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Oberon (also spelled Auberon) is a king of the fairies in medieval and Renaissance literature. He is best known as a character in William Shakespeare's play A Midsummer Night's Dream, in which he is Consort to Titania, Queen of the Fairies.
Oberon's status as king of the fairies comes from the character of Alberich (from Old High German alb- "elf" and -rîh-, "ruler", "king"), a sorcerer in the legendary history[which?] of the Merovingian dynasty. In the legend, he is the otherworldly "brother" of Merowech, whose name is the eponym of the Merovingians. Alberich wins for his eldest son Walbert the hand of a princess of Constantinople. In the Nibelungenlied, a Burgundian poem written around the turn of the 13th century, Alberich guards the treasure of the Nibelungen, but is overcome by Siegfried.
French heroic song
The name Oberon got its literary start in the first half of the 13th century from the fairy dwarf Oberon that helps the hero in the chanson de geste, titled Les Prouesses et faitz du noble Huon de Bordeaux. When Huon, son of Seguin count of Bordeaux, passed through the forest where he lives, he was warned against Oberon by a hermit, but his courtesy had him answer Oberon's greetings, and so gain his aid in his quest: having killed Charlot, the Emperor's son, in self-defense, Huon must visit the court of the amir of Babylon and perform various feats to win a pardon, and only with Oberon's aid he succeeds.
This elf appears dwarfish in height, though very handsome; he explains that at his christening, an offended fairy cursed him to the height (an example of the wicked fairy godmother folklore motif), but relented and as compensation gave him great beauty. As Alberich features as a dwarf in the Nibelungen, the dwarfish height was thus explained.
The real Seguin was Count of Bordeaux under Louis the Pious in 839, and died fighting against the Normans in 845. Charles l'Enfant, a son of Charles the Bald, died in 866 of wounds inflicted by a certain Aubouin in the circumstances of an ambush similar to the Charlot of the story. Thus Oberon appears in a 13th-century French courtly fantasy that is based on a shred of 9th century fact. He is given some Celtic trappings, such as a magical cup (similar to the Holy Grail) that is ever-full for the virtuous: "The magic cup supplied their evening meal; for such was its virtue that it afforded not only wine, but more solid fare when desired" according to Thomas Bulfinch. In this story he is said to be the child of Morgan le Fay and Julius Caesar.
A manuscript of te to the story of Huon de Bordeaux in the shape of a separate romance of Auberon, and four sequels, and there are later French versions as well.
Shakespeare saw or heard of the French heroic song, through the ca 1540 translation of John Bourchier, Lord Berners, called Huon of Burdeuxe. In Philip Henslowe's diary there is a note of a performance of a play, Hewen of Burdocize, on December 28, 1593.
A Midsummer Night's Dream
Oberon is the king of all of the fairies in William Shakespeare's A Midsummer Night's Dream who is feuding with his wife Titania, the queen of the fairies. They are fighting over a changeling child that Oberon wants to raise as his henchman. Titania wants to keep the child because he is the child of Titania's mortal follower who died, and she wants to raise the child for her follower. Because Oberon and Titania are powerful fairies, their arguments affect the weather. Titania describes what happens to nature when they argue, saying:
Therefore the winds, piping to us in vain,
As in revenge, have suck'd up from the sea
Contagious fogs; which falling in the land
Have every pelting river made so proud
That they have overborne their continents:
The ox hath therefore stretch'd his yoke in vain,
The ploughman lost his sweat, and the green corn
Hath rotted ere his youth attain'd a beard;
The fold stands empty in the drowned field,
And crows are fatted with the murrion flock;
The nine men's morris is fill'd up with mud,
And the quaint mazes in the wanton green
For lack of tread are undistinguishable:
The human mortals want their winter here;
No night is now with hymn or carol blest:
Therefore the moon, the governess of floods,
Pale in her anger, washes all the air,
That rheumatic diseases do abound:
And thorough this distemperature we see
The seasons alter: hoary-headed frosts
Far in the fresh lap of the crimson rose,
And on old Hiems' thin and icy crown
An odorous chaplet of sweet summer buds
Is, as in mockery, set: the spring, the summer,
The childing autumn, angry winter, change
Their wonted liveries, and the mazed world,
By their increase, now knows not which is which:
And this same progeny of evils comes
From our debate, from our dissension;
We are their parents and original.
(Act 2, Scene 1)
- Oberon tricks Titania into loving Bottom, using a special flower that makes you meet true love at first sight.
