When I was researching Be Kind and Courteous I wanted to explore how different artists and directors over time have interpreted the role of Tytania, Queen of the Fairies. I thought back to a visit I made in February 2020 to Tate Britain where I saw for the first time “Titania and Bottom” painted by Henry Fuseli c. 1790.
I remember being struck by the peculiarity of the diverse characters from this magical realm of the fairies. I liked the little sprite in the bottom left of the painting, who wears a crown of butterfly wings juxtaposed with growling gremlins with glowing orange eyes in the opposite corner. Each time I looked; I saw a new creature, (an Oil painting version of “Where’s Wally?” perhaps). I think that this painting could be a snap-shot of when Tytania would sing or recite “Be Kind and Courteous”. At this moment in the story, she has become smitten with Bottom, after falling victim to Oberon’s spell. As a result of this all-consuming adoration, she commands her fairies to gambol and frolic as they welcome and serve Bottom in this fantastical setting.
When I was creating the imagery for this blog post, I came across some bewitching short videos of a Drag Queen wearing a ‘royal’ mantle. My mind was then reminded of the actors who would interpret Shakespeare’s plays. In the late 16th and early 17th centuries, the performing artists would have been men or boys. This occurred because the stage had strong connections to the church, and it was thought that the acting profession encouraged immoral and promiscuous behaviour that was unsuitable to women. However, an all-male cast, did not perturb writers from creating female characters.
This meant that some of the actors would need to “dress as members of the opposite sex so the story didn’t suffer” (The fabulous history of drag – BBC Bitesize). Therefore, the art of drag in the UK can be connected back to the theatrical roots of the Elizabethan Era. At this point in history, the concept may have been born out of necessity, which is not necessarily in the same spirit of drag as we know it today. But I am sure it allowed men to express a different side of themselves and enjoy creating a different persona.
The first woman to play a female role did not occur until 8 December 1660. It is said that possibly Anne Marshall performed Desdemona in a production of Othello (around 56 years later than the first known performance of this work). Shakespeare and gender: the ‘woman’s part’ – The British Library (bl.uk)
At this point I would like to highlight a few keywords that I hope aid your understanding of the text:
Gambol is a verb used to describe animals or people who run or jump in a playful manner.
Apricocks was a different way to spell Apricots. A fruit
Dewberries are a species of blackberry, often found in North America or northern Europe.
A Night Taper is a long, thin candle that would burn slowly, to aid vision in the evening – similar to a night light.
I hope that you enjoy the post and if you have any interesting snippets to add I would love to hear them.