By Judith M. Kennedy, Richard F. Kennedy
This research strains the reaction to "A Midsummer Night's Dream" from Shakespeare's day to the current, together with critics from Britain, Europe and the USA.
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Extra info for A Midsummer Night's Dream (Shakespeare, the Critical Tradition)
Skottowe (No. 12) and Daniel (No. 13) also give most prominence to the fairies. Each voices familiar attitudes. Skottowe is disinclined to allow unity to the 'incongruous materials' and finds the conjunction of the fairy mythology and Grecian history 'irregularly wild'; Theseus and Hippolyta are 'devoid of interest' and the lovers 'scarcely merit notice'; the subject is 'extremely fanciful' but treated with playfulness, 'youthful imagination', and 'the choicest flowers of fancy'. Daniel finds it 'barren in fable' and lacking the interest of real life, but rates it highly for 'sportive invention and appropriate imagery'; it is a 'fine play for the closet' but the fairies are 'too airy - too impalpable' for the play ever to be successfully embodied on the stage.
83 Most of the criticism was isolated, casual, and unconnected, and came in the form of books like John Upton's Critical Observations on Shakespeare (1746; second edition 1748), most memorable for his misnaming a female character 'Hernia' (p. 84 By 1775 there was a substantial, if scattered, quantity of critical comment on the play. II 1775-1920 The long stretch of time represented by the selections in this volume shows some chronological patterning in responses to the play. Before 1815 criticism is still scattered and sporadic; with the flowering of the Romantic period it is possible to see greater coherence in attitudes; when Victoria comes to the throne there is some sense of retrospect and reassessment, followed by new directions partly inspired by the introduction of German and American critical responses to the English scene; from the tercentenary of Shakespeare's birth, interest in the poet and his plays is compounded by the increasing demands of educational systems, although journalistic, theatrical, and personal responses continue to be important.
It deadens the "native wood-notes wild" that every reader of taste would desire to be left to their own influences. 113 The attempts to discover the play's governing idea or inner meaning, and to define its structure, were associated with efforts to categorize its type or genre. The label of 'fairy play' or fantasy became increasingly unsatisfactory. Some critics, such as Ward (No. 50) and Furnivall (No. 53) tried to place it in traditions of comedy, Ward seeing it among Shakespeare's distinctively romantic comedies of incident, 22 A MIDSUMMER NIGHT'S DREAM and Furnivall grouping it with comedies of errors or mistaken identity.