastic helplessness of will and mind than anyone experienced in Love Labour's Lost, this farce conveys a sense of people being tossed about by a force which puts them beside themselves to take them beyond  themselves.  The change that happens is presented simply, with little suggestion that it involves a growth in insight-- Demetrius is not led to realize something  false in his 

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diverted  affection  for  Hermia.  But  one psychological change, fundamental in growing up, is presented. Helena tries at first to move  Hermia  by  an  appeal to  "schooldays  friend­
ship, childhood innocence," described at length in lovely, generous lines:

                                       So we grew together,
Like to a  double cherry, seeming parted,
But  yet  an union  in partition--
Two lovely berries molded on one stem . . .
And  will you  rent  our ancient  love asunder
To join with men in scorning your poor friend?

"To join with men" has a plaintive girlishness about it. But before the scramble is over, the two girls have broken the double-cherry bond, to fight each without reserve for her man. So they move  from the  loyalties of  one stage of  life to those of another. When it has happened, when they wake up, the changes in affections seem mysterious:  So Demetrius says

But, my good lord, I wot not by what power
(But by some power it is) my love to Hermia,
Melted  as the  snow, seems to  me  now
As  the  remembrance  of  an  idle  gaud
Which  in  my  childhood  I  did  dote  upon.

The comedy's irony about love's motives and choices expresses love's power not as an attribute of special personality but as an impersonal force beyond the persons concerned. The tragedies of love, by isolating Romeo and Juliet, Antony and Cleopatra, enlist our concern for love as it enters into unique destinies, and convey its subjective immensity in individual experience. The festive comedies, in presenting love's effect on a group, convey a different sense of its power, less intense but also less   precarious.

In Love's Labour's Lost it was one of the lovers, Berowne, who was aware, in the midst of folly's game, that it was folly and a game; such consciousness, in A Midsummer Night's Dream, is lodged outside the lovers, in Puck. It  is he who  knows  "which way goes the game," as poor Hermia only thought she did. As a jester, and as Robin Goodfellow, games and practical jokes are his

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great delight: his lines express for the audience the  mastery  that  comes  from  seeing  folly  as  a   pattern:

Then  will  two  at once woo one.
That  must needs be  sport alone.
                                           ( IIl.ii;1I 8-119)

Like Berowne, he counts up the sacks as they come to Cupid's mill: 

Yet  but   three?   Come   one more.
Two of both kinds  makes  up  four.
Here   she   comes,   curst   and sad.
Cupid  is  a  knavish  lad
Thus  to  make  poor females mad.
                                      ( Ill.ii.437-441)

Females, ordinarily a graceless  word, works  nicely  here because it includes every girl. The same effect is got by using the names Jack  and  Jill,  any  boy  and  any girl:

And  the  country proverb  known,
That every man should  take  his  own,
In your  waking  shall be shown:
Jack shall have Jill; Nought  shall go ill:
The man shall have his mare again and all shall be well.
                                                                    ( Ill.ii.457-463)

The trailing off into rollicking  doggerel  is exactly right to convey a country-proverb confidence in common humanity and in what humanity have in common. The proverb  is on the  lovers'  side, as it was not for Berowne, who had ruefully to accept an ending in which "Jack hath not Jill." A festive confidence that things will ultimately go right supports the perfect gayety  and  detachment with  which  Puck relishes  the preposterous  course they take:

Shall we their fond pageant see?
Lord,  what  fools  these mortals be!
                                                                ( III.ii.I 14-115)

The pageant is "fond" because  the  mortals  do  not  realize  they  are in it, nor that it is sure to come out right,  since nature  will  have  its way.

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Bringing  in Summer to the Bridal

Spenser's Epithalamion, written at about the same time as A Midsummer Night's Dream, about 1595, is very like Shakespeare's play in the way it uses a complex literary heritage to express native English customs. In the course of fetching the bride to church and home again, Spenser makes the marriage a fulfillment of the whole countryside  and community:

So goodly all agree with sweet consent,
To this  dayes merriment.

A gathering in, like that of the May game, is part of this confluence:

Bring with you all the Nymphes that you can heare
Both  of  the riuers  and the forrests  greene:
And of the sea that neighbours to her neare,
Al with  gay girlands goodly  well beseene.

The church of course is decked with garlands, and the bride, "being crowned with a girland greene," seems "lyke some mayden Queene." It is Midsummer. The pervasive feeling for the kinship  of  men  and nature  is what  rings in the refrain:

That all the woods  them  answer  and their  echo ring.

Shakespeare, in developing a May-game action at length to express the will in nature that is consummated in marriage, brings  out underlying magical meanings of the ritual while keeping always a sense of what it is humanly, as an experience. The way nature is felt is shaped, as we noticed in an earlier chapter, by the things that are done in encountering  it.10  The woods  are a region of passionate excitement where, as Berowne said, love "adds a precious seeing to the eye." This precious seeing was talked about but never realized in Love's Labour's Lost; instead we got wit.  But now it is realized; we get poetry. Poetry conveys the experience of amorous tendency diffused in nature; and poetry, dance, gesture, dramatic fiction, combine to create, in the fairies, creatures who embody the passionate 

10  See above, p. 20.

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mind's elated sense of its own omnipotence. The woods are established as a region of metamorphosis, where in liquid moonlight or glimmering starlight, things can change, merge and melt into each other. Metamorphosis expresses both what love sees and what it seeks to do.

The opening scene, like an overture, announces this theme of dissolving, in unobtrusive but  persuasive  imagery.  Hippolyta says that the four days until the wedding will "quickly steep themselves in night" and the nights  "quickly  dream  away  the time" (I.i.6-7)-- night will dissolve day  in  dream.  Then an  imagery of wax develops as Egeus complains that Lysander has bewitched his daughter Hermia, "stol'n the impression of her fantasy"  (I.i.32 ). Theseus backs up  Egeus by  telling  Hermia that

To you your  father should be as a  god;
One that compos'd your beauties; yea, and one
To whom  you  are but  as a form in  wax,
By him imprinted, and within  his  power
To leave the figure,  or  disfigure  it.
                                                            (l.i.47-5I )

The supposedly moral threat is incongruously communicated in lines that relish the joy of composing beauties and suggests a godlike, almost inhuman freedom to do as one pleases in such creation. The metaphor  of  sealing  as procreation  is picked  up  again when Theseus requires Hermia  "to decide  by the next new moon,   / The sealing day betwixt my love and me" ( I.i.84-85). The consummation in prospect with marriage is envisaged as a melting into a  new form  and a new  meaning.  Helena  says to  Hermia  that she would  give the world "to be to you translated" (Li.191), and in  another image describes meanings that melt from love's transforming power:

ere  Demetrius  look'd  on  Hermia's  eyes, 
He hail'd down oaths that he was only mine;
And when this hail some heat from Hermia felt,
So he dissolv'd, and show'rs of  oaths did melt.

The most general statement, and one that perfectly fits what we are to see in the wood when Titania meets Bottom, is

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Things base and vile, holding no quantity,
Love can transpose  to form and  dignity.

"The glimmering night" promotes transpositions by an  effect not simply of light, but also of a half-liquid medium in or through which  things  are seen:

Tomorrow night, when Phoebe doth  behold
Her  silver  visage  in  the  wat'ry  glass,
Decking with  liquid  pearl  the bladed  grass,
(A time that  lovers' flights  doth  still conceal)

Miss Caroline Spurgeon pointed to the moonlight in this play  as one of the earliest sustained effects of "iterative imagery."11 To realize how the effect is achieved, we have to recognize that the imagery is not used simply to paint an external scene but to convey human attitudes. We do not get simply  "the  glimmering  night,"  but

Didst thou not lead him through the glimmering night
From  Perigouna,  whom  he  ravished ?
                                                                       ( Il.i.77-78)

The liquid imagery conveys an experience of the skin, as well as the eye's confusion by refraction. The moon "looks with a wat'ry eye" (III.i.203) and "washes all the air" ( II.i.ro4) ; its sheen, becoming liquid pearl as it mingles with dew, seems to get onto the eyeballs of the lovers, altering them to reshape what they see, like the juice of the flower with which they are "streaked" by Oberon and Puck. The climax of unreason comes when Puck over­ casts the night to make it "black as Acheron" ( IIl.ii.357 ; the lovers now experience only sound and touch, running blind over uneven ground, through bog and brake, "bedabbled with the dew and torn with briers" ( IIl.ii.442). There is nothing more they  can do until the return of light permits a return of control: light is anticipated as "comforts from the East" (III.ii.432 ), "the Morning's love" ( III.ii.389). The sun announces its coming in a triumph

11 Shakespeare's  Imagery  and  What It  Tells  Us (New  York,  1935), pp. 259-263.

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of red and gold over salt green, an entire change of key from the moon's  "silver  visage  in  her  wat'ry glass":

the eastern gate, all fiery red,
Opening on Neptune, with fair blessed beams
Turns into yellow  gold  his  salt green  streams.
                                                                 ( IIl.ii.391-393)

Finally Theseus comes with his hounds and his horns in the morning, and the lovers are startled awake. They find as they come to themselves that

These things seem small and undistinguishable,
Like far-off  mountains turned into  clouds.

The teeming metamorphoses which we encounter  are placed,  in this way, in a medium and in a moment where the perceived structure of the outer world breaks down, where the body and its en­vironment interpenetrate in unaccustomed ways, so that th seeming separateness and stability of identity is lost.

The action of metaphor  is itself  a process  of  transposing,  a kind  of metamorphosis. There is less  direct  description  of  external  nature in the play than one would  suppose:  much  of  the  effect  of being in nature comes from imagery which endows it with anthropomorphic love,  hanging a wanton   pearl  in   every  cowslip's ear.  Titania laments  that 

the green corn
Hath  rotted  ere  his  youth  attain'd  a  beard;


                                         Hoary-headed   frosts
Fall in the  fresh  lap  of  the  crimson  rose.
                                              ( ll.i.94-95, 107-108)

By a complementary movement of imagination, human love is treated in terms of growing things. Theseus warns. Hermia against becoming a nun, because 

earthlier happy is the  rose  distill'd
Than that which, withering on the virgin thorn
Grows, lives and dies in single blessedness.

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Titania, embracing Bottom, describes herself in terms that fit her surroundings and uses the association of ivy with women of the songs traditional  at  Christmas:12

So doth  the  woodbine  the  sweet honeysuckle
Gently entwist;  the female ivy so
Enrings the barky  fingers of  the elm.

One could go on and on in instancing metamorphic metaphors. But one of the most beautiful bravura speeches can serve as an epitome of the metamorphic action in the play, Titania's astonishing answer when Oberon asks for the changeling boy:

Set your heart at rest.
The  fairyland  buys  not  the  child  of me.
His mother was a vot'ress of my order;
And in the spiced Indian air, by night,
Full often hath  she gossip'd by my side,
And sat with me on Neptune' s yellow sands,
Marking th'embarked traders on the flood;
When we have laugh'd to see the sails conceive
And grow big-bellied  with  the wanton wind;
Which she, with pretty and with swimming gait
Following (her womb then rich with my young squire)
Would  imitate,  and sail upon  the land
To fetch  me  trifles, and return  again,
As from a voyage, rich with merchandise.
But she, being mortal, of that boy did die,
And  for her sake do  I rear up  her boy; 
And  for her sake I will  not part from him.

The memory of a moment seemingly so remote expresses with plastic felicity the present moment when Titania speaks and we watch.  It  suits Titania's  immediate  mood, for it is a glimpse of

12 See above, pp. 115-116. A recurrent feature of the type of pastoral which  begins with something like "As I walked forth one morn in May" is a bank of flowers "for love to lie and play  on," such  as Perdita  speaks  of. This motif  appears  in  the "bank where the wild thyme blows" where Titania sleeps "lull'd  in  these flowers by dances and delight." In such references there is a magical suggestion  that love is infused with nature's vitality by  contact.

[ 136 ]

women who gossip  alone,  apart  from  men  and  feeling  now  no need of them, rejoicing  in  their  own  special  part  of  life's  power.  At such moments, the child, not the lover, is their  object-as  this  young  squire  is  still  the  object  for  Titania,  who  "crowns  him with flowers, and makes him all her joy." The passage conveys  a wanton joy  iii achieved  sexuality, in  fertility;  and  a gay  acceptance  of the waxing of the body (like joy  in the varying moon). At leisure in  the spiced night air, when the proximate senses of touch and smell are most alive, this joy finds sport in projecting images  of  love  and growth where they are not.  The mother,  having  laughed  to see the ship a woman with child, imitates it so as to go the other  way about and herself  become  a ship. She fetches trifles, but  she is also actually "rich with merchandise," for  her  womb  is  "rich with my young  squire." The  secure quality  of  the  play's pleasure is conveyed by having the ships out on the flood while she sails, safely, upon the land, with a pretty and swimming gait that is an overflowing of the security of make-believe. The next line brings a poignant  glance out beyond  this gamesome world:

But  she,  being  mortal,  of  that  boy  did die.

