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Chaucer's Knight's Tale and the story of "Thisbe of Babylon" in his Legende of Goode Women, and Golding's translation of Ovid's Metamorphoses, were all well known to Shakespeare, and, as already stated (p. 14 above), furnished materials for this play.
The Knightes Tale, from which the poet drew very little, opens thus:
"Whilom, as olde stories tellen us,
* The kingdom of the Amazons. The name is formed from the Latin femina. In the next line CYMM = Scythia.
Lete t this noble duk to Athenes ryde,
And al his ost, in armes him biside.
And certes, if it nere to long to heere,
1 wolde han told you fully the manere,
How wonnen was the regne of Femynye
By Theseus, and by his chivalrye;
And of the grete bataille for the nones
Bytwix Athenes and the Amazones;
And how asegid* was Ypolita,
The faire hardy quyen of Cithea;
And of the feste that was at hire weddynge,
And of the tempest at hire hoom comynge;
But al that thing I most as now forbere."
Halliwell suggests that the following passage [C, T. 2961-2966) may have furnished Shakespeare with the idea of introducing an interlude into the play:
11 ne how the Grekes pleye
He also quotes lines 2702-2704:
"Duk Theseus, and al his companye,
which he believes to bear more than an accidental resemblance to what Theseus says, iv. 1. 181, 182:
"Away with us to Athens: three and three,
In the Legende of Thisbe of Babylon (lines 756, 757) we read
"Thus wolde they seyn: Allas, thou wikked walle! Thurgh thyne envye thou us lettest alle;" which Halliwell compares with Pyramus's address to Wall, v. 1. 181: "O wicked wall, through whom I see no bliss!" There are many similarities between the tale of Pyramus and Thisbe as related in Golding's Ovid and Shakespeare's interlude. We give the former in full from Halliwell's Introduction to the play:
"Within the towne (of whose huge walles so monstrous high and thicke,
t Wake-plays, or funeral games.
No man was privie to their thoughts. And for to serve their turoe,
Instead of talke they used signes: the closlier they supprest
The fire of love, the fiercer still it raged in their brest.
The wall that parted house from house had riven therein a cranie,
Which shroonke at making of the wall: this fault not markt of anie
Of many hundred yeeres before (what doth not love espie?)
These lovers first of all found out, and made a way whereby
To talke together secretly, and through the same did go
Their loving whisprings very light and safely to and fro.
Now, as at one side Pyramus, and Thisbe on the tother,
Stood often drawing one of them the pleasant breath from other:
O thou envious wall (they sayed), why letst thou lovers thus;
What matter were it if that thou permitted both of us
In armes each other to embrace: or if thou think that this
Were over-much, yet mightest thou at least make roome to kisse.
And yet thou shalt not finde us churles: we thinke our selves in det,
For the same piece of curtesie, in vouching safe to let
Our sayings to our friendly eares thus freely come and go.
Thus havmg where they stood in vaine complained of their wo,
When night drew neare they bad adue, and ech gave kisses sweete,
Unto the parget on their side the which did never meete.
Next morning with her cheerefull light had driven the starres aside,
And Phcebus with his burning beames the dewie grasse had dride,
These lovers at their wonted place by fore-appointment met,
Where, after much complaint and mone they covenanted to get
Away from such as watched them, and in the evening late
To steale out of their father's house, and eke the citie gate.
And to th' intent that in the fields they strayd not up and downe,
They did agree at Ninus Tombe to meet without the towne,
And tary underneath a tree that by the same did grow:
Which was a faire high mulberie with fruite as white as snow,
Hard by a coole and trickling spring. This bargaine pleased them both.
And so day-light (which to their thought away but slowly goth)
Did in the ocian fall to rest, and night from thence did rise.
As soone as darkenesse once was come, 'straight Thisbe did devise
A shift to winde her out of doores, that none that were within
Perceived her: and muffling her with clothes about her chin,
That no man might discerne her face, to Ninus Tombe she came
Unto the tree: and set her downe there underneath the same.
