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To Sing and Revel in these Woods Purcells The Fairy-Queen and

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To Sing and Revel in these Woods Purcells The Fairy-Queen and Powered By Docstoc
					    ‘To Sing and Revel in these Woods’: Purcell’s The Fairy-Queen and
                The Honourable Entertainment at Elvetham
       H. NEVILLE DAVIES (UNIVERSITY OF BIRMINGHAM)

It seems to have escaped the notice of Purcell scholars that one of Henry
Purcell’s most memorably comic creations—the attempted seduction of
Mopsa by Coridon in The Fairy-Queen—has a text derived from an
Elizabethan poem by Nicholas Breton. Perhaps the reason for this curious
oversight is because the words that Purcell set so inventively are in lively
dialogue form, and thereby disguise their origin, effectively concealing
even their generic as well as their particular derivation:
                         Enter Coridon, and Mopsa.
      Co.           Now the Maids and the Men are making of Hay,
                    We have left the dull Fools, and are stol’n away.
                           Then Mopsa no more
                           Be Coy as before,
                    But let us merrily, merrily Play,
                    And Kiss, and Kiss, the sweet time away.
      Mo.           Why how now, Sir Clown, how came you so bold?
                    I’d have you to know I’m not made of that mold.
                           I tell you again,
                           Maids must Kiss no Men.
                    No, no; no, no; no Kissing at all;
                    I’le not Kiss, till I Kiss you for good and all.
      Co.           No, no.
      Mo.           No, no.
      Co.           Not Kiss you at all.
      Mo.           Not Kiss, till you Kiss me for good and all.
                    Not Kiss, &c.
      Co.                  Should you give me a score
                           ’Twould not lessen the store,
                    Then bid me chearfully, chearfully Kiss,
                    And take, and take, my fill of your Bliss.
      Mo.           I’le not trust you so far, I know you too well;
                    Should I give you an Inch, you’d take a whole Ell.
                           Then Lordlike you Rule
                           And laugh at the Fool.
                    No, no, &c.1
1
 The Fairy-Queen: An Opera, edited by Roger Savage, in Michael Burden (ed.),
Henry Purcell’s Operas: The Complete Texts (Oxford, 2000), p. 380. This text,
reprinted from the quarto of 1693, probably represents a printed version of the
Coridon and Mopsa dialogue as it was when it was received by Purcell. But Purcell
himself then made minor alterations and added a few lines at the end. For these, see
Yet although the source poem presents a similar situation, the mode
adopted by Breton had been narrative and voyeuristic rather than quasi-
dramatic:
              In the merrie moneth of May,
              In a morne, by breake of day,
              Forth I walked by the wood side,
              Where as May was in his pride.
              There I spied, all alone,
              Phyllida and Corydon.
              Much adoe there was, God wot,
              He would love, and she would not.
              She said, never man was true:
              He said, none was false to you.
              He said, he had loved her long:
              She said, love should have no wrong.
              Coridon would kisse her then:
              She said, maides must kisse no men,
              Till they did for good and all.
              Then she made the shepherd call
              All the heavens to witnesse truth,
              Never lov’d a truer youth.
              Thus with many a pretie oath,
              Yea and nay, and faith and troth,
              Such as silly shepheardes use,
              When they will not love abuse;
              Love, which had beene long deluded,
              Was with kisses sweet concluded:
              And Phyllida, with garlands gay,
              Was made the Lady of the May.2
       Modes, then, differ, as indeed does the amorous outcome, for
Breton’s demurely reluctant Phyllida finally relents when sufficiently
reassured, while Purcell’s altogether feistier Mopsa persists in rejecting
her suitor’s persuasions to love. But in both cases the would-be lover is a
shepherd or rustic (‘Clown’) named Coridon, and despite the
development of a conventionally yielding Phyllida into a hard-nosed
Mopsa, the close kinship of the two girls is clearly demonstrated by the
words ‘Maids must Kiss no Men’3 and ‘for good and all’ uttered by both

‘The Song Texts with Music by Purcell’, edited by Timothy Morris, in Complete
Texts, pp. 504-505. Fairy-Queen line numbers refer to Savage’s edition.
2
  Jean Wilson (ed.), Entertainments for Elizabeth I (Woodbridge, 1980), pp. 113-14.