It  is  when the  flower magic  leads  Titania  to find  a new object that she gives up the child  (who goes now from her bower  to the man's world of Oberon ). So here is another sort of change of  heart  that  contributes  to  the  expression  of   what  is  consummated in marriage, this one a part  of  the rhythm  of  adult  life, as opposed  to the change in  the  young  lovers  that  goes  with  growing  up.  Once Titania has made this transition, their  ritual  marriage  is renewed:

Now thou and  I  are  new  in  amity,
And will to-morrow midnight solemnly
Dance in Duke Theseus' house triumphantly
And bless it to all fair  prosperity.

The final dancing blessing  of  the  fairies,  "Through  the  house with glimmering light" (V.i.398 ), af ter the  lovers  are  abed,  has been given meaning by the symbolic action we have been describing: the fairies have been made into tutelary  spirits  of  fertility,  so that they  can  promise that

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            the blots of Nature's hand
Shall  not   in   their   issue  stand.

When merely  read, the text of this episode seems somewhat  bare, but its clipped quality  differentiates  the  fairy speakers from the mortals, and anyway richer language would be in the way. Shakespeare has changed from a fully dramatic medium to conclude, in a  manner  appropriate  to  festival,  with  dance  and  song.  It  seems likely  that,  as  Dr.  Johnson  argued,  there  were  two songs which have been lost, one led by Oberon and the other by Titania.13 There  were  probably  two dance  evolutions  also, the first  a  pro­cessional dance led by the king and the second a round led by the queen: Oberon's lines direct the fairies to dance and sing "through the house," "by the fire," "after me"; Titania seems to start a circling dance with "First rehearse your song by rote"; by contrast with Oberon's "after me," she calls for "hand in hand." This combination of processional and round dances is the obvious one for the occasion: to get the fairies in and give them something to do. But these two forms of dance are associated in origin with just the sort of festival use of them which Shakespeare is making. "The customs of the village festival," Chambers writes, "gave rise by natural development to two types of dance. One was the processional dance of a band of worshippers in progress round their boundaries and from field to field, house to house. . . . The other type of folk dance, the ronde or 'round,' is derived from the comparatively stationary dance of the group of worshippers around the more especially sacred objects of the festival, such as the tree or fire. The custom of dancing round  the  Maypole  has  been  more or less preserved wherever the Maypole is known.  But  'Thread the Needle' (a type of surviving processional dance) itself often winds up with a circular dance or ronde. . ."  One can make too much of such analogies. But they do illustrate the rich traditional meanings available in the materials Shakespeare was handling.

13 See Variorum, p. 2 39, for Dr. Johnson's cogent note. Richmond Noble, in Shakespeare's Use of Song  (Oxford,  1923), pp.  5 5-57 , argues  that  the  text  as we have it is the text of the song, without, I think, meeting the  arguments  of Johnson and subsequent editors.
14 Mediaeval  Stage,  I, 165-166.

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Puck's broom  is another  case in  point:  it  is his  property  as  a housemaid's sprite, "to sweep the dust behind the door" (V.i.397) ; also it permits him to make "room," in the manner of the presenter of a holiday mummers' group. And with the dust, out  go  evil spirits. Puck refers to "evil sprites" let  forth  by graves, developing a momentary sense of midnight terrors, of spirits that walk by night; then he promises that no mouse shall disturb "this hallowed house." The exorcism of evil powers complements the invocation of good. With their "field dew consecrate," the fairies enact a lustration. Fertilizing and beneficent virtues are in festival custom persistently attributed to dew gathered on May mornings.15 Shakespeare's handling of nature has infused dew in this play with the vital spirit of  moist  and verdant  woods.  The dew is "consecrate" in this sense. But the religious associations inevitably attaching to the word suggest also the sanctification of  love by marriage.  It  was customary for the clergy, at least in important marriages, to bless the bed and bridal couple with holy water. The benediction included exorcism, in the Manual for the use of Salisbury a prayer to  protect  them  from  what  Spenser  called  "evill  sprights"    and "things that be not"  (ab omnibus fantasmaticis demonum    illusioni­bus). 16 This custom may itself be an ecclesiastical adaptation of  a more primitive bridal lustration, a water charm of which dew­ gathering on May Day is one variant. Such a play as A Midsummer Night's Dream is possible because the May and Summer Spirit, despite its pagan affinities, is not conceived as necessarily in opposition to the wholeness of traditional  Christian life.

Magic  as Imagination :  The Ironic  Wit

In promoting the mastery of passion by expression, dramatic art can provide a civilized equivalent for exorcism. The exorcism rep­ resented as magically accomplished at the conclusion of the comedy is accomplished, in another sense, by the whole dramatic action, as it keeps moving through release to clarification. By embodying in the fairies the mind's proclivity to court its own omnipotence, Shake­ speare draws this tendency, this "spirit," out into the open. They have the meaning they do only because  we see them in the midst  of   the  metamorphic  region  we have just  considered-- removed

15  Ibid., 1,  122.    16 Variorum, p. 240.

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from this particular  wood,  most  of  their  significance  evaporates, as for example in Nymphidia and other  pretty  floral  miniatures. One might summarize their role by saying that they represent the power of imagination. But to  say what  they  are is to  short-circuit the life of them and the humor. They  present  themselves  moment  by moment as actual persons; the humor  keeps  reco gnizing  that  the person is a personification,  that the magic is imagination.

The sceptical side of the play has been badly neglected because romantic taste, which first made it popular, wanted to believe in fairies. Romantic criticism usually praised A Midsummer Night's Dream on the assumption that its  spell  should  be  complete,  and that the absolute persuasiveness of  the poetry  should be  taken  as  the measure of its success. This expectation of unreserved illusion finds  a  characteristic  expression  in  Hazlitt:

All that is finest in the play is lost in the representation. The spectacle is grand; but the spirit was evaporated, the genius was fled. Poetry and the stage do not  agree well  together . . . . Where all is left to the imagination (as is the case in reading) every circumstance, near or remote, has an equal chance  of  being  kept in mind and tells according to the mixed  impression  of  all that  has been suggested. But the imagination cannot sufficiently qualify the actual impressions of the senses. Any offense given to the eye is not  to be got rid of by explanation.  Thus Bottom's  head in the play is a fantastic illusion, produced  by  magic  spells;  on the stage it is an ass's head, and nothing more; certainly a very strange costume for a gentleman to appear in. Fancy cannot be embodied any more than a simile can  be  painted;  and it  is as idle to attempt it as to personate Wall or Moonshine. Fairies are not  incredible,  but Fairies  six  feet high  are so. 17

Hazlitt's objections were no doubt partly justified by the elaborate methods of nineteenth-century production. A superfluity of "actual impressions of the senses" came into conflict with the poetry by attempting to reduplicate it. But Hazlitt looks for a complete  illusion of a kind which Shakespeare's theater did not provide and Shakespeare's  play  was not designed  to  exploit; failing to find it

17 Characters of Shakespeare's Plays (1817) in The Complete Works, ed. P. P. Howe  (London,  1930) ,  IV,  247-248 ; quoted  in  Variorum, pp. 299-300.

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on the stage, he retires to his study, where he is free of the dis­ crepancy between imagination and sense which he finds trouble­ some. The result is the nineteenth-century' s characteristic mis­ reading, which regards "the play" as a series of real supernatural events, with a real ass's head  and real  fairies,  and, by  excluding all awareness that "the play" is a play, misses its most important humor.

The extravagant subject matter actually led  the  dramatist  to  rely more heavily than elsewhere on a flexible attitude toward representation. The circumstances of the original production made this all the more inevitable: Puck stood in a hall familiar to the audience. We have noticed how in holiday shows, it was customary to make game with the difference between art and life by witty transitions back and forth between them. The aim was not to make the  auditors  "forget  they  are  in  a theater,"  but  to  extend reality into  fiction.  The general Renaissance tendency  frankly to  accept and relish  the  artificiality  of  art, and  the vogue  of formal rhetoric and  "conceited"  love poetry,  also  made  for  sophistication  about the artistic process. The sonneteers mock their mythological machinery, only to insist  the more  on  the reality  of  what  it represents:

It is most true, what we call  Cupid's  dart,
An image is, which  for ourselves we  carve.

Yet it is

True and most true, that I must Stella love.18

Shakespeare's auditors  had  not  been  conditioned  by  a century  and a half of effort to  achieve  sincerity by denying  art.  Coleridge  has a remark about the advantages that Shakespeare enjoyed as  a dramatist which is particularly illuminating in connection with this feeling for art in A Midsummer Night's  Dream. He observes that "the  circumstances of acting  were  altogether different from ours; it was more of recitation," with the result that "the idea of the poet was always present.'  19 The nearly bare stage worked as Proust observed that the bare walls of an art gallery work, to isolate "the  essential  thing,  the  act of  mind." 

18 Sir Philip Sidney, Astrophel and Stella, No. V, in Arcadia, ,593, and Astrophel  and  Stella,  ed.  Albert  Feuillerat  (Cambridge,  1922) ,  p.  244.
19   Coleridge,  Select  Poetry  and  Prose,  ed.  Stephen  Potter   (London,  1933), p.342.

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It is "the act of mind" and "the idea  of  the  poet"  which  are brought into focus when, at the beginning of the relaxed fifth act, Theseus comments on what  the  lovers have  reported  of  their  night in the woods. I shall quote the passage  in  full, despite its  familiarity,  to  consider  the  complex  attitude  it conveys:

The lunatic, the lover, and the poet
Are  of  imagination  all  compact.
One sees more devils than vast hell can hold:
That is the madman. The lover, all as  frantic,
Sees Helen's beauty  in  a brow  of Egypt.
The poet's  eye, in  a fine  frenzy rolling,
Doth glance from heaven to earth, from earth to heaven ;
And  as imagination  bodies forth
The forms of  things  unknown,  the  poet's  pen
Turns them to  shapes,  and  gives  to  airy  nothing
A  local  habitation  and  a name.
Such  tricks  hath  strong imagination
That, if  it would but apprehend some joy, 
It comprehends some bringer of that  joy;
Or  in  the  night, imagining  some fear,
How  easy  is a bush  suppos'd a bear!  


The description of the power of poetic creation is so beautiful that these lines are generally taken out of context and instanced simply as glorification of the poet. But the praise  of  the poet is qualified in conformity with the tone Theseus adopts towards the lover and the madman. In his comment there is wonder, wonderfully expressed, at the power of the mind to create from airy nothing; but also recognition that the creation may be founded, after all, merely on airy nothing. Neither awareness cancels out the other. A sense of the plausible life and energy of fancy goes with the knowledge that often its productions  are more strange than  true.

Scepticism is explicitly crystallized out in the detente of Theseus' speech ; but scepticism is in solution throughout the play. There is  a delicate humor about the unreality of the fairies even while they are walking about in a local habitation with proper names. The  usual production,  even now, rides rough-shod  over this humor  by

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trying to act the fairies in a "vivid" way that will compel belief­ with much fluttery expressiveness that has led many to conclude that the fairies are naive and silly. Quite the contrary-- the fairy business is exceedingly sophisticated. The literal and figurative aspects of what is presented are both deliberately kept open to view. The effect is well described by Hermia's remark when she looks back at her  dream:

Methinks I see these things with parted eye,
When  everything  seems double.
                                                      ( IV.i. 92-193)

As we watch the dream, the doubleness is made explicit to keep us aware that strong imagination is at  work:

And  I  serve  the  Fairy  Queen,
To dew her  orbs upon  the green.
The cowslips tall her  pensioners  be;
In their gold coats spots you see.
Those  be  rubies,  fairy  favours;
In  those  freckles  live  their   savours.
                                                          ( II.i.8-I 3)

These conceits, half botany, half personification, are explicit about remaking nature's economy after the pattern of man's: "spots you see. / Those be rubies . . ." The same conscious double vision appears when Puck introduces himself:

sometime lurk I in a gossip's bowl
In very likeness of  a roasted  crab  . .
The wisest aunt, telling the saddest tale,
Sometime  for  three-foot stool mistaketh  me;
                                                               ( II.i.47-52)

The plain implication of the lines,  though Puck speaks them, is that Puck does not really exist-- that he is a figment of naive imagination, projected to motivate the little accidents of household life.
This scepticism goes with social remoteness from the folk whose superstitions the poet is here enjoying. Puck's description has the aloof detachment  of  genre painting,  where  the grotesqueries  of 

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the subject are seen across lines of class difference. As a matter of fact there is much less popular lore in these fairies than is generally assumed in talking about them.  The  fairies do, it is  true; show all the characteristics of  fairies  in  popular  belief : they appear in the forest, at midnight, and  leave  at  sunrise;  they  take  children, dance in ringlets.  But  as  I  have  remarked already,  their whole quality is  drastically  different  from that of the fairies  "of the villagery," creatures who, as Dr. Minor White  Latham  has shown, were  dangerous to meddle with, large  enough to harm, often malicious, sometimes the consorts of witches. 20 One can speak of Shakespeare's having changed the fairies of popular superstition, as Miss Latham does.  Or  one can  look at what he did in relation to the  traditions  of  holiday  and  pageantry  and  see  his  creatures as pageant nymphs and holiday celebrants, colored by touches from popular sperstition, but shaped primarily by a very different provenance. Most of the detailed popular lore concerns Puck, not properly a fairy at all; even he is several parts  Cupid  and several parts mischievous stage page (a cousin of Moth in Love's Labour's Lost and no doubt played  by  the same small, agile boy ). And Puck is only using the credulity of the folk as a jester, to amuse a king. 

