The fairy mythology of Shakespeare


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UC-NRLF

27 3DT

Studies in

)opular Mythology Romance sr Folklore ll each

6d. "0.

6* The

"+-*/

Fairy

Mytho-

of Shakespeare. red

Nutt, Author

of "

By

The

end of the Holy Grail."

1

iblished

by David Nutt, London 1900

The present study is a reprint with slight addiomissions, and modifications, of my 1897 ,

tions,

Presidential Address to the Folklore Society, entitled " The Fair a Mythology of English Literature ; its

and Nature" I have retained the address The thesis which I hare essayed to demonstrate

Oriijin

form.

is based upon studies set forth at considerable lenyth in Vol. II. of my work entitled " The Voyaye of Bran.'' Discussing therein the Celtic doctrine of

rebirth,

I was compelled

to form

a theory of primitive

conceptions of life and sacrifice, compelled also to determine the real nature of the fairies believed in to

this

day by

the

Irish peasantry,

and of

their

ancestors in early Irish mythology, the Tuatl.a de

In postulating an agricultural

Danann.

basis

for

the present belief, as well as for the ancient mythology, I found myself in accord with the chief'recent stddents

of myth and rite in this country and on the Continent. For a full exposition and, discussion of the facts upon whicli I rely, as well as of the prinnples which hare

I must refer to "The Voyage of Bran " The Biblwgrapfrisqi ^gpendix is designed to aid the stqdqtt wlio\wfaftf& to '-further work at the

yuided. me,

t

mhjetf Jyy,

Ijimseil/.

'.::'':,';'.'';:'.,;

:

ALFRED NUTT.

Sprhicf 1900.

A

List of the Series will be found on the back of the Cover.

f

5

a

THE FAIRY MYTHOLOGY OF SHAKESPEARE FEW

things are more marvellous in the marvellous

English poetic literature of the last three centuries than the persistence of the fairy note throughout the whole of its evolution. As we pass on

from Shakespeare and his immediate followers to Herrick and Milton, through the last ballad writers to Thomson and Gray, and then note in Percy and Chatterton the beginnings of the romantic revival which culminated in Keats and

was continued by Tennyson, the Rosand Mr. Swinburne, until in our own days

Coleridge, settis, it

has received a fresh accession of

life

alike

from Ireland and from Gaelic Scotland, we are never for long without hearing the horns of Elfland faintly winding, never for long are we denied access to " Charmed magic casements opening on the foam Of perilous seas

in faery lands forlorn."

We

could not blot out from English poetry visions of the fairyland without a sense

A

344528

its

of

2

THE "FAIRY MYTHOLOGY

.

No other literature save that irreparable loss. vie with ours in its pictures can alone of Greece of the land of phantasy and glamour, or has brought

from that mysterious

back

realm

of

unfading beauty treasures of more exquisite and enduring charm.

but is no phenomenon without a cause immense complexity of historical record it not always easy to detect the true cause, and trace its growth and working until the result

There

;

in the is

to

delight

Why

us.

does the fairy note ring so that literature of modern

perfectly throughout

England which has the best of

its

half -century

:

exist,

nor

objection discover them.

roots in

me

and which derives

blood from the wonderful

1580-1630?

let

do

its

life's

here

we wrong

Reasons, causes must forestall

genius, Rather, I hope,

a

possible to

by seeking

may

individual

genius, however pre-eminent, acquire fresh claims to our love and gratitude when we note that it is no arbitrary and isolated phenomenon, but stands in necessary relation to the totality of causes and circumstances which have shaped the national character.

And, should we

find these causes

and

potent for influence, may we not look forward with better confidence to the

circumstances

still

future of our poetic literature ? Early in the half -century of which I have just

spoken, some time between 1590 and 1595, appeared

.

OF SHAKESPEAEE the

3

Midsummer Night's Dream, the crown and

glory of English delineation of the fairy world. Scarce any one of Shakespeare's plays has had a literary influence so immediate, so widespread,

As pictured by Shakespeare, so enduring. the fairy realm became, almost at once, a convention of literature in which numberless poets and

sought inspiration and material.

I

need only

mention Drayton, Ben. Jonson, Herrick, RanApart from any dolph, and Milton himself. question of its relation to popular belief, of any grounding in popular fancy, Shakespeare's vision stood by

itself,

presentment

of

and was accepted as the ideal fairydom which, for two centuries

to the average at least, has signified of culture the world depicted in the

Englishman

Midsummer

To this day, works are being proNight's Dream. duced deriving form and circumstance and inspiration (such as

Now

it

is)

wholly from Shakespeare.

we compare

these literary presentations Faery, based upon Shakespeare, with living folklore, where the latter has retained the fairy if

of

belief

trait

we

with any distinctness,

plete disagreement

;

seems common,

a character as to

and it

yield

if,

is

find almost

here and

either of

com-

there, a

so general

no assured warrant

of

kinship, or there is reason to suspect contamination of the popular form by the literary ideal

derived from and built up out of Shakespeare.

