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  • Moth: Shakespeare’s Most Mysterious Fairy October 21, 2017

    Author: Beach Combing | in : Modern
    Moth

    Moth and Co.

    An important fairy institution are bad productions of A Midsummer Night’s Dream in which a little girl with brown butterfly wings runs on stage being announced as Moth, one of Titania’s maids. Yet bad moth costumes may all be based on a misunderstanding.

    The basics. Titania, it will be remembered, has four servants: Peaseblossom, Mustardseed, Cobweb and Moth. Apparently, then, we get two flowers, a secretion and a nocturnal flying insect. They are beautifully captured in Blake’s most famous image from Midsummer Night’s Dream where the four fairies dance: note the wings on top of Moth. But Moth may not be a moth: this would not be Blake’s first misreading of great works of English literature, though at least on this occasion it was not willful. There are three problems with the identification.

    First, ‘moth’ was pronounced and interchangeably written ‘mote’ in Shakespearean English and ‘mote’, of course, is a speck of dust (as in the Biblical ‘thou hypocrite, first cast out the beam out of thine own eye; and then shalt thou see clearly to cast out the mote out of thy brother’s eye’). Shakespeare uses the word, not including proper nouns, ten times: two times for the insect, eight times for a speck (based on own concordance search, other figures I’ve read differ slightly but show the same trend).

    Second, a ‘mote’ would suit, even better, than a ‘moth’, Shakespeare’s conceit that fairies are very, very small: ‘she comes/ In shape no bigger than an agate-stone/ On the fore-finger of an alderman’. Shakespeare, it is often said, invented the tiny fairy. Note too that the character Moth in Love’s Labour Lost (a page) is never referred to as an insect but is, several times, referred to as being extremely small.

    Third, Moth/Mote does not seem to exist. It has been pointed out that Bottom addresses Peasebottom, Mustardseed and Cobweb, but ignores Moth/Mote as if she is simply not there. Perhaps there was some on stage chicanery here where Mote was represented, somehow, as an invisibly small presence, like Tinker Bell’s light in the original 1904 Barrie play?

    If you love bad amateur productions of the Dream and you want Moth to be, well, a Moth, there is one reason for hope. In an article published in 1959 Lou Reynolds and Paul Sawyer pointed out that peasebottom, mustardseed, cobwebs and, yes, moths, all had important applications in Elizabethan folk medicine. Motes, though, don’t stop nose bleeds… (Folk Medicine and the Four Fairies of a Midsummer-Night’s Dream’, Shakespeare Quarterly 10).

    For or against moths or motes: drbeachcombing At yahoo DOT com

    History Roundup 921: Miscellany October 20, 2017

    Author: Beach Combing | in : History Roundups
    History Roundup 921: Miscellany

    Today’s links follow 1) Marriage: UK 2) Vikings (sympathetic, mixed etc etc): Scandinavia 3) Breast Cancer in the Middle Ages: Medieval Europe 4) Early Surgery: hospitals 5) Islamic Vikings: Scandinavia and from the archives 6) Against All Odds Other links: Tom Petty, Learning to Fly Any links to send in: strangehistorylinks AT gmail DOT com

    Daily History Picture: Sinatra Selfie October 20, 2017

    Author: Beach Combing | in : Historical Pictures
    Daily History Picture: Sinatra Selfie

    Young Sinatra in the bathroom

    Death by Carpet October 19, 2017

    Author: Beach Combing | in : Medieval
    Death by Carpet

      Beach has been worrying for a while about  the death of the last Abbasid Caliph in February 1258. The man in question, al-Musta’sim-Billah Abu-Ahmad Abdullah bin al-Mustansir-Billah had had the misfortune, fifteen years into his reign, to be confronted with a massive Mongol invasion under Hulegu. Al-Musta’sim-Billah was not a particularly martial sort and […]

    History Roundup 920: Deaths October 19, 2017

    Author: Beach Combing | in : History Roundups
    History Roundup 920: Deaths

    Today’s links follow 1) Stalin’s End: Russia 2) Tombstone Fairies: US 3) River Death: India 4) War Grave: Channel Islands 5) Grave Robber: Kenya (!!) and from the archives 6) Last Word Last Lies Other links: I think we are alone now Any links to send in: strangehistorylinks AT gmail DOT com

    Daily History Picture: Pompeii Joke October 19, 2017

    Author: Beach Combing | in : Historical Pictures
    Daily History Picture: Pompeii Joke

    Sorry!

    History Roundup 919: Individuals October 18, 2017

    Author: Beach Combing | in : History Roundups
    History Roundup 919: Individuals

    Today’s links follow 1) John Banvard: US 2) Auschwitz Labourer: Poland 3) The Captive Mind: Politics 4) Nixon and LSD: US 5) Mrs Dickens: UK and from the archives 6) Castro is a Jesuit Spy Other links: Sound of Music Documentary Any links to send in: strangehistorylinks AT gmail DOT com

    Daily History Picture: Marine Animals October 18, 2017

    Author: Beach Combing | in : Historical Pictures
    Daily History Picture: Marine Animals

    Arab manuscripts

    History Roundup 918: Art and Technology October 17, 2017

    Author: Beach Combing | in : History Roundups
    History Roundup 918: Art and Technology

    Today’s links follow Today’s links follow 1) Princess Nicotine: Cinema 2) Squirrel Killing: UK 3) Mummy Wheat: Egypt 4) Mourning Jewelry: UK 5) Art Moments: Gallery and from the archives 6) Origin of Two Fingered Insult Other links: Staying Alive, Bee Gees, terrible but strangely compelling Any links to send in: strangehistorylinks AT gmail DOT com

    Daily History Picture: Hell! October 17, 2017

    Author: Beach Combing | in : Historical Pictures
    Daily History Picture: Hell!

    15 Cent.

    History Roundup 917: Supernatural October 16, 2017

    Author: Beach Combing | in : History Roundups
    History Roundup 917: Supernatural

    Today’s links follow 1) Red Horror: US 2) Salem and Women (and Men): US 3) Helpful Ghost: US 4) Halloween Hell: US 5) Haunted Houses: US and from the archives 6) Crowning Royal Corpses Other links: A war to be avoided Any links to send in: strangehistorylinks AT gmail DOT com

    Monday Mermaid: Singing Florida Mermaids October 16, 2017

    Author: Beach Combing | in : Modern
    Monday Mermaid: Singing Florida Mermaids

    This was published in The Orchestra in 1870. It is a curious account of singing fish in the US… It is very tempting to connect these phenomenon and others like them to the mermaid tradition: in the same way as that the rhino is presumably somewhere behind the unicorn. ‘One day as I was returning […]

    Daily History Picture: Fairy Faith October 16, 2017

    Author: Beach Combing | in : Historical Pictures
    Daily History Picture: Fairy Faith

    Early and very elegant use of the phrase. 1874.

    Little Fairy on the Prairie October 15, 2017

    Author: Beach Combing | in : Modern
    Little Fairy on the Prairie

    Beach spends a lot of his time chasing fairies in eighteenth, nineteenth and twentieth century books. Because he doesn’t have an exceptional library to hand and because travel is so damn annoying he finds the best thing to do is buy books on the basis of emails from friends and readers; or ‘snippets’ on Google […]

    The Monster of Ryde October 14, 2017

    Author: Beach Combing | in : Modern
    The Monster of Ryde

    Some weeks ago Beach had some fun running through twentieth-century British monster stories. Here was one of his favourites. It has everything: a lion’s head, big tracks, a creepy cry and became part of a war-time propaganda campaign. We are at Ryde on the Isle of Wight off the coast of southern England: it is […]

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