Lampe, John Frederick: Pyramus and Thisbe (after Shakespeare), 1745
Facsimile: Printed score, Walsh (1745), and libretto,
H. Woodfall, junior (1740)
Introduction by Roger Fiske
We today are so conditioned to think A Midsummer Night’s Dream one of the most charming plays there is that we may find it hard to believe that for a long time it was the least popular of Shakespeare’s comedies. The main objection centred on the disparity between the three groups of characters. Music might make amends for such silliness but only if one of the groups was cut out. In 1716, Richard Leveridge had published the words of his Comick Masque of Pyramus and Thisbe. In it, he kept most of Shakespeare’s Act I scene ii, but replaced the Athenian nobles with the supposed composer Mr Semibrief, who presents the performance to friends he has invited into the theatre for the occasion.
Lampe’s mock-opera, first performed in 1745, took over much of Leveridge’s adaptation. Most of the disdainful comments Shakespeare gave to Theseus, Hippolyta and their entourage are all spoken by Mr Semibrief’s guests; the Prologue too is spoken. The play-within-the-play is all sung.