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Oberon and Titania in Arthur Rackham’s illustration of A Midsummer Night’s Dream.

“Of course, that was back in the days when people and animals could talk to each other,” Sagacia said, wiping the countertop.

She heaved a sigh and turned around to face her friend, who was sponging off the table, before going on. “We had Saturday morning classes in my—well, in most!—colleges back then.”

“That was a long time ago!” Simplia exclaimed. “Not that I don’t remember it myself,” she added quickly, before Sagacia did.

“Yes, well, my Shakespeare class met for 2 hours on Tuesday and Thursday afternoons, and Dr. Lullemtosnoozin—what was his name?” she asked no one in particular. “Oh, good! I’ve forgotten!”

“It was a Scandinavian name, I believe,” Simplia inserted.

“Oh, have I told you this before?”

“Not sure,” Simplia lied, digging in the refrigerator for containers containing fuzzy green inedible contents.

“Well, it was the only class I ever slept through. And I did that more than once,” Sagacia confessed. “I always told my roommate I was going to my ‘Shakespeare nap.’”

She took a plastic cup of former sour cream from Simplia, scraped something bluish into the trash and placed it in that last little corner of the dishwasher.

“How often have I wished I’d studied the Bard under someone else? Or maybe from no one and just read it myself. Or just gone to see the plays, which I’ve done, and they’re so much more interesting than the class, let me tell you!”

“Indeed!” Simplia said, closing the dishwasher door and pressing the start button.

Sagacia took off her apron and laid it over her chair back.

“Now, let’s see what Csenge Zalka/Tarkabarka has to say,” she said taking her seat.

“Ready for that!” agreed Simplia, and she read:

I’m gonna do the obvious! I’m gonna do the obvious!
Midsummer Night’s Dream… (fairy lore is a whole separate research field…)

Also, Taming of the Shrew. It is very similar to the “King Thrushbeard” type of folktale. My personal favorite, Much Ado About Nothing, also reminds me a little of the Violetta tale from the Pentamerone where the prince and the girl keep pranking and mocking each other…

“And I must have stayed awake the week we did King Lear!” Sagacia said. “It’s like that old tale, “Like Meat Loves Salt.” I wish we knew about the other plays. Surely the bard would build on a proven tale!

“Ding!” went Simplia’s laptop, inserting itself into the conversation.

Simplia skimmed the newly-arrived email.

“He did!” she declared. “This just in from Good Librarian Vicky Dworkin:

May I recommend Shakespeare’s Storybook: Folktales that Inspired the Bard, by Patrick Ryan, Barefoot Books, 2001? Patrick chose seven plays, gave notes on folkloric roots of each, and then included his own versions of folk tales that inspired each one. He includes a brief list of source notes for each one. Many of those sources are available full text on the web. For example, for Hamlet, he refers to Saxo Grammaticus’ Gesta Danorum (13th century), and other sources, which he then retells as “Ashboy,” combining the story from the Gesta Danorum with “Ash Lad” a Cinderella tale-type variant. The basic plot of uncle murdering king, marrying queen, and the son of the murdered king playing a fool while trying to determine how to bring his uncle and mother to justice is all there. So is the subplot of the king giving Hamlet a letter to take to a neighboring kingdom, ordering the king to put him to death.

Patrick comes up with stories for The Taming of the Shrew, Romeo and Juliet, A Merchant of Venice, As You Like It, Hamlet, King Lear, and The Winter’s Tale.

Surprisingly, he does not include A Midsummer Night’s Dream! I spent some time trying to track down changeling stories that would fit, and didn’t find any I was satisfied with. I found one article on the web, “Shakespeare’s Reinvention of Changeling Lore” that argues that Shakespeare reinvented rather than borrowed from changeling lore, specifically because he told it from the fairy viewpoint rather than the human one seen in most folktales. I corresponded with Patrick, asking if it was safe to assume that Shakespeare knew changeling ballads like Tam Lin or Thoma the Rhymer, and might have had them in mind, when coming up with his own inverted changeling story. Patrick said he hadn’t seen any documentation for this, and suggested that I look for stories about Puck/Robin Goodfellow instead, and lead me to Robin Goodfellow, His Mad Pranks and Merry Adventures, also available full text on the web. I found two version printed together from 1628, but the stories date back before that.

To me, the first and most obvious tale that came to mind was Love Like Salt/Cap o’ Rushes, which appears in the beginning of King Lear, when he asks his daughters which of them loves him most.

 “Well, that is one for the list!” Sagacia exclaimed. “So some bright guy—Patrick Ryan? Is that right?—has already done the research! Probably a complete answer to Wondering in Wooloomooloo’s question!”

“Maybe,” Simplia said, “but it also made me think.”

“What?” asked Sagacia.

“Well, we recently discovered that our magical friends have lots of good ideas about literary fairy tales, and I wonder,…”


“What about literary Fairy Tale theatre?” Simplia considered. “Are there other playwrights who drew from fairy tales and folktales for their plays?

“Well, if anyone knows, it would be our magical friends!” said Sagacia.

“Or Patrick Ryan,” said Simplia. “But let’s try our magical friends first!”