3
  Although the Fairy-Queen playbook retains these words precisely as they were in the
poem, Purcell doubled the negative:‘Maids must never kiss no men’ (Complete Texts,
p. 504).
of them, and uttered in identical circumstances. Moreover, since
Coridon’s name survives in The Fairy-Queen only as a fossilized relic of
the source text—for in the new context the name is retained merely for
use as a speech prefix or within stage and printer’s directions—there is
every reason to suspect that it derives from a precursor where its use was
fully functional. Other less striking similarities that lend support to the
notion that the dialogue is directly indebted to the poem include the link
between ‘the merrie moneth of May’ and ‘merrily, merrily Play’, where
rhyme combines significantly with the shared adjective or adverb, as well
as the link between Phyllida’s ‘never man was true’ and the combative
application of this comprehensive aphorism in the direct personal rebuff
given by Mopsa’s bluntly forthright ‘I’le not trust you so far, I know you
too well’. Perhaps, too, the Purcellian Coridon’s fond hope of kissing ‘the
sweet time away’ owes something to the ‘kisses sweet’ with which his
namesake and Phyllida had happily concluded their more productive
May-time encounter. But above all, anyone who remembers Purcell’s
hilariously extended treatment of Mopsa’s coyly defensive ‘No, no, no
no, no, no kissing at all’, which eventually compels even her increasingly
frustrated lover to follow suit and sing an absurdly interrogative ‘Why no,
no, no, no, no kissing at all?’, will realise how resourcefully the composer
has responded to and expanded Breton’s ‘Much adoe there was, God
wot’.4 Of course, the credit for this delicious comedy, with Mopsa
repeatedly edging away when Coridon with growing desperation
repeatedly urges her to relent, is largely Purcell’s, but the necessary
launch pad was provided by Breton, and due ackowledgement must also
be given to the Fairy-Queen librettist who had the seminal idea of turning
the sweetly erotic pastoralism of Breton’s narrative into sharply
confrontational dialogue, and who introduced the cruder vigour of
anapaests that pointed Purcell in the direction of music dancing in and out
of the bucolic rhythms of compound time.
       That Breton’s charming little piece provided a literary basis for
Purcell’s boldly confident development of it need come as no surprise. It
was, after all, a standard text for composers, and its general currency had
been ensured when it was anthologised in England’s Helicon (1600).
Purcell, we may reasonably suppose, probably knew three of the four
surviving settings. By far the most familiar of them throughout the second
half of the century must have been John Wilson’s pleasantly tuneful
strophic setting, widely disseminated in manuscript and printed sources as
a solo song and as a part-song for three voices.5 But there was also a later,
4
  Purcell’s setting also extends the dialogue by the addition of a few lines at the end.
See Complete Texts, p. 505.
5
  See especially Ian Spink (ed.), English Songs, 1625-1660, Musica Britannica, 33
(London, 1971), pp. 54 and 196-97. Early printed sources include John Wilson,
somewhat ponderous four-part strophic setting by Benjamin Rogers in
which an unfortunate combination of heavy cadential punctuation and
oleaginous suspensions and passing-notes persistently lubricating the
weak beats gives the music an inappropriately hymn-like character.6
Neither Wilson nor Rogers, however, was concerned to respond to their
chosen text with musical wit or expressive particularity, though Wilson’s
unpretentious setting at least permits the verse to retain its easy grace and
to maintain a proper narrative impetus. Yet from the beginning of the
century, and more ambitious in scale, came a pair of three-part Italianate
madrigals by Michael East: ‘In the Merry Month of May’ setting lines 1-
12, and ‘Corydon Would Kiss her Then’, its sequel, setting lines 13-26.7
Unlike the later strophic settings, East’s music seizes every opportunity to
give apt musical expression to verbal detail, and the reported exchanges
between Corydon and Phillida are well handled in a manner that suggests
the reciprocations of actual dialogue. The division of the text, though, to
provide verse for two independent madrigals, with emphatic musical
closure to the first of them, impedes the narrative by disrupting the
overall trajectory of the amorous interaction, and larger meaning is
sometimes sacrificed to local effect, as when the words ‘all alone, /
Phillida and Corydon’ are set in a way that suggests misleadingly, before
Corydon receives any mention, that a solitary Phillida is observed entirely
on her own. Yet even though East’s prime endeavour was simply to write
musically effective madrigals, and the poem is made to serve, sometimes
atomistically, this distinctive purpose, his madrigalian treatment may
nevertheless have contributed to the evolution of the Fairy-Queen
dialogue. For instance, his word repetition in ‘merry, merry, merry month
of May’ could have helped to turn Breton’s succinctly expressed ‘In the
merrie moneth of May’ into the Fairy-Queen’s ‘Let us merrily, merrily
Play’, while East’s setting of the words ‘for good and all’ may be faintly
echoed by Purcell’s setting of the same phrase. East may also have
supplied the name Mopsa, for the twelfth item in East’s Madrigales to 3.
