Freakin’ Fairies

Traditionally, many of the fairies in A Midsummer Night’s Dream (beyond Oberon, Titania, and sometimes Puck) have been played by children.  Legend has it that the play was written for — or at least first performed as — a wedding entertainment (the wedding would have children guests who could then happily be pressed into service).  But is there any textual support for this concept of child-fairies?

Well, sorta…

When we first meet a fairy, the attendant to Titania, it (though we assume “she”) tells Puck (and us) of her job:

And I serve the fairy queen,
To dew her orbs upon the green.
The cowslips tall her pensioners be.
In their gold coats spots you see:
Those be rubies, fairy favors,
In those freckles live their savors.
I must go seek some dewdrops here
And hang a pearl in every cowslip's ear.

— II.i.8-15

It is the fairy’s job to place dewdrops on flowers.  Seemingly impossible for a full (read: human) -sized entity, this might be a perfect job for a smaller sprite.  Later, the fairy tells Puck that when Oberon and Titania fight, “their elves, for fear, // Creep into acorn cups and hide them there” (II.i.30-31).  The elves (described by Titania herself as “small” [II.ii.5]) can fit into an acorn shell.  There’s no mention of changing size, so we could see these fairies as smaller than usual.

As for the king and queen of the fairies, they seem to be human-sized, as Titania describes Hippolyta as Oberon’s “bouncing Amazon, // (His) buskined mistress and (his) warrior love” (II.i.70-71).  Again, there’s no mention of a change in size — just as there is no mention of growing Titania to a larger size for her interactions with the transformed Bottom — so we get the impression that the two of them are full-sized.

When Puck answers the fairy, he tells of his own job of amusing Oberon:

And sometime lurk I in a gossip's bowl
In very likeness of a roasted crab,
And when she drinks, against her lips I bob
And on her wither'd dewlap pour the ale.

— II.i.47-50

Now while he CAN fit into an old woman’s bowl, it is in APPEARANCE (“very likeness”) of a crab-apple.  Appearance, not actuality.  Here, we have an implicit statement of transformation: if in shape, why not size?  So the more challenging role (both in number of lines and complexity of characterization) can go to another adult actor.  This is supported (albeit weakly) by Puck’s appearance in the human world at the end of the play “with broom, (sent) before // To sweep the dust behind the door” (V.i.381-382).  A human-sized broom would SWEEP the dust under a door… a miniature one, might PUSH dust… but sweep?

So there is support for small fairies and full-sized adults as Oberon, Hippolyta, and Puck… though only in size, not in age (so Reinhardt’s use of dwarves and little people as some of Oberon’s attendants fits… though he uses a child Puck in Mickey Rooney… so go figure).

of course, they’re FAIRIES, magical creatures, so they could all be little or big, young or old, or something else altogether… here, the director gets to play God to a certain extent…

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