— 5.1 —
In the palace, Theseus and Hippolyta were talking. Philostrate, Theseus’ Master of the Revels, aka Director of Entertainments, and other people were also present.
Hippolyta said, “Theseus, these four lovers have talked of strange things.”
“I think that they have talked of things that are more strange than they are true,” Theseus replied. “I never believe old fables or fairy tales. Lovers and madmen have such frenzied brains, such fertile imaginations, that they see — or imagine that they see — much more than cool reason ever comprehends. The lunatic, the lover, and the poet are all made by imagination. The lunatic sees more devils than vast Hell can hold. The lover, just as frantic as the lunatic, sees the beauty of Helen of Troy in the dark face of a gypsy. The poet’s eye, in a fine frenzy rolling, glances from Heaven to Earth, and from Earth to Heaven. As imagination gives birth to things unknown, the poet’s pen writes them down as if they were real and gives to airy nothing a local habitation and a name. A strong imagination tricks us. If a strong imagination senses some joy, it creates some bringer — perhaps a god — of that joy. At night, when someone senses some fear, how easy is a bush imagined to be a bear!”
“But the four lovers all told the same story of the night,” Hippolyta said. “Their stories agreed with each other, and that consistency to me is evidence that whatever happened — no matter how strange and to be wondered at — is more than imaginary fantasies.”
Lysander, Hermia, Demetrius, and Helena all walked into the great chamber.
Theseus said to Hippolyta, “Here come the lovers, full of joy and mirth.”
To the four lovers, he said, “Joy, gentle friends! May joy and the fresh days of love always accompany your hearts!”
“May more joy and more love always be found in your royal estates, at your table, and in your bed,” Lysander replied.
“Now, what entertainments — perhaps dancers, masked or unmasked — shall we enjoy?” Theseus said. “We have a long age of three hours to pass between now and our bedtime. Where is our usual manager of mirth? What revels are at hand? Is there no play to ease the anguish of a torturing hour? Call Philostrate.”
“Here I am, mighty Theseus,” Philostrate said.
“What entertainments to pass the time have you for this evening?” Theseus asked. “What masked dance? What music? How shall we quickly pass this slow-moving time, if not with some delightful entertainment?”
Philostrate handed Theseus a piece of paper and said, “Here is a list of the entertainments offered. Please choose which your highness will see first.”
Theseus read out loud, “‘The battle with the Centaurs, to be sung by an Athenian eunuch accompanied by the harp.’ We will have none of that, for the obvious reason. Beside, I have told my lovely Hippolyta that story in honor of my kinsman Hercules.
“‘The riot of the tipsy Bacchanals, tearing the Thracian singer in their rage.’ No, this will not do. This is an old entertainment. It was played when I from Thebes came most recently a conqueror.
“‘The thrice three Muses mourning for the death of Learning, late deceased in beggary.’ We will have none of that because it is some satire, keen and critical, hardly the thing to hear after a wedding ceremony.
“‘A tedious brief scene of young Pyramus and his love Thisby; very tragical mirth.’ Merry and tragical! Tedious and brief! You may as well talk about hot ice and similarly strange snow.”
Theseus asked Philostrate, “How shall we find the concord of this discord?”
Philostrate said, “A play there is, my lord, some ten words long, which is as brief as I have known a play; but by ten words, my lord, it is too long, which makes it tedious; for in all the play there is not one word apt or one player well cast. And tragical, my noble lord, it is, because Pyramus in the play does kill himself, which, when I saw rehearsed, I must confess, made my eyes cry; but more merry tears the passion of loud laughter never shed.”
“Who are they who do play it?” Theseus asked.
“Men with calloused hands who work here in Athens,” Philostrate said. “They have never labored in their minds until now. They have taxed their unexercised brains to create this play to celebrate your wedding.”
“And we will hear it,” Theseus said.
“No, my noble lord,” Philostrate said. “It is not for you. I have seen the play, and it is nothing, nothing in the world. There is nothing in it to bring you pleasure, except perhaps that you may take pleasure in their good intentions and in how hard they have worked — and it has been hard work for them — to make this play and to learn their lines. All of this they have done to do you service.”
