William Shakespeare on foolish fancies

``What fools these mortals be,'' says the mischievous sprite Robin Goodfellow in the most quoted line from ``A Midsummer Night's Dream'' (1594-95). This is not the only play in which William Shakespeare had fun with the notion, but its enchantments make obvious how illusions can be taken as actuality. Here is part of the celebrated comic episode, with a typical Shakespearean mixture of prose and poetry, in which the elegant queen of the fairies, Titania, is bewitched by the scheming king of the fairies, Oberon, into falling in love with a ``rude mechanical,'' Bottom. The latter is unwittingly transformed with a donkey's head that makes his friends run away in the forest. Titania hears him singing, which he does to show he is not afraid.

Tita. I pray thee, gentle mortal, sing again. Mine ear is much enamour'd of thy note; So is mine eye enthralled to thy shape; And thy fair virtues, force perforce, doth move me On the first view to say, to swear, I love thee.

Bot. Methinks, mistress, you should have little reason for that; and yet, to say the truth, reason and love keep little company together now-a-days; the more the pity that some honest neighbours will not make them friends. Nay, I can gleek [scoff] upon occasion.

Tita. Thou art as wise as thou art beautiful. . . .

Tita. Come, sit thee down upon this flowery bed,

While I thy amiable cheeks do coy, And stick musk-roses in thy sleek smooth head,

And kiss thy fair large ears, my gentle joy.

Bot. Where's Peaseblossom?

Peas. Ready.

Bot. Scratch my head, Peaseblossom. . . .

Tita. What, wilt thou hear some music, my sweet love?

Bot. I have a reasonable good ear in music. Let's have the tongs and the bones.

Tita. Or say, sweet love, what thou desirest to eat.

Bot. Truly, a peck of provender: I could munch your good dry oats. Methinks I have a great desire to a bottle of hay: good hay, sweet hay, hath no fellow.

Tita. I have a venturous fairy that shall seek

The squirrel's hoard, and fetch thee new nuts.

Bot. I had rather have a handful or two of dried peas. But, I pray you, let none of your people stir me: I have an exposition of sleep come upon me.

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