Love made her bold. But see the chance; there comes besmerde with blood,
About the chappes, a lyonesse all foming from the wood,
From slaughter lately made of kine, to staunch her bloody thirst
With water of the foresaid spring. Whom Thisbe spying first,
Afarre by moone-light, thereupon with fearfull steps gan flie,
And in a darke and yrkesome cave did hide herselfe thereby.
And as she fled away for haste she let her mantle fall,
The which for feare she left behin.de not looking backe at all.
Now when the cruell lyonesse her thirst had staunched well,
tn going to the wood she found the slender weede that fell
From Thisbe, which with bloodie teeth in peeces he did teare:
The night was somewhat further spent ere Pyramus came there,
Who seeing in the suttle sand the print of lyon's paw,
Waxt pale for feare. But when also the bloodie cloke he saw
All rent and torne: one night (he sayed) shall lovers two confound,
Of which long life deserved she of all that live on ground;
My soule deserves of this mischaunce the perill for to beare.
I, wretch, have been the death of thee, which to this place of feare
Did cause thee in the night to come, and came not there before.
My wicked lims and wretched guts, with cruell teeth therefore,
Devoure ye, O ye lyons all, that in this rocke doe dwell.
But cowards use to wish for death. The slender weede that fell
From Thisbe up he takes, and straight doth beare it to the tree,
Which was appointed erst the place of meeting for to bee.
And when he had bewept, and kist the garment which he knew,
Lift up his dying eyes, and having seene her, closd the same.
Let this request that 1 shall make in both our names belive,
The "Life of Theseus" in North's Plutarch has also been mentioned as one of the sources from which Shakespeare drew some small part of
his material. The only passages that can be cited as illustrating the play are the following:
"And so going on further, in the straits of Peloponnesus he killed another [robber], called Sinnis, surnamed Pityocamtes, that is to say, a wreather or bower of pine-apple trees: whom he put to death in that self cruel manner that Sinnis had slain many other travellers before. . . . This Sinnis had a goodly fair daughter called Perigouna, which fled away when she saw her father slain; whom he followed and sought all about. But she had hidden herself in a grove full of certain kinds of wild pricking rushes called stale, and wild sperage, which she simply like a child intreated to hide her, as if they had heard, and had sense to understand her: promising them with an oath, that if they saved her from being found, she would never cut them down, nor burn them. But Theseus finding her, called her, and sware by his faith he would use her gently, and do her no hurt, nor displeasure at all. Upon which promise she came out of the bush, and bare unto him a goodly boy, which was called Menalippus. . . .
"Furthermore, after he was arrived in Creta, he slew there the Minotaur (as the most part of ancient authors do write) by the means and help of Ariadne: who being fallen in fancy with him, did give him a clue of thread, by the help whereof she taught him, how he might easily wind out of the turnings and crancks of the labyrinth. . . . They report many other things also touching this matter, and specially of Ariadne: but there is no troth nor certainty in it. For some say, that Ariadne hung herself for sorrow, when she saw that Theseus had cast her off. Others write, that she was transported by mariners into the ile of Naxos, where she was married unto (Enarus the priest of Bacchus: and they think that Theseus left her, because he was in love with another, as by these verses should appear:
ingles, the nymph, was loved of Theseus,
"Touching the voyage he made by the sea Major, Philochorus, and some other hold opinion, that he went thither with Hercules against the Amazons: and that to honour his valiantness, Hercules gave him Antiopa the Amazon. But the more part of the other historiographers, namely, Hellanicus, Pherecides, and Herodotus, do write, that Theseus went thither alone, after Hercules' voyage, and that he took this Amazon prisoner: which is likeliest to be true. For we do not find that any other who went this journey with him, had taken any Amazon prisoner beside himself. Bion also the historiographer, this notwithstanding, saith, that he brought her away by deceit and stealth. For the Amazons (saith he) naturally loving men, did not fly at all when they saw them land in their country, but sent them presents, and that Theseus enticed her to come into his ship, who brought him a present: and so soon as she was aboard, he hoised his sail, and so carried her away. . . .
"Now, whether they [the Amazons] came by land from so far a country, or that they passed over an arm of the sea, which is called Bosphorus Cimmericus, being frozen as Hellanicus saith: it is hardly to be credited. But that they camped within the precinct of the very city