“I will hear that play,” Theseus said. “Nothing can be amiss when it is presented with sincerity and a sense of duty. Go, bring them in.”
Philostrate left, and Theseus said, “Please sit down, ladies.”
All sat down, but Hippolyta said, “Should we see this play? I don’t want to see working-class people attempt to do something that they are incapable of doing and embarrassing themselves when they are trying their best to serve you.”
“Why, gentle, sweet Hippolyta, you shall see no such thing,” Theseus said.
“But Philostrate says that they can do nothing right in this play.”
“Then the kinder we will be, to give them thanks for nothing,” Theseus said. “Our entertainment shall be to take as correctly done that in which they make mistakes. Whatever they cannot correctly do, we can generously judge their performance in accordance with their good intentions, not in accordance with their bad performance. In places where I have come, people have intended to greet me with premeditated welcomes. But I have seen them shiver and look pale, make periods in the midst of sentences, and throttle their practiced speeches because of their stage fright. I have seen them completely break down and be able to say nothing. Objectively, they have not paid me a welcome. Trust me, sweet, out of this silence I have subjectively found a welcome. In their stage fright and modest and dutiful attempt to do what they could not but wished that they could, I have found as much welcome as I would from the rattling tongue of confident and bold eloquence. Love and tongue-tied innocence say much, I believe, although not in words.”
Philostrate returned and said, “So please your grace, the Prologue is ready.”
“Let him approach,” Theseus said.
Trumpets sounded, and Quince came on stage to say the prologue:
“If we offend, it is with our good will.
“That you should think, we come not to offend
“but with good will. To show our simple skill,
“that is the true beginning of our end.
“Consider then we come but in despite.
“We do not come as intending to content you,
“our true intent is. All for your delight
“we are not here. That you should here repent you,
“the actors are at hand and by their show
“you shall know all that you are likely to know.”
Theseus had said to Hippolyta that often people who intended to greet him would make periods in the midst of their sentences. Such was the case here. Quince had badly recited his prologue, and it had come out in a way that was insulting to the audience.
This is what Quince had meant to say:
“If we offend, it is with our good will
“that you should think we come, not to offend,
“but with good will to show our simple skill:
“That is the true beginning of our end.
“Consider then we come — but in despite
“we do not come — as intending to content you.
“Our true intent is all for your delight:
“We are not here that you should here repent you.
“The actors are at hand and by their show
“you shall know all that you are likely to know.”
Amused, Theseus laughed and said, “This speaker does not understand how to use periods at the ends of sentences.”
As he had said to Hippolyta, Theseus was able to find a subjective welcome where no objective welcome existed. If he were a different kind of ruler, he could have had Quince executed.
The other noble members of the audience followed Theseus’ lead: They were amused and not angry when they talked about Quince.
Lysander said, “He has ridden his prologue like a colt that is being broken. The colt does not know how to stop, and this speaker does not know to stop briefly at the ends of sentences. One can learn from this, my lord. It is not enough just to speak — one must also speak correctly.”
Even Hippolyta was amused: “Indeed he has played on his prologue like a child plays a flute that he is attempting to learn. The flute makes sounds, but it does not make music.”
“His speech was like a tangled chain,” Theseus said. “No link or word was broken, but the chain of links or words is all disordered.”
Theseus laughed and said, “Who is up next?”
While the royal members of the audience had been talking, Pyramus and Thisby, Wall, Moonshine, and Lion had come onstage. While Quince recited the next part of his prologue, the actors pantomimed their parts.
Quince recited, “Gentlepeople, perhaps you wonder at this show;
“but wonder on, until truth makes all things plain.
“This man is Pyramus, if you would like to know;
“this beauteous lady Thisby is not plain.
“This man, with limestone and cement, doth present
“Wall, that vile Wall which did these lovers sunder;
“and through Wall’s chink, poor souls, they are content
“to whisper. At this let no man wonder.
