I wrote this for my Shakespeare class and my professor loved it, because in her general comments she said:
"General Comments: Well, I do love this paper! There is so much wonderful, informative, delightful, sprightly, fun material here! Thank you so much. I had a great deal of fun reading this paper, and, while I knew about Lilith herself, I did not know so many of the myths about her children and Eve’s children. This is all news to me! The paper, in all, brings alive for me so many of the mythological references and the faerie realm that, no doubt, Shakespeare's own audiences just knew like the backs of their hands. Great job!"
Guess I did fairly well. Hope you all enjoy this paper just as much.
Mythology in Shakespeare
Shakespeare blended myth and Christianity in his plays often, especially in A Midsummer Night's Dream and to some extent The Merry Wives of Windsor spoke of fairies, too. Some fairies were similar to angels and some were devilish, but there also seems to be a connection between the fairies of Celtic mythology, the gods of Roman mythology, and the Christian angels. All the myths Shakespeare used appeared interrelated to each other in various ways and some were obvious, while others are not so obvious.
The first noticeable comparison of the angels and fairies is that fairy is a word derived from the Latin word fata, which means fate, and, like angels, fairies are spiritual beings that occupy a level or dimension between Heaven and Earth called the Otherworld. Some cultures believed fairies were angels cast out of Heaven. A few fairies fell into the sea and some onto the land where they do no harm if left alone (Fairy Faith). The 'blessed' fairies were in the Seelie Court and travelled in troops, doing good where it was needed, playing jokes on those who deserved them, or were mischievous like Puck was in A Midsummer Night’s Dream (Scotland). Unseelie is the Scottish name for the fairies that torment and hurt mortals, but this was not Puck’s intent when he tried to get Hermia and Lysander together (Scotland).
Instead, he wanted to play Cupid when he said his little poem:
"Through the forest have I gone,
But Athenian found I none,
On whose eyes I might approve
This flower’s force in stirring love.
Night and silence—Who is here?
Weeds of Athens he doth wear:
This is he, my master said,
Despised the Athenian maid;
And here the maiden, sleeping sound,
On the dank and dirty ground.
Pretty soul, she durst not lie
Near this lack-love, this kill-courtesy.
Churl, upon they eyes I throw
All the power this charm doth owe.
When thou wak'st, let love forbid
Sleep his seat on they eyelid.
So awake when I am gone,
For I must now to Oberon (MND 2.2.66-83)."
Cupid was the Roman god of love portrayed as a little child with wings, much like cherubs. His Greek counter part was Eros, also shown with wings, but not always shown as child-like cherub. Cherubs were small angels resembling loving children with wings, who were so small that one argument stated God sat on them, which would indicate a fairy-like quality, but before they met their demise under the anthropomorphic god of the Christians, they spread God's love for humanity (Cherub).
Unfortunately, Puck did not do as well as Cupid with his spell. What happened instead was that Hermia and Demetrius ended up together instead and even though Puck's attempt as love's angel did not work as he had planned, playing Cupid was his desired intention. However, when he noticed something was wrong he went to Oberon to tell him what happened and then Oberon saw the wrong couple together he asked Puck, "What hast though done? Thou mistaken quite, and laid the love-juice on some true-love's sight. Of they misprision must perforce ensue some true love turn'd, and not a false turn'd true" (3.2.88-91).
In this case, the love-juice was the equivalent to Cupid or Eros's arrow. One arrow hit the right woman, but the other hit the wrong man. Oberon tells him how to fix it and in the process, he mentions Cupid and his mother Venus, both from Roman mythology:
"Flower of this purple dye,
Hit with Cupid's archery,
Sink in apple of his eye.
When his love he doth espy,
Let her shine as gloriously
As the Venus of the sky.
When thou wak'st, if she be by,
Beg of her for remedy" (3.2.102-109).
Therefore, it is clear that Shakespeare is relying on Roman mythology as the fairy king acknowledged that he understood what Puck tried to do, but scolded him because he his aim was terrible.
