4. A Midsummer Night’s Dream

A Mid­sum­mer Night’s Dream had a major in­flu­ence on The Mys­tery of Edwin Drood — in a Through The Look­ing Glass sense — help­ing to shape the im­agery, char­ac­ters and plot. Dick­ens draws a mul­ti­tude of iron­ic par­al­lels be­tween the two sto­ries and char­ac­ters.

He­le­na: “the story shall be changed [i.e. re­versed]: Apol­lo flies, and Daphne holds the chase; the dove pur­sues the grif­fin”.

Rosa and Her­mia both have an un­want­ed hus­band im­posed on them (and rebel against it), but the de­gree of tyran­ny the two girls face could not be more sharply con­trast­ed. Egeus, Her­mia’s fa­ther, knows that she loves Lysander, but if she re­fus­es to marry Demetrius, his ar­bi­trary choice, she must ei­ther “die the death, or ... be in shady clois­ter mewed, To live a bar­ren sis­ter ... Chant­ing faint hymns to the cold fruit­less moon”. (And Rosa’s guardian/stand-in-fa­ther, [Gr]ew­gious, is the iron­ic coun­ter­part of Egeus, being lib­er­al in all his com­mands.)

Oberon (who’s ‘King of shad­ows’) and Jasper both di­rect the ac­tion, ma­nip­u­lat­ing events and peo­ple main­ly through drugs, but while Oberon in­duces love with a love po­tion, opium, in Dick­ens’s story, has the op­po­site ef­fect and gen­er­ates hate — not least, in Jasper him­self. (In­ci­den­tal­ly, in order to plant a sug­ges­tion in Crisparkle’s mind of where to find Edwin’s jew­ellery, Jasper would have drugged him with lau­danum first; it wouldn’t be cred­i­ble (or cred­itable to Crisparkle) oth­er­wise. It would also par­al­lel Oberon’s use of drugs in Mid­sum­mer Night, and, most telling­ly, neat­ly in­vert The Moon­stone’s plot. In­stead of an opi­um-drugged char­ac­ter hid­ing jew­ellery as a re­sult of in­no­cent re­marks, Crisparkle finds jew­ellery be­cause of sug­ges­tions de­lib­er­ate­ly put in his head. Per­haps Crisparkle ac­cept­ed an of­fered drink from Jasper (light­ly drugged) be­fore de­part­ing on his mem­o­rable walk which re­vived in his mind the pre­vi­ous­ly plant­ed thoughts.)

Bot­tom and his fel­low clowns are grant­ed the sin­gu­lar hon­our of play­ing their dread­ful tragedy (fea­tur­ing a thorn-bush) be­fore the Duke of Athens, but Baz­zard can’t get his play, The Thorn of Anx­i­ety, per­formed at all. Not in front of any­body.

Concider:

And I serve the Fairy Queen,
To dew her orbs upon the green. [make fairy-rings]
The cowslips tall her pen­sion­ers [at­ten­dants] be;
In their gold coats spots you see.
Those be ru­bies, fairy favours [gifts/love-to­kens];
In those freck­les live their savours.
I must go seek some dew­drops here,
and hang a pearl in every cowslip's ear.

There’s no Fairy Queen in the al­most 4,000,000 words of Dick­ens’s other 14 nov­els and only two oc­cur­rences of ‘cowslip’ and one of ‘dew­drops’. Let’s see what we can find in the 4,000 or so words of Chap­ter 13 ... (Again there’s an in­ver­sion: it’s a mid­win­ter day not a mid­sum­mer night.)

Rosa has been ‘crowned by ac­cla­ma­tion fairy queen of Miss Twin­kle­ton’s es­tab­lish­ment’, and is await­ing Edwin ‘in her bower’. (Ti­ta­nia: “lead him to my bower”.) Edwin ar­rives bear­ing a ring for the ‘fairy’ with “ru­bies del­i­cate­ly set in gold”, in­tend­ed as a gift/love-token (so ‘fairy-rings’ twists into ‘a fairy’s ring’ and ‘fairy love-to­kens’ into ‘a love-token for a fairy’). But, iron­i­cal­ly, it acts to check (re­press) his mat­ri­mo­ni­al in­ten­tions. Hav­ing bro­ken off their en­gage­ment, Rosa (who, ear­li­er in the chap­ter, had been amongst the girls quaffing ‘cowslip wine’ — girls who had al­ways been anx­ious to ‘an­tic­i­pate this or that small pre­sent, or do her this or that small ser­vice’, or, in other words, to at­tend on her) laughs ‘with the dew­drops glis­ten­ing in her bright eyes’ [‘dew her orbs’].

Puck replies to the ‘Fairy Queen’ speech above by re­count­ing how Oberon is vi­o­lent­ly jeal­ousy of the Fairy Queen be­cause of her In­di­an boy. Jasper, on the other hand, is vi­o­lent­ly jeal­ous of an ‘Egyp­tian boy’ be­cause of his ‘fairy queen’. (Rosa: “Why, I thought you Egyp­tian boys could look into a hand and see all sorts of phan­toms”.) ‘Egyp­tian’ sug­gests ‘In­di­an’ be­cause in The Moon­stone, which Dick­ens de­lib­er­ate­ly re­calls, it’s In­di­ans who use a boy’s hand for div­ina­tion.