Furious that Titania will not give him the child, he puts juice from a magical flower into her eyes while she is asleep. The effect of the juice is that it will cause Titania to fall in love with the first thing she sees. Titania awakens and finds herself madly in love with Bottom, a weaver that has been given a donkey's head by Puck. Meanwhile, two couples have entered the forest: lovers Hermia and Lysander are pursued by Demetrius, who also loves Hermia, and Helena, who loves Demetrius. Oberon sends Puck to put some of the juice in Demetrius's eyes to make him fall in love with Helena, after he witnesses him rejecting her. When Puck puts the love potion on Lysander by mistake, and then on Demetrius, Helena finds herself loved by two men, and confusion breaks out. After Puck straightens out what he has done, and Demetrius discovers that he is really in love with Helena after all, Oberon looks upon Titania and her lover, Bottom, and feels sorry for what he has done. He reverses the spell and when Titania awakes the two reunite.
Other historical references
- Oberon is a character in The Scottish History of James IV, a play written ca. 1590 by Robert Greene.
- In 1610, Ben Jonson wrote a masque of Oberon, the Faery Prince. It was performed by Henry Frederick Stuart, the Prince of Wales, at the English court on New Year's Day, 1611.
- The opera Oberon, König der Elfen with music by Paul Wranitzky and libretto by Karl Ludwig Giesecke debuted in Vienna in 1789. After extensive performances at the coronation of Leopold II in Frankfurt in 1791, it was much performed in Europe until replaced by Weber's opera Oberon.
- Oberon and Titania are main characters in the 1789 Danish opera Holger Danske, with music by F.L.Æ. Kunzen and libretto by Jens Baggesen.
- Johann Wolfgang Goethe included the figures from Shakespeare's work in Faust I. Oberon is married to Titania, and the couple are celebrating their golden wedding anniversary in Faust I.
- In 1826, Carl Maria von Weber's opera, Oberon, (written after a poem by Christoph Martin Wieland converted to an English libretto by James Robinson Planche) debuted at Covent Garden in London, England.
- The name Oberon was chosen for the outermost natural satellite of the planet Uranus, discovered by William Herschel in 1787, as an homage to William Shakespeare and his literary character.
- Oberon was a popular name for fairy familiars in 15th- and 16th-century England.
- Oberon and Titania appear in various books by Mercedes Lackey, such as the Bedlam's Bard and SERRAted Edge series.
- A fanciful etymology was given for the name Oberon by Charles Mackay in his book The Gaelic Etymology of the Languages of Western Europe along with many other theories on words found in the English language that have not found mainstream acceptance.
- In 1971 Jack Kirby created the title, "Mister Miracle" for DC Comics. Mister Miracle's sidekick and partner is the human, white haired dwarf, Oberon.
- In the 1994-1997 Disney cartoon Gargoyles, Oberon is a recurring character that rules the mysterious island of Avalon.
- Oberon is also referred to in the books The Faery Realm by Ferwin Jones and in the Iron Fey series by Julie Kagawa.
- In Ray, the motion picture biopic about the life of musician Ray Charles, a fictional character named Oberon is featured as a dwarf that is the M.C. at the Seattle jazz club The Rocking Chair, where Ray begins his career as the pianist/singer of the trio The McSons.
- Oberon is the name of the absent king of Amber, a fictional world in the Roger Zelazny science-fiction fantasy series entitled The Chronicles of Amber.
- In the Japanese anime Sword Art Online, Oberon serves as an antagonist character later on in the series. The character Titania is also present, and they carry out a similar yet re-imagining prose of their quarrel set in the world of Alfheim Online.
- In the Rainbow Magic series of children's books, Fairyland is ruled over by a King Oberon and Queen Titania.
- Michigan's Bell's Brewery makes a summer seasonal wheat beer known as Oberon Ale.
- Oberon appears as a summon throughout multiple entries in the Megami Tensei franchise.
- Rose, Carol (1996). "M". Spirits, Fairies, Leprechauns and Goblins: An Encyclopedia. New York: W.W. Norton. p. 207. ISBN 0-393-31792-7. OCLC 554956029.
- Katharine Briggs, An Encyclopedia of Fairies, Hobgoblins, Brownies, Boogies, and Other Supernatural Creatures, "Huon de Bordeaux", p. 227. ISBN 0-394-73467-X
- Mercedes Lackey#Elves on the Road universe
- The author of Word Origins…And How We Know Them, Oxford University Press, USA, 2005 and An Analytic Dictionary of English Etymology: An Introduction University Of Minnesota Press, 2008
- Oxford Etymologist
- Encyclopaedia Britannica 1911: "Huon de Bordeaux"
- Chisholm, Hugh, ed. (1911). "Oberon". Encyclopædia Britannica (11th ed.). Cambridge University Press
- The Gaelic Etymology of Western Europe, Charles McKay LL.D. 1877: "Oberon"