20 The Elizabethan Fairies, The Fairies of Folklore and the  Fairies  of  Shakespeare : New York, 1930), Ch. V and passim. Professor Latham's excellent  study points out in detail how Shakespeare, in keeping such features of popular  superstition as, say, the taking  of  changelings,  entirely  alters  the  emphasis,  so  as  to  make  the  fairies  either  harmless  or  benign,  as  Titania  is  benign  in  rearing  up   the child of her dead  vot'ress  "for her  sake." Dr.  Latham  develops  and  documents the distinction, recognized to  a  degree  (by  some  commentators  from  the  time  of  Sir Walter Scott) between the fairies of popular belief and those of  Dream.  In  particular she emphasizes that, in addition to  being  malicious,  the  fairies  of  common English belief were large enough to be menacing (Ch. II and passim). This difference in size fits with everything else-- though it is not  borne  out  by  quite all of  the evidence, especially  if  one  considers,  as  Dr.  Louis  Wright  has  suggested  to  me in conversation, that Warwick is close enough to Wales to have possibly been influenced by Welsh traditions. (We have no  direct  knowledge,  one  way  or  the  other,  about  Warwickshire  lore  in  the  Elizabethan period.)

Although Dr. Latham summarizes the appearances of fairies in entertainment pageantry, she does not consider the influence of this tradition, nor of the May  game, in shaping what Shakespeare made of his fairies-- or more accurately, in shaping what Shakespeare made of his play and so of the  fairies in it. But her book made a decisive, cogent contribution to a subject that is of ten treated  with  coy vagueness. She surveys in Ch. VI the traditions current before Shakespeare about Robin Goodfellow, pointing out that he had not been a native of  fairyland until Shakespeare made him so, but "occupied the unique position of the national practical joker"   (p.  223).

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Titania and Oberon  and their  trains  are very  different  creatures from the gemutlich fairies of middleclass folklore enthusiasm in the nineteenth century. The spectrum of Shakespeare's imagina­tion includes some of the warm domestic tones which the later century cherished. But the whole attitude of self-abnegating humility before the mystery of folk imagination is wrong for interpreting this play. His fairies are creatures of pastoral, varied by adapting folk superstitions so as to make a new sort of arcadia. Though they are not shepherds, they lead a life similarly occupied with the pleasures of song and dance and, for king and queen, the vexations and pleasures of love. They have not the pastoral "labours" of tending flocks, but equivalent  duties are suggested in the tending of nature's fragile beauties, killing "cankers in the musk-rose buds." They have a freedom like that of shepherds in arcadias, but raised to a higher power: they are free not only of the limitations of place and purse but of  space and time.

The settled content of regular  pastoral  is possible because it is a "low" content, foregoing wealth and position; Shakespeare's fairies too can have their fine freedom because their sphere is limited. At times their tiny size limits them, though this is less important than is generally suggested by summary descriptions of "Shakespeare's fairy race." The poet plays the game of diminution delightfully, but never with Titania and Oberon, only with their attendants, and not all the time with them. It seems quite possible that Peaseblossom,  Cobweb,  Moth, and  Mustardseed  were origi­nally  played  by  children of the family-- their   parts   seem  de­signed to be foolproof for little children: "Ready -.-And I. --And 1, --And I." Diminutiveness is the characteristic of the Queen Mab Mercutio describes in Romeo and Juliet, and, as Dr. Latham has shown, it quickly became the hallmark of the progeny of literary fairies that followed; 21 but it is only occasionally at issue in A Mid­ summer Night's Dream. More fundamental is their limited time. Oberon can boast that, by contrast with horrors who must "wilfully themselves  exile  from light,"

21 Dr. Latham ( Fairies, pp. 194-216) traces the way fairies derived from Shakespeare were perpetuated by Drayton and William Browne and others by elaborating conceits about their small size and their relationship to flowers. She develops the point that other writers had suggested earlier, that Shakespeare's influence soon altered popular conceptions of the fairies-- and in the process of making them benign and tiny, made them  purely  literary  creatures,  without  a hold  on belief.

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                        we  are  spirits  of  another sort.

I with the Morning's love have oft made  sport ;
And,  like a  forester,  the groves may  tread
Even till the eastern  gate,  all  fiery  red,
Opening on Neptune, with fair blessed beams
Turns into yellow  gold his salt green streams.
                                                            ( III.ii.388-393)

But for all his pride, full daylight is beyond him: "But notwith­ standing, haste; . . . We must effect this business yet ere day." The enjoyment   of  any  sort  of  pastoral  depends  on  an  implicit recog­nition that it presents a hypothetical case as if it were actual. Puck's lines  about  the  way  the  fairies run

From the presence of the sun,
Following  darkness  like  a dream,

summarizes the relation between their special time and their limited sort of  existence.

This explicit summary comes at the close, when the whole machinery is being distanced to end with "If we shadows have offended. . . ." But the consciousness and humor which I am concerned to underline are present throughout the presentation of the fairies. It has been easy for production and  criticism to  ignore, just because usually amusement is not  precipitated  out in laughter  but remains in solution with  wonder  and  delight.  In the scene  of the quarrel between Titania and Oberon, the  fragility  of  the  conceits correspond finely to the half-reality of their world and specialness of their values. The  factitiousness  of  the causes Titania lays out for the weather is gently mocked by the repeated therefore's: "Therefore the winds . . . Therefore the moon . . . The ox hath therefore. . . ." Her account makes it explicit  that  she and  Oberon are tutelary gods of fertility, but with an implicit recognition like Sidney's about Cupid's  dart--  "an  image  . .  . which  for  ourselves we carve." And her emphasis  makes  the  wheat  blight  a  disaster  felt most keenly not for men who go  hungry  but  for  the  green  wheat  itself,  because  it  never  achieves  manhood:

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                                             and the green corn
Hath rotted ere his youth attain'd a beard.
                                                           ( II.i.94-95)

Her concern for the holiday aspect of nature is presented in lines whish are poised between  sympathy and  amusement:

The human mortals want their winter cheer;
No night is now with hymn or carol blest . . .
The seasons  alter. Hoary-headed  frosts
Fall in the  fresh  lap  of  the  crimson  rose;
And  on  old  Hiems'  thin   and  icy  crown 
An odorous chaplet of  sweet  summer  buds 
Is,  as  in  mockery,  set.
                                            (II.i.I0I-I021, I07-111)

Part of the delight of this poetry is that we  can  enjoy  without agitation imaginative action  of  the  highest  order.  It  is  like  gazing in a crystal: what  you  see is clear and vivid,  but on the other side  of the glass. Almost unnoticed, the lines have a positive effect through the amorous suggestion implicit  in  the  imagery,  even while letting it be manifest that those concerned are only personifications of flowers and a pageant figure wearing the livery of the wrong season. Titania can speak of "the human  mortals"  as very far off indeed; the phrase crystallizes what has been achieved in imaginative distance  and  freedom.  But Titania is as far off from us as we  are  from her.

The effect of wit which in such passages goes along with great imaginative   power  is  abetted  by  the  absence   of   any   compelling interest  in  passion or plot.  Producers utterly ruin  the scene when  they   have   the   fairy  couple  mouth   their   lines   at   each   other as expressively as  possible. Titania, after  all, leaves  before  that  point is reached: "Fairies, away! / We shall chide downright  if  I longer stay"       ( II.i.144-145).  At moments of dramatic intensity, the most violent distortion can go unnoticed; what the poet is doing is ignored in responding  to what his people  are  doing.  But  here  a great  part  of the point is that we should notice the distortion, the action of the poet, the wit. Plot tension  launches  flights  of  witty  poetry  which  use it up, so to speak, just as the tensions in broad comedy are dis­charged  in  laughter.  Rhetorical  schematizations,  or  patterns  of

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rhyme, are often used in A Midsummer Night's Dream to mark  off the units of such verse. But blank verse paragraphs are also constructed so as to form autonomous bravura passages  which reach a climax and come to rest while actor and audience catch  their breath. Oberon's description of  the mermaid,  and his tribute to Elizabeth (II.i.148-164), are two such flights, each a rhythmical unit, the first punctuated by Puck's "I remember," the second by Oberon's change of tone at "Yet mark'd  I  where  the  bolt  of  Cupid fell." The formal and emotional isolation of the two passages is calculated to make the audience respond with wonder  to the effortless reach of imagination which brings the stars madly shooting from their spheres. In a tribute to Elizabeth, the prominence of "the idea  of  the poet"  in  the poetry  obviously  was  all to the good. By Oberon's remark to Puck, "that very time I  saw,  but thou couldst not," courtly Shakespeare contrived to place the mythology he was creating about Elizabeth on a level appropriately more  sublime and occult than  that about the  mermaid.

Moonlight and Moonshine: The Ironic  Burlesque

The consciousness of the creative or poetic act itself, which pervades the main action, explains the subject-matter of the burlesque accompaniment provided by the clowns. If Shakespeare were chiefly concerned with  the nature of love, the clowns would be in love,  after their fashion. But instead, they are putting on a play. That some commoners should honor the wedding, in their own way, along with the figures from pageantry, is of course in keeping with the purpose of gathering into a play the several sorts of entertainments usually presented separately. But an organic purpose is served too: the clowns provide a broad burlesque of the mimetic impulse to become something by acting it, the impulse which  in  the main action is fulfilled by imagination and understood by humor. Bottom feels he can be anything: "What is Pyramus,  a lover, or a tyrant? . . . An I may hide my face, let me play Thisby too . . . Let me play the lion too." His soul would like to fly out into them all; but he is not Puck! In dealing with dramatic illusion, he and the other mechanicals are invincibly literal-minded, carrying to absurdity the tendency to treat the imaginary as though it  were


real. They exhibit just the all-or-nothing attitude towards fancy which would be fatal to the play as a  whole.

When the clowns think that Bottom's transformation has deprived them of their chief actor, their lament seems pointedly allusive to Shakespeare's company and their  play.

Snug. Masters, the Duke is coming from  the  temple,  and  there is two or three lords and ladies more married. If our sport had gone forward, we had all been made  men.
Flute. O sweet bully Bottom! Thus hath he lost  sixpence  a  day during his life. He could not have  scaped  sixpence a day.  An the  Duke  had  not  given  him  sixpence  a  day  for  playing
Pyramus, I'll be hanged!  He would  have  deserved  it.  Sixpence a day in Pyramus,  or  nothing!
                                                                                                                                             ( IV.ii.15-24)

The repetition of "sixpence a day" seems loaded: if Bottom in Pyramus is worth sixpence, what is Kempe in Bottom worth? For Bottom is to Theseus as Kempe was to the nobleman for whom  the
play was first produced. The business about moonshine brings this out:

Quince. . . . But there is two hard things: that is, to bring the moonlight into a chamber; for, you know, Pyramus and Thisby meet by moonlight.
Snout.  Doth  the moon  shine that  night  we  play  our play?
Bottom. A calendar, a calendar! Look in  the almanac.  Find  out moonshine, find out moonshine!
Quince.  Yes,  it  doth  shine  that  night.
Bottom. Why, then may you leave a casement of the great chamber' window, where we play, open, and the moon may shine in at the casement.
Quince. Ay; or else one must come in with a bush of  thorns and a lantern, and say he comes to disfigure, or to present, the person  of Moonshine.

Shakespeare, in his play, triumphantly accomplishes just this hard thing, "to bring the moonlight into a  chamber." The  moonshine, here and later, shows how aware Shakespeare was of what his plastic imagination was doing with moonlight. Since the great chamber Bottom  speaks of was, at the initial 

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private  performance,  the very chamber in which the Chamberlain' s men were playing,  "Pyramus and Thisby" adorns Theseus' fictitious wedding just as A Midsummer Night's  Dream adorns  the real wedding.  Bottom's  proposal  to open a casement  reduces the desire for realism to the absurdity  of producing the genuine article. Translated out of  irony,  it  suggests, that "if you want real moonlight, you  put  yourself  in  Bottom's class." It is amusing how later  producers  have  labored  with ever greater technical resources to achieve Bottom's ideal. Holly­ wood's Max Reinhardt version omitted most of the poetry to make room for cellophane-spangled fairies standing in rows on ninety-foot moonbeams.

