Fiona Broome ~ How Shakespeare changed everything

Shakespeare’s plays changed almost everything that we think about faeries.

Before Shakespeare wrote about them, most people were terrified of faeries.  One of the most frightening was a faerie called Robin Goodfellow.  He was blamed for bad luck, poor harvests, and even death.

Then, Shakespeare suggested that faeries might not be evil… just mischievous.

During Shakespeare’s era, that was a radical idea.

Shakespeare 1Shakespeare’s influences

In the 16th century, our modern-day ideas of faeries were born in Shakespeare’s plays.

His most famous faerie play is A Midsummer Night’s Dream. That story included human-sized faeries such as Titania and Oberon, and lesser spirits–including tiny ones–who served them.

One of the leading characters is Puck, who—as Robin Goodfellow—had an evil reputation before this play.

However, in Act 2, Scene One, a character called “Fairy” asks Puck if he is

“…that shrewd and knavish sprite
Called Robin Goodfellow. Are you not he
That frights the maidens in the villagery…”

Fairy then lists a series of other insults and injuries for which Robin Goodfellow was best known such as spoiling milk, and causing travelers to become lost. Puck replies,

“Thou speakest aright,
I am that merry wanderer of the night…”

And so Shakespeare introduces the idea that faeries are not necessarily malicious, just pranksters. By using Robin Goodfellow (aka Puck), Shakespeare has chosen one of England’s most notorious faeries to make his point.

Shakespeare’s audience was stunned by this idea, but–in time–it began to gain popularity.

In Act 4, Scene One of Shakespeare’s play, The Tempest, he reinforces this idea when shipwrecked Stephano says,

“Monster, your fairy,
Which you say is a harmless fairy,
Has done little better than play the Jack with us.”

Throughout this play, the audience sees the contrast between the clumsy underworld spirit, Caliban, and the ethereal, whimsical spirit of the air, Ariel.

An even earlier tradition

Whether Shakespeare planned it or not, he educated an entire generation on the qualities and characteristics of faeries.  Those images remain with us today.

But he was not the first to try to correct society’s misconceptions about the fae world.

In 1584, about ten years before A Midsummer Night’s Dream, English religious historian Reginald Scot wrote a book called Discoverie of Witchcraft.  In that book, Scot chided people for their senseless fear of faeries, “that we are afraid of our owne shadowes.”

King James tried to have Scot’s books burned, but the common sense in this text has been quoted repeatedly over the centuries.

Despite the efforts of Scot, Shakespeare, and others, it was nearly impossible to immediately overcome people’s fears. Perhaps they enjoyed ‘a good scare’ or they liked to blame faeries for their own mistakes.

But, Shakespeare’s ideas slowly took root.   As hundreds of thousands of people saw his plays, they began to accept the idea that some faeries might be happy and mischievous.

Today’s ideas

Shakespeare was probably the single greatest contributor to our modern conceptions of faeries. And while Shakespeare’s faeries are not always good, they are certainly no worse—and generally far better—than the mortals in his plays.

And so, to Ireland…

In studying the roots of Shakespeare’s faerie beliefs, folk historian Alfred Nutt said, “we must quit Britain and the woodland glades of Shakespeare’s Arden and turn for a while to Ireland.”

Why Ireland? Very simply, it is one of our best resources when we study the fae world.

And so, at this website, you’ll find plenty of information about Irish mythological history… and the lore of the fae.

[Link to original article  … and a website with many more!]

13 responses to this post.

  1. Very interesting! I fancifully believe in faeries!



  2. Posted by Senatssekretär FREISTAAT DANZIG on November 20, 2014 at 12:29 am

  3. Enjoyed this post…a breath of fresh air with everything faery……the sweet land of home Ireland holds so many of them. Thank you Laura. Appreciate the connection to a new blog to follow as well. Loving the faeries and you. 🙂



  4. Reblogged this on Reiki Dawn and commented:
    Fun and informative article on Shakespeare and his influence on the concept of faeries. Thank you Laura Bruno for post and thank you Fiona Broome for you article. Fun stuff.



  5. yay titania!! 😉



  6. Reblogged this on Tania Marie's Blog and commented:
    Yay Shakespeare and Faeries! A fun post amidst all of the intensities.

    My name’s origin comes from Titania, so you might say I have a wee bit of a magickal connection to the Fae. And having been to Ireland, I have literally skipped with the Faeries and immersed in the “lore of the Fae” as Fiona Broome shares.

    Thank you Laura (my faery sister) and Fiona for such a light and mischievous-evoking post.



  7. Posted by Vivek narain on March 9, 2015 at 10:33 am

    Cervantes a contemporary of shakespeare,feared no faeries nor was he fond of them.don was busy instead rescuing fair damsels and slaying dragons.Thru the centuries quixote has inspired legions of adventure writers,no enchanter could deprive don of his courage,not even merlin.



Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: