King and Queen of the Fairies: Light or Dark?
The world of the Fairy is often shrouded in mystery and magic; the door is near impossible to find, and those who have been there often find great consequences to their visit. Stories and literature suggest that, a very long time ago, the borders were easier to cross, and the consequences for doing so not so high. These tales harken back to a time before forged iron was common, and man was much more reliant on nature—a time when both fairy courts were present.
Most people are familiar with the idea of the two courts of the fey, the Seelie and Unseelie—Bright and Dark Courts. The Bright are the ‘good’ and the Dark are the ‘bad’. However, during some unspecified time in human history, the Bright court withdrew back into the Fairylands, and cut off contact with the human world, at least in some lore. In the real world, this was likely due to science and medicine becoming part of every-day life—they and their ‘miracles’ weren’t needed. In the fairy world, it’s been suggested that the Dark Court’s interactions and desire for worship caused them to retreat.
This begs the question: To which court does Oberon and Titania belong? A Midsummer Night’s Dream was penned sometime between 1590 and 1596, so which court was Shakespeare writing about? By specifying that Theseus is presiding over Athens, the play itself is ‘set’ in Shakespeare’s idea of ancient Greece, which could indicate Oberon and Titania are of the (still present) Bright Court. But Shakespeare wasn’t really known for his historical accuracy, and worked from myths and legends , the only information really available at the time. Also, when comparing their descriptions to that of Scottish folklore about the Seelie, they don’t entirely fit. Yes, they bless the house at the end of the play, but all of their behavior before is suspect.
The Seelie of lore are described as kind, helpful despite insult, and bestowing of many blessings. Seelie means “happy, lucky or blessed”. The Unseelie are the ones likely to cause mischief without provocation, and demand gifts or compensation for help given. Given these descriptions, Oberon is clearly Seelie, though Titania might not be. She is described as proud and haughty, and keeps a Changling Boy (the very thing that causes her and Oberon’s disagreement).
Changlings in fairy lore are often human children spirited away and replaced with a doll or aging fairy. The human parents are generally unaware of the switch until unusual things begin to happen around the child. Considering the Bright Court often seeks to help humanity, one makes the assumption the practice of swapping a human child for a substitute would be a Dark Court practice (and considering the potential mayhem, one could see why). If Titania was a Bright Court fairy, why would she have a changling, especially since Oberon is so opposed to it?
Titania is rather vague on her reasons for the boy: she wants to raise him because his mother died while following her. Beyond that, the fairy queen says nothing of her intentions for the boy. And, after the love-spell is reversed by Oberon, she expresses no desire for the boy’s return. In modern lore, the Bright Court often spurned the very idea of followers and worship, with the Dark Court generally being depicted as the deities and demigods of old—this most likely grew out of the idea of the Bright Court retreating to the Fairylands and emphasizes the conflict of interference with humans. Theoretically, this could mean that Oberon married Titania as a political union, a merging of the Courts.
This, unfortunately, is unlikely. Assuming fairies and humans co-existed according to the folklore guidelines, Shakespeare would have only had interaction with Dark Court fairy—the Bright Court would have withdrawn up to a generation previous. Oberon’s desire for a henchman and ordering Puck to bewitch his bride aren’t exactly Bright Court behavior. And Puck is certainly Dark Court—he’s described by one of Titania’s fairies as a “shrewd and knavish sprite” before both she and he recount his many pranks and tricks, some of which are quite mean spirited.
Oberon and Titania appear to be Dark Court.
*This is vilnolin’s first post here at Wispy Whimsy. Let’s give a warm welcome to vilnolin!!*