E. Cobham Brewer 18101897. Dictionary of Phrase and Fable. 1898.
Mary Queen of Scots.
Shakespeare being under the patronage of Queen Elizabeth, and knowing her jealousy, would not, of course, praise openly her rival queen; but in the Midsummer Nights Dream, composed in 1592, that is, five years after the execution of Mary, he wrote these exquisite lines:
Since once I sat upon a promontory,
And heard a mermaid (1) on a dolphins back (2)
Uttering such dulcet and harmonious breath,
That the rude sea (3) grew civil at her song;
And certain stars (4) shot madly from their spheres (5),
To hear the sea-maids music.
Act ii. 1.
(1) Mermaid and sea-maid, that is, Mary; (2) on the dolphins back, she married the Dolphin or Dauphin of France; (3) the rude sea grew civil, the Scotch rebels; (4) certain stars, the Earl of Northumberland, the Earl of Westmoreland, and the Duke of Norfolk; (5) shot madly from their spheres, that is, revolted from Queen Elizabeth, bewitched by the sea-maids sweetness.