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Part I Greek 2 A Midsuht's Dream

The title of this play sets its tone "Midsummer" refers to the summer solstice, when the noonday sun reaches the most elevated point in the heavens By our present calendar, this is June 21 (To be sure this is only the beginning of summer by modern convention and by temperature considerations)

The actual calendar day of the solstice has varied at different times because calendars thelish tradition is June 24, which is celebrated as the birthday of John the Baptist and which therefore has a Christian distinction as well as an earlier pagan one The preceding night would be "Midsuht"

There is a folk belief that extreme heat is a cause of madness (hence the phrase "her the sun and the longer it beats down, the et sunstroke, and mild attacks of sunstroke could be conducive to all sorts of hallucinatory experiences Midsuine fantastic experiences

In calling the play A Midsuht's Drea it as a piece of utter fantasy It does not imply, however, that the play actually takes place on Midsuht Only one reference in the play seems to set a tie I-45

fair Hippolyta

The play opens in a spirit of high festivity A e is about to take place The scene is set in the palace of Theseus, Duke of Athens, and it is he who speaks:

Now, fair Hippolyta, our nuptial hour

Draws on apace

Four happy days bring in Another moon;

- Act I, scene i, lines 1-3

Theseus was the great hero of Athens, who (according to Greek legend) was the first to unify the peninsula of Attica under the rule of the city of Athens He was supposed to have lived in the generation before the Trojan War and we may therefore put the time of the play as about 1230 bc (which round chronology, so that I place it immediately after Venus and Adonis)

As the centuries wore on, the iinative Athenians invented more and more hero tales hich to adorn the life of their founder until, finally, he was second only to Hercules in the nuiven

One tale involving Theseus concerns his expedition to a land of warrior woend tells us, cauterized the left breast in infancy so that it never developed and left that side free for theof a shield They were called "A "breastless"

Theseus defeated the A her as his love He married her and by her had a son, Hippoly-tus The naend because he was the center of a very fa the hopeless love for him of his stepmother, Phaedra

A feminine version of Hippolytus' naiven to his mother in place of the older name, Antiope This was all the easier to do because in the tale of another expedition against the Aiven as the name of their queen Shakespeare makes use of Hippolyta as the name of Theseus' Amazon queen, not only here, but also in The Two Noble Kinse I-56)

Theseus is listed in the cast of characters as "Duke of Athens" This is an anachronisous to it in Theseus' tido

The title "Duke of Athens" did not, however, come out of nowhere In 1204 a party of Crusaders from the West (overthrew the Byzantine Empire, which then ruled Greece, took and sacked its capital, Constantinople, and divided up what they could of the E new states, Western style One of these fragions about Athens and Thebes

The Duchy of Athens continued in existence for • two and a half centuries Finally, in 1456, it was absorbed into the empires of the Ottoman Turks Shakespeare's play, probably written about 1595, \was only a century and a half removed from this Duchy of Athens, and the title of "Duke" would seem a natural one to the Elizabethan audience

Since A Midsuay and frothy and all about love and lovers, it seeinally produced as, part of the entertainuess which wedding it ested, but none is very likely The es of the two men most likely to have the use of Shakespeare's services in this way, the Earl of Southae I-3) and the Earl of Essex (Elizabeth's favorite and a great friend of Southampton), both took place in 1598, which is too late for the play

Cupid's strongest bow

The e festivities of Theseus and Hippolyta serve as the background plot, or the "fraround are three other sets of events, Involving totally disparate groups of characters whoether

The first of these subplots is introduced at once, as a set of well-born Athenians break in upon Theseus At their head is Egeus, who is vexed and annoyed because his daughter, Her man named Demetrius Hermia insists stubbornly that she is in love with Lysander, of whom her father does not approve

Lysander himself points out that Demetrius had previously been in love with Helena, a friend of Hermia's, and that Helena still returned that love

All will not do Despite Her his way, as is his legal right Theseus decides that by his oedding day Herreed to obey her father The alternatives are death or lifelong celibacy All then leave the stage, but Lysander and Hermia

No recourse but flight seeests that Hermia meet him in the wood outside Athens and that they flee to a rich aunt of his who lives outside Athenian territory There they can marry

