The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 24.0231 Thursday, 9 May 2013
Date: May 9, 2013 4:40:48 AM EDT
Subject: A New Source for “A Midsummer Night’s Dream”?
I spent last August immersed in writing an academic paper that interprets “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” in the coal/sun allegory framework I found first in “Romeo and Juliet”. It was recently published in Tsukuba University Area Studies Journal (3/2013) but there is a delay until they will post it online, so I have uploaded it to Slideshare.
My question for SHAKSPERers is emphatically not the validity of the sun/coal allegorical concept (!!) but rather a discovery I (may have) made. My question is this: has anyone heard that Aristophanes “Birds” may be one of the sources Shakespeare used to write “A Midsummer Night’s Dream”?
I got the “Birds” from here: http://classics.mit.edu/Aristophanes/birds.html
And the section that interests me is where Epops (who is a man transformed into a bird) wakens his nightingale wife, Procne, with a song:
Easily. I will hasten down to the thicket to waken my dear Procne and as soon as they hear our voices, they will come to us hot wing.
My dear bird, lose no time, please! Fly at once into the thicket and awaken Procne.
(EPOPS rushes into the thicket.)
EPOPS (from within; singing)
Chase off drowsy sleep, dear companion. Let the sacred hymn gush from thy divine throat in melodious strains; roll forth in soft cadence your refreshing melodies to bewail the fate of Itys, which has been the cause of so many tears to us both. Your pure notes rise through the thick leaves of the yew-tree right up to the throne of Zeus, where Phoebus listens to you, Phoebus with his golden hair. And his ivory lyre responds to your plaintive accents; he gathers the choir of the gods and from their immortal lips pours forth a sacred chant of blessed voices.
The flute is played behind the scene, imitating the song of the nightingale.
Oh! by Zeus! what a throat that little bird possesses. He has filled the whole thicket with honey-sweet melody!
What’s the matter?
Epops is going to sing again.
EPOPS (in the thicket, singing)
Epopopoi popoi popopopoi popoi, here, here, quick, quick, quick, my comrades in the air; all you who pillage the fertile lands of the husbandmen, the numberless tribes who gather and devour the barley seeds, the swift flying race that sings so sweetly. And you whose gentle twitter resounds through the fields with the little cry of tiotictiotiotiotiotiotio; and you who hop about the branches of the ivy in the gardens; the mountain birds, who feed on the wild olive-berries or the arbutus, hurry to come at my call, trioto, trioto, totobrix; you also, who snap up the sharp-stinging gnats in the marshy vales, and you who dwell in the fine plain of Marathon, all damp with dew, and you, the francolin with speckled wings; you too, the halcyons, who flit over the swelling waves of the sea, come hither to hear the tidings; let all the tribes of long-necked birds assemble here; know that a clever old man has come to us, bringing an entirely new idea and proposing great
reforms. Let all come to the debate here, here, here, here.
Torotorotorotorotix, kikkabau, kikkabau, torotorotorolililix.
Now, turning to Act III, scene 1 of the “Dream”, we see Bottom the Weaver also singing a song (about birds!) in two stanzas. And between the stanzas, Titania, like Procne, awakens!
Bottom: The woosel cock so black of hue,
With orange-tawny bill,
The throstle with his note so true,
The wren with little quill,—
Titania: [Awaking] What angel wakes me from my flowery bed?
Bottom: The finch the sparrow and the lark,
The plain-song cuckoo gray,
Whose note full many a man doth mark,
And dares not answer nay;—
for, indeed, who would set his wit to so foolish
a bird? who would give a bird the lie, though he cry
'cuckoo' never so?
My interpretive idea sees Bottom the Weaver as “the sun” (through various uses of imagery attached to him, his song about ‘Phibbus’ car’, the comparison of him to a summer’s day.(I.ii), etc.) and Titania’s troubles as Hermetic presentations of problems related to coal (“contagious fogs”, “rheumatic diseases” (II.i). Their meeting is a kind of festival, a union (perhaps sexual and a hieros gamos) between the sun and the land, that may eventually happen after coal depletion.
I searched and searched to see if there had been any connection between the two plays, but found no references. Obviously, since the first stanza of Epop’s song is mostly about Apollo, I think it could be an important finding (i.e. Shakespeare excised the religious material referencing the sun from his stanza 1 and hid it within the character of Bottom in other ways).
I should also mention the in “Birds” the song is a powerful and almost magical summons that works right away to bring many birds flying in. I make a parallel to the “Dream” in that Titania is cured by the song and her troubles are over.
I would love to hear any opinion on the issue!