4. and 5. Parts (1604), the volume which has as its first two items the
paired Breton madrigals, is a madrigal addressed to the jilted ‘Mopsie’.
       The original music for Breton’s poem—a polyphonic setting for
three voices quite probably unknown to Purcell—was by John Baldwin.8

Cheerful Ayres (1660), John Playford (ed.), Select Musicall Ayres and Dialogues
(1653), Playford (ed.), Select Ayres and Dialogues (1659), Playford (ed.), The
Musical Companion (1667 and 1673), Playford (ed.), The Treasury of Music (1669).
6
  John Playford (ed.), The Musical Companion (London, 1673), pp. 208-209.
7
  The English Madrigalists, ed. Edmund H. Fellowes, rev. Thurston Dart, vol. 29
(London, 1960), pp. 6-14.
8
  Ernest Brennecke, ‘The Entertainment at Elvetham, 1591’, in John H. Long (ed.),
Music in English Renaissance Drama (Lexington, 1968), pp. 48-51.
The only features of the composition that in any way prefigure Purcell’s
Fairy-Queen dialogue are repetition of the word ‘merry’ which, because
the three voices enter separately, is sung successively by each voice in
turn, and a nicely contrived ‘no, no, no’ effect in the setting of ‘maids
must kiss no men’, when the top voice sings the word half a beat after the
bass voice, the middle voice then sings it one beat after the top voice, and
on the following beat all three voices come together for ‘men’. But
whether or not Purcell recalled Baldwin’s music (not printed until 1968)
or any of the subsequent music setting Breton’s words, it is evident that
the anonymous compiler (or compilers) of the Fairy-Queen playbook
were thoroughly familiar with the unique occasion for which the poem
had been written and Baldwin’s music composed. They come from the
sequence of entertainments presented over a four-day period to honour
Elizabeth I during the queen’s visit to Elvetham in Hampshire in 1591.
The printed account, of which there were three early editions, prints the
text of the poem, giving it the title ‘The Plowmans Song’ in two of those
editions and ‘The Three Men’s Song, sung the third morning under hir
Majesties Gallerie window’ in the other. The account explains that
              About nine of the clock, as her Majesty opened a
              casement of her Gallerie window, there were three
              excellent Musicians, who, being disguised in
              auncient countrey attire, did greet her with a
              pleasant song of Coridon and Phyllida, made in
              three parts of purpose. The song, as well for the
              worth of the dittie, as for the aptnes of the note
              thereto applied, it pleased her Highnesse, after it
              had been once sung, to commaund it againe, and
              highly to grace it with her chearefull acceptance
              and commendation.9
       Inevitably, one remembers A Midsummer Night’s Dream and
Bottom’s enthusiastic notion of playing the part of the Pyramus and
Thisbe lion with such aplomb that the Duke would be sure to call out ‘Let
him roar again, let him roar again’ (I.2.64-65), but the Corydon and
Phillida performance was not the only royal encore at Elvetham.
Elizabeth was to be even more delighted the following morning by the
homage paid to her by the Fairy Queen and the Fairy Queen’s attendant
troupe of singing and dancing fairies:
              Her Majestie was no sooner readie, and at her
              Gallerie window looking into the Garden, but there
              began three Cornets to play certaine fantasticke

9
    Entertainments for Elizabeth I, p. 113. All quotations are from this edition.
            dances, at the measure whereof the Fayery Quene
            came into the garden, dauncing with her maides
            about her. Shee brought with her a garland …[and]
            spake as followeth…to her Majestie.