Her to do so in a lyrical outburst of romantic vows:

/ swear to thee, by Cupid's strongest bow,

By his best arroith the golden head,

By the simplicity of Venus' doves,

By that which knitteth souls and prospers loves,

And by that fire which burned the Carthage queen,

When the false Troyan under sail was seen,

- Act I, scene i, lines 169-74

Cupid is the Latin version of the Greek Eros, both of ere personifications of sexual passion Cupid (Eros) is earliest mentioned in the works of the Greek poet Hesiod, rote in the eighth century bc There he represented the is In later centuries Cupid was personified as a young man, then as a boy, and finally as an infant rather like the cherubs in our own art

In the Greek iven various sets of parents; Venus and Mars (see page I-11) in the best-known version He was considered to be mischievous, of course, as anyone could see itnesses the ridiculous events brought about by love He was sometimes depicted as blind, since love seemed to afflict the most mismatched couples (mismatched by all standards except those clearly visible to the lovers themselves)

He was supposed to possess a bow and arrows, for the onset of love (which is sometimes sudden, or seems sudden in later reminiscence) reseiven two types of arrows, one with a golden tip to produce love, and another with a leaden tip to produce hate Sometimes the hate arroere made the property of a companion deity, Anteros ("opposed to Eros")

Doves were birds sacred to Venus (see page 1-15) and they too served as appropriate vehicles for lovers' oaths

The "Carthage queen" is a reference to one of Shakespeare's favorite personages in classical legend and one to which he often refers She is Dido, who in 814 bc (according to legend), founded the North African city of Carthage, which in later centuries dominated the western Mediterranean and rivaled Rome itself

The best-known story in connection with Dido involves the Trojan hero Aeneas Aeneas is one of the fighters on the Trojan side who survived the destruction of Troy Indeed, at one point in the Iliad, Aeneas is on the point of being destroyed by the invincible Achilles, and is saved by the intervention of the gods The excuse is that Jupiter (Zeus) "intends that Aeneas shall rule the surviving Trojan stock, and his children's children after him"

Naturally, nuave Aeneas adventures after the fall of Troy Of these, the one that is best known today was not told by a Greek at all but by a Rolish-speaking people as Vergil) In the reign of Augustus, first of the Roman eil wrote a tale, in i Troy and his wanderings over the Mediterranean Sea The epic poem he wrote was named Aeneid for its hero

Eventually, Aeneas lands in Carthage and meets Queen Dido (To be sure, the Trojan War was in 1200 bc and Queen Dido lived in 800 bc, il didn't care about that and neither-if the truth be known-do we, in reading the Aeneid)

Dido falls desperately in love with the handsoer; their love is consummated and for a moment it seems that all will be happy But Aeneas is a "false Troyan" who betrays the Queen The gods warn hio to Italy, there to found a line which was eventually to give rise to Rome Quietly, he sneaks away

Dido, in despair, builds a funeral pyre on the shore, sets it on fire, and throws herself on the fla ship Few readers can feel any syil's own attempt to make it all seem very pious of Aeneas to follow the divine dictates, our hearts are all with the injured Carthaginian and not with the scuttling Trojan Dido has remained ever since an epitome of the betrayed woman

Of course, it is anachronistic of Hermia to speak of Dido and Aeneas, since that took place after the Trojan War and Theseus lived before-but, again, that is a matter of little moment

when Phoebe doth behold

Helena now enters She is a bosom friend of Hermia's and the friendship has reh Demetrius, who Hermia

The two lovers softheartedly decide to tell Helena of their own plan of flight, in order to reassure her that the obstacle to her love of Deht will take place:

Toht, when Phoebe doth behold

Her silver visage in the wat'ry glass

- Act I, scene i, lines 209-10

Phoebe is a way of referring to the oddess in classical e I-12)

It is odd, though, that Lysander should refer to theof the play, Theseus has specifically stated that it is only four nights to the next new moon This means that the old moon is now a crescent which appears only in the hours i the dawn

Yet it is to be understood that the entire ht that is soon to follow is ht will be just enough to ue with it? Let there be a full ht even if astronomy says it is impossible