The Fairy re­sponds by call­ing Puck a ‘shrewd and knav­ish sprite’ and re­lat­ing some of Puck’s knav­ish tricks. In the play, though, Puck acts pure­ly as Oberon’s deputy, per­form­ing his tricks. Deputy in Drood (who gives a ‘shrewd leer’ and who in a delet­ed pas­sage is called a ‘sprite’) not only doesn’t serve Jasper (who there­fore has to per­form his own ‘knav­ish tricks’), but be­comes deputy to Datch­ery, Jasper’s prin­ci­pal foe. Also, while Puck is a “merry wan­der­er of the night”, Deputy is a re­luc­tant cater to other night­ly wan­der­ers: “The trav­ellers give me the name [Winks] on ac­count of my get­ting no set­tled sleep and being knocked up all night; where­by I gets one eye roused open afore I've shut the other”. So while Oberon’s deputy af­fects the sleep­ing eyes of oth­ers (“upon thy eyes I throw all the power this charm doth owe”), in Drood it’s the sleep­ing eyes of Deputy that get ad­verse­ly af­fect­ed. An ad­di­tion­al link be­tween the two char­ac­ters is that ‘Puck’ was for­mer­ly a word for the Devil and Jasper calls Deputy a “Baby-Devil”.

Near the end of the play, Puck de­lib­er­ate­ly leads other char­ac­ters astray. In Drood, I sus­pect, Deputy would have done so ac­ci­den­tal­ly. On learn­ing from Datch­ery that Jasper was sus­pect­ed of mur­der, he’d have re­vealed that he’d seen Jasper in, or hov­er­ing around, Sapsea’s tomb, which would lead to an ex­cit­ed in­ves­ti­ga­tion. One doomed to fail­ure, though, as that’s not where Edwin was buried.

‘And when Mr Sapsea [who’s a ‘Jack­ass’] has once de­clared any­thing to be Un-En­glish, he con­sid­ers that thing ev­er­last­ing­ly sunk in the bot­tom­less pit’. Bot­tom: “It shall be called Bot­tom's Dream, be­cause it hath no bot­tom”. While Mr Sapsea tries to en­large him­self and his role in Clois­ter­ham, mak­ing an ass of him­self, Bot­tom wants to play al­most every role in the play with­in a play and is made an ass of by Puck.

Baz­zard’s favourite (iron­ic) short phrase, “I fol­low you”, sums up the ac­tion of Mid­sum­mer Night where char­ac­ters con­stant­ly trail one an­oth­er, and ‘fol­low’ is used re­peat­ed­ly. It would be a nice touch if the writ­er of what is ev­i­dent­ly one of the world’s worst tragedies was as­so­ci­at­ed in some way with the best. And per­haps he is. Ham­let says “I fol­low thee” to his fa­ther’s dead mur­der­er as he him­self drinks from the poi­soned cup.

Hip­poly­ta: “I never heard so mu­si­cal a dis­cord, such sweet thun­der”. Hon­eythun­der?

Lysander: “My lord, I shall reply amazed­ly, half asleep, half wak­ing”. A con­di­tion of much rel­e­vance in Drood where many things are in a tran­si­tion­al, in-be­tween state e.g. the un­fin­ished por­trait of Rose­bud (who in the course of the novel blooms into wom­an­hood). Di­choto­my, too, is one of the main mo­tifs of the novel e.g. ‘half stum­bling and half danc­ing’, ‘half-protest­ing and half-ap­peal­ing’, ‘half shy, half de­fi­ant’, ‘half in jest and half in earnest’, ‘half strange and half fa­mil­iar’, ‘half washed and half dried’, ‘half laugh­ing at and half re­joic­ing in’, ‘half drops, half throws’, ‘half weari­ly and half cheer­i­ly’, ‘liv­ing at once a dou­bled life and a halved life’ etc and Jasper him­self is Janus-faced and split in half. (Lots of things in Drood are in a ‘half’ con­di­tion or at a mid-point. Iron­ic.) Dick­ens even cre­ates a char­ac­ter who’s in an al­most per­ma­nent in-be­tween state, ‘Dur­dles being as sel­dom drunk as sober’.

Rosa may be the Fairy Queen (she’s also ‘First Fairy’ and ‘Queen’ of Mr Tar­tar’s cabin (“Frus­trate his knav­ish tricks! On Thee his hopes to fix? God save the Queen!”)) but she’s also the coun­ter­part of Her­mia. In her squab­ble with Edwin over his “red-nosed gi­ant­ess” she es­pe­cial­ly re­calls Shake­speare’s ver­ti­cal­ly-chal­lenged hero­ine. And both girls have a best friend called He­le­na. There’s the usual amus­ing re­ver­sal: He­le­na in Mid­sum­mer Night is a sissy, “Let her not hurt me ... I am a right maid for my cow­ardice”, while Her­mia “is keen and shrewd. She was a vixen when she went to school, and, though she is but lit­tle, she is fierce”.

With his twist­ed, in­side-out love, Jasper is happy to be tor­ment­ed by Rosa: [the in­ter­jec­tions are Her­mia’s] “Give me your­self and your ha­tred [“The more I hate, the more he fol­lows me”]; give me your­self and that pret­ty rage [“I give him curs­es, yet he gives me love”]; give me your­self and that en­chant­ing scorn”. [“I frown upon him, yet he loves me still.”]

Rosa has ‘dew­drops glis­ten­ing in her bright eyes’. He­le­na on Her­mia: “How came her eyes so bright? Not with salt tears”.

‘“Like a dream?” sug­gest­ed He­le­na. Rosa an­swered with a lit­tle nod, and smelled the flow­ers.’

Lysander: Hang off, thou cat ...
Her­mia: Why are you grown so rude? What change is this, sweet love —
Lysander: Thy love! Out, tawny Tar­tar, out! [In Drood it’s ‘Mr Tar­tar’s man’ who’s ‘tawny’.]

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