“This man, with lantern, dog, and bushel of thorn,
“presenteth Moonshine; for, if you will know,
“by Moonshine did these lovers think no scorn
“to meet at Ninus’ tomb, where their love would grow.
“This grisly beast, whom Lion we do call,
“did scare away, or rather did affright;
“the trusty Thisby, coming first by night,
“and, as she fled, her mantle she let fall,
“which Lion vile with bloody mouth did stain.
“Then comes Pyramus, a sweet youth and tall,
“and finds his trusty Thisby’s mantle slain:
“Whereat, with blade, with bloody blameful blade,
“he bravely broached his boiling bloody breast;
“and Thisby, tarrying in mulberry shade,
“his dagger drew, and died. For all the rest,
“let Lion, Moonshine, Wall, and lovers twain
“at large discourse, while here they do remain.”
Theseus was amused by the bad poetry, and by Quince’s belief that the audience needed to be told the well-known plot of the play in advance.
In a good mood brought about by a wedding that was making him happy and by a bad play that was making him laugh, Theseus said, “I wonder if the lion will speak.”
Demetrius joked, “It will be no surprise if it does, my lord. One lion may speak, when many asses do.”
Once Quince, Thisby, Lion, and Moonshine had exited the stage, Wall said, “In this same interlude it doth befall
“that I, one Snout by name, present a Wall;
“and such a Wall, as I would have you all think,
“that had in it a crannied hole or chink,
“through which the lovers, Pyramus and Thisby,
“did whisper often very secretly.
“This clay, this cement, and this stone do show
“that I am that same Wall; the truth is so:
“and this the cranny is, right and sinister,
“through which the fearful lovers are to whisper.”
Theseus joked, “Would you desire cement, plaster, and stone to speak better?”
Demetrius replied, “It is the wittiest partition that ever I heard speak, my lord.”
Bottom, playing Pyramus, strode onstage.
“Pyramus draws near the wall,” Theseus said. “Silence!”
Pyramus recited, “Oh, grim-looked night! Oh, night with hue so black!
“Oh, night, which ever art when day is not!
“Oh, night! Oh, night! Alack, alack, alack,
“I fear my Thisby’s promise is forgot!
“And thou, oh, Wall! Oh, sweet, oh, lovely Wall,
“That stands between her father’s ground and mine!
“Thou, Wall! Oh, Wall! Oh, sweet and lovely Wall,
“show me thy chink, to blink through with my eyne!”
Wall held up his fingers in an OK sign.
Pyramus continued, “Thanks, courteous Wall! Jove shield thee well for this!
“But what see I? No Thisby do I see.
“Oh, wicked Wall, through whom I see no bliss!
“Cursed be thy stones for thus deceiving me!”
Theseus joked, “The Wall, I think, since it can talk, should curse Pyramus.”
Theseus had spoken too loudly.
Bottom overheard Theseus, and breaking character as well as taking an enormous liberty, he said to him, “No, in truth, sir, he should not. ‘Deceiving me’ is Thisby’s cue: She is to enter now, and I am to spy her through the Wall. You shall see; it will happen exactly as I have told you.”
Theseus nodded and then laughed at Bottom’s thinking that he needed to be told the story of Pyramus and Thisby. He also ignored the great liberty that a craftsman had taken in speaking to him, the ruler of Athens, without being spoken to first.
Bottom then said as Thisby walked onstage, “Yonder she comes.”
Flute, who was playing Thisby, had remembered Bottom’s earlier advice and had adjusted his two stones before coming onstage.
Thisby recited, “Oh, Wall, very often hast you heard my moans,
“for parting my fair Pyramus and me!
“My cherry lips have often kissed your stones,
“your stones with cement and hair knit up in thee.”
The males in the audience especially laughed at Thisby’s lines.
Helena understood the meaning of what was said a little later than the others, and she thought in shock, Oh!
Pyramus said, “I see a voice: now will I to the chink,
“to spy if I can hear my Thisby’s face. Thisby!”
Thisby replied, “My love thou art, my love, I think.”
Pyramus replied, “Think what thou wilt, I am thy lover’s grace;
“and, like Limander, am I trusty still.”
