Page images
PDF
EPUB

And in the tenth canto of the same book (st. 75) he is the allegorical representative of Hepřy VIII. The wise Elfic'eos

left two sons,

• Of which faire Elferon, The eldest brother, did untimely dy; Whose emptie place the mightie Oberon

Doubly supplide, in spousall and dominion.' *Oboram King of Fayeries’ is one of the characters in Greene's James the Fourth, which was not printed till 1598, but was of course written in or before 1592.

The name Titania for the Queen of the Fairies appears to have been the invention of Shakespeare. In Romeo and Juliet she is known by the more familiar appellation Queen · Mab, and in an entertainment given to Elizabeth by the Earl of Hertford at Elvetham in 1591, there was a speech addressed to the Queen by 'Aureola, the Quene of Fairy land,' in which Auberon is mentioned as the Fairy King. Keightley explains the origin of the name Titania, 'It was the belief of those days that the Fairies were the same as the classic Nymphs, the attendants of Diana : “That fourth kind of spirits,” says King James, “ quhilk be the gentilis was called Diana, and her wandering court, and amongst us called the Phairie.The Fairy Queen was therefore the same as Diana, whom Ovid (Met. iii. 173) styles Titania.' (Fairy Mythology, p. 325, note.) In Chaucer's Merchant's Tale, Pluto is the King of Faerie and his Queen Proserpina, who danced and sang about the well under the laurel in January's garden.

Puck or Robin Goodfellow is the mischief-loving sprite who in one fairy genealogy is said to be the son of Oberon. His former title is an appellative and not strictly a proper name, and we find him speaking of himself, 'As I am an honest Puck,''Else the Puck a liar call.' In fact Puck, or pouke, is an old word for devil, and it is used in this sense in the Vision of Piers Ploughman, 11345 (ed. T. Wright):

"Out of the poukes pondfold
No maynprise may us fecche.'

And in the Romance of Richard Coer de Lion, 43 26 (printed in Weber's Metrical Romances, vol. ii):

• He is no man he is a pouke.'

The Icelandic pûki is the same word, and in Friesland the kobold or domestic spirit is called Puk. In Devonshire, pixy is the name for a fairy, and in Worcestershire we are told that the peasants are sometimes poake ledden, that is, misled by a mischievous spirit called Poake. "Pouk-laden' is also given in Hartshorne's Shropshire Glossary. Keightley was of opinion that Shakespeare was the first to confound Puck with the house-spirit or Robin Goodfellow, but it is evident that in popular belief the same mischief-loving qualities which belong to Puck were attributed to Robin Goodfellow long before the time of Shakespeare. Tyndale, in his Obedience of a Christian Man (Parker Soc. ed. p. 321) says, “The pope is kin to Robin Goodfellow, which sweepeth the house, washeth the dishes, and purgeth all, by night; but when day cometh, there is nothing found clean.' And again, in his Exposition of the ist Epistle of St. John (Parker Soc. ed. p. 139), ' By reason whereof the scripture ... is become a maze unto them, in which they wander as in a mist, or (as we say) led by Robin Goodfellow, that they cannot come to the right way, no, though they turn their caps.' The great source of information with regard to popular beliefs in fairies and spirits is Reginald Scot's Discovery of Witchcraft, first published in 1584. Of Robin Goodfellow he says (Book iv. ch. 10), 'In deede your grandams maides were woont to set a boll of milke before him (Incubus) and his cousine Robin good-fellow, for grinding of malt or mustard, and sweeping the house at midnight: and you haue also heard that he would chafe exceedingly, if the maid or good-wife of the house, hauing compassion of his nakednes, laid anie clothes for him, beesides his messe of white bread and milke, which was his standing fee. For in that case he saith; What haue we here? Hemton hamten, here will I neuer more tread nor stampen.' Again (Bk. vii. ch. 15), 'It is a common

