Tag Archives: elves

Folklore in “The Merry Wives of Windsor” by William Shakespeare

This was my first time reading this play, and I have to say, I really liked it. It is very funny and accessible. And while I have also never seen it performed, the language is so rich that I could easily picture the scenes in my mind’s eye as they would be acted out on stage. The play is full of sexual jokes and puns, which I’m sure went over really well with audiences during Shakespeare’s time. But what interests me the most about this play is the folklore woven in to the story.

When plotting revenge on Sir John Falstaff, Mistress Page presents a folk tale about Herne the Hunter

There is an old tale goes that Herne the Hunter,
Sometime a keeper here in Windsor forest,
Doth all the winter-time, at still midnight,
Walk round about an oak, with great ragg’d horns;
And there he blasts the tree and takes the cattle
And makes milch-kine yield blood and shakes a chain
In a most hideous and dreadful manner:
You have heard of such a spirit, and well you know
The superstitious idle-headed eld
Received and did deliver to our age
This tale of Herne the Hunter for a truth.

(Act IV, scene iv)

While the archetype of horned deities that roam the wooded areas are myriad and ancient, what is fascinating about this myth is that Shakespeare’s reference to Herne is the earliest known reference in existence.

In English folklore, Herne the Hunter is a ghost associated with Windsor Forest and Great Park in the English county of Berkshire. He is said to wear antlers upon his head, ride a horse, torment cattle, and rattle chains. The earliest mention of Herne comes from William Shakespeare’s 1597 play The Merry Wives of Windsor, and it is impossible to know how accurately or to what degree Shakespeare may have incorporated a real local legend into his work, though there have been several later attempts to connect Herne to historical figures, pagan deities, or ancient archetypes.

(Source: Wikipedia)

So this begs the question: Was Shakespeare drawing on local folklore when writing this play, or did he just make up the tale of Herne to help drive the story? There is no way to know, but all mythology and folklore must begin by the telling of a story, and that’s what is really important here. It doesn’t really matter whether Shakespeare made this up, or if he heard it being told around a pub. What matters is that the tale was written down, and the myth was given birth, and it persisted. Herne may just be an artistic personification the archetypal forest god, but in the telling of the story and the acting of the play, Herne is given life and brought into existence within our collective consciousness.

The number three has been considered a mystical number for as long as humans have contemplated the magical nature of numbers, which is why Falstaff’s short passage regarding the number three caught my attention.

Prithee, no more prattling; go. I’ll hold. This is
the third time; I hope good luck lies in odd
numbers. Away I go. They say there is divinity in
odd numbers, either in nativity, chance, or death. Away!

(Act V, scene i)

This concept of the mystical power of 3 has become part of folk belief. The phrases are many: “Third one’s a charmer,” “Death comes in threes,” “Three strikes and you’re out.” Once a concept becomes planted in the collective consciousness, it manifests in folk sayings, as shown in the sayings concerning the number three.

Finally, no exploration of English folklore would be complete without mentioning the Fairy Folk, which Shakespeare also does in this play.

About, about;
Search Windsor Castle, elves, within and out:
Strew good luck, ouphes, on every sacred room:
That it may stand till the perpetual doom,
In state as wholesome as in state ’tis fit,
Worthy the owner, and the owner it.
The several chairs of order look you scour
With juice of balm and every precious flower:
Each fair installment, coat, and several crest,
With loyal blazon, evermore be blest!
And nightly, meadow-fairies, look you sing,
Like to the Garter’s compass, in a ring:
The expressure that it bears, green let it be,
More fertile-fresh than all the field to see;
And ‘Honi soit qui mal y pense’ write
In emerald tufts, flowers purple, blue and white;
Let sapphire, pearl and rich embroidery,
Buckled below fair knighthood’s bending knee:
Fairies use flowers for their charactery.
Away; disperse: but till ’tis one o’clock,
Our dance of custom round about the oak
Of Herne the Hunter, let us not forget.