Theseus thought, The mistakes multiply. ‘Thy lover’s grace’ means ‘thy gracious lover.’ Also, Pyramus means Leander, the lover of the woman named Hero, a priestess of Venus. Leander swam across the Hellespont each night to visit her. She lit a lamp each night to guide his way across the narrow sea. One night, the winds blew out Hero’s light, and Leander drowned. When Hero saw her lover’s dead body, she committed suicide.
Thisby replied, “And I am faithful like Helen, until the Fates me kill.”
Theseus thought, Thisby means ‘Hero,’ I hope. Helen of Troy will run away with Paris — she will be unfaithful to her husband, Menelaus. Of course, the Trojan War has not yet occurred, but I and many others in Athens have studied prophecies.
Pyramus recited, “Not Shafalus to Procrus was so true.”
Theseus thought, He means Cephalus and Procris, two ancient lovers whose love ended tragically.
Thisby replied, “As Shafalus to Procrus, I to you.”
Theseus thought, Cephalus ended up killing Procris, albeit accidentally. It’s also odd that Thisby would say this sentence because Cephalus was the man and Procris was the woman.
Pyramus said, “Oh, kiss me through the hole of this vile Wall!”
They kissed — or attempted to.
Thisby said, “I kiss the Wall’s hole, not your lips at all.”
The males in the audience who had laughed at Thisby’s kissing the Wall’s stones laughed again.
Pyramus said, “Wilt thou at Ninny’s tomb meet me straightway?”
Thisby replied, “Come life, or come death, I come without delay.”
Pyramus and Thisby exited.
Wall said, “Thus have I, Wall, my part discharged so;
“and, being done, thus Wall away doth go.”
“The lovers should have waited,” Theseus said. “The Wall that separated them is now down.”
“Waiting would not have helped,” Demetrius said. “The Wall would have stayed around to eavesdrop.”
“This is the silliest stuff that ever I heard,” Hippolyta said.
“Even the best plays and actors are but shadows,” Theseus said, “and the worst plays and actors are no worse than shadows, if we use our imaginations to improve them.”
“It must be your imagination that does the improving,” Hippolyta said. “The imaginations of this playwright and these actors have done little to make a good play.”
“If we imagine no worse of them than they of themselves, they may pass for excellent men,” Theseus said.
Meanwhile, Moonshine and Lion had come onstage. Moonshine carried a lantern and a bushel of thorns, and he led a dog by a leash.
Theseus said, “Here come two noble beasts in: a man and a lion.”
Lion recited, “You, ladies, you, whose gentle hearts do fear
“the smallest monstrous mouse that creeps on floor,
“may now perchance both quake and tremble here,
“when Lion rough in wildest rage doth roar.
“Then know that I, one Snug the joiner, am
“a Lion fierce, and not any Lion’s Mam;
“for, if I should as Lion come in strife
“into this place, at risk would be my life.”
Theseus said, “I think the actor playing the Lion has mixed up his words. I think he meant to tell us that he is not a lion; instead, he has told us that he is not the mother of a lion. Still, this Lion is a very polite beast, and he acts morally and with a good conscience.”
“This is the most moral Lion that I have ever seen, my lord,” Demetrius said.
“This Lion is a very fox when it comes to courage,” Lysander said. “He is more sly than he is brave.”
“Yes, he is,” Theseus said, “and he is as discreet as a goose. He is more foolish than he is discreet.”
“I disagree, my lord,” Demetrius said. “His courage cannot carry away his discretion, and we all know that the fox carries away the goose.”
“I am sure that his discretion cannot carry away his courage,” Theseus said, “because we all know that the goose does not carry away the fox. But so be it. Let us leave the Lion to his discretion, and let us listen to the Moon.”
Moonshine, who had waited patiently for the nobles to stop talking, started to speak, “This lantern doth the horned Moon present —”
But the nobles were in a mood for making jokes, and they interrupted Moonshine. People who laugh often want to create more laughter.
“He should have worn the horns on his head,” Demetrius said. “Cuckolds have horns.”