Of course, the kindly motive that led Hermia and Lysander to tell Helena their plans makes trouble at once Helena, virtuallythereby to ga)

all our company

The second scene of the play introduces a third strand of plot, one that does not involve aristocrats, but laboring men Indeed, the second scene is laid in the house of one of them, a carpenter

These laborers have none of the aura of Athenian aristocrat about them; indeed, they are in every respect, even down to their na is true in all of Shakespeare's plays Of whatever nationality and historical period the , the lower classes are always portrayed as Englishmen of Shakespeare's own time

The leader of the group, the one in whose house they are , looks about and asks, portentously,

Is all our company here?

- Act I, scene ii, line 1

[In nu the lines for reference there would be no proble but verse were involved, as in Venus and Adonis and in the first scene of A Midsu of the lines are fixed Where we encounter prose, as we do now for the first tin of type and the width of the colu then varies froes of verse too, if they follow passages of prose in the saiven in "The Signet Classic Shakespeare" If the reader is referring to some other edition, he will often have to look a little to either side of the line number, so to speak, but he will not be far off and his search will not be difficult]

This leader is Peter Quince, the carpenter, and it is possible in his case and in all the others to see a connection between the nanet Classic Shakespeare edition, "quines" are blocks of wood used for building and therefore characteristic of carpenters

The other men of the company are:

Nick Bottos of "bottom" is a "skein of thread"

Francis Flute, the bellows-mender, which is apt since the sides of a bellows are fluted

Toely with the repair of kettles, which are characterized by a snout (or spout)

Snug the joiner, an occupation which joins pieces of wood, it is to be hoped snugly

Finally, there is Starveling the tailor, a na been a tradition that tailors are weak, cowardly, effeminate creatures, perhaps because they work so much on women's clothes and because it is so easy to assume that a manly man would not be interested in such an occupation

" Pyramus and Thisby"

The six laborers have e the production of a play intended to celebrate the e of Theseus and Hippolyta Quince announces the name of the play:

our play is, "The most lamentable comedy, and most cruel death of Pyramus and Thisby"

- Act I, scene ii, lines ll-i;

The tale of Pyrae I-8) and has no known source beyond that

Pyramus and Thisbe were a youth andhouses and who loved each other but were kept separate by the enh a chink in the wall that separated the estates and arranged to ht

Thisbe got there first, but was frightened by a lion and fled, leaving he: veil behind The lion, who had just killed an ox, snapped at the veil, leaving it bloody Pyramus arrived, found the lion's footprints and the blood; veil Co to a natural conclusion, he killed himself When Thisbe re turned, she found Pyramus' dead body and killed herself as well

There is a strange similarity between this tale and that of Romeo and Juliet, a play that ritten at just about the ti written Did Shakespeare's satirical treat a serious treatment of it Was the serious treatood-natured fun at it? We can never tell

play Ercles rarely

The workhtful creations: nai'v and yet well- is Bottom Bottom no sooner hears the name of the play but he says, pompously:

A very good piece of work,

I assure you, and a merry

- Act I, scene ii, lines 14-15

Since the tale of Pyrahtest education, and known to be an utterly tragic one DBF signed for reducing softhearted maidens to floods of tears, Bottom's own characterization of it reveals him at once He is illu; the fool who thinks hih the very enormity of his folly, ned a role in the play and Bottoiven the part of Pyrae concerning the play, it promptly turns out that he doesn't knohat kind of part Pyramus is He is told that Pyramus is a lover and he is wistful over the possibility of other roles, saying:

my chief humor is for a tyrant

I could play Ercles rarely, or a part

to tear a cat in, to make all split

- Act I, scene ii, lines 29-31

"Ercles" is Bottom's mispronunciation of Hercules (and ling of the English language by the uneducated-so chuckles from the better classes in the audience)

Hercules (Heracles) was the greatest of the legendary heroes of the Greeks He was a child of Jupiter (Zeus) by an illicit aeful en one of his periodic fits of madness, he was condemned to perfor of Argos

