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the Second, Richard the Third, King John, and in these years appeared Venus and Adonis and Lucrece. The Merchant of Venice is assigned to 1596, and Henry the Fourth to 1597. Besides these there are the three Parts of Henry the Sixth, which Meres does not mention, but which, if Shakespeare’s at all, must belong to the earlier part of this period, and ‘LOue Labours Wonne,’ whatever this may have been. On the whole, I am disposed to agree with Professor Dowden in regarding the Two Gentlemen of Verona as earlier than the Midsummer Night’s Dream, while I cannot think the latter was composed after the plays assigned above to 1593, 1594, and would therefore place it in the interval from 1591 to 1593, when perhaps Romeo and Juliet may have been begun. But if conjecture has dealt freely with the indeterminate problem of the date and first occasion of our play, these speculations are outdone by the theories which have been advanced to explain the famous speech of Oberon to Puck (ii, I. 148–168), regarded as a political allegory. Warburton was the first to propound an elaborate interpretation from this point of view. Starting with the assumption that by the “fair vestal throned by the west’ is meant Queen Elizabeth, he argues that the mermaid must denote some eminent personage of her time, ‘of whom it had been inconvenient for the author to speak openly, either in praise or dispraise.” “All this agrees with Mary Queen of Scots, and with no other. Queen Elizabeth could not bear to hear her commended; and her successor would not forgive her satirist.’ “She is called a mermaid, I. To denote her reign over a kingdom situate in the sea, and 2. Her beauty and intemperate lust.’ That she was on a dolphin's back points to her marriage with the dauphin of France. ‘Uttering such dulcet and harmonious breath,” alludes to her great abilities and learning which rendered her the most accomplished princess of her age. The rude sea which grew civil at her song was ‘Scotland encircled with the ocean, which rose up in arms against the regent while she was in France. But her return home presently quieted those disorders.” The “certain stars’ who shot madly from their spheres were some of the English nobility who espoused her cause; “the Earls of Northumberland and Westmoreland, who fell in her quarrel; and principally the great Duke of Norfolk, whose projected marriage with her was attended with such fatal consequences.” Such is the elaborate allegory which Warburton finds concealed in the fanciful description given by Oberon of the origin of the flower by means of whose magical properties he wished to revenge himself upon Titania. That in the fair vestal throned by the west Shakespeare intended a compliment to Queen Elizabeth is probably the only part of Warburton’s theory with which any one will agree. Ritson and others have pointed out important discrepancies in his interpretation which is really not worth serious investigation. But Warburton is outdone by Boaden, who in his Essay on the Sonnets of Shakespeare (1837) finds in Oberon's description of the mermaid no royal siren like Mary Queen of Scots, but the sham mermaid of the Princely Pleasures at Kenilworth when Elizabeth paid her famous visit to Leicester in 1575. Shakespeare was then a boy of eleven, and we are told may have been present as a delighted spectator. His childhood recollection of the pageant takes the form some fifteen or twenty years afterwards in which it now appears. Oberon speaks of a mermaid on a dolphin's back, and at Kenilworth there was Triton in the likeness of a mermaid, and Proteus appeared sitting on a dolphin's back, “within the which dolphyn,’ says Gascoigne, ‘a consort of musicke was secretly placed,” which of course is in plain prose the dulcet and harmonious breath of which Oberon describes the wondrous effects. The “certain stars’ which shot madly from their spheres are according to this interpretation no misguided nobles rushing upon their own destruction, but the fireworks which accompanied the royal entertainment. Surely no fireworks before or since have been so glorified. Finally, misled by the magic of Sir Walter Scott, the author of this theory identifies as ‘the little western flower’ poor Amy Robsart, who had been dead fifteen years before. But what is more remarkable even than that the wit of man should have conceived such an interpretation is that the same conclusion was independently arrived at by another investigator. Mr. Halpin, in his Oberon's Vision (Shakes. Soc. Publ.), not only follows the outline of Boaden's theory, that we have in this description an allegorical account of what happened upon the occasion of Elizabeth’s visit to Kenilworth, but pursues the allegory with a minuteness of detail which Boaden did not attempt. In fact he takes up the interpretation where Boaden leaves it, and identifying the promontory on which Oberon sat with the ‘brays’ which are described by Laneham as “linking a fair park with the castle on the South,” he disposes of the rest of the allegory in this wise. Cupid all armed, flying between the cold moon and the earth, is the Earl of Leicester, wavering in his passion between Queen Elizabeth and the Lady Douglas, Countess of Sheffield, to whom he was believed to be privately married. The aim which he took at a fair vestal throned by the west is the attempt made by him upon this occasion to win the hand of Elizabeth. This was defeated by “the pride, prudery, and jealousy of power, which invariably swayed the tide of Elizabeth's passions, and the Virgin Queen finally departed from Kenilworth Castle unshackled with a matrimonial engagement, and as heartwhole as ever.” The little western flower is Lettice, Countess of Essex, with whom Leicester intrigued during the lifetime of her husband, and whom he afterwards married. We must at any rate give the inventor of this interpretation credit for remarkable ingenuity, but to accept it requires the exercise of something more than faith. If there be an allegorical meaning in Oberon's words why does he suddenly drop allegory and come back to reality when he says to Puck, “Fetch me that flower’? No one pretends that this has an allegorical significance, and if so, how can it be separated in such a manner from what precedes, that up to this point all is allegory and from this point all is fact?
The fairy mythology of Shakespeare in the Midsummer Night's Dream is described by Keightley (Fairy Mythology, p. 325) as an attempt to blend ‘the Elves of the village with the Fays of romance. His Fairies agree with the former in their diminutive stature, -diminished, indeed, to dimensions inappreciable by village gossips, in their fondness for dancing, their love of cleanliness, and their child-abstracting propensities. Like the Fays, they form a community, ruled over by the princely Oberon and the fair Titania. There is a court and chivalry: Oberon would have the Queen’s Sweet changeling to be a “knight of his train to trace the forest wild.” Like earthly monarchs he had his jester, “the shrewd and knavish sprite, called Robin Goodfellow.” It is true that Shakespeare has presented these purely English fairies in combination with ‘the heroes and heroines of the mythic age of Greece, but indeed Theseus is Greek in name only. He is an English nobleman, who after service in the wars has returned to his estate and his field sports, and Bottom and his fellows may have been any Warwickshire peasants, hard-handed men of Coventry, but no Athenians. There is no attempt in the whole course of the play to give it a classical colouring, and there is therefore nothing incongruous to a reader in finding himself in company with the Greek-sounding names of Theseus, Egeus and Philostrate in one scene, and Oberon and Robin Goodfellow in another. The play is thoroughly English from beginning to end.
Oberon the fairy king first appears in the old French Romance of Huon of Bourdeaux, and is identical with Elberich the dwarf king of the German story of Otnit in the Heldenbuch. The name Elberich, or as it appears in the Nibelungenlied, Albrich, was changed in passing into French first into Auberich, then into Auberon, and finally became our Oberon. He is introduced by Spenser in the Fairy Queen (bk. ii. cant. I. St. 6), where he describes Sir Guyon –
“Well could he tournay, and in lists debate,
And in the tenth canto of the same book (st. 75) he is the allegorical representative of Henry VIII. The wise Elficleos 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 I 592. 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, I 1345 (ed. T. Wright): ‘Out of the poukes pondfold No maymprise may us fecche.'