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PregnantSails

One of my favorite Shakespearian images occurs in Midsummer Night's Dream where (in Act II, Scene i) the Queen of the Fairies describes how she and a maiden worshiper used to hang out on the beach together:

Titania:
  Set your heart at rest:
  The fairy land buys not the child of me.
  His mother was a vot'ress of my order,
  And in the spiced Indian air, by night,
  Full often hath she gossip'd by my side,
  And sat with me on Neptune's yellow sands,
  Marking the embarked traders on the flood,
  When we have laugh'd to see the sails conceive,
  And grow big bellied with the wanton wind:
  Which she with pretty and with swimming gait,
  Following (her womb then rich with my young squire)
  Would imitate, and sail upon the land,
  To fetch me trifles, and return again,
  As from a voyage, rich with merchandise.
  But she being mortal, of that boy did die,
  And for her sake I do rear up her boy,
  And for her sake I will not part with him.

Recently, while writing a letter to a friend I tried to find this passage to quote. Strangely enough, in the first copy of Shakespeare that came to hand --- a tiny 1924 volume "Edited with an Introduction by Ernest Clapp Noyes, A.M., Professor of English, Normal High School, Pittsburg, Penn." --- the words failed to resonate. I dug out a facsimile of the First Folio and found the problem: missing were the lines "When we have laugh'd to see the sails conceive, / And grow big bellied with the wanton wind:" and "Following (her womb then rich with my young squire)". These lacunæ seem more than coincidental. Were elements of Shakespeare's beautiful metaphor deemed too risqué? (But they're the best parts!) Also missing, perhaps for continuity's sake, was the later line "But she being mortal, of that boy did die".

On the positive side of the ledger, however, a "Critical Comment" from the Introduction of that same Noyes edition, attributed to Thomas Campbell: "I have never been so sacreligious as to envy Shakespeare in the bad sense of the word, but if there can be such an emotion as sinless envy, I feel it toward him .... Of all his works, the Midsummer Night's Dream leaves the strongest impression on my mind that this miserable world must have, for once at least, contained a happy man. This play is so purely delicious, so little intermixed with the painful passions from which Poetry distils her sterner sweets, so fragrant with hilarity, so bland and yet so bold, that I cannot imagine Shakespeare's mind to have been in any other frame than that of healthful ecstacy when the sparks of inspiration thrilled through his brain in composing it."

(see ^zhurnal FayawaySail (23 November 2000) for a similarly striking feminine sailing image by Herman Melville)

Tuesday, June 26, 2001 at 10:14:31 (EDT) = Datetag20010626

TopicPoetry - TopicWriting - TopicLiterature


(correlates: PartOfTheProverb, HurrisomeThrustfulHavering, CountrySightsAndSounds, ...)