The difference between art and life is also what the clowns for­ get in their parlous fear lest "the.ladies be afeared of the lion" and the killing. Bottom's solution is to tell the ladies in plain language that fiction is not  fact:

Write me a prologue; and let the prologue seem to say, we will do no harm with our swords, and that Pyramus is not kill'd in­ deed; and for the more better assurance, tell them that I  Pyramus am not Pyramus, but Bottom the weaver. This will put them  out of fear.    (III.i.18-23)

Now this expresses Bottom's vanity, too. But producers and actors, bent  on  showing  "character,"  can  lose  the  structural,  ironic  point  if they let the lines get lost in Bottom's strutting. What the clowns forget, having "never labour'd in their minds till now," is  that  a  killing or a lion in a play, however plausibly presented, is a mental event.22    Because,  like  children,  they  do  not  discriminate    

22 What  Shakespeare  exhibits  in  Bottom's   dramatics  by  reduction  to  absurdity  is expressed directly in the Prologues of H.V. There the  dramatist  is  dealing  with heroic  events which  cannot  be  presented  "in their  huge  and  proper  life"  (Pro. V, 1. 5) and so appeals  to  his  audience  repeatedly  to  "eke  out  our  performance  with  your minds," . . . "minding  true  things  by  what  their  mock'ries  be"  (Pro.  III, 1. 35 , and  Pro.  IV,  1.  53) . The  prologues  insist  continually  on  the  mental  process by which  alone a play  comes to life  (Pro.  I, 11.  23-25 and 28):

Piece  out  our  imperfections  with  your  thoughts:
Into  a  thousand   parts  divide  one   man
And make imaginary puissance  . .  .
For  'tis your  thoughts that  now must  deck  our kings . . . 

In reference to the rapid shifting of his locale, Shakespeare uses an image which might describe Puck's powers to do what men can only conceive (Pro. III, 11. 1-3) : 

Thus with  imagin'd  wing our  swift  scene flies,
In motion of no less celerity
Than  that  of  thought  . . .

Even  in  a play  where, by contrast with  Dream, Shakespeare  is concerned  to   realize actual historical events he insists this realization must be by mental projection, not literal reproduction.

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between imaginary and real events, they are literal about fiction. But they  are not unimaginative: on the contrary they embody the stage of mental development before the discipline of facts has curbed the tendency to equate what is "in" the mind with what is "outside" it. They apply to drama the same sort of mentality that supports superstition-- it is in keeping that the frightening sort of folk beliefs about changelings are for them an accepted part of life: "Out  of doubt he is transported." 23  Because this uncritical imaginativeness is the protoplasm from which all art develop, the clowns are as delightful and stimulating as they  are ridiculous.  Even  while  we are laughing at them, we recover sympathetically the power of fantasy enjoyed  by  children, who, like Bottom,  can be anything,  a train, an  Indian  or a lion.

In the performance of Pyramus and Thisby, Shakespeare  captures the naivete of folk dramatics and makes it serve his controlling purpose as a final variant of imaginative aberration. The story from Ovid, appropriate for a burlesque in an  Ovidian  play,  is  scarcely the kind of  thing  the simple people  would  have  presented in life; but their method and spirit in putting it on, and the spirit in which the noble company take it, are not unlike what is suggested by Laneham's account of the  bride-ale  show at  Kenilworth. "If we imagine no worse  of  them  than  they  of  themselves," Theseus observes of the Athenian artisans, "they may pass for excellent men" (V.i.2 I8). The comedy of the piece centers not so much on what is acted in it as in the continual failure to translate actor into character. Shakespeare's skill is devoted to  keeping  both the players and their would-be play before us at the  same time,  so  that we watch, not  Pyramus  alone, nor  Bottom  alone,  but  Bottom "in Pyramus," the fact of the  one  doing  violence  to  the  fiction  of the   other.

Almost half of  Pyramus and Thisby is taken  up  with  prologues of  the  sort  one gets in the  mummers'  plays:

23 IV.ii.2.   In  their  terrified  response  to   Puck's   intervention,   Bottom's com­panions are like the colored man in the Hollywood ghost thriller. In showing the whites of his eyes and running without even an effort at courage, he is  more  credulous than the heroes are, and more than we are.  For a moment  we  laugh at the fear of the uncanny which we ourselves have  just  experienced,  and  this  comic relief  prepares us for another spell  of  the creeps.

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I am king  of  England,
As  you  may  plainly  see.24

Such prologues suit Shakespeare's purpose, because they present the performer openly climbing in the window of aesthetic illusion, where he can get stuck midway:

In  this  same  enterlude  it  doth befall
That I, one Snout by name, present a wall . . .
This loam, this roughcast, and this stone doth show
That I am that same wall. The truth is so.

"The truth is so," by warranting that fiction is fact, asks  for  a laugh, as does the Prologue's "At the which  let no  man  wonder," or  Moon's

Myself   the  man  i'  the  moon  do  seem  to be.

The incarnation of Wall is a particularly "happy-unhappy" inspiration,  because  the  more  Wall  does, the  less  he  is  a wall  and the  more  he is Snout.  

There is a great deal of incidental amusement in the parody and burlesque with which Pyramus and Thisby is loaded. It burlesques the substance of the death scene in Romeo and Juliet in a style which combines ineptitudes from Golding's translation of Ovid with  locutions  from  the  crudest  doggerel  drama.25    

24 J. M. Manly, Specimens of Pre-Shakespearean Drama (Boston, 1897), r, 293, from   The  Lutterworth   Christmas  Play.
25 The  familiar  Ovidian  story  which  Shakespeare  elected  to  make  into "very tragic  mirth"  is extremely  similar, on  the  face  of  it,  to  the  story  of Romeo, which also  hinges  on  surreptitious  meetings  and  an  accidental  misunderstanding  leading to  double  suicide.  The  similarity  seems  to  be  underscored   by  allusions  (V.i.355-359):

Theseus.  Moonshine  and  Lion  are  left  to  bury  the   dead.
Demetrius.  Ay,  and  Wall  too.
Bottom. [starts up] No, I assure you ; the wall is down that parted their fathers.

Perhaps there is another allusion to Romeo when, after Wall's earlier exit (V.i.210), Theseus makes the mock-sententious observation: "Now  is  the  mural  down  between the two neighbours." There is nothing in  Ovid  about  a  reconciliation,  but  there is a great  deal  at  the  end  of  Romeo.  Parts  for  Thisby's  mother  and  father and Pyramus' father are assigned by Peter Quince  in  first  mustering  his  actors  (I.ii.62 ).  Perhaps Shakespeare planned to make  tragical  mirth  of  their  laments before he thought of Wall and Moonshine. Miss M.  C. Bradbrook,  in  Elizabethan Stage  Conditions  (Cambridge,   1932),  p.  39,  notes  that  when  Romeo,  before    the balcdny  scene,  "ran  this  way  and  leap'd  this   orchard   wall"  to   get  away  from  his friends and into the Capulets' orchard, the staging  of  the  wall  presented  an  unusual problem. She adds that "it is amusing to  note  the  parody  of  this  same orchard wall"  in  Dream.  Snout's  "you  can  never  bring  in  a  wall"  certainly  seems a likely by-product of Shakespeare's having  recent  experience  with  the  difficulty.  The effect of the burlesque does not, of course, hinge on  specifically  recognizing Romeo as a prototype. An awareness of the  connection  adds  point ;  but  the  remarks  about  reconciliation  are  funny  enough  simply  as  comic  versions  of  the  kind  of  sentiment to  be  expected  at the end of a tragedy.

The style of Pyramus and Thisby imitates with a shrewd  eye  for  characteristic defects what  Marlowe,  in  the  Prologue  to  Tamburlaine,  called  the  "jigging  veins of rhyming mother wits." The most common devices used by inept early poets  "to plump their  verse  withall"  turn  up  in  Shakespeare's  parody.  The  leaden  ring  of  the expletives "same" ("This same wall") and  "certaine"  ("This  beauteous  Lady, Thisby is certaine" ) recalls many pieces in Dodsley's Old English Plays and many passages in Golding's translation of Ovid. Golding's style may well have been Shakespeare's most immediate model. The comic possibilities of the story are very obvious indeed in the translation, whose fourteeners here are often incapable  of  carrying the elaborate rhetoric. One bit of this high-flown rhetoric is the  apostrophizing of the wall, which appears in Golding thus (Shakespeare's  Ovid  / Being  Arthur Golding's Translation of the Metamorphoses, ed. W.H.D. Rouse [London, 1904],  pp.  83-84,  Bk.  rv,  II.  90-1oo) :

O thou envious wall (they sayd) why letst thou lovers thus?
What matter  were  it if that thou  permitted  both  of  us
In  armes  eche  other  to  embrace?  Or  if  that  thou  think this
Were  overmuch,  yet  mightest   thou   at  least  make  roume  to   kisse.
And yet thou shalt not finde us churles: we think ourselves  in  det
For  this  same  piece  of  courtesie,  in  vouching  safe  to let
Our sayings  to  our  friendly  ears  thus  freely  to  come  and  goe, 
Thus  having  where  they  stood  in  vaine  complayned   of  their   woe,
When night drew nere, they  bade  adew  and  eche  gave kisses sweete
Unto  the  parget  on  their  side,  the  which  did  never  meete.

In  addition  to  the  top-heavy  personification  which  in  Golding  makes  the  wall  into a sort  of  stubborn  chaperone,  Shakespeare's  version  exploits  the  fatuous  effect of suddenly reversing the wall's  attributes  from  envious  to  courteous,  when  the  wall, after all, is perfectly consistent. Bottom  at first  wheedles  a  "courteous  Wall" and then storms at  a  "wicked  Wall."  The  would-be  pathetic  touch  about  kissing  the  parget   (plaster)   instead  of  each  others'  lips  also  reappears   (V.i.204), To fill out a line, or to make a rhyme as false as "Thisby . . . secretly," the mother wits often elaborate redundancies, so that technical ineptitude results in a most inappropriate and unpoetical factuality. Shakespeare exploits this effect repeated!y:

My cherry lips have often  kiss'd  thy stones, 
Thy stones with  lime and hair knit up in  thee.

There  are  also  many  redundant  synonyms,  like  "Did  scare  away,  or  rather did affright." In imitating the use of such homemade stuffing, Shakespeare goes far back (or down) for his models, notably skipping an intermediate, more pretentious level of sophistication in bad Tudor poetry, where fustian classical allusions, "English Seneca read by Candlelight," replace bald redundancy as the characteristic means of plumping verse. Pistol's discharges are Shakespeare's burlesque of such bombast. Most of Bottom's rhetoric is a step down the ladder : the "Shafalus" and "Limander" of  Pyramus  are classical names  as these  appear  in such pieces  as Thersites.

Perhaps when Bottom starts up, very much alive despite his emphatic death, to correct the Duke in the matter of the wall, his comic resurrection owes some­ thing, directly or via the jig, to the folk play. When  the  St. George,  or  Fool, or whoever, starts up, alive again, after the miraculous cure, the reversal must have been played as a moment of comical triumph, an upset, more or less grotesque or absurd, no doubt, but still exhilarating-to come back alive is the ultimate turning of the tables on whatever is an enemy of life. The most popular of Elizabethan jigs, "The Jig of Rowland," involves a device of playing dead and pretending to come back to life which may well be a rationalized development of this primitive resurrection motif. Rowland wins back Margaret from the Sexton by getting into a grave and playing  dead; she laments him  and then  starts to go off with his rival; but Rowland jumps up behind them, astonishes the Sexton, sends him packing and wins the wench. (Baskervill, Jig, pp.  220-222.)  Such brief comic song and dance dramas as this were used as afterpieces following the regular play. Pyramus and Thisby almost amounts to a developed jig which has been brought into the framework of the play instead of being presented as an afterpiece, in the usual fashion. The dance element comes in when Bottom, after coming back alive, concludes by dancing a bergomasque.

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What is remarkable about it, however, is the way it fits hilarious fun into the whole comedy's development  of  attitude  and  understanding. Af ter the exigent poise of the humorous fantasy, laughs now ex­ plode one after another;  and yet they are still on the subject,  even though now we are romping reassuringly through easy-to-make distinctions.  Theseus  can say  blandly

The best in this kind are but shadows; and the  worst  are  no  worse,  if   imagination   amend them.
(V.i.2 I4-2 I6)

Although we need not agree (Hippolyta says "It must be your imagination then, and not theirs.")

Theseus expresses part of our response-- a growing detachment towards imagination, moving towards the distance from the dream expressed in Puck's epilogue.

The meeting in the  woods  of  Bottom  and  Titania  is the  climax of the polyphonic interplay; it comes in the middle of  the  dream, when the humor has the most work to do. Bottom in the ass's head provides a literal metamorphosis, and in the process brings in the element of grotesque fantasy which the Savage Man or Woodwose furnished at Kenilworth, a comic version  of  an  animal-headed  dancer or of the sort of figure Shakespeare  used  in  Herne  the Hunter, "with  great  ragged  horns,"  at  the  oak  in  The  Merry Wives of Windsor. At the same time he is the theatrical company's clown  "thrust  in  

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by  head  and shoulder  to play  a part  in  majestical matters" and remaining uproariously  literal  and  antipoetic  as  he does so. Titania and he are fancy against fact, not  beauty  and  the beast. She makes all the advances while he remains very respectful, desiring nothing bestial but  "a peck  of  provender."  Clownish oblivion to languishing beauty is sure-fire comedy on any vaudeville stage. Here it is elaborated in such a way that when Titania 1s frustrated,  so is  the  transforming  power  of poetry:


I pray thee, gentle mortal, sing again.