(Act V, scene v)

While the fairies in this scene are just people pretending to be fairies in order to tease Falstaff, the imagery is consistent with the folklore surrounding fairies. And of particular interest is the custom of dancing around the oak tree. The idea of the oak as a sacred tree dates back to Greek mythology. It is mentioned in Celtic, Norse, Baltic, Slavic, Druid, and Wiccan mythology. It even has significance in the Bible as being the place where Jacob buries the foreign gods of his people and under which he erects a stone as the first covenant of the Lord. (Source: Wikipedia)

There is one more folk belief that is in this play that I want to mention, and it is a dark one: the “trial by fire.”

With trial-fire touch me his finger-end:
If he be chaste, the flame will back descend
And turn him to no pain; but if he start,
It is the flesh of a corrupted heart.

(Act V, scene v)

This conjures some very dark images for me. I cannot help but envision innocents accused of witchcraft or heresy tied to a stake and set a flame, as a way to test their guilt or innocence. This serves as a warning to us, that while there is much wisdom to be gleaned from folklore, we must also be vigilant and approach these tales with a critical mind.

In spite of the one dark spot, I still think this is a great and funny play. I hope to see it performed sometime in the near future.

Advertisements

4 Comments

Filed under Literature

The X-Files: X-mas Special

XFiles_Xmas

So I picked this up a while back but have just gotten around to reading it, so I apologize that my review has missed the holiday season.

This issue contains two stories: one featuring Mulder and Scully, and the other featuring Ellinson and Ohio from the Year Zero series. I have nothing to say about the first tale with Mulder and Scully. Honestly, I thought it sucked. It was dull, poorly written, and I just felt like it was thrown together for the purpose of filing pages. Thankfully, the second story was a little more interesting.

The second tale finds the original X-files agents, Bing Ellinson and Millie Ohio, investigating sabotage by a suspected Russian spy. It comes out, though, that the sabotage is being carried out by a gremlin. The interesting twist in the story is that they incorporate Krampus into the tale, since gremlins are dark elves and Krampus is the lord of the dark elves. I like the Krampus myth and this issue does it justice.

Think of him as the anti-Santa. Hairy, horned, carries switches to beat bad children with, sometimes takes the worst tykes away, never to be seen again. I am not making this up. He’s usually out and about the first week of December, but I’m sure we could summon him tonight. What’s Christmas without Krampus, after all?

As much as I love the X-Files, I can’t help but wondering if the series is beginning to lose its steam. I hope not. Hopefully, this issue is just a fluke and Mulder and Scully will return strong. I suppose we’ll find out soon. Cheers, and thanks for stopping by.

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

The X-Files: Year Zero – Issue #3 (Trickster Archetype)

XFiles_YearZero_03

This mini-series is getting very good. I was enjoying it from the beginning, but now it is really fleshing out and becoming a complex and engaging tale, complete with all the supernatural mystery that I love about the X-Files.

This issue continues the parallel storyline with agents Mulder and Scully investigating Mr. Zero in the present and Special Agent Bing Ellinson and Special Employee Millie Ohio investigating Mr. Xero in 1946. Both pairs of agents discover something about this mysterious being—that he appears to be an incarnation of the trickster. Upon overhearing Ellinson and Ohio’s conversation regarding Xero, Ish, a Native American youth, says: “He sounds like the one my people call Raven—a trickster who is helpful at times, hurtful at others.”

The trickster is an archetypal deity that appears throughout mythology.

The trickster deity breaks the rules of the gods or nature, sometimes maliciously (for example, Loki) but usually with ultimately positive effects (though the trickster’s initial intentions may have been either positive or negative). Often, the bending/breaking of rules takes the form of tricks (e.g. Eris) or thievery. Tricksters can be cunning or foolish or both; they are often funny even when considered sacred or performing important cultural tasks. An example of this is the sacred Iktomi, whose role is to play tricks and games and by doing so raises awareness and acts as an equalizer.

In many cultures, (as may be seen in Greek, Norse, or Slavic folktales, along with Native American/First Nations lore), the trickster and the culture hero are often combined. To illustrate: Prometheus, in Greek mythology, stole fire from the gods to give to humans. He is more of a culture hero than a trickster. In many Native American and First Nations mythologies, the coyote (Southwestern United States) or raven (Pacific Northwest and Russian Far East) stole fire from the gods (stars, moon, and/or sun) and are more tricksters than culture heroes. This is primarily because of other stories involving these spirits: Prometheus was a titan, whereas the Coyote spirit and Raven spirit are usually seen as jokesters and pranksters. Examples of Tricksters in the world mythologies are given by Hansen (2001), who lists Mercurius in Roman mythology, Hermes in Greek mythology, Eshu in Yoruba mythology and Wakdjunga in Winnebago mythology as examples of the Trickster archetype. Hansen makes the observation that the Trickster is nearly always a male figure.

