3. Distemperature

Allusions abound in The Mystery of Edwin Drood to A Midsummer Night's Dream. Many have noticed them, several have listed them, but who has offered what the allusions signify? How would these allusions contribute to the Drood/Druid theory?

Whereas Drood disappears at the winter solstice, Midsummer is the occasion of the summer solstice, the time of the observance of the rites of May. In both stories, the destiny of engaged lovers appears to be the central story. But Midsummer 'takes place within the context of a cosmic struggle between elemental dieties' (Oberon and Titania). The 'oath of infertility' comes from their 'forges of jealousy' and has caused a 'distemperature' on the land and people. Let me come to my point quickly: Dickens peppers the Drood/Druid story with Midsummer reversals as clues because Shakespeare likewise treats the age old preoccupation, the eternal theme that underlying the Pickwicks and Petrochios, Skimpoles and Sugarsops, Julius Caesars and Jellybys, the world's monomythic story is really about nature-righting, a synchronizing of man with the patterns of nature:

"I have forsworn his bed and company
The Nine Men's Morris is filled up with mud
And the quaint mazes in the wanton green
For lack of tread are indistinguishable:
No night is now with hymn or carol blest:
Therefore the moon, pale in her anger, washes all air
That rheumatic diseases do abound
And through this distemperature we see
The seasons alter."

Thus the love confusion in Midsummer is really brought on by the cosmic feud. If the love confusion were set right would it remedy the distemperature? It is so for as soon as Titania and Oberon are again 'in amity' the May Day observances are performed. As with the Morris Dance and the quaint mazes and everything else connected with pagan worship at the summer solstice, the intention is a synchronization of humanity with the patterns of astronomical time.

So it is unsurprising that this particular work of Dickens's hero, "had a major influence on The Mystery of Edwin Drood, helping to shape the imagery, characters, and plot. Dickens draws a multitude of ironic parallels between the two stories and characters (Themes, 2010)

Drood is replete with references to Midsummer : Grewgious manages Rosa's engagement; Egeus arranges Hermia's engagement...A 'Helena' character in both... Rosa crowned 'fairy queen of Miss Twinkleton's establishment'. Curious, too, both works contain a play within a play, via Bottom/Bazzard...

Consider 'Honeythunder' 'I never heard so musical a discord, such sweet thunder."

Significantly, Honeythunder is linked to the sound of the hunt since, in the Drood/Druid theory at least, Honeythunder has released a pair of 'hunting hounds' on the secret community in the pair of Neville and Helena in order to ferret them out. Dickens introduces the Landlesses as such with "a certain air about them of hunter and huntress."

Both stories an anachronistic mingling of time/culture

As Shakespeare's Helena says, "The story shall be changed...The dove pursues the griffon: the mild hind makes speed to catch the tiger." What do the reversals mean? When Jasper asks how can an ancient cathedral tower be here? He gives us a clue. He introduces the incongruent strain, as one can ask of A Midsummer Night's Dream: "How can British fairies and Athenian nobility be mingled with decency in the same play?" (Goddard). How can this religion exist simultaneous with that?

An ancient English Cathedral Tower? How can the ancient English Cathedral tower be here! The well–known massive gray square tower of its old Cathedral? How can that be here! There is no spike of rusty iron in the air, between the eye and it, from any point of the real prospect. What is the spike that intervenes, and who has set it up? Maybe it is set up by the Sultan’s orders for the impaling of a horde of Turkish robbers, one by one. It is so, for cymbals clash, and the Sultan goes by to his palace in long procession. Ten thousand scimitars flash in the sunlight, and thrice ten thousand dancing–girls strew flowers. Still the Cathedral Tower rises in the background, where it cannot be, and still no writhing figure is on the grim spike.

Let's use this opening as a litmus test for the Drood/Druid theory. Jasper's opium induced dream is universally understood to preface the story by showing Jasper contemplating his murder of Edwin. But the pieces don't fit at all. The hind is hunting the tigers.

  • First, we notice the anachronistic comingling of Christian with some other religion (here, broadly, Muslim) in the context of some sort of religious procession.
  • Here the Sultan/Sapsea sets up an execution... (for an execution is contemplated here-not a murder.)
  • For the crime of trespassing... (Recall, Jasper/Poker is "evidentally writing a book about" Cloisterham).
  • By an unEnglish (dark) robber.

Marshalling all our clues, astronomical, Shakespearean, symbolic, doublespeak, a clearer picture emerges as to why Dickens changes the name of his protagonist from James Wakefield to Edwin Drood. "To take just one example of such complex codings, why should the sacrificial victim, Edwin Drood, have as his first name that of an early Northumbrian king converted to Christianity but later overthrown and killed by the still pagan Mercians?" (Lane)

Why indeed! But if your spell checker program continually offers to replace "Drood" for "druid", you may take it for a sign.



Dickens, Charles. The Mystery of Edwin Drood, by Charles Dickens." The Project Gutenberg. 15 April 1996. The Project Gutenberg. 15 June 2015
"Equinox, Solstice, and Worship." Online Truth. 1999. n/p 14 June 2011.
Goddard, Harold. The Meaning of Shakespeare. University of Chicago Press. 2009.
Lane, Lauriat Jr. The Mystery of Edwin Drood De/Re Encoded. University of New Brunswick Press, 1982.
"Midsummer Night." Charles Dickens's Themes. 9 June 2011.
Shakespeare, William. "The Project Gutenberg's e-text of Shakespeare's First Folio." The Gutenberg Project. July 2000. The Project Gutenberg. 13 June 2011.