THE FAIRY MYTHOLOGY

4

Yet

if

we turn back

to the originator of literary

Midsummer

fairyland, to the poet of the

Dream, we can

Niyht's

the picture the fairy creed as it has appealed, appeals, to the faith arid fancy of genedetect

in

his

all

essentials of

and

still

rations

more countless than ever acknowledged

the sway of any of the great world-religions, we can recover from it the elements of a conception of

life

and nature older than the most ancient

recorded utterance of earth's most ancient races.

Whence, then, did Shakespeare draw his account the fairy world ? As modern commentators have pointed out, from at least two sources the folkbelief of his day and the romance literature of

t)f

:

This or that trait the previous four centuries. has been referred to one or the other source the ;

differences

between these two have been dwelt

upon, and there, as a rule, the discussion ha\ What I shall essay to -been allowed to rest. that in reality sixteenth-century folkfairy romance have their

prove

is

belief

and mediaeval

ultimate beliefs

one and the

in

origin

and

rites

;

them are

due

causes, the

working

same

set

of

that the differences between

to

and psychological which we can trace that

historical of

;

their reunion, after

ages of separation, in the of the late sixteenth century, is due England to the continued working of those same causes ;

and

that, as a result of this reunion,

which took

OF SHAKESPEARE

5

place in England because in England alone it could take place, English poetry became free of

Fairy dom, and has thus been enabled to preserve modern world a source of joy and beauty

for the

which must otherwise have perished. I observed just

presentation of

now

that the

Faery (which

modern is

literary

almost wholly

dependent upon Shakespeare) differed essentially from the popular one still living in various districts of

ciously

Europe, nowhere, perhaps, more tenathan in some of the Celtic-speaking

I may here note, accordportions of these isles. in this respect the best, and to the latest, ing editor of the Midsummer Night's Dream, Mr.

^"Chambers, what are the Shakespearian lows

fairies.

characteristics

He

ranges them

of

the

as fol-

:

They form a community under a king and queen. exceedingly small. (I) They are swiftness, with move extreme (d) (c) They are elemental airy spirits their brawls They incense the wind and moon, and cause tem-

(a)

;

they take a share in the life of live on fruit deck the cowslips with dewdrops war with noxious insects pests

;

nature

;

;

;

and

reptiles; overcast the sky with fog, &c.

They dance in orbs upon the green. (/) They sing hymns and carols to the moon. They are invisible and ap(

owing to the perfection of his embodiment, a mere literary convention, and lias gradually lost life

and savour.

Instead of the simpering puppets

stock properties of a machine-made children's literature to which the fairies have been degraded, I

have endeavoured to show them as they really

appeared to the

men and women who

believed

them, beings of ancient and awful aspect, elemental powers, mighty, capricious, cruel, and in

I believe that benignant, as is Nature herself. the fairy creed, this ancient source of inspiration, of symbolic interpretation of

man's relation

not yet dried up, and that English literature, with its mixed strain of Teutonic and Celtic blood, with its share in the mythologies of

to nature,

is

both these races, and in especial with its claim to the sole body of mythology and romance, the Celtic,

which

grew up wholly

classic culture, is destined to

unaffected

drink deeply of

by it

in

the future as in the past, and to find in it the material for new creations of undying beauty.

/

38

MYTHOLOGY OF SHAKESPEARE BIBLIOGRAPHICAL APPENDIX

THERE

are only two good accounts of the fairy belief, studied as a whole and with a view to determining its (1) The essay prefixed to origin, nature, and growth Irische Elfenmarchen, a translation by the Brothers Grimm of Crofton Croker's Fairy Legends and Traditions of the South of Ireland, published at Berlin in 1826. Croker translated this essay into English and affixed it to the :

; 1

second edition of his Legends (1827-28), where it occupies pages 1-154 of vol. iii. (2) Les Fe"esdu Moyen Age, recherche* sur leur origine, leur histoire et leurs attribute, by Alfred Maury, Paris, 1843 reprinted, Paris, 1896, in the volume entitled Croyances et Legendes du Moyen Age (12 francs). The Grimms' essay is, like all their work, absolutely good as far as it goes, and only needs amplification in the light of the fuller knowledge derived from the researches of the last seventy-five years. Halliwell's Illustrations of ;

Shakespeare's Fairy Mythology (London, 1845 ; reprinted with additions by Hazlitt, 1875) is a useful .collection of materials. The best edition of the Midsummer Night's Dream, as far as the objects of this study are concerned, is that by Mr. E. K. Chambers, 1897. An immense amount of out-of-the-way material is gathered together in Shakespeare's Puck and his Folklore illustrated from the superstitions of all nations, but more especially from the

and rites of Northern Europe and the Wends, 3 vols., 1852, by Mr. Bell but the writer's perverse fantasticality and his utter lack of true critical spirit make his work dangerous for any but a trained scholar. Mr. Hartland's The Science of Fairy Talcs; an Inquiry into Fairy Mythology, 1891 (3s. 6d.), is a most valuable study of several fundamental themes of fairy romance as exemplified in traditional literature. Dyer's Folklore of Shakespeare, 1884 (14s.), must also be mentioned, but

earliest religion

;

cannot be recommended.

