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Oberon and Titania *, drawn by Shakspeare in a very amiable and pleasing light; for, though jealous of each other, they are represented as usually employed in alleviating the distresses of the worthy and unfortunate. Their benign influence, indeed, seems to have extended over the physical powers of nature; for Titania tells her Lord, that, in consequence of their jealous brawls, a strange distemperature had seized the elements:

"The seasons alter; hoary-headed frosts

Fall in the fresh lap of the crimson rose;
And on old Hyem's chin, and icy crown,
An odorous chaplet of sweet summer buds
Is, as in mockery, set: The spring, the summer,
The chiding autumn, angry winter, change
Their wonted liveries; and the 'mazed world,

By their increase, now knows not which is which:
And this same progeny of evils comes,
From our debate, from our dissention;
We are their parents and original." †

It appears even that the fairy-practice of purloining children, which, in every previous system of this mythology, had been carried on from malignant or self-interested motives, was in Titania the result of humanity and compassion: thus, when Oberon begs her "little changeling boy" to be his henchman, she answers—

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Oberon, or, more properly Auberon, has been derived, by some antiquaries, from “l'aube du jour;" and Mab his Queen, from amabilis, so that lucidity and amiability, their characteristics, as delineated by Shakspeare, may be traced in their names.

+ Reed's Shakspeare, vol. iv. pp. 363-366. Act ii. sc. 2.

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Which she, with pretty and with swimming gait,

(Following her womb, then rich with my young squire)
Would imitate; and sail upon the land,

To fetch me trifles, and return again,
As from a voyage, rich with merchandize.
But she, being mortal, of that boy did die:
And, for her sake, I do rear up her boy:

And, for her sake, I will not part with him." *


The expression in this passage "being mortal," as applied to the changeling's mother, in contradistinction to the unchangeable state of the Fairies, may be added to Mr. Ritson's instances as another decisive proof of the immortality of Shakspeare's elves; but when that commentator asserts, that the Fairies of the common people were never esteemed otherwise," he has gone too far, at least if he meant to include the people of Scotland; for Kirk expressly tells us, that the Scottish Fairies are mortal: " they are not subject,” he remarks, "to sore Sicknesses, but dwindle and decay at a certain Period, all about ane Age;" and still more decidedly has he remarked their destiny, in answer to the question, "at what Period of Time do they die ?". 66 - They are," he replies, "of more refyn'd Bodies and Intellectualls then wee, and of far less heavy and corruptive Humours, (which cause a Dissolution) yet many of their Lives being dissonant to right Reason and their own Laws, and their Vehicles not being wholly frie of Lust and Passion, especially of the more spirituall and hautie Sins, they pass (after a long healthy Lyfe) into ane Orb and Receptacle fitted for their Degree, till they come under the general Cognizance of the last Day." ‡

Like the Liös-alfar or Bright Elves of the Goths, the Fairies of Shakspeare delighted in conferring blessings, in prospering the household, and in rendering the offspring of virtuous love, fortunate, fair, and free from blemish: thus the first fruit of the re-union of Oberon and Titania, is a benediction on the house of Theseus:

* Reed's Shakspeare, vol. iv. pp. 367, 368. Act ii. sc. 2.

The Quip Modest, 8vo. 1788, p. 12.

Essay on Fairies, p. 8. and p. 44.

"Now thou and I are new in amity;

And will to-morrow midnight, solemnly,

Dance in duke Theseus' house triumphantly,

And bless it to all fair posterity;

an intention which is carried into execution at the close of the play, where this kind and gentle race, entering the mansion at midnight

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How different this from the conduct and disposition

of their brother elves of Scotland, of whom Kirk tells us, that they are ever readiest to go on hurtfull Errands, but seldom will be the Messengers of great Good to Men." ‡ キ

But not only were the Fairies of our bard the friends and protectors of virtue, they were also the punishers of guilt and sensuality; and, contrary to the then commonly entertained ideas of their infernal origin,

* Reed's Shakspeare, vol. iv. p. 448. Act iv. sc. 1.

+ Ibid. vol. iv. pp. 495, 496. Act v. sc. 2.

Essay on Fairies, pp. 7, 8.

and anti-christian habits, were the avowed patrons of piety and prayer: "Go you," exclaims the personifier of one of these tiny moralists, addressing his companions, “black, grey, green and white,”

"Go- and where you find a maid,

That, ere she sleep, has thrice her prayers said,

Raise up the organs of her fantasy,

Sleep she as sound as careless infancy;

But those as sleep, and think not on their sins,

Pinch them, arms, legs, backs, shoulders, sides, and shins

But, stay; I smell a man of middle earth : —

With trial-fire touch me his finger-end :

If he be chaste, the flame will back descend,

And turn him to no pain; but if he start,

It is the flesh of a corrupted heart:"


on the proof of his iniquity, they proceed to punishment, pinching him, and singing in scorn,

"Fye on sinful fantasy!

Fye on lust and luxury!" &c.*

This love of virtue, and abhorrence of sin, were, as attributes of the Fairies, in a great measure, if not altogether, the gifts of Shakspeare, at least if we regard their mythology at that time prevalent in Britain, whether we refer to the Scottish system, or to that which existed among our own poets from Chaucer to Warner, though our familiarity with the picture is now such, owing to the popularity of the original artist and the consequent number of his copyists on the same subject, that we assign it a date much anterior to its real source.

If the moral and benevolent character of these children of fancy be, in a great degree, the creation of Shakspeare, the imagery which he has employed in describing their persons, manners, and occupations, will be deemed not less his peculiar offspring, nor inferior in beauty, novelty, and wildness of painting, to that which the magic of his pencil has diffused over every other part of his visionary world.

* Reed's Shakspeare, vol. v. pp. 204, 205. 208, 209. Merry Wives of Windsor,

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Thus, in imparting to us an idea of the diminutive size of his Fairies, with what picturesque minutia has he marked his sketch! Speaking of the, altercation between Oberon and Titania, he mentions, as one of its results, that

"all their elves, for fear,

Creep into acorn cups, and hide them there:"

and he delineates Ariel as sleeping in a cowslip's bell, as living merrily "under the blossom that hangs on the bough," and flying after summer mounted on the back of the bat. †


In accordance with this smallness of stature, are all their accompaniments and employments contrived, with the most admirable Their dress tinted proportion and the most vivid imagination. green and white ‡," is constructed of the "wings of rear-mice §," and their wrappers of the "snake's enamelled skin || ;" the pensioners of their "the cowslips tall ¶;" her lacquies, Peas-blossom, queen are Cobweb, Moth, and Mustard-seed'; her lamps the green lustre of the glow-worm'; and her equipage, one of the most exquisite pictures of frolic imagination, is thus minutely drawn:

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* Reed's Shakspeare, vol. iv. p. 346. Midsummer-Night's Dream, act ii. sc. 1.

+ Ibid. vol. iv. pp. 154, 155. Tempest, act v. sc. 1.

Ibid. vol. v. p. 202.

§ Ibid. vol. iv. p. 381. Ibid. vol. iv. p. 379. 'Ibid. vol. iv. p. 402.

Merry Wives of Windsor, act v. sc. 5.
Midsummer-Night's Dream, act ii. sc. 3.
Act ii. sc. 2.
Act iii. sc. 1.

¶ Ibid. vol. iv. p. 344.


Ibid. vol. iv. p. 403.

Act ii. sc. 1. Act iii. sc. 1.

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