I love the fairies in A Midsummer Night’s Dream. I love the magic, the beauty, the naughtiness of Puck, the haughtiness of Titania. There are some things that really baffle me, though.
Titania. She starts out so wonderful. She’s angry with Oberon. She has presence. She’s nobody’s fool and she’s not going to let Oberon push her around. She calls a spade a spade. She is angry with Oberon’s philandering (II.1.64-73).
When she talks about the impact of their quarreling, she speaks with such eloquence. She could have just said, “Our fighting is causing mayhem in the mortal world.” That’s how my small mind translates her beautiful words. What images!
And never, since the middle summer’s spring,
Met we on hill, in dale, forest or mead,
By paved fountain or by rushy brook,
Or in the beached margent of the sea,
To dance our ringlets to the whistling wind,
But with thy brawls thou hast disturb’d our sport.
Therefore the winds, piping to us in vain,
As in revenge, have suck’d up from the sea
Contagious fogs; which falling in the land
Have every pelting river made so proud
That they have overborne their continents:
The ox hath therefore stretch’d his yoke in vain,
The ploughman lost his sweat, and the green corn
Hath rotted ere his youth attain’d a beard;
The fold stands empty in the drowned field,
And crows are fatted with the murrion flock;
The nine men’s morris is fill’d up with mud,
And the quaint mazes in the wanton green
For lack of tread are undistinguishable:
The human mortals want their winter here;
No night is now with hymn or carol blest:
Therefore the moon, the governess of floods,
Pale in her anger, washes all the air,
That rheumatic diseases do abound:
And thorough this distemperature we see
The seasons alter: hoary-headed frosts
Far in the fresh lap of the crimson rose,
And on old Hiems’ thin and icy crown
An odorous chaplet of sweet summer buds
Is, as in mockery, set: the spring, the summer,
The childing 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 dissension;
We are their parents and original.
And then she continues with the beautiful, heartfelt explanation of why she cannot give the mortal boy to Oberon. Here’s my simplistic version: “I loved his mother and want to take care of him in her memory.” Here are the words Shakespeare put on Titania’s tongue:
Set your heart at rest:
The fairy land buys not the child of me.
His mother was a votaress of my order:
And, in the spiced Indian air, by night,
Full often hath she gossip’d by my side,
And sat with me on Neptune’s yellow sands,
Marking the embarked traders on the flood,
When we have laugh’d to see the sails conceive
And grow big-bellied with the wanton wind;
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 merchandise.
But she, being mortal, of that boy did die;
And for her sake do I rear up her boy,
And for her sake I will not part with him.
Luscious, isn’t it? The words and images are so beautiful. They speak to the character and strength of this fairy queen. I’m in awe of her!
And then it’s all downhill for Titania. It’s depressing. Oberon puts the love juice on her, she falls for the ass-headed ass, Bottom, she dotes on him. It’s embarrassing. She gives Oberon the mortal child with no fight. Then Oberon gives her the antidote to the love juice, she sees in horror that something awful happened to make her love an ass. And that’s that. The last we hear of her is this:
Come, my lord, and in our flight
Tell me how it came this night
That I sleeping here was found
With these mortals on the ground.
That’s it? No wrath from the proud Titania? What a letdown.
I understand there is some connection to how it goes between Theseus and Hippolyta. The notes in my edition point out that Theseus/Hippolyta and Oberon/Titania are parallel couples and often played on the stage by the same actors since they never appear on stage together.
I had to think this through a bit, because the connection is not obvious to me. For me, Hippolyta is almost a nonentity. She’s hardly present in the play. I only know she’s queen of the Amazons because it says so in the list of characters. I only know that Theseus captured her in war because it says so in the note… and Theseus says “I wooed thee with my sword” (I.1.16). She is a non-presence in the play.
And then I thought… maybe this is the point. This is how she parallels Titania. Hippolyta was the queen of the Amazons. She must have been a proud and powerful woman. Theseus subdued her and now he will marry her. She has nothing to say in the matter. She is tamed.
And so it goes with Titania. We just catch up with her a little earlier in the process. We see her at the height of her strength, we witness the war with Oberon, we see her downfall. She is tamed.
Both Hippolyta and Titania follow this path, but we only see it happen in the play with Titania. It is a sad turn of events for me. Of course I appreciate the comedy of Bottom in her love nest. But, she’s a drugged zombie.
I have to agree with John Fisk, screenplay writer and director of Picture This. Oberon deserved different consequences for his cavalier treatment of Titania. Watch John Fisk’s excellent video about adapting a Shakespearean play for more on his viewpoint about Oberon’s misogyny.
I will let it go at that. Titania’s character seems to have so much to offer us and then the payback is just comedy at her expense. I want more!
P.S. Oh my goodness, 2000 hits on my blog! Thanks for reading! Please keep commenting… your comments give me ideas to write about.
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