Oberon realized he and Puck were powerless in the situation and lovingly spoke of Neptune, the Roman god of the sea as he says, "But we are spirits of another sort. I with the Morning's love have oft made sport, and like a forester, the groves may tread even till the eastern gate, all fiery red, opening on Neptune with fair blessed beams" (3.2. 388-392). It is as though this god were the Supreme Being and since the fairies fell into the sea, it is reasonable that Neptune would be their name for God, just as Allah is God's name in Islam and Yahweh is God's name in Hebrew. However, since Shakespeare is Christian and Rome was influential in the growth of Christianity, the use of Roman deities, instead of Greek, Assyrian, Norse, or other mythological gods makes sense and to have a fairy rely on someone even more powerful than he is also seems natural too.
These limited powers bring us to the next thing fairies have in common with angels and demons, which is that they have their own dimensions. Angels and demons have Heaven, Earth, and Hell. They can cross them with limited powers when need be or as God sees fit for them. Fairies have the Otherworld in which they too can cross between the dimensions with their limited powers. Titania also mentioned the god Neptune, as she and Oberon sat on the yellow sands (2.1.126). Given this is the fairy world; the sands could be Earthly or Heavenly. They knew a mortal boy who died, so it is possible she was remembering watching over the humans and feeling helpless due to their limited power. Either way she regrets that the boy died because they could not save him.
However, Puck did have a devilish side to him called Robin Goodfellow, almost like a Gemini with his two sides. This Unseelie loved to play pranks on people and he was described as looking almost like Pan and played a flute as he did mischievous things to people and in this play, a fairy said to him "Either I mistake your shape and making quite, or else you are that shrewd and knavish sprite call'd Robin Goodfellow. Are not you he that frights the maidens of the villagery, skim milk, and sometimes labour in the quern, and bootless make the breathless huswife churn, and sometime make the drink to bear no barm, mislead night-wonderers, laughing at their harm? Those that Hobgoblin call you, and sweet Puck, you do their work, and they shall have good luck. Are not you he?" (2.1. 32-42).
The mention of his shape in this passage gives us no clue that he looked like Pan or a little devil, but the idea that he scared woman and children could be a clue to his appearance though. If he was suppose to look like a god from mythology Puck would not look like Pan, but rather the Roman equivalent Faunus for Shakespeare used a lot of Roman mythology in this play and Puck's reply to the fairy gives us more clues as to his physical appearance:
Thou speakest aright;
I am that merry wanderer of the night.
I jest to Oberon and make him smile
When I a fat and bean-fed horse beguile,
Neighing in likeness of a roasted crab,
And when she drinks, against her lips I bob,
And on her withered dewlop pour the ale.
The wisest aunt, telling the saddest tale,
Sometimes for three-foot stool mistaketh me;
Then slip I from her burn, down topples she,
And "tailor" cries, and falls into a cough;
And then the whole quire hold their hips and loff,
And waxen in their mirth, and neeze, and swear
A merrier hour was never wasted there.
But room, fairy! here comes Oberon" (2.1.43-58).
Originally worshipped throughout the countryside as a bestower of fruitfulness on fields and flocks, Faunus eventually became primarily a woodland deity, and the sounds of the forest were regarded as his voice (Faunus). This of course is in keeping with Quince screaming, "O monstrous! O strange! We are haunted. Pray, masters, fly, masters! Help!" after Puck and Bottom run out of the woods with asses' heads (3.1.104-105) and Oberon calls the woods a haunted grove (3.2.5).
This woodland deity was the grandson of Saturn, and typically represented as half man, half goat, a derivation from the Greek Satyr, in the company of similar creatures, known as Fauns. Like Pan, Faunus was associated with merriment (Faunus). Puck was also seen singing, and dancing, or even implying a prank as seen at the end of the play where he says, "If we shadows have offended, think but this, and all is mended, that you have but slumber'd here while these visions did appear. And this weak and idle theme, no more yielding but a dream, Gentles, do not reprehend: if you pardon, we will mend: and, as I am an honest Puck, if we have unearned luck now to 'scape the serpent's tongue, we will make amends ere long; else the Puck a liar call; so, good night unto you all. Give me your hands, if we be friends, and Robin shall restore amends” (5.1.423-438).
Just like Puck, Faunus had the legs and horns of a goat, was a very good musician, and represented as half-man half-goat (Faunus). As a shape-shifter, Puck had many appearances and at one point he said, "Sometime a horse I'll be, sometime a hound, a hog, a headless bear, sometime a fire, and neigh, and bark, and grunt, and roar, and burn, like horse, hound, hog, bear, fire, at every turn" (3.1.108-111).
