Oberon, King of the Faeries

First mentioned as a King of the Fairies in a 15th century French romance, Oberon also appeared in Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream paired with the Fairy Queen Titania.  In contrast other sources say his queen was Mab, and while Shakespeare described Oberon as human sized, in the French story he was the size of a toddler.  This may reflect the shape-shifting powers of the fairies or the use of glamour to alter perceptions, or perhaps merely indicate the same name being used for two different Fairy Kings between cultures.

In Huon of Bordeaux, the first place Oberon appears as a Fairy King, he is described as small and deformed, yet extremely handsome, wearing a jeweled gown that glows. This Oberon carries a bow that never misses and a magical horn that cures all illnesses and acts as a cornucopia. A 16th century literary source described Oberon as tiny and said he could not bear sunlight and fled the light of day. The name Oberon is also strikingly similar to names used for familiar spirits during the Renaissance, including ‘Auberon’ and ‘Oberycom’; in this guise he was invoked as a spirit of luck and to gain power for the person calling him. This could mean that Oberon was a general term for a powerful male fairy that was later applied as a name for Fairy Kings. In that case, if we also view Diana/Titania as a similar generic name applied to a Fairy Queen there is a logic in pairing the two together.

Fairy Queen Titania

Titania is a Fairy Queen who appears as an important character in Shakespeare’s play ‘A Midsummer Night’s Dream’ written in the mid 1590’s. In the play she is the wife of the Fairy King Oberon and the two are fighting over a changeling child; because of the fight Titania is refusing her husband’s company and so he sets one of his servants out to make her fall in love with a foolish mortal as a punishment. Titania’s name connects to that of the goddess Diana, suggesting that Titania was meant to be an epithet for the well-known goddess. Diana is often associated by early modern writers with both fairies and witches so there is a certain logic to this idea. Titania’s name is not widely seen elsewhere in literature although it does appear in one magical text found in the British Museum.

Titania appears in a handful of works after Shakespeare, usually paired with Oberon or as a minor character; examples include a reference to her in Faust I and in an opera titled ‘Oberon, or the Elf King’s Oath’. Shakespeare’s Titania did not find widespread popularity in modern culture although she does either appear, or is referenced, in some video games and literature. Perhaps her most high profile modern appearance would be as the Summer Court Queen in the Dresden Files books, although she does also appear as the Queen of the Black Court in Dana Marie Bell’s ‘Grey Court’ series.