Saturday, May 7, 2011

A Midsummer Night's Dream - A Fairy Song

FIRST FAIRY. You spotted snakes with double tongue,
Thorny hedgehogs, be not seen;
Newts and blind-worms, do no wrong,
Come not near our fairy Queen.

Philomel with melody
Sing in our sweet lullaby.
Lulla, lulla, lullaby; lulla, lulla, lullaby.
Never harm
Nor spell nor charm
Come our lovely lady nigh.
So good night, with lullaby.

Weaving spiders, come not here;
Hence, you long-legg'd spinners, hence.
Beetles black, approach not near;
Worm nor snail do no offence.

Philomel with melody, etc.

Here's the fairy song that Titania asks her servants to sing to send her to sleep. Not only is it fun because there's so much in this play that makes it into a kind of multi-arts theater presentation - music! dancing! play-within-a-play! - the poem is also neat in that all its imagery is of little, small creatures: beetles, snails, newts, nightingales, spiders. These small animals - very minor threats to humans like us - become towering figures that must be threatened off by Shakespeare's little fairies.

I looked around for different versions of this song, but I didn't really find anything that I liked. Felix Mendelssohn wrote music for the play (this is where his famous Wedding March comes from), and his version of the song is pretty, but it sounds very ordered and polished - sort of a fairy-like Gilbert and Sullivany kind of sound. You can listen here. I always thought of this song as being wilder though - with a melody maybe something like this, an old Latin carol sung by the wonderful Maddy Prior. Shakespeare's words would fit to that tune, right?

I just can't resist posting another Arthur Rackham picture, this time illustrating this scene - I love the little guy with the double bass. The way this picture looks is the way I want the song to sound!
Come, now a roundel and a fairy song...(2.2.650)

1 comment:

  1. See if you can get your hands a Book and CD called "Shakespeare's Songbook". It has ALL the songs (words and music) from Shakespeare's plays in it (most are quite short), including variations... and includes the Fairy Song from MIdsummer...
    Invaluable for any Shakespeare buff and musician.