(Source: Wikipedia)

As Mulder and Scully begin to figure out that the mysterious Xero/Zero is the trickster, they have a great discussion about the nature of the trickster and why he appears at the times he does, and also about the manner in which he manifests.

Scully: It seems in each instance Xero made an unexpected appearance that helped the agents… excuse me—agent and special employee… solve the case. He was training them. But why?

Mulder: The world was changing, Scully. Even the phenomena were changing. Suddenly there were rumors of aliens and atomic mutations in addition to ghosts and goblins. But no matter how real the consequences, to Xero it was all just a game.

Scully: And he wanted to make sure there was someone else who could play.

Mulder: I think Ish was right—we’re dealing with a trickster. Xero presented himself in terms that people from the 40s would understand—a being from another world… but there are patterns and peculiarities to his appearances that have shown up throughout human history. Two hundred years ago he would have been considered a mischievous or maleficent faerie or elf like Rumpelstiltskin. Two thousand years ago he would have been called a demon.

The trickster is one of my favorite mythological archetypes. I was enjoying this comic before, but now I am really psyched about it. I cannot wait to see how the two stories play out. Check back for my review on the next issue once it is released.

1 Comment

Filed under Literature

Witchblade Issue 158: Portals, Part 2

Witchblade_Issue158

This issue concludes the two-part “Portals” story. As I expected, it is packed with action and excitement as Sara battles Katarina (a former Witchblade bearer), a crazy little gangster named Toio Mulranny, and even a dinosaur. It makes for very entertaining reading, especially when combined with the lavish illustrations.

There was one part of this issue that I found particularly interesting. Mulranny captures Lady Auslinn, an elfin princess, who he plans on executing. Auslinn seeks the halting of illicit importing of contraband from our world, particularly weaponry. Mulranny expresses his love for human technology, which he sees as part of evolution.

No. Goods that make our lives better. Easier. Wondrous devices and technology that spur this stagnant world to greater heights. Evolution at work. An evolution you would halt with your appeal to the council of wizards.

This made me think about one of my favorite movies when I was a teenager: “Wizards.” It was very cool back in the 70’s, but the animation is pretty dated compared with today’s. But the story was what haunted me with that film. There were two brothers who were wizards in a post-apocalyptic world: Avatar and Blackwolf. Avatar represents the forces of magic while Blackwolf represents the forces of industrial technology. Blackwolf discovers old film footage of the Nazis and uses the propaganda to terrify his enemies and inspire his troops. There is a great twist at the end. The movie is on YouTube. If you’ve never seen it, I suggest you check it out. Click here to watch it online.

On that note, I will leave you with the trailer for “Wizards.” Like I said, it’s pretty dated, but was one of those films that had an impact on my life.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YjSFujG6Uhg

Leave a comment

Filed under Literature

Witchblade Issue 157: Portals, Part 1

Witchblade_Issue157

This issue is a geek’s dream come true. Not only is the writing great and the artwork stunning, but it incorporates some of our favorite nerdy things: fantasy, alternate dimensions, Tolkien, faeries and elves, steampunk, even LARPing. What more could one ask for?

The story follows Sara Pezzini through a dimensional portal. After moving through the portal, she finds herself in a world that is a sumptuous blending of steampunk and Tolkien’s Middle Earth. She is taken into custody by elfin authorities who bring her to Sheriff Godliffe. The sheriff turns out to be a woman whose first name is Katarina. Once Sara meets her, she discovers that Katarina was once a bearer of the Witchblade, but the gauntlet rejected her because she was drunken, selfish, and prone to violence.

There is a lot of tension building in this issue; unfortunately, though, there is not a lot for me to elaborate on. I sense that the writer, Tim Seeley, is setting the stage for a fantastic conflict in the next issue, which I conveniently have already. As I finish this up, I am figuring I will read Part 2 after I grab a bite to eat. Expect my review of Part 2 tomorrow.

Leave a comment

Filed under Literature