Religious persons often read devotional tracts. These works occasionally refer to the writings of various and sundry theologians. The body of work by theologians may seem to reflect the more important, the more seriously considered, aspects of a religion. Such a perception is probably the exact opposite of the truth. Theological studies represent less than one percent of religious writings – and even less of its practice. Among this extremely small percentage of sacred scribblings, one finds little more than constant disagreement – both intramural and extramural. These theological authors are typically more concerned that their new interpretations beat out those of their competitors than with the impact such novelty might have on the practice of religion. Since each specific religion typically claims to represent the one approach to truth, it follows that the overwhelming majority of this both disagreeing and disagreeable minority of religious authors must per force be in error. This is not to say that they might not occasionally (if rarely) be right and that their perceptions may sometimes be both accurate and revealing. It is to say that the subject of religion should never be left to the academic class. Their role is important but secondary. While representing a fairly small sect among the great faiths of the world, the Religion of Shakespeare has its priests, acolytes and worshippers, its theologians and textual scholars, its archeologists and geographers. The bardic influence is much less than that of the military-industrial complex but almost as pervasive.
The present writer is not a Shakespearean scholar – neither as a theologian, philosopher, or textual exegete. His Shakespearean praxis remains desultory – an occasional local play, most movie versions, and rarely traveling some distance to catch a performance or two. I have collected a few editions and the sporadic volume of commentary – usually by an author I would otherwise read anyway. I never donate alms to support a struggling Shakespeare company and have never consciously read an article from The Shakespeare Association Bulletin, Shakespeare-Jahrbuch, Shakespeare Newsletter, Shakespeare Quarterly, or Shakespeare Survey. The references cited in the bibliography are clearly those readily available to the layman rather than to the academic subspecialist. The present editor accepts the hypothesis that Shakespeare was a believing Catholic as proven and the hypothesis that the plays attributed to William Shakespeare were written by someone else as disproven. He also considers the two hypotheses as not unrelated.
The present edition of A Midsummer Night’s Dream is a ‘Reader’s Edition’ – one produced by a faithful ‘reader’ of the text. It stresses, annotates and comments upon only those points in the play that interest this one particular reader and ignores the vast amount of scholarship that would otherwise dwarf these observations. The main interpretive point stressed by this monograph, the presumed connection between A Midsummer Night’s Dream and The Metamorphoses of Apuleius of Madura, had been hypothesized several decades ago. It is assumed that the reader of the present work is familiar with Apuleius’ novel or the detailed abstract previously provided.1 It is hopefully worthwhile to now more directly restate and expand that argument.
The text of the play is taken from the Norton Facsimile of the First Folio with spelling minimally (s, u/v, and i/j) and inconsistently modernized.
Ye knowe eek, that in forme of speche is
With-inne a thousand yeer, and wordes tho
That hadden prys, now wonder nyce and straunge
Us thinketh them; and yet they spake hem so,
And spedde as wel in love as men now do.
Since this is a ‘reader’s edition’ I have tried to keep the footnotes to a minimum, citing only those cross-references that might be of interest to a general reader. On the other hand, I have preferred to place many observations in footnotes rather than expand the discussion beyond what the reader could accomplish for himself. I have frequently used scholarly material from sources listed in the bibliography, but have not always bothered to cite them. Those scholars familiar with the volumes from which I have borrowed will not need the footnotes, and the general reader will not care for them. I have been lamentably inconsistent in the use of texts: some Elizabethan sources are modernized while others are not. Sometimes Latin is provided without a translation, sometimes with, and sometimes only a translation. Apuleius is cited by book and chapter from the edition with which Shakespeare would have been familiar – Adlington’s translation: no modern edition follows his chapter numbering. The only consistent rule for texts used was convenience – which volumes were readily at hand on my bookshelf.
The work makes no claims to be a work of Shakespearean scholarship; it is simply a Sunday afternoon walk through one of Shakespeare’s most charming and endearing plays. It is a book that, were he in the mood to write one, Bottome might have authored but surely would not have read.
All three illustrations are taken from Jusserand (1890).
— Pasquale Accardo
Virginia, October 1912
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