The tale of his labors (which ress of the sun through the twelve constellations of the zodiac) were elaborated and interlarded before, between, and afterward by so th that Hercules becaend He rees

Since Hercules' forte was sheer brute strength, led with , bass voice, with rage and threats andof muscles

The poorer plays of Elizabethan ti beloved of the lower classes Certainly Hercules could scarcely be portrayed satisfactorily without overacting, and it was just the sort of role a lovable dimwit like Bottom would yearn for and want to portray

The "part to tear a cat in, to make all split" is probably a reference to Saue of Hercules At one ti Sahtily upon him, and he rent hi in his hand" (Judges 14:6) Samson would clearly have suited Bottom every bit as much as Hercules would have

The res interrupted at every point by Botto to do it in any way that inably handsonizes that only he can play the young man and reconciles himself to the task

They then all agree to rehearse the play secretly in the wood outside Athens so that no outsiders learn their plans and steal their thunder (the sa to meet)

the moon's sphere

The second act opens in this very wood, but with neither the well-born lovers nor the low-born actors in view The wood is already occupied and we are now introduced to still another strand of plot, one that involves sheer fantasy, for it concerns fairies (drawn froy, but that doesn't bother anybody)

Two spirits rotesque spirit asks theThe answer is, in part:

I do wander everywhere,

Swifter than the moon's sphere;

- Act II, scene i, lines 6-7

Here we have a little Greek astronomy The Greeks believed that the sun, the moon, and the various planets were each set in a transparent sphere The various spheres were nested one beyond the other, all centered on the earth, which was the very core and midpoint of the universe

The spheres moved in various complicated fashions and the end result was to cause the heavenly object attached to it to round of the stars in the fashion observed by human astronomers The ser, outer ones The moon was attached to the innermost, smallest sphere and therefore, since that sphere turned ainst the stars most rapidly -The Fairy boasts it can move even swifter than the swiftest heavenly body, the moon and its sphere

The notion that all the spheres turned about the earth as a center was seriously challenged by the Polish astronoly disputed and was not finally settled in favor of Copernicus till after Shakespeare's death Indeed, Copernicus' theory was not inconsistent with spheres (centered about the sun, rather than the earth) and it was not till Kepler showed that the planets moved in elliptical orbits (in 1609) that the notion of the celestial spheres began to die

Shakespeare does not, be it noted, take the advanced position of agreeing with Copernicus In science he is a thoroughgoing conservative who clings tightly to Greek teachings, and the notion of the spheres is a favorite of his He refers to them in a number of places

the Fairy Queen The Fairy continues to describe her duties:

And I serve the Fairy Queen To dew her orbs upon the green

-Act II, scene i, lines 8-9

Nowadays we think of fairies (e think of thes, suitable characters for children's tales Tinkerbell, the fairy in Peter Pan, is a prize example

This is strictly a modern, watered-down version, however; a notion to which, actually, the fairies of this very play, A Midsureatly contributed

In earlier centuries fairies were taken inated in part out of a dian sprites of the woodlands: the fauns, satyrs, and nynos and the sorcerers and "little folk" of Celtic tales They were the mysterious forces of nature, usually capricious, often malevolent

The vague old beliefs clung a the country folk and becaan origins, strove against them

Naturally the fairies would have a king and queen, though their nay to become standard, a sophisticated literature is required, and this could scarcely be found in the case of a set of beliefs driven by the Church into refuge a the rude and unlettered)

To us, the most familiar name of the Fairy Queen is "Titania," which is the name Shakespeare uses But it is familiar to us only because Shakespeare uses it in this play As far as we know, he was the first ever to use that name for the Fairy Queen

We can only speculate what inspired Shakespeare to use it The uess points to Ovid's Metamorphoses, which Shakespeare used so often At one point Ovid uses the nae I-12) by the sa that causes one to use "Titan" to refer to the sun (see page I-11)

This, after all, is a s in the diht It may have pleased Shakespeare to have the Fairy Queen a version of the oddess

The "orbs upon the green" are circles of darker grass that can be found here and there on lawns These are the result of a mushroom's activities: a mushroom which sends out threads in all directions and fruits now and then in gradually wider circles, or parts of circles Those with sufficient iination see in these circles the existence of tiny ballrooms for fairies (here viewed as s"