Mine ear is much enamoured of thy note;
So is  mine  eye enthralled  to  thy shape;
And thy fair virtue's force (perforce) doth move me,
On the first  view,  to say, to swear,  I love thee.

Bottom. Methinks, mistress, you should have  little  reason  for that. And yet, to say the truth, reason and love keep  little com­  pany together now-a-days. The more the pity that some honest neighbours will not make them friends. Nay, Ican gleek, upon occasion.

Titania.  Thou art as wise as thou art  beautiful.

Bottom. Not so, neither .  . .    (lll.i.140-152)

From a vantage below romance, the clown makes  the same point  as sceptical Theseus, that reason and love do not go together. Titania  tells  him that she

. . . will purge thy mortal grossness so
That  thou  shalt  like  an  airy  spirit  go.

But even  her magic cannot transpose"   Bottom.

The "low" or "realistic" effect which  he  produces  when  juxtaposed with her is much less a matter of accurate imitation of  common life than one assumes at first glance. Of course the homely touches are telling-forms of  address  like  "Methinks,  mistress" or words like gleek suggest a social world remote from the elegant queen's. But the realistic effect does not depend  on Bottom's being like real  weavers,  but  on  the  detente of  imaginative  tension,  on  a downward movement which counters imaginative lift. This anti- poetic action involves, like the poetic, a high degree of abstraction from  

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real  life, including  the  control  of  rhythm  which  can establish a blank verse movement in as little as a single  line, "Thou  art as  wise as thou art beautiful," and so be able to break the ardent progression of the queen's speech with "Not so, neither".  When Bottom encounters the fairy attendants, he reduces the fiction of their  existence  to fact:

Bottom. I cry your worships mercy, heartily. I beseech your warship's name.
Cobweb. Cobweb.
Bottom. I shall desire you of more acquaintance, good Master Cobweb. If I cut my finger, I shall make bold with you.

Cobwebs served the  Elizabethans for  adhesive plaster,  so that when Bottom proposes  to "make  bold  with" Cobweb, he treats him as a thing, undoing the personification on which the little fellow's  life depends. To take hold of Cobweb in this way is of  course a witty thing to do, when one thinks about it. But  since the wit  is in  the service of  a literal  tendency,  we can  take  it  as the expression  of a "hempen homespun.'' There is usually a similar incongruity between the "stupidity" of a clown and the imagination and wit required to express such  stupidity.  Bottom's charming combination of ignorant exuberance and oblivious  imaginativeness  make  him  the most humanly credible and appealing personality  Shakespeare had yet created from the incongruous qualities required for the  clown's role. The only trouble with the part, in practice, is that performers become so preoccupied with bringing  out  the  weaver's vanity as an actor that they lose track of what  the role is expressing  as part  of  the larger imaginative design.

For there is an impersonal, imaginative interaction between the clowning and the rest of the play which makes  the  clowns  mean more than they themselves know and more than they are as per­sonalities. Bottom  serves to represent, in so aware a play, the limits  of  awareness,  limits  as  limitations-- and  also, at  moments,  limits as form  and  so strength.

Bottom.  Where are these lads?  Where are these  hearts?
Quince. Bottom! O most courageous day! O most happy hour!


Bottom. Masters, I am to discourse wonders; but ask me not what. For if I tell you, I am no true Athenian. I will tell you everything, right as it fell out.
Quince. Let  us  hear,  sweet Bottom.
Bottom. Not a word of me.  All  that  I will  tell  you is, that the Duke hath dined. Get your  apparel  together,  good  strings  to your  beards  . . .    (IV.ii.26-36)

It is ludicrous for Bottom to be so utterly unable to cope with the "wonders," especially where  he  is shown  boggling  in  astonishment as he wordlessly remembers  them: "I have  had  a  most  rare vision.  I have  had a dream  past  the wit  of  man  to say what  dream it was"  ( IV.i.207-209). But there  is  something  splendid,  too,  in  the  way he exuberantly rejoins "these lads" and takes up his  particular,  positive life as a "true Athenian."  Metamorphosis  cannot  faze him for long. His imperviousness, indeed, is what is  most  delightful  about him with Titania: he remains  so completely  himself , even in her arms, and despite  the  outward  change  of  his  head  and  ears; his confident, self -satisfied tone is a triumph of consistency, persistence, existence

The Sense  of  Reality

The value of humor, and the finest pleasure in it, depends on the seriousness  of what  it makes into fun. It is easy to be gay by taking  a trivial theme, or by trivializing an  important  theme.  The  greatness of comedy, as of every other art form, must rest, to use Henry James' phrase, on the  amount  of  "felt  life" with  which  it  deals  in its proper fashion. After examining  the structure  and  artifice  of  A Midsummer Night's Dream, we can now ask how much reality it masters by its mirth. This comedy is the first that is completely, triumphantly successful; but it has the limitations, as well as the strength, of a  youthful  play.

The role of imagination in experience is a major preoccupation in other plays of the same period. Dreams are several times presented as oracles of irrational powers shaping life, and inspire dread and awe. In the death scene of Clarence, in Richard III , the poet had presented the experience of oppression and helplessness on waking from the grip of nightmare. A Midsummer Night's Dream

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presents a resolution of the dream forces which so often augur conflict. To indulge dreamlike irrationality with impunity  is,  as Freud pointed out, one of  the basic  satisfactions  of wit.  The action of A Midsummer Night's Dream shows the  same  pattern  on  a large scale: it suggests the compulsion of dream, and then reconciles night's motives with the day's  as  the  lovers  conclude,  "Why  then, we  are awake":

Demetrius. These things seem small and undistin­ guishable,
Like far-off mountains turned into clouds . . .
Helena. And I have found Demetrius like a jewel, Mine  own, and  not  mine own.
Demetrius.    Are  you  sure
That we are awake? It seems to me
That yet we sleep, we dream. Do not you think 
The  Duke  was   here,  and  bid us  follow   him?
Hermia.  Yea, and my father.
Helena.    And  Hippolyta.
Lysander. And he did bid us follow to the   temple.
Demetrius. Why then, we are awake. Let's follow him,
And  by  the  way  let  us recount  our dreams.
                                                                        (IV.i. I 90-202)

The fun which Mercutio makes of  dreams  and  fairies in Romeo and Juliet is an attempt to do in a single speech what  the whole action does in A Midsummer Night' s Dream. His excursion on Queen Mab is designed to laugh away Romeo's dream-born misgivings  about their fatal visit to the Capulets.

Romeo. . . . we mean well, in going to this masque;
But 'tis no wit to  go.
Mercutio.    Why, may one ask?
Romeo.  I dreamt a dream to-night. 
Mercutio.    And  so did I.
Romeo.  Well, what  was yours?
Mercutio.    That dreamers often  lie.
Romeo.  In bed asleep, while they do dream things  true.
M ercutio.  0, then I see Queen Mab hath been with you.
                                                                              (Romeo I.iv.47-53)

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and then follow the delightfully plausible impossibilities about the fairies' midwife, implying that dreams accord with the dreamer's wishes, and huddled rapidly one on another, to prevent  Romeo's interrupting. The implication is that  to believe  in dreams is as foolish as to believe in Queen Mab's hazel-nut chariot. When Romeo finally interrupts, Mercutio dismisses his own fairy toys almost  in  the  spirit  of  Duke Theseus:

Romeo.    Peace, peace,  Mercutio, peace!
Thou  talk'st  of nothing.
Mercutio.    True,  I talk  of  dreams;
Which are the children of  an  idle brain,
Begot  of  nothing  but vain fantasy;
Which is as thin of substance as the air . . .

Romeo's dream, however, in spite of Mercutio, is not to be dismissed  so easily  as airy  nothing:

                                             . . . my mind misgives
Some consequence, yet hanging in the stars .
                                                           ( I.iv.106-107)

A Midsummer Night's Dream is a play in the spirit of Mercutio: the dreaming in it includes the knowledge  "that  dreamers often lie." The comedy and tragedy are companion pieces:  the  one moves away from sadness as the other moves away from mirth. One can feel, indeed, that in the comedy, as compared with Shakespeare's later works, mastery comes a little too easily, because the imaginary and the real are too  easy  to separate. The same thing can be said of the other plays of the period, Titus AndronicusRomeo  and  Juliet, and Richard  II . Theseus  makes a generalization  that

The lunatic, the lover, and the poet
Are of imagination all compact.
                                          (Dream V.i.7-8)

In all these plays the young author gives dramatic  urgency  to poetic language by putting his heroes in situations which give the  lie to what their minds imagine under the influence of passion. Tragedy is 

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conceived chiefly as the contradiction between a  warm inner world of feeling and impulse and a cold outer world of fact. Imagination, as the voice of this inner world, has a crucial significance, but its felt reality is limited by the way the imaginary and the real are commonly presented as separate realms. Imagination tnds to be merely  expressive,  an  evidence  of passion  rather  than a mode of perception. This is true almost without qualification of Titus Andronicus, the earliest play of the group. In presenting the madness of Titus, Shakespeare's assumptions about reality are altogether those of Theseus' speech, empirical  and  fact-minded. The psychological factor is always kept in the foreground when the young poet, following, with more imagination but less profundity, Kyd's method in The Spanish Tragedy, expresses the intensity of Titus' grief by having his distraction take literally hyperboles and imaginative identifications. His delusions are very deliberately manipulated to conform to his predominant emotion; in the almost comical scene about killing the fly, Titus first be­ moans the act because the fly is a fellow victim, then exults at the creature's death because its blackness links it with the Moor who has wronged him. Even in Romeo and Juliet, while the emotional reality of love is triumphantly affirmed we remain always aware of what in the expression is factual and what imaginary, and of how the poetry is lif ting us from one plane to the other:

A grave? O, no, a  lanthorn,  slaught'red  youth, 
For  here  lies  Juliet, and her beauty makes
This vault a feasting presence full of light.
                                                (Romeo V.iii.84-86)

In the poetry of this period, there is room beside metaphor and hyperbole to insert a phrase like "so to speak." Marcus  exclaims  of  Titus' distraction:

Alas, poor man! Grief has so wrought on him
He takes false shadows for true substances.
                                                          (Tit. III.ii.79-80)

The same remark could be made about Richard  II, whose  hosts of grief-begotten angels prove so inadequate against the "true substances" mobilized by Bolingbroke. The plays present passionate expression  or delusion  by the use  of  relatively  simple contrasts

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between fact and fiction, reason and feeling, keeping an orientation outside the passionate characters' imaginative expression.

In Richard II , however, the simple shadow-substance antithesis becomes something more: the divine right of kings gives one sort of objective validity to Richard's  imaginings-- although  his  guardian angels are ineffective immediately, they are grounded in moral perception, and Bolingbroke eventually finds their avenging power. Later in Shakespeare's work, the imagination becomes in its own right a way of knowing "more things in  heaven  and  earth" than  cool reason ever comprehends. Contrasts between real and imaginary are included in and superseded by contrasts between appearance and reality, as these unfold at various  levels  of  awareness. How different Shakespeare's sense of reality finally became is evident if we set the proud scepticism of Theseus beside the humble scepticism of Prospero. The presiding genius  of  Shakespeare's  latest fantasy also turns from  a pageant-like  work  of  imagination to reflect on its relation to lif e. But for him life itself is like the insubstantial pageant, and we, not just  the Titanias  and  Oberons, are  such  stuff  as dreams  are made  on.

The greater profundity of the later work, however,  should  not blind us to the different virtues of the earlier; The confident assumption dominant in A Midsummer Night' s Dream, that substance and shadow can be kept separate, determines the peculiarly unshadowed gaiety of the fun it  makes  with  fancy.  Its organization by polarities-- everyday-holiday, town-grove, day-night, wak­ing -dreaming- provides a remarkable resource for mastering passionate experience. By a curious  paradox,  the  full  dramatization of holiday affirmations permitted "that side" of experience to be boxed off by Theseus. If we take our stand  shoulder  to shoulder with Theseus,  the play  can be  an  agency  for  distinguishing  what is merely "apprehended" from what is "comprehended." Shake­ speare's method of structuring is as powerful, in its way, as Descartes' distinction between mind  and body,  the  formidable  engine by which the  philosopher  swept  away  "secondary  qualities"  so  that mathematical mind  might  manipulate  geometrical  extension. If we do not in our age want to rest in Theseus' rationalistic  posi­ tion  (any more than  in Descartes') , it remains a great   achievement

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to have got there, and wherever we are going in our sense of reality, we have come via that standing  place.

Theseus, moreover, does not quite have the last word, even in this play: his position is only one stage in a dialectic. Hippolyta will not be reasoned out of her wonder, and answers her new  Lord with ;
But  all the story  of the night told  over,
And all their minds transfigur'd so together,
More witnesseth  than  fancy's images
And grows to something  of  great  constancy; 
But  howsoever,  strange and admirable.

Did it happen, or didn't it happen? The doubt is justified by what Shakespeare has shown us. We are not asked to think that fairies exist. But imagination, by presenting  these figments,  has reached to something, a creative tendency and process. What is this process? Where is it?  What  shall we call it ?  It is what  happens  in  the  play. It  is  what  happens  in  marriage.  To  name  it  requires  many words,
words  in  motion-- the  words of A  Midsummer  Night s  Dream.




