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Quin. That's all one; you shall play it in a mask, and you may speak as small as you will.3
Bot. An I may hide my face, let me play Thisby too: I'll speak in a monstrous little voice ;~Thisne, Thisne, —Ah, Pyramus, my lover dear; thy Thisby dear! and lady dear!
Quin. No, no; you must play Pyramus; and, Flute, you Thisby.
Bot. Well, proceed.
Quin. Robin Starveling, you must play Thisby's mo. ther.4-Tom Snout the tinker.
Snout. Here, Peter Quince.
Quin, You, Pyramus's father; myself, Thisby's father;-Snug, the joiner, you, the lion's part:-and, I hope, here is a play fitted.
as small, &c.] This passage shows how the want of woa men on the old stage was supplied. If they had not a young man, who could perform the part with a face that might pass for feminine, the character was acted in a mask, which was, at that time, a part of a lady's dress, so much in use, that it did not give any unusual appearance to the scene: and he that could modulate his voice in a female tone, might play the woman very successfully. It is observed, in Downes's Roscius Anglicanus, that Kynaston, one of these counterfeit heroines, moved the passions more strongly than the women that have since been brought upon the stage. Some of the catastrophes of the old comedies, which makes lovers marry the wrong women, are, by recollection of the common use of masks, brought nearer to probability. Fohnson.
Dr. Johnson here seems to have quoted from memory. Downes does not speak of Kynaston's performance in such unqualified terms. His words are" It has since been disputable among the judicious, whether any women that succeeded him (Kynaston) so sensibly touched the audience as he.” Reed.
you must play Thisby's mother.] There seems a double forgetfulness of our poet, in relation to the characters of this interlude. The father and mother of Thisby, and the father of Pyramus, are here mentioned, who do not appear at all in the interlude; but Wall and Moonshine are both employed in it, of whom there is not the least notice taken here. Theobald.
Theobald is wrong as to this last particular. The introduction of Wall and Moonshine was an after-thought. See Act III, sc. i. It may be observed, however, that no part of what is rehearsed is afterwards repeated, when the piece is acted before Theseus.
Snug. Have you the lion's part written? pray you, if it be, give it me, for I am slow of study.5
Quin. You may do it extempore, for it is nothing but roaring
Bot. Let me play the lion too: I will roar, that I will do any man's heart good to hear me; I will roar, that I will make the duke say, Let him roar again, Let him roar again.
Quin. An you should do it too terribly, you would fright the duchess and the ladies, that they would shriek; and that were enough to hang us all.
All. That would hang us every mother's son.
Bot. I grant you, friends, if that you should fright the ladies out of their wits, they would have no more discretion but to hang us: but I will aggravate my voice so, that I will roar you as gently as any sucking dove; I will roar you an 'twere any nightingale..
Quin. You can play no part but Pyramus: for Pyramus is a sweet-faced man; a proper man, as one shall see in a summer's day: a most lovely, gentleman-like man; therefore you must needs play Pyramus.
Bot. Well, I will undertake it. What beard were I best to play it in?
Quin. Why, what you will.
Bot. I will discharge it in either your straw-coloured beard, your orange-tawny beard, your purple-in-grain beard, or your French-crown-colour beard, your perfect yellow.?
slow of study.] Study is still the cant term used in a theatre for getting any nonsense by rote. Hamlet asks the player if he can “ study” a speech. Steevens.
an 'twere any nightingale.] An means as if. So, in Troilus and Cressida :
:-" He will weep you, an 'twere a man born in April.” Steevens.
your perfect yellow.] Here Bottom again discovers a true genius for the stage, by his solicitude for propriety of dress, and his deliberation which beard to choose among many
eards, all unnatural. Fohnson. So, in the old comedy of Ram Alley, 1611:
“ What colour'd beard comes next by the window?
“ I think, a red: for that is most in fashion." This custom of wearing coloured beards, the reader will find more amply explained in Measure for Measure, Act IV, sc. ii.
Quin. Some of your French crowns have no hair at all, and then you will play bare-faced. :-But, masters, here are your parts: and I am to entreat you, request you, and desire you, to con them by to-morrow night; and meet me in the palace wood, a mile without the town, by moon-light; there will we rehearse: for if we meet in the city, we shall be dog’d with company, and our devices known. In the mean time, I will draw a bill of properties, such as our play wants. I pray you, fail me not.
Bot. We will meet; and there we may rehearse more obscenely, and courageously. Take pains; be perfect; adieu.
Quin. At the duke's oak we meet.
French crowns, &c.] That is, a head from which the hair has fallen, in one of the last stages of the lues venerea, called the corona veneris. To this our poet has too frequent allusions.