            I that abide in places under-ground,
            Aureola, the Quene of Fairy land,
            That every night in rings of painted flowers
            Turne round, and carrell out Elisaes name:
            Hearing that Nereus and the Sylvane gods
            Have lately welcomde your Imperiall Grace,
            Oapend the earth with this enchanting wand,
            To doe my duety to your Majestie,
            And humbly to salute you with this chaplet,
            Given me by Auberon, the Fairy King.
            Bright shining Phoebe, that in humaine shape,
            Hid’st Heaven’s perfection, vouchsafe t’accept it:
            And I Aureola, belov’d in heaven,
            (For amorous starres fall nightly in my lap)
            Will cause that Heavens enlarge thy goulden dayes,
            And cut them short, that envy at thy praise.

            After this speech, the Fairy Quene and her maides daunced
            about the Garden, singing a Song of Sixe parts, with the
            musicke of an exquisite consort; wherein was the lute,
            bandora, base-violl, citterne, treble-violl, and flute. (p. 115)

The account then prints the words of the fairies’ song, and notes that
‘This spectacle and musicke so delighted Her Majesty, that shee
commaunded to heare it sung and danced three times over’, rewarding the
performers with thanks and ‘gracious larges’ (p. 116).
       In Purcell’s opera, almost exactly a century later, it is the Fairy
Queen herself, there identified as Shakespeare’s Titania rather than as
Elvetham’s Aureola, who is the provider or recipient of all the inset
musical entertainments. In Act I the ‘Fairy Coire’ is employed to ‘Sing,
and entertain’ her Indian boy (lines 154-55), while in Act III their
commision is to provide ‘a Fairy Mask’ for her lover’s entertainment
(lines 895-96), a masque that among other delights offers Bottom the
Coridon and Mopsa dialogue. Meanwhile, in Act II, the fairies—‘Some
shall Dance, and some shall Sing’ (line 462)—are required to perform for
their queen’s own gratification, and then to sing her asleep. Rather
differently, the performers of the Masque of the Four Seasons that salutes
the rising sun with ‘all variety of Musick’ (line 1245) in Act IV are not
explicitly identified as fairies, but must be so since the performance is
commissioned by Titania at Oberon’s instigation, and celebrates not only
the banishment of night and its fierce vexations but also the birthday of
the fairy king. In Act V ‘a short simphony’ of strange ‘Fairy Musick’
(lines 1486-89) prepares the Duke for the musical intervention of
pronubial Juno, and the final entertainment that then ensues at Oberon’s
command, and in which singing and dancing fairies masquerade in a
fantastic variety of non-fairy roles, is performed ostensibly ‘to entertain
our [Fairy] Queen’ (line 1539). But the important point is that both the
Elvetham entertainment and the entertainments for which Purcell
provided music in The Fairy-Queen employ singing and dancing fairies,
and that, since Queen Elizabeth was not only entertained by the Fairy
Queen but was herself envisaged as the Fairy Queen, most notably by
Spenser, the argument that there is a significant link between the
Elizabethan text and Purcell’s opera is further strengthened. More
particularly, though, Aureola’s hailing of Elizabeth as ‘Bright shining
Phoebe… in humaine shape’, together with the presentation of Elizabeth
in the next oration as the sun (i.e. as a feminized Phoebus Apollo) whose
‘glorious beames’ make summer possible, whose arrival is springtime,
and whose absence marks autumn and winter, provides the basis of The
Fairy-Queen’s Act IV masque. There ‘Phœbus appears in a Chariot
drawn by four Horses, and Sings’ (lines 1273-74), his self-defining song
allowing him to assert: ‘I dart forth my Beams, to give all things a Birth’
(line 1277), and after a chorus of acclamation, each of the four seasons
sings an appropriately characteristic musical tribute.
       The speaker of the oration that represents Elizabeth as the life-
giving sun is a poet dressed in black and with the laurel of his garland
emblematically ‘mixed with ugh branches, to signifie sorrow’ (p. 116).
