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further that this comedy was published in, or before, the year 1596. I have given reasons above for believing that this suggestion also may be disregarded. Again, says Chalmers, 'The Faiery Queen helped Shakspeare to many hints,' and 'the second volume of the Faiery Queen was published in 1596. To this I would add, what Chalmers himself should have stated, that although the second volume of Spenser's poem was not published till 1596, the first appeared in 1590, and if Shakespeare borrowed any ideas from it at all he had an opportunity of doing so long before 1596. This therefore may be consigned to the limbo of worthless evidence. Further, in the speech of Egeus, in which he claims the ancient privilege of Athens, to dispose of his daughter either to Demetrius or to death, Chalmers sees a direct reference to a bill which was introduced into parliament in 1597 for depriving offenders of clergy who should be found guilty of taking away women against their wills. This is certainly the weakest of all the proofs by which Chalmers endeavours to make out his case, for the law which Egeus wished to enforce was against a refractory daughter, who at the time at which he was speaking had not been stolen away by Lysander, and was only too willing to go with him. I have given Chalmers's theory rather more consideration than it deserves, because he has supported it by a parade of evidence, which to him no doubt appeared satisfactory, but which upon examination proves to be of absolutely no value.
Another point, which has a bearing upon the date of the play, is the occasion for which it was written. If this could be determined with any degree of probability we should be able to ascertain within a little the time at which it was composed. But here again we embark upon a wide sea of conjecture, with neither star nor compass to guide us. That the Midsummer Night's Dream may have been first acted at the marriage of some nobleman, and that, from the various compliments which are paid to Elizabeth, the performance may have taken place when the Queen herself was present,
are no improbable suppositions. But when was this conjuncture of events? No theory which has yet been proposed satisfies both conditions. On the one hand Mr. Gerald Massey maintains that it was to celebrate the marriage of Lord Southampton with Elizabeth Vernon that Shakespeare composed the Midsummer Night's Dream; but as this marriage did not take place till 1598, and was then kept secret in order to avoid the Queen's displeasure, Mr. Massey supposes that the play was written some time before, when it was thought probable that the Queen's consent might have been obtained, and he accordingly places it in 1595. He goes further and believes that in the play 'many touches tend to show that Hermia is Lady Rich, and Helena, Elizabeth Vernon' (The Secret Drama of Shakespeare's Sonnets unfolded, p. 475). ‘Perhaps,' he adds in a note (p. 481), 'it was one of the Plays presented before Mr. Secretary Cecil and Lord Southampton, when they were leaving London for Paris, in January, 1598, at which time, as Rowland White relates, the Earl's marriage was secretly talked of.' It appears that the exigencies of Mr. Massey's theory have here driven him into great straits. That Southampton was not married to Elizabeth Vernon till the summer of 1598, is all but certain. If therefore the Midsummer Night's Dream was one of the plays acted before Cecil and Southampton in January, 1598, it was not in honour of the marriage of the latter. If it was not one of these plays we are not concerned with what happened on that occasion. In fact we know nothing whatever about the matter, and of guesses like these there is neither end nor profit. Elze, who rejects the date offered by Mr. Massey's theory as too late, advances a conjecture of his own which must be regarded as a conjecture only, having no evidence whatever to support it. To use his own language, he maintains that 'all indications point to the fact that the Midsummer Night's Dream was written for and performed at the marriage of the Earl of Essex in 1590' with Lady Frances Sidney the widow of Sir Philip Sidney. He regards Theseus and Hippolyta as the
representatives of the bridal couple. Theseus was a captain, so was Essex. Theseus was a huntsman, so may Essex have been. Theseus was welcomed by 'great clerks'; Essex had an Eclogue Gratulatory addressed to him by George Peele on his return from the Spanish campaign in 1589. Theseus was faithless in love, and the amours of Essex were matters of public notoriety. So, there being a river at Monmouth and a river in Macedon, the parallel is complete. Moreover, Kurz, who adopts Elze's hypothesis and thinks that the Midsummer Night's Dream was performed, 'not on the marriage-day itself but on the May-day festival which followed close afterwards,' looking in the calendar found out moonshine, and ascertained that there was a new moon on April 30, 1590, giving thereby an unexpected significance to the introductory lines of the play1. We have but to take another step on this baseless ladder and we find the Essex hypothesis explains, what has been hitherto unproved, how it was that Shakespeare enjoyed the early patronage of Essex, and who it was that introduced him to Southampton. It was the performance which 'must necessarily have drawn the attention of Essex to the poet,' and 'it is now beyond all doubt' that Essex brought him to the notice of Southampton. In such questions it would be well to remember the maxim of the ancient rabbis, 'Teach thy tongue to say, I do not know.'