Steevens. properties,] Properties are whatever little articles are wanted in a play for the actors, according to their respective parts, dresses and scenes excepted. The person who delivers them out is, to this day, called the property-man. In The Bassingbourne Roll, 1511, we find “ garnements and propyrtes." See Warton's History of English Poetry, Vol. III, p. 326. Again, in Albumazar, 1615:
“ Furbo, our beards,
“Black patches for our eyes, and other properties." Again, in Westward-Hoe, 1607 :
“I'll go make ready my rustical properties.” Steevens. 1 At the duke's oak we meet.
Hold, or cut bow-strings.] This proverbial phrase came originally from the camp. When a rendezvous was appointed, the militia soldiers would frequently make excuse for not keeping word, that their bow-strings were broke, i. e. their arms unserviceable. Hence when one would give another absolute assurance of meeting him, he would say, proverbially-hold or cut bow-strings—i. e. whether the bow-strings held or broke. For
ut is used as a neuter, like the verb fret. As when we say, the string frets, the silk frets, for the passive, it is cut or fretted.
Warburton. This interpretation is very ingenious, but somewhat disputable. The excuse, made by the militia soldiers, is a mere supposition, without proof; and it is well known that while bows were in use, no archer ever entered the field without a supply of strings in his pocket; whence originated the proverb, to have two stringe
ACT II.....SCENE I.
A Wood near Athens.
Thorough bush, thorough briar,
Thorough flood, thorough fire,
to one's bow. In The Country Girl, a comedy, by T. B. 1647, is the following threat to a fidler:
fiddler, strike; “I'll strike you, else, and cut your begging bowstrings.” Again, in The Ball, by Chapman and Shirley, 1639:
have you devices to jeer the rest? “ Luc. All the regiment of 'em, or I'll break my bowstrings.” The bowstrings, in both these instances, may only mean the strings, which make part of the bow with which musical instruments of several kinds are struck. The propriety of the allusion I cannot satisfactorily explain. Let the curious reader, however, consult Ascham's Toxophilus, edit. 1589, p. 38, b. Steevens.
To meet, whether bow-strings hold or are cut, is to meet, in all events. To cut the bowstring, when bows were in use, was probably a common practice of those, who bore enmity to the archer. “ He hath twice or thrice cut Cupid's bowstring, (says Don Pedro, in Much Ado about Nothing) and the little hangman dare not shoot at him." Malone. 2 Over hill, over dale, &c.] So Drayton, in his Nymphidia:
“ Thorough brake, thorough brier,
- the moones sphere ;] Unless we suppose this to be the Saxon genitive case, (as it is here printed) the metre will be defective. So, in Spenser's Fairy Queen, B. III, c. i, st. 15:
“ And eke through feare as white as whales bone.” Again, in a letter from Gabriel Harvey to Spenser, 1580 : “ Have we not God hys wrath, for Goddes wrath, and a thousand of the same stampe, wherein the corrupte orthography, in the most, hath been the sole or principal cause of corrupte prosodye in over-many?”
The following passage, however, in the 3d Book of Sidney's Arcadia, may suggest a different reading:
what mov'd me to invite “ Your presence (sister deare) first to my moony sphere?” 22
And I serve the fairy queen,
In those freckles live their savours :
4 To dew her orbs upon the green:] The orbs, here mentioned, are circles supposed to be made by the fairies on the ground, whose verdure proceeds from the fairies' care to water them. Thus, Drayton:
They in their courses make that round, “ In meadows and in marshes found,
“Of them so called the fairy ground.” Johnson. Thus, in Olaus Magnus de Gentibus Septentrionalibus : 6 similes illis spectris, quæ in multis locis, præsertim nocturno tem. pore, suum saltatorium orbem cum omnium musarum concentu versare solent.” It appears, from the same author, that these dancers always parched up the grass, and therefore it is properly made the office of the fairy to refresh it. Steevens.
5 The cowslips tall her pensioners be ;] The cowslip was a favourite among the fairies. There is a hint in Drayton of their attention to May morning:
For the queen a fitting tower,
“ The tallest there that groweth.” Johnson. This was said in consequence of Queen Elizabeth's fashionable establishment of a band of military courtiers, by the name of pensioners. They were some of the handsomest and tallest young men, of the best families and fortune, that could be found. Hence, says Mrs. Quickly, in The Merry Wives, Act II, sc. ii: “ - and yet there has been earls, nay, which is more, pensioners.". They gave the mode in dress and diversions. They accompanied the Queen in her progress to Cambridge, where they held stafftorches, at a play on a Sunday evening, in King's College Chapel.
T. Warton. 0 In their gold coats spots you see ;] Shakspeare, in Cymbeline, refers to the same red spots :
" 4, mole cinque-spotted, like the crimson drops
“ ['th' bottom of a cowslip.” Percy. Perhaps there is likewise some allusion to the habit of a pensioner. See a note on the second Act of The Merry Wives of Windsor, sc. ii. Steevens.
7 And hang a pearl in every cowslip's ear.] The same thought