Chapter 10


nature to her bias drew in that.

THE title of Twelfth Night may well have come from the first occasion when it was performed, whether or not Dr. Leslie Hotson is right in arguing that its first night was the court celebration of the last of the twelve days of Christmas on January 6, 1600-1601. 1

1 In The First Night of "Twelfth Night" (New York, 1954), Dr. Hotson has recovered, once again, documents that are astonishingly a propos. The most exciting is a long letter home written by a real nobleman named Orsino, who was Elizabeth's honored guest when she witnessed a play “in the Hall, which was richly hanged and degrees placed round about it." Don Virginio Orsino's account to his Duchess of the way he was honored gives a vivid picture of the Twelfth Day occasion at court, which Mr. Hotson skillfully supplements with other evidence, much of it also new, so as to give us the most complete and graphic description we have of the circumstances of a dramatic performance at a court holiday. The Duke's candid letter reports that "there was acted a mingled comedy, with pieces of music and dances" (una commedia mescolata, can musicne e balli). But then it adds "and this too I am keeping to tell by word of mouth." What maddening bad luck! Here, and everywhere else, the clinching proof eludes Dr. Hotson, despite his skill and persistence. He himself cannot resist regarding it as a fact that Twelfth Night was the play in question on January 6, 1600-1601. But a sceptic can begin by asking where, in Twelfth Night, are those balli-- which Don Virginio witnessed-- the play is notable, among Shakespeare's gay comedies, for its lack of dances. One could go on to ask whether it would not be more likely that the name Orsino would be used sometime after the great man's visit, when the elegant ring of it would still sound in people's ears but no offense be done. A devil's advocate could go on and on, so rich, and so conjectural, is Dr. Hotson's book.

But it makes a real contribution, even if one is not convinced that the play on that night must have been Twelfth Night, and even if one rejects many of its sweeping conclusions about such matters as staging. Dr. Hotson is a "literalist of the historical imagination," to use Marianne Moore's phrase. He has produced something equivalent to an "imaginary garden with real toads in it-- real circumstances and actions of Elizabethan life. He makes us aware of what the high day at court was like. And he describes and exemplifies many features of Twelfth Night custom in a fresh way, and so defines for us the sort of thing that Shakespeare refers to by his title. He also provides, from his remarkable knowledge of the period, a wealth of useful incidental glosses to hard places in the play.

But useful as his book can be, whether literally right or not, it is very misleading in one respect. For he writes as though the festive quality of Twelfth Night were wholly derived, on a one-to-one sort of basis, from its being commissioned for a court revel. He neglects the fact that, whatever its first night, the play was designed to work, also, on the public stage, so that it had to project the spirit of holiday into forms that would be effective every day. He also ignores the fact that by the time Shakespeare came to write Twelfth Night, festive comedy was an established specialty with him.

2 E. K. Chambers, William Shakespeare, II, 3z7-3 Z8



The title tells us that the play is like holiday misrule-- though not just like it, for it adds "or what you will." The law student John Manningham, who saw it at the Middle Temple's feast on February 2, 1602, wrote in his diary that it was “much like the Comedy of Errores, or Menechmi in Plautus, but most like and neere to that in Italian called Inganni." We have the now-familiar combination of festive, literary and theatrical traditions. In addition to Plautine situation and Italian comedy, Shakespeare drew on a prose romance (derived indirectly from Italian comedy), Rich's Apolonius and Silla. He used no written source for the part Manningham specially praised: “A good practice in it to make the Steward beleeve his Lady widdowe was in love with him…” 2


Shakespeare can be inclusive in his use of traditions because his powers of selection and composition can arrange each element so that only those facets of it show which will serve his expressive purpose. He leaves out the dungeon in which Rich's jealous Orsino shuts up Viola, as well as Sebastian's departure leaving Olivia with child; but he does not hesitate to keep such events as the shipwreck, _or Sebastian's amazing marriage to a stranger, or Orsino's threatening Viola. It is not the credibility of the event that is decisive, but what can be expressed through it. Thus the shipwreck is made the occasion for Viola to exhibit an undaunted, aristocratic mastery of adversity-- she settles what she shall do next almost as though picking out a costume for a masquerade:

I'll serve this duke,

Thou shalt present me as an eunuch to him;

It may be worth thy pains. For I can sing,

And speak to him in several sorts of music ...  (Iii· 55-58)


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What matters is not the event, but what the language says as gesture, the aristocratic, free-and-easy way she settles what she will do and what the captain will do to help her. The pathetical complications which are often dwelt on in the romance are not allowed to develop far in the play; instead Viola's spritely language conveys the fun she is having in playing a man's part, with a hidden womanly perspective about it. One cannot quite say that she is playing in a masquerade, because disguising just for the fun of it is a different thing. But the same sort of festive pleasure in transvestism is expressed.

It is amazing how little happens in Twelfth Night, how much of the time people are merely talking, especially in the first half, before the farcical complications are sprung. Shakespeare is so skillful by now in rendering attitudes by the gestures of easy conversation that when it suits him he can almost do without events. In the first two acts of Twelfth Night he holds our interest with a bare minimum of tension while unfolding a pattern of contrasting attitudes and tones in his several persons. Yet Shakespeare's whole handling of romantic story, farce, and practical joke makes a composition which moves in the manner of his earlier festive comedies, through release to clarification. 

“A most extracting frenzy”

Olivia's phrase in the last act, when she remembers Malvolio and his "madness," can summarize the way the play moves:

A most extracting frenzy of mine own
From my remembrance clearly qanish'd his.  (V.i.288-289)

People are caught up by delusions or misapprehensions which take them out of themselves, bringing out what they would keep hidden or did not know was there. Madness is a key word. The outright gull Malvolio is already “a rare turkey-cock” from “contemplation” (II.v.3S) before Maria goes to work on him with her forged letter. “I do not now fool myself, to let imagination jade me” (II.v.I79),

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he exclaims when he has read it, having been put “in such a dream that, when the image of it leaves him, he must run mad” (IIv.2IO-2II). He is too self-absorbed actually to run mad, but when he comes at Olivia, smiling and cross-gartered, she can make nothing else of it: “Why, this is very mid-summer madness” (III.iv.6I). And so the merrymakers have the chance to put him in a dark room and do everything they can to face him out of his five wits.

What they bring about as a “pastime” (III.iv.151), to “gull him into a nayword, and make him a common recreation” (IIiii145), happens unplanned to others by disguise and mistaken identity. Sir Toby, indeed, “speaks nothing but madman” (I.V.I15) without any particular occasion. “My masters, are you mad?” (II iii 93) Malvolio asks as he comes in to try to stop the midnight singing. Malvolio is sure that he speaks for the countess when he tells Toby that “though she harbors you as her kinsman, she's nothing allied to your disorders” (II.iii.I03). But in fact this sober judgment shows that he is not “any more than a steward” (IIiii.I22). For Olivia, dignified though her bearing is, suddenly finds herself doing “I know not what” (I.v.327) under the spell of Viola in her page's disguise: “how now? / Even so quickly may one catch the plague?” (Iv.313-314) “Poor lady,” exclaims Viola, “she were better love a dream!” (II.ii.2 7) In their first interview, she had told the countess, in urging the count's suit, that “what is yours to bestow is not yours to reserve” (I.v.200-20I). By the end of their encounter, Olivia says the same thing in giving way to her passion: “Fate, show thy force! Ourselves we do not owe” (Iv.329)  And soon her avowals of love come pouring out, overcoming the effort at control which shows she is a lady:

O, what a deal of scorn looks beautiful
In the contempt and anger of his lip!
A murd'rous guilt shows not itself more soon
Than love that would seem hid: love's night is noon.
Cesario, by the roses of the spring,
By maidhood, honour, truth, and everything,
I love thee so . . . (III . 6 ) .1.157-1 3


A little later, when she hears about Malvolio and his smile she summarizes the parallel with “I am as mad as he, / If sad and merry madness equal be” (IIIiv.I5-I6).

The farcical challenge and “fight” between Viola and Sir Andrew are another species of frantic action caused by delusion. “More matter for a May morning” (IIIiv.I56) Fabian calls it as they move from pretending to exorcise Malvolio's devil to pretending to act as solicitous seconds for Sir Andrew. When Antonio enters the fray in manly earnest, there is still another sort of comic error, based not on a psychological distortion but simply on mistaken identity. This Plautine sort of confusion leads Sebastian to exclaim, “Are all the people mad?” (IV.i.29) Just after we have seen “Malvolio the lunatic” (IV.ii.26) baffled in the dark room (“But tell me true, are you not mad indeed? or do you but counterfeit?” IV.ii.I2I-I23), we see Sebastian struggling to understand his wonderful encounter with Olivia:

This is the air; that is the glorious sun;
This pearl she gave me, I do feel't and see't;
And though 'tis wonder that enwraps me thus,
Yet 'tis not madness.

The open-air clarity of this little scene anticipates the approaching moment when delusions and misapprehensions are resolved by the finding of objects appropriate to passions. Shakespeare, with fine stagecraft, spins the misapprehensions out to the last moment. He puts Orsino, in his turn, through an extracting frenzy, the Duke's frustration converting at last to violent impulses toward Olivia and Cesario, before he discovers in the page the woman's love he could not win from the countess.

That it should all depend on there being an indistinguishable twin brother always troubles me when I think about it, though never when I watch the play. Can it be that we enjoy the play so much simply because it is a wish-fulfillment presented so skillfully that we do not notice that our hearts are duping our heads? Certainly part of our pleasure comes from pleasing make-believe. But I think that what chance determines about particular destinies is justified, as was the case with The Merchant of Venice, by the play’s realizing dynamically general distinctions and tendencies in life.

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The most fundamental distinction the play brings home to us is the difference between men and women. To say this may seem to labor the obvious; for what love story does not emphasize this difference? But the disguising of a girl as a boy in Twelfth Night is exploited so as to renew in a special way our sense of the difference. Just as a saturnalian reversal of social roles need not threaten the social structure, but can serve instead to consolidate it, so, a temporary, playful reversal of sexual roles can renew the meaning of the normal relation. One can add that with sexual as with other relations, it is when the normal is secure that playful aberration is benign. This basic security explains why there is so little that is queazy in all Shakespeare's handling of boy actors playing women, and playing women pretending to be men. This is particularly remarkable in Twelfth Night, for Olivia's infatuation with Cesario-Viola is another, more fully developed case of the sort of crush Phebe had on Rosalind. Viola is described as distinctly feminine in her disguise, more so than Rosalind:

... they shall yet belie thy happy years 
That say thou art a man. Diana's lip
Is not more smooth and rubious; thy small pipe
Is as the maiden's organ, shrill and sound,
And all is semblative a woman's part.  (Iiv30-34)

When on her embassy Viola asks to see Olivia's face and exclaims about it, she shows a woman's way of relishing another woman's beauty-and sensing another's vanity: “ ‘Tis beauty truly blent ....” “I see you what you are-- you are too proud” (II.257, 269). Olivia’s infatuation with feminine qualities in a youth takes her, doing “I know not what,” from one stage of life out into another, from shutting out suitors in mourning for her brother's memory, to ardor for a man, Sebastian, and the clear certainty that calls out to “husband” in the confusion of the last scene.  We might wonder whether this spoiled and dominating young  heiress may not have been attracted by what she could hope to dominate in Cesario's youth-- but it was not the habit of Shakespeare's age to look for such implications. And besides, Sebastian is not likely to be dominated; we have seen him respond to Andrew when the ninny knight thought he was securely striking Cesario:

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Andrew. Now, sir, have I met you again? There's for you!
Sebastian. Why, there's for thee, and there, and there!  (IV.i.26-2 7)

To see this manly reflex is delightful-- almost a relief-- for we have been watching poor Viola absurdly perplexed behind her disguise as Sir Toby urges her to play the man: “Dismount thy tuck, be yare in thy preparation. . . . Therefor on, or strip your sword naked; for meddle you must, that's certain” (IIIiv.244-24S, 274¬276). She is driven to the point where she exclaims in an aside: “Pray God defend me! A little thing would make me tell them how much I lack of a man” (IIIiv.331-333). What she lacks, Sebastian has. His entrance in the final scene is preceded by comical testimony of his prowess, Sir Andrew with a broken head and Sir Toby halting. The particular implausibility that there should be an identical man to take Viola's place with Olivia is submerged in the general, beneficent realization that there is such a thing as a man. Sebastian's comment when the confusion of identities is resolved points to the general force which has shaped particular developments:

So comes it, lady, you have been mistook.
But nature to her bias drew in that.  (V.i.266-267)

Over against the Olivia-Cesario relation, there are Orsino-Cesario and Antonio-Sebastian. Antonio's impassioned friendship for Sebastian is one of those ardent attachments between young people of the same sex which Shakespeare frequently presents, with his positive emphasis, as exhibiting the loving and lovable qualities later expressed in love for the other sex.4 Orsino's fascination with Cesario is more complex. In the opening scene, his restless sensibility can find no object: "naught enters there, ... / But falls into abatement ... / Even in a minute" (Ii.II-14).