If we attempt to arrange the plays which Meres attributes to Shakespeare, so as to distribute them over the period from 1589 to 1598, we shall find two gaps, in either of which we might conjecturally place the Midsummer Night's Dream. The interval from 1589 to 1591 is filled up by Love's Labour's Lost, The Two Gentlemen of Verona, Comedy of Errors, and Titus Andronicus. In 1593, 1594 are placed Richard
1 But in the play the new moon is on Theseus' wedding day, that is, the 1st of May; and the kindness of Professor Adams enables me to state that the nearest new moon to May 1, 1590, was on April 23, and that there was a new moon on May 1 in 1592.
the Second, Richard the Third, King John, and in these years appeared Venus and Adonis and Lucrece. The Merchant of Venice is assigned to 1596, and Henry the Fourth to 1597. Besides these there are the three Parts of Henry the Sixth, which Meres does not mention, but which, if Shakespeare's at all, must belong to the earlier part of this period, and 'Loue Labours Wonne,' whatever this may have been. On the whole, I am disposed to agree with Professor Dowden in regarding the Two Gentlemen of Verona as earlier than the Midsummer Night's Dream, while I cannot think the latter was composed after the plays assigned above to 1593, 1594, and would therefore place it in the interval from 1591 to 1593, when perhaps Romeo and Juliet may have been begun.
But if conjecture has dealt freely with the indeterminate problem of the date and first occasion of our play, these speculations are outdone by the theories which have been advanced to explain the famous speech of Oberon to Puck (ii. 1. 148-168), regarded as a political allegory. Warburton was the first to propound an elaborate interpretation from this point of view. Starting with the assumption that by the 'fair vestal throned by the west' is meant Queen Elizabeth, he argues that the mermaid must denote some eminent personage of her time, 'of whom it had been inconvenient for the author to speak openly, either in praise or dispraise.' 'All this agrees with Mary Queen of Scots, and with no other. Queen Elizabeth could not bear to hear her commended; and her successor would not forgive her satirist.' 'She is called
a mermaid, 1. To denote her reign over a kingdom situate in the sea, and 2. Her beauty and intemperate lust.' That she was on a dolphin's back points to her marriage with the dauphin of France. 'Uttering such dulcet and harmonious breath,' alludes to her great abilities and learning which rendered her the most accomplished princess of her age. The rude sea which grew civil at her song was 'Scotland encircled with the ocean, which rose up in arms against the regent while she was in France. But her return home
presently quieted those disorders.' The 'certain stars' who shot madly from their spheres were some of the English nobility who espoused her cause; 'the Earls of Northumberland and Westmoreland, who fell in her quarrel; and principally the great Duke of Norfolk, whose projected marriage with her was attended with such fatal consequences.' Such is the elaborate allegory which Warburton finds concealed in the fanciful description given by Oberon of the origin of the flower by means of whose magical properties he wished to revenge himself upon Titania. That in the fair vestal throned by the west Shakespeare intended a compliment to Queen Elizabeth is probably the only part of Warburton's theory with which any one will agree. Ritson and others have pointed out important discrepancies in his interpretation which is really not worth serious investigation. But Warburton is outdone by Boaden, who in his Essay on the Sonnets of Shakespeare (1837) finds in Oberon's description of the mermaid no royal siren like Mary Queen of Scots, but the sham mermaid of the Princely Pleasures at Kenilworth when Elizabeth paid her famous visit to Leicester in 1575. Shakespeare was then a boy of eleven, and we are told may have been present as a delighted spectator. His childhood recollection of the pageant takes the form some fifteen or twenty years afterwards in which it now appears. Oberon speaks of a mermaid on a dolphin's back, and at Kenilworth there was Triton in the likeness of a mermaid, and Proteus appeared sitting on a dolphin's back, 'within the which dolphyn,' says Gascoigne, 'a consort of musicke was secretly placed,' which of course is in plain prose the dulcet and harmonious breath of which Oberon describes the wondrous effects. The 'certain stars' which shot madly from their spheres are according to this interpretation no misguided nobles rushing upon their own destruction, but the fireworks which accompanied the royal entertainment. Surely no fireworks before or since have been so glorified. Finally, misled by the magic of Sir Walter Scott, the author of this theory identifies as 'the little