Puck, Pan, and Faunus were deities similar to another description of Cherubim, which in Hebrew is Kerub. Described as having human and animal features in the Bible, they guarded the Tree of Life in Genesis: "So He drove out the man; and He placed cherubim at the east of the Garden of Eden, and a flaming sword which turned every way, to guard the way to the tree of life" (Angel Hierarchy). They not only guarded a tree, much like the woodland deities guarded the woods, but Ezekiel described them as "Also from within it came the likeness of four living creatures. And this was their appearance: They had the likeness of a man. Each one had four faces, and each one had four wings. Their legs were straight, and the soles of their feet were like the soles of calves' feet. They sparkled like the colour of burnished bronze. They had the hands of a man under their wings on their four sides; and each of the four had faces and wings. Their wings touched one another. The creatures did not turn when they went but each one went straightforward. As for the likeness of their faces, each had the face of a man, each of the four had the face of a lion on the right side, each of the four had the face of an ox on the left side, and each of the four had the face of an eagle. Thus, were their faces. Their wings were stretched upward; two wings of each one touched one another, and two covered their bodies (Holy Bible, Ezekiel 1:5-11)."Apparently even these angels varied their appearance much like Robin Goodfellow did and were also part man and part animal guarding nature, much like Pan and Faunus.
Angels enjoyed making music and entertaining God as seen by the Seraphs, which are generally accepted to be the highest order of God's Angelic Servants, who stood by God's throne chanting "Kadosh, Kadosh, Kadosh" (Angel Hierarchy) - "Holy, Holy, Holy is the Lord of Hosts, the whole earth is full of His Glory." (Holy Bible, Isaiah 6:3) They were beings of pure light and thought, and had direct communication with God as they resonated with the Fire of Love (Angel Hierarchy). Music was something Titania, the queen of the fairies, enjoyed in Shakespeare's play with in a play, when she gathered the fairies together and requested they sing her to sleep (1.2). They were not singing to Neptune though, but rather a goddess in the play and like a god, she gave fairies to Bottom, a mortal, to attend him, as angels do, because she loved him: "And I do love thee; therefore go with me. I'll give thee fairies to attend on thee" (3.1.56-157).
In this way, she acted as a loving goddess by granting Bottom fairies and ironically, there was a fairy called Mustardseed. It would seem the mortal possessed faith enough to sing to her without fear or doubt of fairies existing, not to mention a good singing voice. Jesus said, "For truly I say to you, if you have faith as a grain of a mustard seed, you will say to this mountain, 'Moved from here to there,' an it will move; and nothing will be impossible to you" (Holy Bible, Matthew 17:20). Maybe their play's message concerning a mustard seed was to treat fairies with kindness and without fear, so good things will come to you. Regardless of the moral concerning the fairies' play, it would appear Shakespeare was possibly throwing another Christian and Roman myth mix into his play.
While some saw fairies as guarding over people, playing practical jokes, or just mischievous little guys, others, like Falstaff in The Merry Wives of Windsor saw fairies as evil. Yet he appeared to be twisted in his thinking when said, “I think the devil will not have me damned, lest the oil that's in me should set hell on fire; he would never else cross me thus (Wiv. 5.5. 34-36). It was as though he is less afraid of the devil than he was of fairies, but like the Unseelies, Lucifer and a host of other angels were cast out of Heaven after he rebelled against God: "How you are fallen from heaven, O Lucifer, son of the morning! How you are cut down to the ground, you who weakened the nations!" (Holy Bible, Isaiah 14:12) At the same time, he seemed to view fairies as the angels of death when he says, "They are fairies, he that speaks to them shall die. I'll wink and couch; no man their works must eye" (5.5.47-48). To him fairies were demons from the Underworld and they scared him enough that he made a fool of himself in front of other people and even admitted it when he said, "I do begin to perceive that I am made an ass" (5.5.119). While Falstaff was fearful of fairies, there are couple of myths that could be playing out in the scene that deal with demons and fairies, which Falstaff may have been victim of these related mythologies that involved demons and fairies.