He presents himself thus because his oration, recurrently punctuated by
the refrain ‘For how can Sommer stay when Sunne departs?’, addresses
Elizabeth as she leaves Elvetham at the end of her visit. The poetic
imagery associated with lamenting her departure has therefore been
translated into the symbolic figures greeting the arrival of Phoebus in the
opera, though the placing of the oration near the end of the Elvetham
sequence is mirrored by the placing of the Masque of the Four Seasons
just before the end of Act IV of The Fairy-Queen.10 A similar mirroring
of position accompanied by reversal of treatment is found when the role
of the poet welcoming Elizabeth at the very beginning of her Elvetham
visit is compared with the role of the blindfolded poet in Act I of The
Fairy-Queen. As Bruce Wood and Andrew Pinnock have demonstrated,

10
 Does the lament for Elizabeth’s departure help to account for Oberon’s request in
The Fairy-Queen to hear the Plaint of Laura (line 1529-37)?
the episode in which a blindfolded poet is tormented by fairies who make
him confess that he is both drunk and the author of bad verse was adapted
from Suckling’s play The Goblins.11 Purcell’s poet is clearly based on
Suckling’s, even if we also recall episodes in Lyly, Shakespeare and
Jonson that relate to his bewildering and bruising experience at the hands
of the fairies; but it was the Elvetham entertainment that had introduced
the basic strategy of using the figure of a poet to effect a transition into
the dream-world of fairy enchantment. Elizabeth, however, had been
welcomed into the delightful and ordered hospitality of the Earl of
Hertford’s park at Elvetham, not benighted in a disorienting forest of
confusions and torment presided over by a jealous Oberon, a proud
Titania, and a mischievous Puck. Consequently, the two poets are
diametrically different. In contrast to the eloquence of the Elvetham poet
who had greeted the royal guest in properly learned fashion ‘with a Latine
Oration, in heroicall verse’ (p. 102), the Sucklingesque poet of The Fairy-
Queen is an incoherent stammerer (see Purcell’s ‘Fi-fi-fi-fill up the
bowl…Tu-tu-turn me round…’) quite unaware that he has come into the
royal presence. Replacing Elvetham’s veridicus vates (p. 102), then, is
The Fairy-Queen’s self-confessed ‘scurvy Poet’ (line 188), and instead of
holding ‘an olive branch in his hand’ (p. 102) he clutches a drinking
bowl. Instead of ‘Apollo [being] patrone of his studies’ he plays
drunkenly at blindman’s buff (line 175). This means that despite his
unconvincing claim that he hopes one day ‘to wear the Bays’ (line 196), it
is an incapacitating blindfold rather than Apollo’s laurel garland that he
has on his head (p. 102). And while the Elvetham poet is honourably
esteemed as ‘vates cothurnatus, and not a loose or lowe creeping prophet,
as poets are interpreted by some idle or envious ignorants’ (p. 102), his
low-creeping Fairy-Queen counterpart is forced to confess how
pathetically poor he is (line 193).
       The park at Elvetham to which the poet welcomed Queen Elizabeth
had been amazingly transformed for her visit. Most remarkable of all was
the creation of a great artificial lake that Jean Wilson judges to have been
a hundred yards across at its widest point (p. 96), and that boasted three
curiously shaped islands. One took the form of a three-masted ship, a
hundred foot in length and with three trees and their branches
representing the masts and rigging, another was shaped like ‘a Fort
twenty foot square every way, and overgrown with willows’ (p. 100),
while the third was ‘a Snayl Mount, rising to foure circles of greene
privie hedges, the whole in height twentie foot, and fortie foote broad at
the bottom’. It was on and around this lake that the most ambitious of the

11
     ‘The Fairy Queen: A Fresh Look at the Issues’, Early Music, 21 (1993), 44-62.
entertainments, those of the second day, were set, and it was this water
pageantry that was to have the greatest impact on the staging of The
Fairy-Queen. For in Act III, when Titania wishes to entertain Bottom
with ‘a Fairy Mask’, she charges her elves to ‘change this place / To my
Enchanted Lake’ (lines 894-96), and the ensuing transformation produces
not only a water scene, but also trees pressed into service to represent
architectural features, and ‘Two great Dragons’ whose bodies form the
arches of a spectacular bridge ‘through which two Swans are seen in the
River at a great distance’ (lines 901-904). At Elvetham the fanciful use
of trees and shrubbery was an obvious way of exploiting the natural
resources of the park and of working within its limitations, whereas on
the Dorset Garden stage the scene painters for The Fairy-Queen were not
constrained in this manner. They were at liberty to give their imagination
free rein and depict whatever they wished. Yet even so, the constraints of
Elvetham linger in their work when they choose to depict trees deployed
in the Elvetham way. Similarly, the scenic concept of a dragon bridge
also recalls Elvetham, since the Elvetham conceit of the ‘Snaile Mount’
or island was, like that of the bridge, of a physical structure supposedly
created by the body of a fearsome monster, and was likewise associated
with an expanse of water set in an artfully contrived landscape. ‘The
Snayl Mount nowe resembleth a monster, having hornes full of wild-fire,
continually burning’, explains the Elizabethan account, and Nereus
addressing the Queen elaborates this idea by incorporating an adulatory
allusion to the events of 1588 (complete with a Bottom-like assurance
that there’s no need to be alarmed):
              Yon ugly monster creeping from the South
              To spoyle these blessed fields of Albion,
              By selfe same beams is chang’d into a snaile,
              Whose bullrush hornes are not of force to hurt.
