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Page:Folk-lore - A Quarterly Review. Volume 8, 1897.djvu/59

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37
Presidential Address.

That Shakespeare derived from mediaeval romance, that is from the Arthurian cycle, from those secondary works of the Charlemagne cycle, which, like Huon of Bordeaux, were modelled upon the Arthur romances, and from the still later purely literary imitations alike of the Arthur and the Charlemagne stories, that he thence, I say, derived both the idea of a fairy realm reproducing the external aspect of a mediaeval court, and also the name of his fairy king, all this is evident. But the Oberon of romance has been regarded as a being totally different in essence and origin from the Robin Goodfellow, the Puck of peasant belief, and their bringing together in the Midsummer Night's Dream. as an inspiration of individual genius. What I shall hope to show is that the two strands of fiction have a common source, and that their union, or rather reunion, is due to deeper causes than any manifestation, however potent, of genius.

What has hitherto been overlooked, or all too insufficiently noted, is the standing association of the fairy world of mediaeval romantic literature with Arthur. Chaucer, in a passage to which I have already alluded, proclaims this unhesitatingly:

"In the olde daies of the King Arthoure
Of which that Bretons speken grete honoure
Al was this land fulfild of fayerye;
The elf-queen with hyr jolly companye
Danced ful oft in many a greene mede."

We first meet the mediaeval fairy in works of the Arthur cycle; as ladies of the lake and fountain, as dwellers in the far-off island paradise of Avalon, as mistresses of or captives in mysterious castles, the enchantments of which may be raised by the dauntless knight whose guerdon is their love and never-ending bliss, these fantastic beings play a most important part in the world of dream and magic haze peopled by Arthur and his knights and their lady loves. If an instance be needed how vital is the connection between Arthur and Faery,