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The Reconciliation of Titania and Oberon by Joseph Noel Paton

Oberon (/ˈbərɒn/) 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 King of the Fairies and spouse of Titania, Queen of the Fairies.[1]


Oberon is a variant spelling of Auberon, the origin of which is uncertain, though it may be connected with Alberich and Aubrey, or might else be derived from the Old High German elements adal ‘noble’ + ber(n) ‘bear’.[2]

French heroic song[edit]

Oberon is first attested as the name of a fairy king in the early 13th century chanson de geste entitled Les Prouesses et faitz du noble Huon de Bordeaux, wherein the eponymous hero encounters King Oberon of the fairies as he passes through a forest. Huon is forewarned by a hermit not to speak to Oberon, but his courtesy causes him to answer the fairy king's greetings and so wins his friendship and aid.

The fairy king is dwarfish in height, though very handsome. He explains that, at his birth, an offended fairy cursed him not to grow passed three years of age (one of the earliest examples of the wicked fairy godmother folklore motif) but relented and gave him great beauty as compensation.[3][4] In this story, he is said to be the child of Morgan le Fay and Julius Caesar.[5]

A manuscript of the romance in the city of Turin contains a prologue 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.

He is given some Celtic trappings, such as a magical cup (similar to the Holy Grail or the cornucopia) that is ever full. "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.[6]

Shakespeare saw or heard of the French heroic song through the c. 1540 translation by John Bourchier, Lord Berners, called Huon of Burdeuxe.[7] In Philip Henslowe's diary, there is a note of a performance of a play Hewen of Burdoche on 28 December 1593.[8]

A Midsummer Night's Dream[edit]

One of William Blake's illustrations to his The Song of Los. Scholars have traditionally identified the figures as Titania and Oberon, though not all new scholarship does.[9] This copy, currently held by the Library of Congress, was printed and painted in 1795.[10]
Illustration of Oberon enchanting Titania by W. Heath Robinson, 1914

In William Shakespeare's A Midsummer Night's Dream, written in 1595/96, Oberon is the king of all of the fairies and is engaged in a dispute with his wife Titania, the fairy queen. They are arguing over custody of a child whom Oberon wants to raise to be his henchman. Titania wants to keep and raise the child for the sake of her mortal friend and follower who died giving birth to him.

Because Oberon and Titania are both powerful spirits connected to nature, their feuding disrupts the weather. Titania describes the consequences of their fighting:

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.

— A Midsummer Night's Dream, Act 2, Scene 1

Oberon tricks Titania into giving him back the child using the juice from a special flower that makes you "madly dote upon the next live thing that it sees". The flower was accidentally struck by Cupid's arrow when he attempted to shoot a young maiden in a field, instead infusing the flower with love. Oberon sends his servant, Puck, to fetch the flower, which he does successfully.

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 will cause Titania to fall in love with the first live thing she sees upon awakening. Titania awakens and finds herself madly in love with Bottom, an actor from the rude mechanicals whose head was just transformed into that of a donkey, thanks to a curse from 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 witnesses Demetrius rejecting Helena, admires her amorous determination, and decides to help her. He sends Puck to put some of the juice in Demetrius's eyes, describing him as “a youth in Athenian clothing”, to make him fall in love with Helena. Puck finds Lysander – who is also a youth wearing Athenian clothing – and puts the love potion on Lysander's eyes. When Lysander wakes, he sees Helena first and falls in love with her. Meanwhile, Demetrius has also been anointed with the flower and awakes to see Helena, pursued by Lysander, and a fight breaks out between the two young men. Oberon is furious with Puck and casts a sleeping spell on the forest, making Puck reverse the potion on Lysander, admonishing Puck to not reverse the effects on Demetrius. Both couples awake and begin the journey back to Athens.

Oberon now looks upon Titania and her lover, Bottom, and feels sorry for what he has done. He reverses the spell using a magic herb. When she wakes, she is confused, thinking that she had a dream. Oberon explains that the dream was real and the two reunite happily. They then return to Athens in the epilogue to bless the couples, becoming once again the benevolent fairy king and queen.

Other historical and cultural references[edit]

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.[13][14]

In popular culture[edit]


  1. ^ Rose, Carol (1996). "M". Spirits, Fairies, Leprechauns and Goblins: An Encyclopedia. New York: W.W. Norton. p. 207. ISBN 0-393-31792-7. OCLC 554956069.
  2. ^ Hanks, Patrick; Hardcastle, Kate; Hodges, Flavia (2006). A Dictionary of First Names. Oxford University Press. p. 65. ISBN 978-0-19-861060-1. OCLC 67869278. Retrieved 27 November 2023.
  3. ^ Briggs, Katharine Mary (1976). A Dictionary of Fairies: Hobgoblins, Brownies, Bogies, and Other Supernatural Creatures (First American ed.). p. 227. ISBN 0-394-73467-X.{{cite book}}: CS1 maint: date and year (link)
  4. ^ Bourchier, Lord Berners, John (1887). Lee, S.L. (ed.). The Book of Huon de Bordeaux (PDF) (Critical ed.). Early English Text Society.
  5. ^ Josepha, Sherman (2008). Storytelling: An Encyclopedia of Mythology and Folklore. Armonk, NY: Sharpe Reference. p. 341. ISBN 978-0-7656-8047-1.
  6. ^ Bullfinch, Thomas (2004) [1983]. Legends of Charlemagne. Project Gutenberg. Retrieved 27 November 2023.
  7. ^ Nutt, Alfred (1900). The Fairy Mythology of Shakespeare (PDF). Popular Studies in Mythology Romance & Folklore (2nd ed.). London: David Nutt. p. 11.
  8. ^ Henslowe, Philip (1904). Greg, Walter Wilson (ed.). Henslowe's Diary. from Harvard University Library. 47 Great Russell St., London: A. H. Bullen. p. 16.{{cite book}}: CS1 maint: location (link)
  9. ^ Morris Eaves; Robert N. Essick; Joseph Viscomi (eds.). "Description of " The Song of Los, copy B, object 5 (Bentley 5, Erdman 5, Keynes 5)"". William Blake Archive. Retrieved 27 January 2013.
  10. ^ Morris Eaves; Robert N. Essick; Joseph Viscomi (eds.). "The Song of Los, copy B, object 5 (Bentley 5, Erdman 5, Keynes 5)". William Blake Archive. Retrieved 27 January 2013.
  11. ^ Peter Branscombe, W. A. Mozart: Die Zauberflöte, Cambridge University Press, 1991, p. 28
  12. ^ "The Fairy Feller's Master-Stroke". Tate Museum. Retrieved 24 April 2022.
  13. ^ The author of Word Origins…And How We Know Them, Oxford University Press, 2005 and An Analytic Dictionary of English Etymology: An Introduction University Of Minnesota Press, 2008
  14. ^ Oxford Etymologist
  15. ^ Burkhardt, Lotte (2022). Eine Enzyklopädie zu eponymischen Pflanzennamen [Encyclopedia of eponymic plant names] (pdf) (in German). Berlin: Botanic Garden and Botanical Museum, Freie Universität Berlin. doi:10.3372/epolist2022. ISBN 978-3-946292-41-8. S2CID 246307410. Retrieved 27 January 2022.
  16. ^ "The Ancient Magus' Bride TV Anime's 3rd Promo Video Previews JUNNA's Theme Song". Anime News Network. Retrieved 2 February 2022.

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