              As this snaile is, so be thine enemies!   (pp. 109-110)
But while the Elvetham conceit was grounded in the peculiarities and
special circumstances of the location, with the monster being conceived
as both mythical and allusive, the Fairy-Queen dragon bridge that it
inspired is envisaged merely as luxurious spectacle. The scene painters
are adapting their source purely to create a marvellous visual effect, not
resourcefully seeking significance in landscape or contriving to pay an
ingenious compliment to a reigning monarch. Similarly too, the swans
that ‘come Swimming on through the Arches to the bank…as if they
would Land’ and that then ‘turn themselves into Fairies, and Dance’
before Bottom and Titania (lines 921-24) are derived from more
elaborately programmatic antecedents at Elvetham, where floating on the
lake was a ‘pinnace’ in which, rather than fairies, was the sea nymph
Neaera on her way to present a ‘sea-jewell’ to the Queen. Accompanying
Neaera were her musicians, ‘three Virgins, which, with their cornets,
played Scottish gigs, made three parts in one’ (p. 108). But in addition
there was vocal music on the water too: ‘three excellent voices , to sing to
one lute, and in two other boats hard by, other lutes and voices, to answer
by manner of eccho’ (p. 108). The text of the song, with ‘everie fourth
verse [i.e. line] answered with two Echoes’, is included in the published
account (pp. 110-111) and may well have provided a generic model for
the echo song in Act I of The Fairy-Queen, ‘Come all ye Songsters of the
Sky’ (lines 470-90), since it too employs the device of a double echo, and
is followed first by ‘a Composition of Instrumental Musick, in imitation
of an Eccho’ and then by ‘a Fairy Dance’ (lines 490-92).
       The Fairy-Queen swans who ‘turn themselves into Fairies’ when
they reach land, and there dance, are then frightened away by ‘Four
Savages’ who suddenly appear and ‘Dance an Entry’ (lines 923-28). In
the list of dramatis personae these disruptive intruders are identified as
‘Woodmen’ (line 21), and in Purcell’s manuscript score, where the
upward rushing octave scales of their music graphically depict the way
they chase off the panic-stricken fairies, they are referred to as ‘green
men’. They too come from the water pageant at Elvetham. For at the
conclusion of the Elvetham echo song, five Tritons from the lake having
sounded their trumpets,
               came Sylvanus with his attendants, from the wood:
               himself attired, from the middle downewards to the
               knee, in kiddes skinnes with the haire on; his
               legges, bodie, and face, naked, but died over with
               saffron, and his head hooded with a goates skin,
               and two little hornes over his forehead…His
               followers were all covered with ivy-leaves, and
               bare in their hands bowes made like darts. (p. 111)
When Sylvanus had paid his respects to the Queen, there followed some
boisterous rough and tumble with a water fight breaking out between the
sylvans and the sea-gods, after which,
               Sylvanus, being so ugly, and running toward the
               bower at the end of the Pound [i.e. lake], affrighted
               a number of the country people, that they ran from
               him for feare, and thereby moved great laughter.
               (p. 112)
In The Fairy-Queen the dance of the ‘savages’ and the panic that they
create among the dancing fairies is followed by the Coridon and Mopsa
dialogue already discussed. But it can now be shown how the rejection of
Coridon’s amorous advances, which brings the dialogue to a conclusion
that differs from that of Breton’s Coridon and Phillida poem, also has an
origin in the Elvetham entertainment. For Sylvanus is presented as being
hopelessly in love with the sea nymph Neaera who has long rebuffed him,
and the slapstick of the water fight is presented as a farcical episode in his
ill-fated wooing of the unattainable nymph he so dotes on. In The Fairy-
Queen, Sylvanus’s ridiculous failure as a suitor at Elvetham was to
become, in yet another transformation, Corydon’s comic failure to seduce
Mopsa.
