‘Methought I Was’ [SER 3]

Time for the third in the ‘Subjective Experience of Remembering’ series (SER as in the title), and the last about A Midsummer Night’s Dream — it keeps on giving, but there are worlds elsewhere. In the previous posts I was interested in the way that memories seemed particularly vivid, and also whether fairy memories seemed in any way special. I think it’s more in the perceptions and attitudes than in the remembering that we see the specificities of fairy cognition in Shakespeare. This time the rememberer is not a fairy, but someone who has had a close encounter with the fairy world. This is Bottom the Weaver, waking up from something that seems like a dream, his time as the lover of Titania.
      As before, I’ll keep the intro minimal but I’ll try to put a bit of detail into commentary. Hover your mouse (or equivalent) over the highlighted phrases, and if the splendid Tippy plug-in is doing its work, then more words will appear. Next time: probably, Hamlet. But before I launch into this, I should say that the overall point here is that if we’re looking for the subjective experience of intense memories in literature, this might not manifest itself in detailed description. It might be that it is made evident in the effects on the person remembering, which are described or made evident somehow, and from which we can infer things about what’s going on unseen. In this case, it may be that things are all a blur for him, but I prefer to think that there are some things coming to mind that are piercingly clear, but very hard to believe.

When my comes, call me, and I will answer: my next is, ‘Most fair Pyramus.’ Heigh-ho! Peter Quince! Flute, the bellows-mender! Snout, the tinker! Starveling! God’s my life, stolen hence, and left me asleep! I have had a most rare . I have had a dream, past the wit of man to say what dream it was: man is but an ass, if he go about to expound this dream. Methought I was–there is no man can tell what. ,–but man is but a patched fool, if he will offer to say what methought I had. The eye of man hath not heard, the ear of man hath not seen, , his tongue to conceive, nor his heart to report, what my dream was. I will get Peter Quince to write a ballad of this dream: it shall be called Bottom’s Dream, because it hath no bottom; and I will sing it in the latter end of a play, before the duke: peradventure, to make it the more gracious, I shall sing it at her death.

Bottom wakes up and picks up more or less where he left, in the middle of a play rehearsal. He announces himself ready, and back, perhaps covering up for his uncertainty as to what’s really going on.
The default sensory framework for a vivid memory is, as usual, visual. As his attempt to describe what he seems to be remembering, the mixture of senses is telling. There is more than just sight at stake.
The things he has been part of (having an ass’s head, being welcomed into the court of the Queen of Fairies, being her lover in some way or other) are so extraordinary that he cannot consciously, or at least vocally, acknowledge them.
An example of the brilliant scrambling of sense with which Shakespeare conveys… something. Perhaps just Bottom’s witty way of capturing something unbelievable. Or perhaps something like a sensory overload, components flooding back as more than just visual scenes, is being dealt with here. I think Bottom is rather charmingly discreet about the whole thing — he never ends up singing the ballad he promises, and maybe decides, on behalf of all concerned, to keep whatever it is he recalls, to himself.
E-mail me at rtrl100[at]cam.ac.uk

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