In Hebrew mythology, Lilith was Adam’s first wife who considered him inferior and supposedly mentioned as a night creature and screech owl in Isaiah (Holy Bible, Isaiah 34:11-14). A medieval reference to Lilith as the first wife of Adam was the anonymous The Alphabet of Ben-Sira, written sometime between the Eighth and Eleventh centuries. Described as refusing to assume a subservient role to Adam during sexual intercourse she deserted him saying, 'I will not lie below,' and he said, 'I will not lie beneath you, but only on top. For you are fit only to be in the bottom position, while I am to be the superior one.'" Lilith promptly uttered the name of God, took to the air, and left the Garden, settling on the Red Sea coast. In this act, Lilith becomes unique because she was not touched by Original Sin, having left the garden before Eve came into existence. Lilith also revealed herself powerful in her own right by knowing the name of God (Lilith).
Afterwards she went on to mate with Samael and various other demons she found beside the Red Sea, creating countless lilin. Adam urged God to bring Lilith back, so He dispatched three angels to go after her. When the angels, Senoy, Sansenoy, and Semangelof made threats to kill one hundred of Lilith's demonic children for each day she stayed away, she countered that she would prey eternally upon the descendants of Adam and Eve, who could be saved only by invoking the names of the three angels. She did not return to Adam (Lilith).
The Hebrew myth still exists today with the tradition of placing an amulet, inscribed with the names of the three angels that God sent to find Lilith, around the neck of newborn boys in order to protect them from the lilin until their circumcision and Shakespeare apparently knew of this myth as he made Falstaff very afraid of Fairies. Hebrew tradition also has parents wait three years before cutting a boy's hair in an attempt to trick Lilith into thinking the child is a girl and spare his life (Lilith). Therefore, Lilith and her fairy children could have been popular during Shakespeare’s time and continue to plague humans to this day.
Such myths could follow a person for years if a parent used them to instill fear into their male children, but Hebrew mythology is not the only one concerning Lilith. In Greek and Norse folklore, Lilith begot a few monsters called faeries and in Scandinavian folklore Eve had elves, which may relate to Pistols statement of "Elves, list your names; silence, you aery toys!" (5.5.42) According to a Scandinavian myth, Eve went on to have a multitude of children after Cain, Abel, and Seth and one day God visited them. They received Him with joy and showed Him everything they had in the house. They also brought their children to meet Him. Then God asked Eve whether she had no other children than the ones she showed Him. She said "None." However, she had not finished washing all the children and she was ashamed to let God see the others dirty. So she hid the unwashed ones, but God knew and said to her, "What man hides from God, God will hide from man." These unwashed children became invisible, and took up their abode in mounds, and hills, and rocks. From these children the elves descended, but humans descended from the children she openly showed to God and only by the will and desire of the elves themselves can humans ever see them (Origins of Fairies). It is possible Shakespeare was relating to these elves in this folklore to play on Falstaff’s fear of fairies and Pistol’s demand to the elves.
Shakespeare's mixture of various myths plays out in both A Midsummer Night’s Dream and The Merry Wives of Windsor. His fairies, demons, elves, and angels intermingle in his plays as though they were Natural Law and part of his characters lives, as well as beliefs. In some ways, the fairies are angels and others are demons as Roman, Norse, Greek, Hebrew, and Christian myths blend as one in the various plays.
"Angel Hierarchy." http://demons.monstrous.com/angel_hierarchy.htm#_Toc52392538. December 7, 2006.
"Cherub." http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cherubim. December 7, 2006.
"The Fairy Faith." http://www.thefairyfaith.com/fairyhistory01.html. December 7, 2006.
"Faunus." http://www.britannica.com/eb/article-9033835/Faunus?source=YFAF. December 7, 2006.
Holy Bible: New King James Version. New York: Thomas Nelson Publishers. 1982.
"Lilith." http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lilith. December 7, 2006.
"Origins of Fairies." http://faerie.monstrous.com/origins_of_fairies.htm. December 7, 2006.
"The Puck's History." http://www.angelfire.com/al2/alex99/history.html. December 7, 2006.
"Scotland Fraser Clan, History of Scottish Royalty, and Scottish Faeries." http://myducksoup.com/scotland/fantasy/fairy_oz.shtml. December 7, 2006.
Shakespeare, William. A Midsummer Night’s Dream. Ed. G. Blakemore Evans. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1997. 256-281.
--- The Merry Wives of Windsor. 324-356.
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