A Midsummer Night's Dream Fairies Role & Analysis: Peaseblossom, Cobweb, Moth & Mustardseed

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  • 0:04 What Happens on Stage
  • 0:59 The Nature of the Fairies
  • 2:18 The Four Attendant Fairies
  • 3:31 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Ginna Wilkerson

Ginna earned M.Ed. degrees in Curriculum and Development and Mental Health Counseling, followed by a Ph.D. in English. She has over 30 years of teaching experience.

Though they may seem like minor characters, the role of Titania's fairy attendants has much to say about the enchanted forest world depicted in Shakespeare's classic comedy 'A Midsummer Night's Dream.'

What Happens on Stage

The first step in understanding the role of the four attendant fairies is to remember that A Midsummer Night's Dream is written as a script, meant to be performed on stage. Why is that important? The four fairies, Peaseblossom, Cobweb, Moth, and Mustardseed, are part of the famous playwright's picture of fairyland, the magical place where supernatural creatures dwell. They are associated with the Green World, the space of enchanted forests and meadows where reality is suspended and anything can happen.

But, because you actually see them on the stage, rather than reading about them and imagining how they look and act, the appearance and manner of the four fairies comes largely from however an individual director chooses to interpret Shakespeare's script. This means that the four fairies might be male or female (or gender neutral); they might be small or large; and they might be dressed in many possible ways.

The Nature of the Fairies

In English and Celtic folklore, fairies are generally depicted as mischievous creatures who come out at night to frolic about the countryside playing pranks on innocent people, and, of course, this is what happens in Shakespeare's play. Puck, at Oberon's bidding, puts ''love juice'' on the eyes of both Titania (the fairy Queen) and the two young suitors from Athens who venture into the forest. Puck is also the one who enchants the weaver, Bottom, turning his head into that of a donkey, and, much to King Oberon's amusement, when Titania awakes under the magic spell, it is the donkey-headed weaver with whom she falls madly in love.

These tricks create the comedic situations in the play, but no one is truly harmed, and all ends happily. Shakespeare's fairies, including the prankster Puck, are associated with the more positive side of the supernatural realm. However, in the Early Modern era in which Shakespeare lived and wrote, fairies were sometimes thought of as associated with the Underworld and the Devil. It was thought that fairies could entice people to leave their homes or cause perfectly normal mortals to go insane.

In addition, like other supernatural creatures in human-like form, fairies were often represented as sexually dangerous, or even violent. A fairy, like a water sprite or incubus, could lure an innocent man into disastrous circumstances.

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