“A horned Moon has crescents,” Theseus said, “but this Moon has no visible crescents. Therefore, his horns must be invisible inside the circle that is the Moon.”
Moonshine again attempted to say his lines:
“This lantern doth the horned Moon present;
“Myself the Man in the Moon do seem to be.”
Theseus interrupted again, “This is the greatest error of all — the man should be inside the lantern. How else could he be the Man in the Moon?”
“He dares not go in the lantern because of the candle,” Demetrius said. “The candle is ready to be snuffed out, and he does not want to be snuffed out with it.”
Hippolyta joked, “I am weary of this Moon — I wish he would change!”
“The Moon appears to have but little light and so is waning,” Theseus said, “but we should be courteous and reasonable, and wait and see.”
Moonshine waited patiently.
“Proceed, Moon,” Lysander said.
Moonshine abandoned his poetic lines and said in prose, “All that I have to say is to tell you that the lantern is the Moon, I am the Man in the Moon, this thorn bush is my thorn bush, and this dog is my dog.”
“Why, all these should be in the lantern; for all these are in the Moon,” Demetrius said. “But silence! Here comes Thisby.”
Thisby came on onstage and said, “This is old Ninny’s tomb. Where is my love?”
The Lion roared, and Thisby screamed and ran offstage, dropping her mantle as she exited.
The Lion then got stage fright and froze. Neither the Lion nor Moonshine did or said anything.
Theseus thought, This is the other thing that I told Hippolyta that people do when they speak to me. Some put periods in the middle of sentences, as happened during the Prologue of this play. Other people get stage fright and freeze, as is happening now.
Theseus remembered that he ought to be courteous, as he had promised Hippolyta that he would be. The nobles felt bad that their humorous comments were having this effect on the actors. Knowing that one good reason for the Lion to get stage fright was the humorous comments that they had made to the Man in the Moon, which the Lion had heard while waiting for his cue, Theseus wanted to put the Lion at ease and to make some amends to Moonshine and the other actors.
Theseus whispered to the other nobles, “Our jokes have given the Lion stage fright. Let’s say some things to encourage these actors.”
“Well roared, Lion,” Demetrius said loudly.
“Well run, Thisby,” Theseus said.
“Well shone, Moon,” Hippolyta said. “Truly, the Moon shines with a good grace.”
Heartened by the praise, the Lion, recovering from stage fright, picked up Thisby’s mantle in his mouth and shook it as if it were a mouse that a cat had caught.
“Well moused, Lion,” Theseus said as the Lion exited.
The nobles applauded.
Lysander whispered, “And so the Lion vanished.”
“And then came Pyramus,” Demetrius whispered.
Bottom came onstage as Pyramus and recited, “Sweet Moon, I thank thee for thy Sunny beams;
“I thank thee, Moon, for shining now so bright;
“for, by thy gracious, golden, glittering gleams,
“I trust to take of truest Thisby sight.
“But stay! Oh, spite!
“But mark, poor knight,
“what dreadful dole is here!
“Eyes, do you see?
“How can it be?
“Oh, dainty duck! Oh, dear!
“Thy mantle good,
“What, stained with blud!”
Bottom thought, Good, I remembered to say “blud.” “Good” and “blood” are supposed to rhyme, but they can’t rhyme unless their ends sound alike.
Bottom continued, “Approach, ye Furies fell!
“Oh, Fates, come, come,
“Cut thread and thrum;
“Quail, crush, conclude, and quell!”
Theseus whispered, “Pyramus’ passion — and the death of a dear friend — would go a long way in making a man feel sad.”
Hippolyta joked, “Curse my heart, but I pity the man.”
Pyramus recited, “Oh, why, Nature, didst thou lions frame?
“Since lion vile hath here deflowered my dear —”
Backstage, Quince thought, Devoured — not deflowered.
Bottom continued, “— who is — no, no — who was the fairest dame
“who lived, who loved, who liked, who looked with cheer.
“Come, tears, confound;
“out, sword, and wound”
(Bottom made sure that “confound” and “wound” rhymed.)