        Once the extent of the debt that The Fairy-Queen owes to The
Honourable Entertainment at Elvetham is appreciated, it becomes plain
that to regard the work simply as an operatic abridgement or adaptation of
A Midsummer Night’s Dream is dangerously misleading. We need to
think instead in terms of a conflation of a pair of late Elizabethan texts: A
Midsummer Night’s Dream and The Honourable Entertainment. And
from this follows several conclusions. For instance, it becomes evident
that the association sometimes made by modern scholars between these
two texts of the 1590s, and that has been a regular part of editorial
commentary on A Midsummer Night’s Dream since the time of Rowe,
has a history that penetrates right back into the seventeenth century. 12 In
recent years, Shakespearians have tended to be dismissive of the
supposed link, but the knowledge that seventeenth-century readers were
disposed to see a connexion suggests that it is possible that insufficient
attention is being paid nowadays to the full range of interest to be found
in the relationship. It becomes clear, too, that the Preface to the 1692-
1693 Fairy-Queen playbooks that focuses so insistently on France and
Italy should not be interpreted as evidence that the preparation of the text
of The Fairy-Queen, either as a whole or even as far as its
nonShakespearian operatic additions are concerned, was undertaken with
continental example principally in mind. In fact, this is a thoroughly
English opera, intended, as the Preface stoutly maintains, to be no less
esteemed than those of Europe, but not therefore aping European
example. The principal conclusion, however, must be that the old
complaint that The Fairy-Queen is a gallimaufrey, deplorably less
unified than A Midsummer Night’s Dream—a complaint that continues to
be voiced despite the sensitive and intelligent defence offered by Roger
Savage13—needs to be set alongside the antithetical observation that The
Fairy-Queen is more dramatically unified than its other progenitor, those
diverse entertainments at Elvetham. Awareness that the genre to which
this work belongs is neither that of the straight play on the one hand nor
that of disparate entertainments such as those Queen Elizabeth
12
   Particularly influential has been E. K. Chambers, The Elizabethan Stage, 4 vols
(Oxford, 1923), I, 124.
13
   Notably in ‘The Shakespeare-Purcell Fairy Queen: A Defence and
Recommendation’, Early Music, I (1973), 200-221, and ‘The Theatre Music’ in The
Purcell Companion, ed. Michael Burden (London, 1995), especially pp. 364-78.
encountered in Hampshire on the other hand is crucial to an
understanding of its remarkable blend of unity and diversity. In their
strikingly different ways both Shakespeare’s masterpiece of a play and
the Earl of Hertford’s enterprising though comparatively undistinguished
entertainment deliberately assemble an extraordinary range of elements,
but, as befits a play, in the case of A Midsummer Night’s Dream it is the
imaginative resolution of those elements into concordant unity that is the
playwright’s supreme achievement, whereas in the case of the Elvetham
entertainments, as befits the nature of its special occasion, it is the
delightful and inventive diversity that matters most. Yet, for all that,
coherence of a kind was not lacking at Elvetham. For unity is to be found
not in the constituent entertainments, but rather in the embracing entity of
the park itself, with all its resources, natural and contrived, human and
supernatural, collaboratively engaged in a concerted festive endeavour,
and in the powerful focal presence of the sovereign visitor. The Fairy-
Queen, then, shares and reconciles some of the characteristics of both its
progenitors, and these include a commitment to presenting a series of
wonderfully diverse entertainments whose progressively expanding
exubriance excitingly threatens to overwhelm the sort of coherence
expected in a conventional play. Yet that notion of coherence is
exhilaratingly challenged, not destroyed, for the central eponymous figure
of the Fairy Queen herself, the supportive framework supplied by
Shakespeare’s abbreviated play, and the cohesive power of Purcell’s
music bind together the work as a convincing whole. Like the disparate
entertainments at Elvetham, the entertainments in The Fairy-Queen are
indispensible, though in their individual quality and in their imaginative
integration they rise to a level that The Honourable Entertainment at
Elvetham could scarcely begin to approach.

				
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