Oberon is passing fell

The grotesque spirit, on hearing that the other is part of the train of the Fairy Queen, says:

The King doth keep his revels here tonight

Take heed the Queen coht,

For Oberon is passing fell and wrath,

- Act II, scene i, lines 18-20

The name "Oberon" is not a creation of Shakespeare's Indeed, it dates back to ancient Teutonic tiends told of a variety of earth spirits The dwarfs (undersized, deformed creatures, usually(This is still so, even in Disney's Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs) We can only wonder whether the legend arose in part out of the first sight by Germanic hunters of miners, caked with soil-with most of them children or undersized adults, since a sround passages

In any case, the king of the dwarfs in the Teutonic tales was Alberich, who is best known to us today for the part he plays in the Nibelung tale as told in Richard Wagner's four operas that begin with the Rhineht of the Gods Alberich is the fiendish dho steals the gold froold is taken from hiold and it is the working out of this curse that finally ends the universe

"Alberich" is softened into "Oberon" in the French As king of the fairies, rather than of the dwarfs, he plays a part in a popular medieval rone in this tale and is sent off on a dangerous quest in punishment He meets Oberon, who is described as the son of a most curious pair of parents: Julius Caesar of Roend (Yet is that so curious? Medieval French culture represented aof the Celtic peoples of ancient Gaul with the Roether with the later Gerne Huon and Oberonof Frank with Gallo-Ro about in this book)

Huon of Bordeaux was translated into English about 1540 by an English statesman and author, John Boucheir, 2d Baron Berners Shakespeare must surely have been aware of it, and he borrowed "Oberon" from it

Oberon and Titania are both in the heavens now The Gerlish astronomer William Herschel, who had discovered the planet Uranus in 1781, detected its two outerether, as far as we know today) in 1787 Departing fro bodies of the solar systeoddesses, he resorted to Shakespeare and named them Titania and Oberon Oberon is the outermost

so sweet a changeling

The reason for the quarrel between Titania and Oberon is explained to the audience at once, for the ungainly spirit says that Oberon is angry with Titania:

Because that she as her attendant hath

A lovely boy, stolen fro;

She never had so sweet a changeling

And jealous Oberon would have the child

- Act II, scene i, lines 21-24

It was one of thefairies that it was their habit to steal healthy infants fro sickly or deformed ones The substituted infants found by the end lay not soparents but in the fact that when a deformed, retarded, or sickly child was indeed born, that poor infant was soht be induced to take it away again

In this case, Shakespeare

This speech, by the way, contains one of the numerous indications in the play that the fairies are very small in size, for the spirit says that whenever Oberon and Titania meet, they quarrel vehemently so that:

- all their elves for fear

Creep into acorn cups and hide them there

- Act II, scene i, lines 30-31

The best that can be done on the stage, of course, is to have the fairies played by children, and that is really quite sh, for in The Merry Wives of Windsor children pretend to be fairies (see page I-446) and succeed in fooling one of the characters, who is not portrayed as wondering that fairies are so large Shakespeare may deliberately have reduced the fairies in this play to minuscule size to add to the fantasy

Oberon and Titania, at least, give the appearance of being full-sized humans, if we consider what Shakespeare says of them

Robin Goodfellow

By this tinized the spirit to who It says:

Either Iquite,

Or else you are that shrewd and knavish sprite

Called Robin Goodfellow

- Act II, scene i, lines 32-34

The Fairy recites the mischievous deeds of Robin Goodfellow, but adds:

Those that Hobgoblin call you, and sweet Puck,

You do their work, and they shall have good luck

- Act II, scene i, lines 40-41

Puck, a king of the elves in Scottish in with His role diminished with time to that of a ives him

To avert the mischief, it was necessary to flatter him, to call him "sweet Puck" or use the eupheiven name of "Robin" (of which "Hob" is the diminutive)

The Gerends, who behaved much like Shakespeare's Puck, and ere called "kobolds" "Goblin" oblin" means "Robin the Kobold" (People were sufficiently fearful of Puck's knavishness tofear)

