One of the most noticeable and entertaining elements of Shakespeare's Midsummer Night's Dream is the presence of the fairies. Titania, Oberon, Puck, and the attendant fairies all affect the human beings in the woods, and provide hints into the fairy kingdom. Although Shakespeare applies several important aspects of the Elizabethan belief in fairies to A Midsummer Night's Dream, Shakespeare changes the idea of fairies not only within the context of the play, but for all time.
One aspect of fairies that Shakespeare left intact was their enjoyments. Shakespeare's fairies in A Midsummer Night's Dream enjoy dancing and music, which was the favorite pastime of the fairies of Elizabethan folklore. Fairies were thought to dance in fairy circles, which humans were forbidden to see. Any person spying on fairy circles would be punished by pinching. Shakespeare's correlation of fairies to night is also consistent with the folklore of his time. Although the fairy "hours" were midnight and noon and fairies were occasionally known to work magic in the day, the main time for fairies was night. Fairies were also active in the summer, and not known to appear after All Hallows' Eve (Halloween). Shakespeare is consistent with this idea of "fairy time" in the play.
While the idea of Oberon as the fairy king was familiar to the Elizabethans, the name of Titania fbor the fairy queen was not. Titania's name was probably taken from Ovid's Metamorphosis, which describes the fairy queen in a similar vein to the moon goddess Diana. Despite this difference, Titania's train is consistent with the folklore—her time is from midnight to sunrise, she and her fairies sing and dance, she has jewels, and she has possession of a changeling. Shakespeare does add flowers to Titania's image, which had not been previously associated with fairies. It should be noted that although Oberon was a familiar name to the Elizabethans, the fairy queen was considered to be the reigning monarch of the...
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