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Olivia might be an adequate object; she at least is the Diana the sight of whom has, he thinks, turned him to an Acteon torn by the hounds of desires. When we next see him, and Cesario has been only three days in his court, his entering question is "Who saw Cesario, ho?" (Iiv. 10) and already he has unclasped to the youth "the book even of [his] secret soul" (Iiv.I4). He has found an object. The delight he takes in Cesario's fresh youth and graceful responsiveness in conversation and in service, is one part of the spectrum of love for a woman, or better, it is a range of feeling that is common to love for a youth and love for a woman. For the audience, the woman who is present there, behind Cesario's disguise, is brought to mind repeatedly by the talk of love and of the differences of men and women in love. "My father had a daughter loved a man ..." (IIiv.II0) 

                              She never told her love,
But let concealment, like a worm i' th' bud,
Feed on her damask cheek. (II . S)

This supremely feminine damsel, who "sat like patience on a monument," is not Viola. She is a sort of polarity within Viola, realized all the more fully because the other, active side of Viola does not pine in thought at all, but instead changes the subject: “… and yet I know not. / Sir, shall we to this lady? -Ay, that's the theme" (ILiv.I24-12S). The effect of moving back and forth from woman to sprightly page is to convey how much the sexes differ yet how much they have in common, how everyone who is fully alive has qualities of both. Some such general recognition is obliquely suggested in Sebastian's amused summary of what happened to Olivia:

You would have been contracted to a maid;
Nor are you therein, by my life, deceiv'd:
You are betroth'd both to a maid and man.  (V.i.267-270)

The countess marries the man in this composite, and the count marries the maid. He too has done he knows not what while nature drew him to her bias, for he has fallen in love with the maid without knowing it.

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Liberty Testing Courtesy

We have seen how each of the festive comedies tends to focus on a particular kind of folly that is released along with love-witty masquerade in Love's Labour's Lost, delusive fantasy in A Midsummer Night's Dream, romance in As You Like It, and, in The Merchant of Venice, prodigality balanced against usury. Twelfth Night deals with the sort of folly which the title points to, the folly of misrule. But the holiday reference limits its subject too narrowly: the play exhibits the liberties which gentlemen take with decorum in the pursuit of pleasure and love, including the liberty of holiday, but not only that. Such liberty is balanced against time-serving. As Bassanio's folly of prodigality leads in the end to gracious fulfillment, so does Viola's folly of disguise. There is just a suggestion of the risks when she exclaims, not very solemnly,

Disguise, I see thou art a wickedness
Wherein the pregnant enemy does much. (II.ii.28-29)

As in The Merchant of Venice the story of a prodigal is the occasion for an exploration of the use and abuse of wealth, so here we get an exhibition of the use and abuse of social liberty.

What enables Viola to bring off her role in disguise is her perfect courtesy, in the large, humanistic meaning of that term as the Renaissance used it, the corteziania of Castiglione. Her mastery of courtesy goes with her being the daughter of “that Sebastian of Messalina whom I know you have heard of”: gentility shows through her disguise as does the fact that she is a woman. The impact on Olivia of Cesario's quality as a gentleman is what is emphasized as the countess, recalling their conversation, discovers that she is falling in love:

'What is thy parentage?'

'Above my fortunes, yet my state is well.
I am a gentleman.'

                                       I'll be sworn thou art.
Thy tongue, thy face, thy limbs, actions, and spirit
Do give thee fivefold blazon. Not too fast!  soft, soft!
Unless the master were the man.


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We think of manners as a mere prerequisite of living decently, like cleanliness. For the Renaissance, they could be almost the end of life, as the literature of courtesy testifies. Twelfth Night carries further an interest in the fashioning of a courtier which, as Miss Bradbrook points out, appears in several of the early comedies, especially The Two Gentlemen of Verona, and which in different keys Shakespeare was pursuing, about the same time as he wrote Twelfth Night, in Hamlet and Measure for Measure. People in Twelfth Night talk of courtesy and manners constantly. But the most important expression of courtesy of course is in object lessons. It is their lack of breeding and manners which makes the comic butts ridiculous, along with their lack of the basic, free humanity which, be it virile or feminine, is at the center of courtesy and flowers through it.

Mr. Van Doren, in a fine essay, observes that Twelfth Night has a structure like The Merchant of Venice. "Once again Shakespeare has built a world out of music and melancholy, and once again this world is threatened by an alien voice. The opposition of Malvolio to Orsino and his class parallels the opposition of Shylock to Antonio and his friends. The parallel is not precise, and the contrast is more subtly contrived; Shakespeare holds the balance in a more delicate hand ...."6 One way in which this more delicate balance appears is that the contest of revellers with intruder does not lead to neglecting ironies about those who are on the side of pleasure. We are all against Malvolio, certainly, in the great moment when the whole opposition comes into focus with Toby's "Dost thou think, because thou art virtuous, there shall be no more cakes and ale?" (II.iii.123-12S) The festive spirit shows up the kill-joy vanity of Malvolio's decorum. The steward shows his limits when he calls misrule "this uncivil rule." But one of the revellers is Sir Andrew, who reminds us that there is no necessary salvation in being a fellow who delights "in masques and revels sometimes altogether" (I.iii. I 2I). There was no such ninny pleasure-seeker in The Merchant of Venice; his role continues Shallow's, the would-be-reveller who is comically inadequate. To put such a leg as his into "a flame-

I) Shakespeare and Elizabethan Poetry, Ch. IX. 6 Shakespeare, p. 161.



coloured stock" only shows how meager it is. This thin creature's motive is self-improvement: he is a version of the stock type of prodigal who is gulled in trying to learn how to be gallant. As in Restoration comedy the fop confirms the values of the rake, Aguecheek serves as foil to Sir Toby. But he also marks one limit as to what revelry can do for a man: "I would I had bestowed that time in the tongues that I have in fencing, dancing and bear-baiting" (Liii.97-99).

Sir Toby is gentlemanly liberty incarnate, a specialist in it. He lives at his ease, enjoying heritage, the something-for-nothing which this play celebrates, as The Merchant of Venice celebrates wealth-- what he has without having to deserve it is his kinsman's place in Olivia's household:

Maria. What a caterwauling do you keep here! If my lady have not call'd up her steward Malvolio and bid him turn you out of doors, never trust me.

Sir Toby. My lady's a Catayan, we are politicians, Malvolio's a Peg-a-Ramsay, and [sings] "Three merry men be we." Am I not consanguineous? Am I not of her blood? Tilly-vally, lady.  (II.iii.76-83)

Sir Toby has by consanguinity what Falstaff has to presume on and keep by his wits: "Shall I not take mine ease in mine inn but I shall have my pocket pick'd?" (I H.IV IILiii.92-94) So Sir Toby is witty without being as alert as Sir John; he does not need to be:

Olivia. Cousin, cousin, how have you come so early by this  lethargy?

Toby. Lechery? I defy lechery. There's one at the gate.

Olivia. Ay, marry, what is he?

Toby. Let him be the devil an he will. I care not!
            Give me faith, say I. Well, it's all one. (I ).v.131-137

Stage drunkenness, here expressed by wit that lurches catch-as-catch-can, conveys the security of "good life" in such households as Olivia's, the old-fashioned sort that had not given up "house-keeping." Because Toby has "faith"-- the faith that goes with belonging-- he does not need to worry when Maria teases him about confining himself "within the modest limits of order." "Confine?”  in his clothes, he has the ease of a gentleman whose place in the world is secure, so that, while he can find words like consanguineous at will, he can also say "Sneck up!" to Malvolio's accusation that he shows "no respect of persons, places nor time" (II.iii.99). Sir Toby is the sort of kinsman who would take the lead at such Christmas feasts as Sir Edward Dymoke patronized in Lincolnshire -- a Talboys Dymoke.1 His talk is salted with holiday morals: "I am sure care's an enemy of life" (I.iii.2-3). "Not to be abed before midnight is to be up betimes" (II.iii. I -2).  He is like Falstaff in maintaining saturnalian paradox and in playing impromptu the role of lord of misrule. But in his whole relation to the world he is fundamentally different from Prince Hal's great buffoon. Falstaff makes a career of misrule; Sir

1 The whole encounter between Talboys Dymoke's revellers and the Earl of  Lincoln is remarkably like that between Sir Toby's group and Malvolio. See above,  The parallels are all the more impressive because no influence relationship is involved; there must have been many such encounters.

Toby uses misrule to show up a careerist.  There is little direct invocation by poetry of the values of heritage and housekeeping, such as we get of the beneficence of wealth in The Merchant of Venice. But the graciousness of community is conveyed indirectly by the value put on music and song, as Mr. Van Doren observes. The Duke's famous opening lines start the play with music. His hypersensitive aestheticism savors strains that have a dying fall and mixes the senses in appreciation: "like the sweet sound / That breathes upon a bank of violets" (Ii.5-6). Toby and his friends are more at ease about "0 mistress mine," but equally devoted to music in their way. (Toby makes fun of such strained appreciation as the Duke's when he concludes their praises of the clown's voice with "To hear by the nose, it is dulcet in contagion" (II.iii67-68.) Back at court, in the next scene, the significance of music in relation to community is suggested in the Duke's lines about the "old and antique song":

Mark it, Cesario; it is old and plain.
The spinsters and the knitters in the sun,
And the free maids that weave their thread with bones,
Do use to chant it. It is silly sooth,
And dallies with the innocence of love
Like the old age.   (II.iv 44-49 )

The wonderful line about the free maids, which throws such firm stress on "free' by the delayed accent, and then slows up in strong, regular monosyllables, crystallizes the play's central feeling for freedom in heritage and community. It is consciously nostalgic; the old age is seen from the vantage of "these most brisk and giddy-paced times" (Il.iv.6). Throughout the play a contrast is maintained between the taut, restless, elegant court, where people speak a nervous verse, and the free-wheeling household of Olivia, where, except for the intense moments in Olivia's amorous interviews with Cesario, people live in an easy-going prose. The contrast is another version of pastoral. The household is more than anyone person in it. People keep interrupting each other, changing their minds, letting their talk run out into foolishness-- and through it all Shakespeare expresses the day-by-day going on of a shared life:

Maria. Nay, either tell me where thou hast been, or I will not open my lips so wide as a bristle may enter in way of thy excuse. (l.v.I-3)

Fabian. . .. You know he brought me out o’favour with my lady about a bear-baiting here.

Toby. To anger him we'll have the bear again ... (Il.v.8-1 I)

Fabian. Why, we shall make him mad indeed. Maria. The house will be the quieter. (IIl.iv.I46-147 )

Maria's character is a function of the life of "the house"; she moves within it with perfectly selfless tact. "She's a beagle true-bred," says Sir Toby: her part in the housekeeping and its pleasures is a homely but valued kind of "courtiership."

All of the merrymakers show a fine sense of the relations of people, including robust Fabian, and Sir Toby, when he has need. The fool, especially, has this courtly awareness. We see in the first scene that he has to have it to live: he goes far enough in the direction of plain speaking to engage Olivia's unwilling attention, then brings off his thesis that she is the fool so neatly that he is forgiven.


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What Viola praises in the fool's function is just what we should expect in a play about courtesy and liberty:

This fellow is wise enough to play the fool,
And to do that well craves a kind of wit.
He must observe their mood on whom he jests.
The quality of persons and the time ...  (III.i.67-70)

It is remarkable how little Feste says that is counterstatement in Touchstone's manner: there is no need for ironic counterstatement, because here the ironies are embodied in the comic butts. Instead what Feste chiefly does is sing and beg-- courtly occupations-- and radiate in his songs and banter a feeling of liberty based on accepting disillusion. "What's to come is still unsure ... Youth's a stuff will not endure" (II.iii.50, 53). In The Merchant of Venice, it was the gentlefolk who commented "How every fool can play upon the word!" but now it is the fool himself who says, with mock solemnity: "To see this age/  A sentence is but a chev'ril glove to a good witl" (IIl.i.I2-13). He rarely makes the expected move, but conveys by his style how well he knows what moves are expected:

so that, conclusions to be as kisses, if your four negatives make
your two affirmatives, why then, the worse for my friends and
the better for my foes.

Duke. Why, this is excellent.

Feste. By my troth, sir, no; though it pleases you to be one of my friends. (,V.i.24-29 )

His feeling for people and their relations comes out most fully when he plays "Sir Topas the curate, who comes to visit Malvolio the lunatic" (IV.ii.2S-26). This is the pastime of "dissembling" in a minister's gown that led to so much trouble for Sir Edward Dymoke's bailiff, John Craddock the elder.  Viola, who as "nuntio" moves from tense court to relaxed household, has much in common with Feste in the way she talks, or better, uses talk; but she also commands effortlessly, when there is occasion, Shakespeare's mature poetic power:

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It gives a very echo to the seat 
Where love is throned.  (1I.iv.2 1-22)

"Thou dost speak masterly," the Duke exclaims-- as we must too. Part of her mastery is that she lets herself go only rarely, choosing occasions that are worthy. Most of the time she keeps her language reined in, often mocking it as she uses it, in Feste's fashion. Perhaps it is because he finds himself beaten at his own game that he turns on her ungraciously, as on no one else:

Viola. I warrant thou art a merry fellow and car'st for nothing.