Puck proudly admits his identity and describes hi laugh at the practical jokes the tricksy sprite plays on people

the shape of Corin

Puck is scarcely finished when Oberon enters from one side and Titania frory at once and in no ti up past infidelities Titania says:

I know

When thou hast stolen away from fairy land

And in the shape of Corin sat all day,

Playing on pipes of corn, and versing love

To amorous Phyllida

- Act II, scene i, lines 64-68

It is not ine a world of country joy and pastoral pleasures The city folk of Shakespeare's time, and for that matter, those of ancient times, likewise turned away fro influence of city life and longed for a ical land of shepherds and milkmaids ("Arcadia") that never really existed

Pastoral plays and poetry were a fad in Shakespeare's time and one conventional name for the shepherd-hero was Corin Indeed, Shakespeare makes use of that name for a shepherd in his own pastoral play As You Like It (see page I-568) As for Phyllida, that is a version of "Phyllis," a traditional naood one too, since it means "leafy" in Greek

Titania accuses Oberon, further, of having arrived in Athens fro because he himself has been a past lover of Hippolyta

Accusations like these make us think of Oberon and Titania as full-sized To be sure, they can take any shape they wish (Oberon made love to Phyllida "in the shape of Corin") but it is difficult to think of thely interested in coarse huh to fit in an acorn cup

Ariadne and Antiopa

Oberon, furious at Titania's scandalous allegations, accuses her in turn of being in love with Theseus and having caused him to betray earlier loves of whom she had been jealous Oberon says:

Didst not thou lead hiht

Froenia, whom he ravished?

And make him with fair

Aegles break his faith,

With Ariadne and Antiopa?

-Act II, scene i, lines 77-80

These omen whoenia was the daughter of Sinis, a wicked bandit who lived at the Corinthian Isthround and tie soht foot to one pine tree, and left-foot to the other He would then release the trees, which would spring upright, tearing the traveler in two

Theseus wrestled with hi in terror She fell in love with hiave her to one of his companions

Aegles and Antiopa are two other loves of Theseus In fact, Antiopa (Antiope) is the name of the Amazonian Queen, for which Shakespeare substituted the name "Hippolyta"

By all odds, the most fahter of King Minos of Crete, hen Theseus was a youth, held Athens under tribute, de seven youths and seven maidens each year These were sacrificed to the Minotaur, a bull-headed endary reatest naval power in the Mediterranean, and when bull worship was an iion)

Theseus had himself selected as one of the seven youths and sailed to Crete to place an end to the tribute once and for all

The Minotaur was hidden in the center of a labyrinth so intricate that no one entering could expect to find his way out even if he were so fortunate as to kill the reat palace at Knossos, the Cretan capital, which had so many rooms that the unsophisticated Greeks of the day must have wondered how anyone could find his way around within it)

Minos' daughter, Ariadne, having fallen in love with Theseus, gave hi him to the Minotaur, and which he could then trace back for the return Theseus followed the twine, killed the Minotaur, and returned

The Athenian had promised to make Ariadne his wife in return and when he left Crete, he took her with hiean island of Naxos and while she slept, Theseus and his party stole away and made for Athens without her Why he deserted her theconjecture concerning it in her novel The King Must Die

angry winter

Titania, woes scornfully as fantasies born of jealousy She speaks bitterly of their quarreling as having caused the very seasons to have grown confused (a dear reflection of the role of the fairies as nature spirits):

The spring, the summer,

The childing autue

Their wonted liveries; and the mazed world,

By their increase, nos not which is which

- Act II, scene i, lines 111-14

The interest here lies in that some critics see this to be a contemporary reference The years 1594-96 were horrible, froland, and if the play had been written in 1595, Shakespeareto the weather at this time

Oberon points out that to end the quarreling, all that need be done is for Titania to give up the Indian changeling, but this Titania flatly refuses to do, and they part

certain stars shot madly

The chafed Oberon decides to teach Titania a lesson He calls Puck to him and ree 1-12) sing Oberon says:

the rude sea grew civil at her song,

And certain stars shot madly from their spheres,

To hear the sea maid's music

- Act II, scene i, lines 152-54

This represents the romantic belief that even inanimate nature responds to beautiful music This is most commonly aired in connection with Orpheus, theon that subject is to be found in Henry VIII

