Fairy Politics in Shakespeare: The Quarrel Between Oberon & Titania

The Meeting of Oberon and Titania, by Arthur Rackham (1905)

The Meeting of Oberon and Titania, by Arthur Rackham (1905)

In Act II Scene 1 of A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Shakespeare walks us right into the middle of an argument:

Ill met by moonlight, proud Titania.

What, jealous Oberon! Fairies, skip hence:
I have forsworn his bed and company.

Tarry, rash wanton: am not I thy lord?

This is more than a marital spat, and more than simply a royal argument since these are gods (albeit diminutive.) Arguments between gods often have cosmic consequences that affect all mortals (like you and me) so it is important that we analyze Faerie politics in this (moon)light.

Puck and a Fairy (from A Midsummer Night's Dream) by Arthur Rackham

Puck and a Fairy (from A Midsummer Night's Dream) by Arthur Rackham

The consequences don’t seem to bother the other fairies very much as earlier in the scene we are treated to banter between Puck and one of Titania’s followers:

Those that Hobgoblin call you and sweet Puck,
You do their work, and they shall have good luck:
Are not you he?

Thou speak’st aright;
I am that merry wanderer of the night.

The argument is ostensibly about a changeling from India in Titania’s train who was the son of one of her priestesses. Oberon desires this child as well, though we who are not brought up in English folktale traditions do not understand exactly why. But apparently followers,  especially imported ones, are the currency of power, and as a result are a matter of highest importance to the powers of Faerie (and as well, come to think of it, our own mortal politics.) We are later revealed a more complex exchange between the two monarchs of Faerie:

But that, forsooth, the bouncing Amazon,
Your buskin’d mistress and your warrior love,
To Theseus must be wedded, and you come
To give their bed joy and prosperity.

How canst thou thus for shame, Titania,
Glance at my credit with Hippolyta,
Knowing I know thy love to Theseus?

Ah! So we are really talking about earthly politics as well. The pending marriage between Theseus and Hippolyta, both earthly powers (albeit mythical) has revealed hidden tensions among the immortals.

There could be much more to be said about the psychology and political motives of the fairies, but I believe it is not entirely possible to analyze these effectively since they are more than likely to resort to magic:

Yet mark’d I where the bolt of Cupid fell:
It fell upon a little western flower,
Before milk-white, now purple with love’s wound,
And maidens call it love-in-idleness.
Fetch me that flower; the herb I shew’d thee once:
The juice of it on sleeping eye-lids laid
Will make or man or woman madly dote
Upon the next live creature that it sees.
Fetch me this herb; and be thou here again
Ere the leviathan can swim a league.

I’ll put a girdle round about the earth
In forty minutes.

This interesting exchange is difficult to understand for those who have forgotten the practice of magic. (Interestingly, it also reveals that there were reasonably accurate clocks in mythical Athenian times, at least among the fairies of  Shakespeare.)

Wake When some vile thing is near, by Warwick Goble

Wake When some vile thing is near, by Warwick Goble

Since this writer has not practiced magic for some years now, he feels it best to avoid further commentary at this point or risk being enmeshed in arguments between unearthly powers.

Image credits: 

1 Comment

Filed under fairies, Fairy Scholarship, myth

One response to “Fairy Politics in Shakespeare: The Quarrel Between Oberon & Titania

  1. Pingback: Treachery of Beautiful Things, by Ruth Frances Long (fiction) – supernatural music, dark longings | BooksYALove

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s