Clown. Not so, sir; I do care for something; but in my conscience, sir, I do not care for you. If that be to care for nothing, sir, I would it would make you invisible. (III.1.32-35

Once when she is mocking the elaborate language of compliment, greeting Olivia with "the heavens rain odors on you," Sir Andrew overhears and is much impressed: "That youth's a rare courtier. 'Rain odors'-well" (1II.i.97-98). He plans to get her fancy words by heart. Of course, as a rare courtier, she precisely does not commit herself to such high-flown, Osric-style expressions. Her constant shifting of tone in response to the situation goes with her manipulation of her role in disguise, so that instead of simply listening to her speak, we watch her conduct her speech, and through it feel her secure sense of proportion and her easy, alert consciousness: "To one of your receiving," says Olivia, "enough is shown" (1II.i.I3I-I32).

Olivia says that "it was never merry world / Since lowly feigning was called compliment" (1II.i.I09-II0). As Sir Toby is the spokesman and guardian of that merry world, Malvolio is its antagonist. He shows his relation to festivity at once by the way he responds to Feste, and Olivia points the moral: he is "sick of self-love" and tastes "with a distempered appetite." He is not "generous, guiltless, and of free disposition." Of course, nothing is more helpful, to get revelry to boil up, than somebody trying to keep the lid on-- whatever his personal qualities. But the "stubborn and uncourteous parts" in Malvolio's character, to which Fabian refers in justifying the "device," are precisely those qualities


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which liberty shows up. Malvolio wants "to confine himself finer than he is," to paraphrase Toby in reverse: he practices behavior to his own shadow. His language is full of pompous polysyllables, of elaborate syntax deploying synonyms: 

Do ye make an alehouse of my lady's house, that ye squeak out your coziers' catches without any mitigation or remorse of voice? Is there no respect of place, persons, nor time in you?  (1I.iii.96-99 )

 In "loving" his mistress, as Cesario her master, he is a kind of foil, bringing out her genuine, free impulse by the contrast he furnishes. He does not desire Olivia's person; that desire, even in a steward, would be sympathetically regarded, though not of course encouraged, by a Twelfth-Night mood. What he wants is "to be count Malvolio," with "a demure travel of regard-telling them I know my place, as I would they should do theirs" (1I.v.59-6I). His secret wish is to violate decorum himself, then relish to the full its power over others. No wonder he has not a free disposition when he has such imaginations to keep under! When the sport betrays him into a revelation of them, part of the vengeance taken is to make him try to be festive, in yellow stockings, and cross-gartered, and smiling "his face into more lines than is in the new map with the augmentation of the Indies" (1II.ii.9 1-93). Maria's letter tells him to go brave, be gallant, take liberties! And when we see him "acting this in an obedient hope," (as he puts it later) he is anything but free: "This does make some obstruction of the blood, this cross-gartering . . ." (II v.21-23 ). In his "impossible passages of grossness," he is the profane intruder trying to steal part of the initiates' feast by disguising himself as one of them-- only to be caught and tormented for his profanation. As with Shylock, there is potential pathos in his bafflement, especially when Shakespeare uses to the limit the conjuring of devils out of a sane man, a device which he had employed hilariously in The Comedy of Errors. There is no way to settle just how much of Malvolio's pathos should be allowed to come through when he is down and out in the dark hole. Most people now agree that Charles Lamb's sympathy for the steward's enterprise and

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commiseration for his sorrows is a romantic and bourgeois distortion. But he is certainly pathetic, if one thinks about it, because  he is so utterly cut off from everyone else by his anxious self-love. He lacks the freedom which makes Viola so perceptive, and is correspondingly oblivious:

Olivia. What kind o' man is he?

Malvolio. Why, of mankind.  (Iv.I 59-1 60)

He is too busy carrying out his mistress' instructions about privacy to notice that she is bored with it, as later he is too busy doing her errand with the ring to notice that it is a love-token. He is imprisoned in his own virtues, so that there is sense as well as nonsense in the fool's "I say there is no darkness but ignorance, in which thou art more puzzled than the Egyptians in their fog" (IV.ii.46-49). The dark house is, without any straining, a symbol: when Malvolio protests about Pythagoras, "I think nobly of the soul and no way approve his opinion," the clown's response is "Remain thou still in darkness." The pack of them are wanton and unreasonable in tormenting him; but his reasonableness will never let him out into "the air; ... the glorious sun" (IV.iii.I) which they enjoy together. To play the dark-house scene for pathos, instead of making fun out of the pathos, or at any rate out of most of the pathos, is to ignore the dry comic light which shows up Malvolio's virtuousness as a self-limiting automatism.

Malvolio has been called a satirical portrait of the Puritan spirit, and there is some truth in the notion. But he is not hostile to holiday because he is a Puritan; he is like a Puritan because he is hostile to holiday. Shakespeare even mocks, in passing, the thoughtless, fashionable antipathy to Puritans current among gallants. Sir Andrew responds to Maria's "sometimes he is a kind of Puritan," with "if I thought that, I'd beat him like a dog" (IIiii.I5I-I53). "The devil a Puritan he is, or anything constantly," Maria observes candidly, "but a time-pleaser" (ILiii.I59-I60). Shakespeare's two greatest comic butts, Malvolio and Shy lock, express basic human attitudes which were at work in the commercial revolution, the new values whose development R. H. Tawney described in Religion and the Rise of Capitalism. But both figures are conceived at a level of esthetic abstraction which makes it

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inappropriate to identify them with specific social groups in the mingled actualities of history: Shylock, embodying ruthless money power, is no more to be equated with actual bankers than Malvolio, who has something of the Puritan ethic, is to be thought of as a portrait of actual Puritans. Yet, seen in the perspective of literary and social history, there is a curious appropriateness in Malvolio's presence, as a kind of foreign body to be expelled by laughter, in Shakespeare's last free-and-easy festive comedy. He is a man of business, and, it is passingly suggested, a hard one; he is or would like to be a rising man, and to rise he uses sobriety and morality. One could moralize the spectacle by observing that, in the long run, in the 1640'S, Malvolio was revenged on the whole pack of them.

But Shakespeare's comedy remains, long after 1640, to move audiences through release to clarification, making distinctions between false care and true freedom and realizing anew, for successive generations, powers in human nature and society which make good the risks of courtesy and liberty. And this without blinking the fact that "the rain it raineth every day."


Outside the Garden Gate

Twelfth Night is usually placed just before Hamlet and the problem plays to make neat groupings according to mood, but it may well have been written after some of these works. In thinking about its relation to the other work of the period from 1600 to 1602 or 1603, it is important to recognize the independent artistic logic by which each play has its own unity. There are features of Twelfth Night that connect it with all the productions of this period. There is the side of Orsino's sensibility, for example, which suggests Troilus' hypersensitivity:

                             Enough, no more!
'Tis not so sweet now as it was before.  (Ii7-8 )

How will she love when the rich golden shaft
Hath kill'd the flock of all affections else
That live in her; when liver, brain, and heart,
Those sovereign thrones, are all supplied and fill'd,
Her sweet perfections, with one self king!
Away before me to sweet beds of flow'rs! (Ii35-40)


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Troilus carries this sort of verse and feeling farther:

                              What will it be
When that the wat'ry palates taste indeed
Love's thrice-repured nectar? Death, I fear me;
Sounding destruction; or some joy too fine,
Too subtile-potent, tun'd too sharp in sweetness
For the capacity of my ruder powers.  (Troi. II1.ii.21-26)

Troilus' lines are a much more physical and more anxious development of the exquisite, uncentered sort of amorousness expressed by Orsino. But in Twelfth Night there is no occasion to explore the harsh anti-climax to which such intensity is vulnerable, for instead of meeting a trivial Cressida in the midst of war and lechery, Orsino meets poised Viola in a world of revelry. The comparison with Troilus and Cressida makes one notice how little direct sexual reference there is in Twelfth Night-- much less than in most of the festive comedies. It may be that free-hearted mirth, at this stage of Shakespeare's development, required more shamefastness than it had earlier, because to dwell on the physical was to encounter the "monstruosity in love" which troubled Troilus: "that the desire is boundless and the act a slave to limit" (Troi. III.ii.89-90). It is quite possible that Measure for Measure and All's Well That Ends Well did not seem to Shakespeare and his audiences so different from Twelfth Night as they seem to us. Both of them use comic butts not unlike Andrew and Malvolio, Lucio and Parolles are, each his way, pretenders to community who are shown up ludicrously by their own compulsions, and so expelled. Our difficulty with these plays, what makes them problem plays, is that they do not feel festive; they are not merry in a deep enough way. Part of our response may well be the result of changes in standards and sentiments about sexual behavior, and of alterations in theatrical convention. But the fact remains that in both plays, release often leads, not simply to

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folly, but to the vicious or contemptible; and the manipulations of happy accidents which make all well in the  end are not made acceptable by the achievement of distinctions about values or by a convincing expression of general beneficent forces in life. Shakespeare's imagination tends to dwell on situations and motives where the energies of life lead to degradation or destruction:

                             Our natures do pursue 
Like rats that ravin down their proper bane,
A thirsty evil, and when we drink, we die.  (Meas. I.ii.132-134)

There's not a soldier of us all that, in the thanksgiving before meat, do relish the petition well that prays for peace. (Meas. 1.ii.14-17)

Pompey, you are partly a bawd, Pompey, howsoever you colour it in being a tapster, are you not? ...

Pompey. Truly, sir, I am a poor fellow that would live. (Meas. II.i.230-235)

This sort of paradox is not brought home to us in Twelfth Night. In the problem comedies, vicious or perverse release leads to developments of absorbing interest, if not always to a satisfying movement of feeling in relation to awareness. But that is beyond our compass here.

We can notice here that the fool in Twelfth Night has been over the garden wall into some such world as the Vienna of Measure for Measure. He never tells where he has been, gives no details. But he has an air of knowing more of life than anyone else-- too much, in fact; and he makes general observations like

Anything that's mended is but patch'd; virtue that transgresses is but patch'd with sin, and sin that amends is but patch'd with virtue. If that this simple syllogism will serve, so; if it will not, what remedy? (1.V.52-56)

His part does not darken the bright colors of the play; but it gives them a dark outline, suggesting that the whole bright revel emerges from shadow. In the wonderful final song which he is left alone on stage to sing, the mind turns to contemplate the limitations of revelry By swaggering could I never thrive ...." The morning after, the weather when the sky changes, come into the song:


With tosspots still had drunken heads

For the rain it raineth every day.  (V.i·4I 2-41 3)


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It goes outside the garden gate:

But when I come to man's estate,
With hey, ho, the wind and the rain,
'Gainst knaves and thieves men shut their gate,
For the rain it raineth every day. (V.i 402-405)

Yet the poise of mirth, achieved by accepting disillusion, although it is now precarious, is not lost:

A great while ago the world begun,
With hey, ho, the wind and the rain;
 But that's all one, our play is done,
And we'll strive to please you everyday. (Vi.4I4-4I7)

There is a certain calculated let-down in coming back to the play in this fashion; but it is the play which is keeping out the wind and the rain.

The festive comic form which Shakespeare had worked out was a way of selecting and organizing experience which had its own logic, its own autonomy: there is no necessary reason to think that he did not play on that instrument in Twelfth Night after making even such different music as Hamlet. Indeed, across the difference in forms, the comedy has much in common with the tragedy: interest in courtesy and free-hearted manners; consciousness of language and play with it as though a sentence were but a chev'ril glove; the use of nonsequitur and nonsense. Malvolio absurdly dreams of such a usurpation of heritage, "having come from a day bed, where I have left Olivia sleeping," as Claudius actually accomplishes. The tragedy moves into regions where the distinction between madness and


sanity begins to break down, to be recovered only through violence; the fooling with madness in the comedy is an enjoyment of the control which knows what is mad and what is not. The relation between the two plays, though not so close, is not unlike that which we have noticed between Romeo and Juliet and A Midsummer Night's Dream.  

But there is a great deal in Hamlet which the festive comic form cannot handle. The form can only deal with follies where nature to her bias draws; the unnatural can appear only in outsiders, intruders who are mocked and expelled. But in Hamlet, it is insiders who are unnatural. There is a great deal of wonderful fooling in the tragedy: Hamlet's playing the all-licensed fool in Claudius' court and making tormented fun out of his shocking realization of the horror of life. For sheer power of wit and reach of comic vision, there are moments in Hamlet beyond anything in the comedies we have considered. But to control the expression of the motives he is presenting, Shakespeare requires a different movement, within which comic release is only one phase. After Twelfth Night, comedy is always used in this subordinate way: saturnalian moments, comic counterstatements, continue to be important resources of his art, but their meanings are determined by their place in a larger movement. So it is with the heroic revels in Antony and Cleopatra, or with the renewal of life, after tragedy, at the festival in The Winter's Tale.

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