“the pap of Pyramus —
“aye, that left pap,
“where heart doth hop.”
Pyramus stabbed himself, then said, “Thus die I, thus, thus, thus.
“Now am I dead,
“now am I fled;
“my soul is in the sky.
“Tongue, lose thy light;
“Moon, take thy flight.”
No, no, no, Quince thought. Bottom should have said, “Tongue, take thy flight / Moon, lose thy light.” “Tongue, take thy flight” means to be made silent by death.
Pyramus waited until Moonshine’s exit was complete, and then he continued, “Now die, die, die, die, die.”
Demetrius whispered, “If Pyramus were throwing a die, he would throw an ace or a snake eye — one dot on top — because now he is alone.”
“He would have to throw less than an ace,” Lysander whispered, “because he is dead — he is nothing.”
“With the help of a surgeon, he might yet recover, and show himself to be an ass again,” Theseus whispered.
Hippolyta whispered, “Now that Moonshine is gone, how will Thisby see her lover when she comes back?”
Thisby had come onstage and was skipping around, not seeing Pyramus.
“She will find him by starlight,” Theseus whispered back, and then he added, “Here she comes, and her passion ends the play.”
Hippolyta whispered, “I think that Thisby’s passionate speech and death should not last long — not for this Pyramus, anyway.”
She also thought, I already know that Thisby’s passion will end the play. To show off his knowledge, Theseus insists on telling me things I already know. How like a man!
“It’s difficult to tell whether Pyramus or Thisby is the better actor,” Demetrius whispered. “Either way — Pyramus as an actor in male roles, or Thisby as an actor in female roles — God help us!”
“Look,” Lysander whispered, “Thisby has used her sweet eyes to see Pyramus.”
“And now we will hear Thisby start moaning,” Lysander whispered.
Thisby recited, “Asleep, my love?
“What, dead, my dove?
“Oh, Pyramus, arise!
“Speak, speak. Quite dumb?
“Dead, dead? A tomb
“must cover thy sweet eyes.
“These my lips,
“this cherry nose,
“these yellow cowslip cheeks,
“are gone, are gone!
“Lovers, make moan.
“His eyes were green as leeks.
“Oh, Sisters Three,
“goddesses of fate, you be,
“come, come to me,
“with hands as pale as milk.
“Lay them in gore,
“since you have shore
“with shears his thread of silk.
“Tongue, not a word.
“Come, trusty sword.
“Come, blade, my breast imbrue.”
Thisby stabbed herself.
She continued, “And, farewell, friends.
“Thus Thisby ends.
“Adieu, adieu, adieu.”
“Moonshine and Lion are left to bury the dead,” Theseus said.
“Yes, and Wall, too,” Demetrius added.
The nobles’ voices had gotten loud again.
Bottom heard the comments, came to life, and said, “No, I assure you; the Wall is down that separated their fathers. Will it please you to see the epilogue, or to hear a Bergomask dance between two of our company?”
“No epilogue, please, for your play needs no excuse,” Theseus replied. “Never excuse; for when the players are all dead, there needs none to be blamed. Indeed, if he who wrote it had played Pyramus and hanged himself using Thisby’s garter, it would have been a fine tragedy.”
Hearing that there would be no epilogue, Quince and the remaining actors came onstage to rejoin Bottom and Thisby.
Theseus’ jokes were funny, but cruel, and he stood for a moment and remembered that he had laughed hard during the play and that the play had done an excellent job of making the time pass quickly. Therefore, he added, “Your play is truly a fine tragedy, and all of you have very notably discharged it.”
Theseus looked at Philostrate, and the look and his words were enough to communicate that these Athenian craftsmen would be rewarded monetarily for their intellectual and aesthetic labors.
Theseus then said, “No epilogue, please, but yes, most definitely we want to see your Bergomask dance.”
The craftsmen danced, and then exited.
