Happy Summer Solstice! And a little bit of Shakespeare
22nd June 2011
To celebrate the summer solstice, a little bit of Shakespeare to begin with today ...
"I know a bank where the wild thyme blows, Where oxlips and the nodding violet grows, Quite over-canopied with luscious woodbine, With sweet musk-roses and with eglantine: There sleeps Titania sometime of the night, Lull'd in these flowers with dances and delight;"
These lines are spoken by Oberon in Act II of A Midsummer Night’s Dream. I love them – not just because they all about flowers, but because they are a magical incantation, because they summon up the imaginative energies within us and make our thoughts a source of excitement and inspiration. It is music without instruments, spoken melody. If that;s not a little piece of magic, what is!
This great dramatic masterpiece of the Elizabethan stage was written around 1594-96 and portrays the adventures of four young lovers and a collection of amateur actors thrown together in an enchanted wood during the course of one extraordinary night at mid-summer. Here, they are observed by various supernatural beings, including the fairy king and queen, Oberon and Titania, and the mischievous sprite Puck.
Vivien Leigh as Titania.
All in all, there is much ado with flowers in this amazing nocturnal, romantic fantasy. Flowers are probably mentioned almost as often as people. And if you have ever been fortunate enough to have seen an outside performance, at dusk at mid-summer, it makes for a memory that can never be erased. The humble pansy, meanwhile, (love-in-idleness in the play) never had such powers to awaken our fascination as here, as with these words in which Oberon sets the plot that will, in time, lead everyone such a merry dance:
"That very time I saw, but thou couldst not, Flying between the cold moon and the earth, Cupid all arm'd: a certain aim he took At a fair vestal throned by the west, And loosed his love-shaft smartly from his bow, As it should pierce a hundred thousand hearts; But I might see young Cupid's fiery shaft Quench'd in the chaste beams of the watery moon, And the imperial votaress passed on, In maiden meditation, fancy-free. Yet mark'd I where the bolt of Cupid fell: It fell upon a little western flower, Before milk-white, now purple with love's wound, And maidens call it love-in-idleness. Fetch me that flower; the herb I shew'd thee once: The juice of it on sleeping eye-lids laid Will make or man or woman madly dote Upon the next live creature that it sees."
Pansy - Love-in-Idleness.
The ‘fair vestal throned by the West’ is no doubt a diplomatic nod to the Virgin Queen Elizabeth. But here, in Oberon's description, the arrow of Cupid has missed it‘s target. (as many did, of course). She would have smiled at that, for sure.