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FOLK-LORE OF SHAKESPEARE.

CHAPTER I.

FAIRIES.

THE wealth of Shakespeare's luxuriant imagination and glowing language seems to have been poured forth in the graphic accounts which he has given us of the fairy tribe... Indeed, the profusion of poetic imagery with which he has so richly clad his fairy characters is unrivalled, and the "Midsummer-Night's Dream" holds a unique position in so far as it contains the finest modern artistic realization of the fairy kingdom. Mr. Dowden, in his "Shakspere Primer" (1877, pp. 71, 72) justly remarks: "As the two extremes of exquisite delicacy, of dainty elegance, and, on the other hand, of thick-witted grossness and clumsiness, stand the fairy tribe and the group of Athenian handicraftsmen. The world of the poet's dream includes the two-a Titania, and a Bottom the weaver-and can bring them into grotesque conjunction. No such fairy poetry existed anywhere in English literature before Shakspere. The tiny elves, to whom a cowslip is tall, for whom the third part of a minute is an important division of time, have a miniature perfection which is charming. They delight in all beautiful and dainty things, and war with things that creep and things that fly, if they be uncomely; their lives are gay with fine frolic and delicate revelry." Puck, the jester of fairyland, stands apart from the rest, the recognizable "lob of spirits," a rough, "fawn-faced, shock-pated little fellow, dainty-limbed shapes around him." Judging, then, from the elaborate account

which the poet has bequeathed us of the fairies, it is evident that the subject was one in which he took a special interest. Indeed, the graphic pictures he has handed down to us of "Elves of hills, brooks, standing lakes and groves; And ye, that on the sands with printless foot, Do chase the ebbing Neptune, and do fly him When he comes back; you demy-puppets that By moonshine do the green-sour ringlets make Whereof the ewe not bites," etc.,

show how intimately he was acquainted with the history of these little people, and what a complete knowledge he possessed of the superstitious fancies which had clustered round them. In Shakespeare's day, too, it must be remembered, fairies were much in fashion; and, as Johnson remarks, common tradition had made them familiar. It has also been observed that, well acquainted, from the rural habits of his early life, with the notions of the peasantry respecting these beings, he saw that they were capable of being applied to a production of a species of the wonderful. Hence, as Mr. Halliwell Phillipps' has so aptly written, “he founded his elfin world on the prettiest of the people's traditions, and has clothed it in the ever-living flowers of his own exuberant fancy." Referring to the fairy mythology in the "Midsummer-Night's Dream," it is described by Mr. Keightley' as an attempt to blend "the elves of the village with the fays of romance." His fairies agree with the former in their diminutive stature-diminished, indeed, to dimensions inappreciable by village gossips-in their fondness for dancing, their love of cleanliness, and their child - abstracting propensities. Like the fays, they form a community, ruled over by the princely Oberon and the fair Titania. There is a court and chivalry; Oberon would have the queen's sweet changeling to be a “knight of his train, to trace the forests wild." Like earthly monarchs, he has his jester, "that shrewd and knavish sprite called Robin Goodfellow."

1 66

Illustrations of the Fairy Mythology of A Midsummer-Night's Dream,'" 1845, p. xiii.

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