Patrick Hart deposited Dreams, Freedom of Speech, and the Demonic Affiliations of Robin Goodfellow on Humanities Commons 2 months, 4 weeks ago
[opening paragraph:] In darkness, Nashe tells us in The Terrors of the Night (1594), mortals are more vulnerable to the machinations of the devil than they ever are by daylight. Dreams and night visions weave Satan’s most cunning ‘nets of temptation’ (Nashe 1972: 210), and after sunset one’s eyes turn into magnifying glasses, so that ‘each mote […] they make a monster, and every slight glimmering a giant’ (239), multiplying the viewer’s proneness to delinquency and despair. For the Elizabethan anti-theatrical lobby, on the other hand – as represented by pamphleteers like Stephen Gosson, Phillip Stubbes and William Rankins – it is drama rather than dreams that constitutes the Devil’s weapon of choice in the unceasing siege he lays to the human mind and spirit. Plays, they claim, constitute an elaborate imaginative trap whereby Satan lulls the citizens of London into a false sense of security, then ambushes their souls through the unguarded portals of the senses. So when in about 1595 Shakespeare wrote a comedy called A Midsummer Night’s Dream and crammed it full of spirits, damned or otherwise, he was playing a witty game with the fears of Gosson and his fellow thespiphobes. What I shall argue here is that the game he played in the Dream was already in full swing among the pamphlets and printers’ shops of 1590s London, and that the appearance of Robin Goodfellow in the woods of Athens would instantly have alerted his first audiences to Shakespeare’s participation in it.