Afterwards, the craftsmen received the news of their monetary reward and made plans to meet together after work the following day to celebrate. At home, Quince thought about the audience reaction to his tragedy and reflected, If the audience laughs at what is meant to be a deadly serious tragedy, wise actors — and a disappointed playwright — should say that they meant to make a comedy, not a tragedy. But wait! I did write a comedy — the word “comedy” even appears in the title: “The Most Lamentable Comedy, and Most Cruel Death of Pyramus and Thisby.” The word “tragedy” does not appear in the title at all. The audience’s laughter means that I am a successful writer of comedy, and all my friends are successful comedians. I can’t wait to tell them tomorrow night!
During the Bergomask dance, Theseus reflected that the craftsmen had done too well their job of helping to pass the time. Before the craftsmen’s play, he had been eager for time to pass so that he could take Hippolyta to bed, but now — although he was still eager to take Hippolyta to bed — he discovered that everyone had stayed up past the time for the joys of bed to begin.
Theseus said, “The iron tongue of midnight has tolled twelve times on the clock. Lovers, all of us must go to bed — it is almost fairy time. I fear we shall sleep throughout the coming morning as much as we this night have stayed up too late. This obviously bad — but very funny — play has well helped us pass the slow hours until bedtime. Sweet friends, let us go to bed. Throughout the next two weeks, we will celebrate with nightly revelry and with new joys.”
The humans exited.
Puck flew into the great chamber and said, “Now the hungry lion roars,
“and the wolf howls at the Moon,
“while the sleepy plowman snores,
“worn out by weary tasks too soon.
“Now the burned firebrands do glow,
“while the screech-owl, screeching loud,
“puts the wretch who lies in woe
“in remembrance of a shroud.
“Now it is the time of night
“when all the graves gape wide.
“Each one lets forth his sprite,
“in the churchway paths to glide.
“And we fairies, who do run
“by the Moon’s dragon-team
“from the presence of the Sun,
“following darkness like a dream,
“now are merry. Not a mouse
“shall disturb this blessed house.
“I am sent with broom before,
“to sweep the dust behind the door.”
As Puck spoke, he performed the job he traditionally did for good people: housework. (For lazy people, he made more work.)
Oberon and Titania flew into the great chamber with their attendant fairies.
Oberon said, “Through the house give gathering light,
“by the dead and drowsy fire.
“Every elf and fairy sprite
“hop as light as bird from brier;
“and this ditty, after me,
“sing, and dance it trippingly.”
Titania said, “First, rehearse your song by rote
“to each word a warbling note.
“Hand in hand, with fairy grace,
“will we sing, and bless this place.”
Oberon, Titania, and the other fairies sang and danced.
Oberon said, “Now, until the break of day,
“through this house each fairy stray.
“To the best bride-beds go we,
“which by us shall blessed be;
“and the babies there created
“ever shall be fortunate.
“So shall all the couples three
“ever true in loving be;
“and the blots of Nature’s hand
“shall not in their babies stand.
“No mole, hare lip, or scar,
“or mark monstrous, such as are
“despised in nativity,
“shall upon their children be.
“With this field-dew consecrated,
“every fairy take his gait;
“and each separate chamber bless,
“through this palace, with sweet peace,
“so that the owner of it blest
“ever shall in safety rest.
“Trip away; make no stay.
“Meet me all by break of day.”
Oberon, Titania, and the other fairies flew away, leaving only Puck. He knew that the bedsprings in various bedrooms were squeaking, and he wanted to have the last words in speaking:
“If we shadows have offended,
“think but this, and all is mended,
“that you have but slumbered here
“while these visions did appear.
“And this weak and idle theme
“has yielded nothing but a dream.
“Gentle people, do not reprehend.
“If you pardon, we will mend.
“And, as I am an honest Puck,
“if we have unearned luck
“now to escape the serpent’s tongue
“that hisses thespians who lack pluck,
“we will make amends ere long,
“else the Puck a liar call.
“So, good night unto you all.
“Give me your hands, if we be friends.
“Applaud us during our curtain call,
“and Robin shall make amends.”
Copyright by Bruce D. Bruce
David Bruce has retold in today’s modern English all 38 of William Shakespeare’s plays.
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William Shakespeare’s 12 Comedies: Retellings in Prose
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