The Cambridge History of English and American Literature in 18 Volumes (1907–21).
Volume IV. Prose and Poetry: Sir Thomas North to Michael Drayton.

X. Michael Drayton

§ 12. Nimphidia

In Nimphidia, we find a new Drayton, and one not fore-shadowed even by Idea or the Odes. Some time, as it seems, between his fifty-ninth and his sixty-fourth year, we hear the sound of his laughter, and find him playing, and playing lightly and gaily, with a literary toy. Nimphidia is a mock heroic poem relating the adventures of jealous Oberon, faithless Titania and her lover Pigwiggen. The parody of the old heroic ballads is carried out with the nicest particularity, and with a playful ingenuity which is surprising in a poet advanced in years and of a grave and laborious complexion. The lack of the higher imagination, which Drayton could not take over, with his characters and scene, from Shakespeare, is atoned for by the consistent humour of the finely polished verse, the very movement of which is a subtle and elaborate joke. In these tripping, dancing lines—the metre of the heroic ballads wonderfully transformed—we are far from the high heroic note of Elizabeth’s days; we have reached the poetical land of Herrick and of the great Margaret, duchess of Newcastle, who both borrowed from Drayton’s minute lore of fairyland.