Archetypes In Mid Summer Essay Research Paper

Archetypes In Mid Summer Essay, Research Paper

Archetypes present in Midsummer Night?s Dream

A Midsummer Night?s Dream was written and produced during a period of English history that was not the most productive for farming. In fact it was a time when nature was anything but typical. During the years of 1594 ? 97, England had undergone four bad harvests in a row, an odd weather pattern turned normally warm summer days into chilly winter ones. The overwhelming number of peasant farmers, most times superstitious looked for an answer to this unfortunate weather pattern. Due to the fact that these farmers? meals and futures of their families rested in the hands of good harvests, a positive relationship with the forces and spirits of nature was perceived as crucial to their existence. And this invariably led to what was often termed the ?religion of the soil?. Always wishing to please his target audience, the goundlings, while, of course placating the crown, Shakespeare drew upon these notions of ?fairydom? to further confuse the drama that transpired between reality and appearance. This also gave something or someone for the commoner?s to blame (i.e. Puck)

The myth of fairies is one that has existed in countless cultures since the dawn of time. Each culture has its own version of these entities in some form or fashion. The original fairies or faeries, granted gifts to newborn children, such as beauty wealth or kindness. But as time went on and word of mouth increased almost invariably these fairies became diverse in their functions. Great many cultures continued to have this benevolent approach to fairies but more and more started to believe their activities expanded into other types of meddling in human affairs.

The English term ?fairy? originally comes from the Old French faerie, from the Latin fata, which means fate. This means that the very roots of the word are with the classical Greek Fates, believed to control the destiny of the human race on a whole.

Nevertheless, the roots of fairies are rather tangled. The notable historians of medieval religion and magic, conclude that ancestral spirits, ghosts, sleeping heroes, fertility spirits and pagan gods can all be discerned in the heterogeneous fairy lore of medieval England.

Most traditional folklore suggests that they can only be seen clearly by animals and very seldomly by humans, although if lucky enough one might catch a fleeting glimpse. These supernatural entities found homes in all manner of places, from underneath the ground to inside of trees and inside bogs and swamplands to on rocks in the guise of other animals such as toads. The stories vary from culture to cultural but all retain very similar elements in each.

In mostly Teutonic and Norse folklore, fairies became known as elves, which were originally the spirits of the dead who brought fertility. These elves later became supernatural beings, shaped as humans that were either extremely beautiful or very ugly. This belief that fairies were invisible beings is almost universal. There has been in almost every recorded culture at one time or another a belief in the existence of the world inhabited by unseen entities. In Scotland they were known as brown elves, brownies, or goblins that lived in farmhouses and other country dwellings. While the people slept they would perform labors for them. They were known as protective creatures and would become attached to a particular place or family.

Paracelus, a medieval scholar, described these creatures as gnomes, a race of small, misshapen, dwarf-like creatures, which lived underneath the earth. In France fairies became known as goblins, a slightly more grotesque version of gnomes. Goblins were known to be playful at times, but more often then not evil in their tricks, which could seriously harm people. Goblin smiles were known to curdle blood and their laughs caused milk to sour and fruit to fall from trees. They were later referred to as hobgoblins, which is believed to be an abbreviation of ?Robin Goblin?, and later Robin Goodfellow, a name that Druids gave to the first goblins once they first entered Britain. A hob is a short form of the word Robin and Robin itself was a nickname for the devil.

The Welsh version of Robin Goodfellow was the bwca (or pwca) who if treated badly would pound walls, throw things, pinch people, destroy clothing, and tell peoples secrets. The Irish myth knew him as Pooka, who aside from being a mischievous horse-like sprite was also an omen of death. This more than likely developed out of the Celtic belief that spirit-horses brought dead heroes to their final resting place. This Pooka is a cognate of Old English Puca, which later became Puck.

Pucks were known as more sinister entities whose deeds ranged from preventing milk from churning and embarrassing old ladies to misleading night travelers. Puck became another term for the devil by the middle-ages whose description again varied from culture to culture, however, most viewed him as a shapeshifter most often in the form of a horse or Pan-like creature of Greek mythology.

Shakespeare?s Puck does not deviate far from these definitions, and upon closer inspection might be right on the button. The character of Puck might very well have fooled his audience to this day. The most widely seen interpretation is that the fairies only intent is that of good and Puck?s actions are completely without malice or ulterior motive, but overall with good will. However, when looked at more closely it is quite easy to see how the audience of Shakespeare?s day might have taken this a completely different way.

This audience might have witnessed the battle between Oberon and Titania as one that devastated nature ruined crops and wounded people. Neither fairy cares in the slightest.

The fairies enact a charm around the sleeping Titania to ward off dangerous and harmful night creatures?worms, poisonous snakes, spiders, newts, and beetles. There is only one fairy that silently betrays his mistress to Oberon, who says to Titania, ?Wake when some vile thing is near.? Titania tells Bottom ?Thou wilt remain here, weather thou wilt or no.?

Shakespeare must have derived his forest spirits from oral folk traditions. The mysterious people of the forest might be in turn helpful (household chores), mischievous (pranks, illusions), or sinister. Puck is referred to a mischievous spirit and in his opening monologue describes himself as all the myths have. He misleads night-travelers, and laughs at their harm. He remarks that only one male in a million keeps his promises. And his actions throughout the play might be looked upon as intentionally malevolent.

People may have believed, or half-believed, in the fairies (elves, sprites, pixies, leprechauns, and so forth). They might also have been imaginary figures of fun that personify nature, as we speak of “Mother Nature” and the artistic “Jack Frost”, painter of autumn leaves and creator of the beautiful ice patterns on windowpanes. Whichever Shakespeare?s intent was it is definitely important to take into account his audience at the time of the initial conception and first performance to see what affects these archetypes had on the people of his day.

Today we are less likely to look towards fairies and sprites to blame, however we cannot help but recognize certain elements when we see them. This type of imagery has been ingrained in our collective subconscious. They are uniform ideas that we as people, and especially Americans, have more or less borrowed from countless other cultures. The use of horns and satyr?s legs on Puck?s costume, for example, would immediately connote a sense of evil to the general public. These types of archetypes are the same kind that Shakespeare more than likely used when writing Midsummer Night?s Dream such subtle references that we do not put much thought into and yet somehow know of their importance, are exactly the same kind used in the play.

Jacobus, Lee A. The Bedford Inroduction to Drama Boston: Bedford Books, 1997


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