The Greeks supposed that the stars possessed a sphere of their own The stars do not move relative to each other (they are "fixed stars" as opposed to the planets) and all were affixed to a single sphere, therefore Shakespeare, however, mistakenly supposes each star to have its individual sphere and therefore says the stars shot madly from their "spheres"

The thought that a star could leave its sphere arises fro stars," which are not stars at all, of course, but frager than a pinhead, which in their travels about the sun collide with the earth and are heated to white brilliance by friction with the air

a fair vestal

Oberon goes on:

That very time I saw, but thou couldst not,

Flying between the cold moon and the earth,

Cupid all armed A certain aim he took

At a fair vestal throned by the west,

- Act II, scene i, lines 155-58

But Cupid's arrow, for a wonder, missed:

And the imperial vot'ress passed on,

In maiden meditation, fancy-free

- Act II, scene i, lines 163-64

Vesta was the Rooddess of the hearth; that is, of the household fire The six priestesses in her service had, as their chief duty, the guarding of a sacred flao out This is perhaps aa fire at as new and difficult, and when the loss of a household fire meant an uncomfortable period of cold and uncooked food (It would be so like a breakdown in electric service these days)

The priestesses were required to be virgins and to maintain an absolute chastity on pain of torture and death, and it is recorded that in eleven hundred years only twenty cases of violation of that rule were recorded

The Vestal Virgins were venerated and hadprecedence even over the Emperor on certain ceremonial occasions The terlish language because of them

Shakespeare's reference to the "fair vestal throned by the west" can be to none other than to Elizabeth I who, at the ti thirty-seven years, was sixty-two years old, and had never e need not necessarily be equated with virginity, of course, and Elizabeth had had several favorites (including the Earl of Essex at the tiinity as fact

In the early years of her reign, her failure to reat concern to her advisers, for children were required if the succession was to be rew too old to have children anyway, the best had to be inity becain Queen," and when in the 1580s the first English settlers attempted to found colonies on what is now the east-central shore of the United States, they nainia" in her honor

Shakespeare's delicate picture of Elizabeth as a "fair vestal" whom not even "Cupid all armed" could defeat and who remained "in ed Queen, who had always been terribly vain of her good looks, and who insisted on being treated as a beauty even after she had long ceased to be one The terrible anachronisn of Theseus would bother no one

a girdle round about the earth

Cupid's arrohich misses the fair vestal, hits a flohich Oberon describes as:

Before milk-white, now purple with love's wound,

And maidens call it love-in-idleness

- Act II, scene i, lines 167-68

The flower referred to is more commonly spoken of nowadays as the pansy Oberon orders Puck to:

Fetch ain

Ere the leviathan can swiue

- Act II, scene i, lines 173-74

It is foolish, of course, to try to attach literalto what is obviously poetic hyperbole, but-just for fun-"leviathan" is the whale, which can swiue (three miles) would require nine minutes

Puck answers:

/'// put a girdle round about the earth

In forty minutes

- Act II, scene i, lines 175-76

It is interesting to note that Puck outdoes even the o around the earth To circu at the rate of 37,500 miles an hour or a little over 10 e to stay close to the earth's surface at this speed, for he would well exceed the escape velocity

However, Shakespeare riting a century before Newton had worked out the law of gravity, and, in any case, we can assume that such mundane universal laws of the universe would not apply to Puck

In the nine minutes allowed him by Oberon, by the way, Puck could, at this speed, flash to a point twenty-seven hundred ain In short, he could fly froland and back with several land that Oberon saw Cupid aih all the fantasy, Shakespeare h time

Oberon plans to use the juice of the plant he has sent Puck for as a love philter It will serve toabhorrent, and thus Oberon will have his revenge

you hardhearted adamant

At this point, Deht) comes upon the scene in search of Lysander and Her the latter back to Athens Helena tags after hirateful for her help, does his best to drive her away But poor Helena cries out:

You draw me, you hardhearted adamant;

But yet you draw not iron, for my heart