January 21 1816: Hazlitt on A Midsummer Night’s Dream

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“Poetry and the stage do not agree together. The attempt to reconcile them fails not only of effect, but of decorum. The ideal has no place upon the stage, which is a picture without perspective; everything there is in the foreground. That which is merely an airy shape, a dream, a passing thought, immediately becomes an unmanageable reality. Where all is left to the imagination, every circumstance has an equal chance of being kept in mind, and tells according to the mixed impression of all that has been suggested. But the imagination cannot sufficiently qualify the impressions of the senses. Any offence given to the eye is not to be got rid of by explanation. Thus Bottom’s head in the play is a fantastic illusion, produced by magic spells: on the stage it is an ass’s head, and nothing more; certainly a very strange costume for a gentleman to appear in. Fancy cannot be represented any more than a simile can be painted; and it is as idle to attempt it as to personate Wall or Moonshine. Fairies are not incredible, but fairies six feet high are so. Monsters are not shocking, if they are seen at a proper distance. When ghosts appear in midday, when apparitions stalk along Cheapside, then may the Midsummer Nights Dream be represented at Covent Garden or at Drury Lane ; for we hear that it is to be brought out there also, and that we have to undergo another crucifixion.

— William Hazlitt reviews in the Examiner a pantomime version of A Midsummer Night’s Dream,  on January 21 1816.

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