REGINALD SCOT'S "DISCOVERY OF WITCHCRAFT" (page

10),

originally published 1584, is accessible in reprint, 1886 (2, 5s.).

The quotation from Nash Illustrations.

is

Nicholson's

taken from Halliwell's

'

BIBLIOGRAPHICAL APPENDIX SHAKESPEARE AND LEGEND

(page

?>9

11).

Shakespeare's three greatest tragedies Harnlet, Lear, Macbeth are all founded upon heroic-legendary themes, and in each case the vital element in the legend is disentangled and emphasised with unerring skill. Indeed, wherever he handles legendary romance, he obtains the maximum of artistic effect without, as the artist so frequently does, offering violence to the spirit of the legend.

GERVASE OF TILBURY AND GERALD THE

WELSHMAN

(page

11).

Compare Mr. Hartland's

Science of Fairy Tales (ch. vi.), ''Robberies from Fairyland." Gervase's Otia Imperialia, wealth a mine of to the student of medieval folklore, is accessible in Liebrecht's admirable edition, 1856 (about 12s. 6d.).

FAIRYDOM AND THE ARTHURIAN ROMANCE Compare Nos.

1

(page 12). of the present series of Popular

and 4

Studies.

GAELIC FAIRY LORE (page

No

15).

good general survey of the subject exists, This was save the Grimms' essay already mentioned. substantially based upon the information brought together by Crof ton Croker in the work quoted above ; by really

Mrs. Grant, Essays on the Superstitions of the Highlanders of Scotland, 2 vols., 1811 and by Sir Walter Scott in his Demonology and Witchcraft, 1831, and Minstrelsy of the Scottish Border, 4 vols., 1802^03. Since then, a considerable amount of Irish material has been brought together by Carleton (Traits and Stories of the Irish Peasantry, 1830-32), by Lady Wilde (Ancient Legends, Charms, and Superstitions of Ireland, 1887 (6s.)), bv P. Kennedy, Legendary Fictions o/ the Irish Celts, 1866, reprinted 1891 (3s. 6d.), and Fireside Stories of Ireland, 1871, chiefly with a view to illustrating the tales and legends collected by them. Mr. Curtin's Tales of the Fairies and of the Ghost World, 1893 (3s. 6d.), is more directly illustrative of the fainbelief as such, and is most valuable. Mr. Yeats' article ;

40 in

MYTHOLOGY OF SHAKESPEARE

the Nineteenth Century (Jan. lS$8,Prisoncrs. of

the Gods) (Sept. 1899, Ireland Bewitched} deserve the closest attention, though it may be thought that he sometimes reads into the information he has collected a poetic significance it does not really possess. Mr. Leland Duncan's article in Folklore (June 1896, Fairy Beliefs from County Lcitrim] is of great value, and the Transactions generally of the Folklore Society are full of

and the Contemporary Review

material.

In Scotland, Campbell of Islay's Popular Tales of the West Highlands, 4 vols., 1860-62* reprinted 1893, are of course indispensable. Vols. i.-v. of Waifs and Strays of. Celtic Tradition, especially vols. i. and v. } contain much fairy lore. The oldest and perhaps most valuable account of the Scotch Gaelic fairy world, the Rev. Robert Kirk's Secret Commonwealth of Elves, Fauns, and Fairies, written in 1696, has been printed by Mr. Lang, with an admirable Introduction, 1893 (7s. 6d.). Martin's Description of the Western Islands of Scotland, written 1695, reprinted 1884, may likewise be consulted.

THE TUATHA DE DAN ANN

(pages 16-73).

development, with citation and discussion of authorities, of the argument set forth in these four pages, ran (ch. xvii.). cf. my Voyage of

For a

full

THE AGRICULTURAL BASE OF FAIRY LORE (pages 25-29).

These pages are practically a summary of Chaps, xvi. xviii. of the Voyage of Bran, to which I refer for a full presentment of the theories here urged.

ROBIN GOODFELLOW,

&c. (page 31).

Reprinted in Halliwell-Hazlitt's Illustrations of Shakespeare's Fairy Mythology.

Printed by BALLANTYNE,

Edinburgh

&

HANSON &>

London

Co.

David Nutt

Published by

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NO.

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FOLKLORE WHAT :

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A

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No. 5

THE POPULAR POETRY OF THE FINNS. By CHARLES

J.

BILLSON, M.A.

No. 6

THE FAIRY MYTHOLOGY OF SHAKKSPEARE.

By ALFRED NUTT.

Later numbers will be devoted to

CUCHULINN, THE IRISH ACHILLES: THK TROUBADOURS AND THEIR TIMES. THE LEGEND OF THE SWAN MAID. WAGNlv, AND NORTHERN MYTHOLOGY. THE SI< NTFICANCE OF. FAIRY TALES, ETC. .

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