b

saieing; A lion feareth no bugs. But in our childhood our mothers maids haue so terrified vs with an ouglie diuell hauing hornes on his head, fier in his mouth, and taile in his breech, eies like a bason, fanges like a dog, clawes like a beare, a skin like a Niger, and a voice roring like a lion, whereby we start and are afraid when we heare one crie Bough: and they haue so fraied us with bull beggers, spirits, witches, vrchens, elues, hags, fairies, satyrs, pans, faunes, sylens, kit with the cansticke, tritons, centaurs, dwarfes, giants, imps, calcars, coniurors, nymphes, changlings, Incubuś, Robin good-fellowe, the spoorne, the mare, the man in the oke, the hell waine, the fierdrake, the puckle, Tom thombe, hob gobblin, Tom tumbler, boneles, and such other bugs, that we are afraid of our owne shadowes : in so much as some neuer feare the diuell, but in a darke night; and then a polled sheepe is a perillous beast, and manie times is taken for our fathers soule, speciallie in a churchyard, where a right hardie man heretofore scant durst passe by night, but his haire would stand vpright.' See also in the same book A Discourse vpon diuels and spirits, c. 21. Burton, in his Anatomy of Melancholy (Part I. Sec. 2. Mem. 1. Subs. 2) discusses the nature of spirits, and among other points the important question whether they are mortal. One of his divisions is as follows: ‘Terrestrial devils are those lares, genii, faunes, satyrs, wood-nymphs, foliots, fairies, Robin Goodfellows, Trulli, &c., which as they are most conversant with men, so they do them most harm . . . Some put our fairies into this rank, which have been in former time adored with much superstition, with sweeping their houses, and setting of a pail of clean water, good victuals, and the like; and then they should not be pinched, but find money in their shoes, and be fortunate in their enterprises. These are they that dance on heaths and greens, as Lavater thinks with Trithemius, and as Olaus Magnus adds, leave that green circle, which we commonly find in plain fields, which others hold to proceed from a meteor falling, or some accidental rankness of the ground; so nature sports herself .... Paracelsus reckons up many

places in Germany, where they do usually walk in little coats, some two foot long. A bigger kind there is of them, called with us hobgoblins, and Robin Goodfellows, that would, in those superstitious times, grind corn for a mess of milk, cut wood, or do any manner of drudgery work ... And so likewise those which Mizaldus calls Ambulones, that walk about midnight on great heaths and desert places, which (saith Lavater) draw men out of the way, and lead them all night a by-way, or quite bar them of their way. These have several names in several places; we commonly call them pucks.' To the same effect writes Harsnet in his Declaration of Popish Imposture (p. 134), a book quoted in the Notes to King Lear: "And if that the bowle of curds, & creame were not duly set out for Robin good-fellow the Frier, & Sisse the dairy-maide, to meete at hinch pinch, and laugh not, when the good wife was a bed, why then, either the pottage was burnt to next day in the pot, or the cheese would not curdle, or the butter would not come, or the ale in the fat would neuer haue good head.' The walking fire' in Lear, which Edgar takes for the foul fiend Flibbertigibbet is but one of the forms in which Robin appears. In the black-letter ballad of The Merry Puck, or Robin Goodfellow, which is reprinted by Mr. Halliwell (Phillipps) in his Introduction to a Midsummer Night's Dream, is the following stanza (p. 36):

Sometimes he'd counterfeit a voyce,

And travellers call astray,
Sometimes a walking fire he'd be,

And lead them from their way.' Another ballad, printed in Percy's Reliques (vol. iii. book 2), which relates "The Merry Pranks of Robin Goodfellow,' may be consulted by those who wish to pursue the subject further. See also Drayton, Nymphidia, 282 &c., Milton, L’Allegro, 100-114, and an essay by Mr. Thoms on the Folklore of Shakespeare.

It has been suggested that the device employed by Oberon to enchant Titania, by anointing her eyelids with the juice

[ocr errors]

of a flower, may have been borrowed by Shakespeare from the Spanish Romance of Diana by George of Montemayor. But apart from the difficulty which arises from the fact that no English translation of this romance is known before that published by Yong in 1598, there is no necessity to suppose that Shakespeare was indebted to any one for what must have been a familiar element in all incantations at a time when a belief in witchcraft was common. Percy (Reliques, vol. iii. book 2, end) quotes a receipt by the celebrated astrologer Dr. Dee for 'An unguent to annoynt under the Eyelids, and upon the Eyelids eveninge and morninge: but especially when you call,' that is, upon the fairies. It consisted of a decoction of various flowers.

Dr. Farmer observed to Malone that in the lines spoken by Pyramus' Approach, ye furies fell,' &c., and in those of Thisbe's speech,

O sisters three,
Come, come to me,

With hands as pale as milk,'
Shakespeare intended to ridicule a passage in Damon and
Pythias, by Richard Edwards, 1582:

• Ye furies, all at once
On me your torments trie ...
Gripe me, you greedy griefs,

And present pangues of death,
You sisters three, with cruel handes

With speed come stop my breath!' Certainly both in this play and in the tragical comedy of Appius and Virginia, printed in 1575, may be found doggrel no better than that which he puts into the mouth of Bottom. See for example the speech of Judge Appius to Claudius, beginning,

The furies fell of Limbo lake

My princely days do short, &c.' It is also worth while to notice that the song quoted in Romeo and Juliet, iv. 5. 128,

•When griping grief the heart doth wound &c.,' is by the author of Damon and Pythias.

6

« PreviousContinue »