| Beautiful Stories from Shakespeare|
|by Edith Nesbit|
|Twenty stories from Shakespeare retold in lively prose. The author makes the complex language of Shakespeare's greatest plays accessible to young children by relating the stories that form the core of the plays. Her graceful, vivid retellings are the perfect introduction to Shakespeare's works. Ages 9-12 |
TITANIA AND THE CLOWN
A MIDSUMMER NIGHT'S DREAM
ERMIA and Lysander were lovers; but Hermia's father wished her to
marry another man, named Demetrius.
Now, in Athens, where they lived, there was a wicked law, by which
any girl who refused to marry according to her father's wishes,
might be put to death. Hermia's father was so angry with her for
refusing to do as he wished, that he actually brought her before
the Duke of Athens to ask that she might be killed, if she still
refused to obey him. The Duke gave her four days to think about
it, and, at the end of that time, if she still refused to marry
Demetrius, she would have to die.
Lysander of course was nearly mad with grief, and the best thing
to do seemed to him for Hermia to run away to his aunt's house at
a place beyond the reach of that cruel law; and there he would
 to her and marry her. But before she started, she told her
friend, Helena, what she was going to do.
Helena had been Demetrius' sweetheart long before his marriage with
Hermia had been thought of, and being very silly, like all jealous
people, she could not see that it was not poor Hermia's fault that
Demetrius wished to marry her instead of his own lady, Helena.
She knew that if she told Demetrius that Hermia was
 going, as she
was, to the wood outside Athens, he would follow her, "and I can
follow him, and at least I shall see him," she said to herself.
So she went to him, and betrayed her friend's secret.
Now this wood where Lysander was to meet Hermia, and where the
other two had decided to follow them, was full of fairies, as most
woods are, if one only had the eyes to see them, and in this wood
on this night were the King and Queen of the fairies, Oberon and
Titania. Now fairies are very wise people, but now and then they
can be quite as foolish as mortal folk. Oberon and Titania, who
might have been as happy as the days were long, had thrown away
all their joy in a foolish quarrel. They never met without saying
disagreeable things to each other, and scolded each other so
dreadfully that all their little fairy followers, for fear, would
creep into acorn cups and hide them there.
TITANIA: THE QUEEN OF THE FAIRIES.
So, instead of keeping one happy Court and dancing all night through
in the moonlight as is fairies' use, the King with his attendants
wandered through one part of the wood, while the Queen with hers
kept state in another. And the cause of all this trouble
 was a
little Indian boy whom Titania had taken to be one of her followers.
Oberon wanted the child to follow him and be one of his fairy
knights; but the Queen would not give him up.
On this night, in a mossy moonlit glade, the King and Queen of the
"Ill met by moonlight, proud Titania," said the King.
"What! jealous, Oberon?" answered the Queen. "You spoil everything
with your quarreling. Come, fairies, let us leave him. I am not
friends with him now."
"It rests with you to make up the quarrel," said the King.
"Give me that little Indian boy, and I will again be your humble
servant and suitor."
 "Set your mind at rest," said the Queen. "Your whole fairy kingdom
buys not that boy from me. Come, fairies."
And she and her train rode off down the moonbeams.
"Well, go your ways," said Oberon. "But I'll be even with you
before you leave this wood."
Then Oberon called his favorite fairy, Puck. Puck was the spirit
of mischief. He used to slip into the dairies and take the cream
away, and get into the churn so that the butter would not come,
and turn the beer sour, and lead people out of their way on dark
nights and then laugh at them, and tumble people's stools from
under them when they were going to sit down, and upset their hot
ale over their chins when they were going to drink.
"Now," said Oberon to this little sprite, "fetch me the flower
called Love-in-idleness. The juice of that little purple flower
laid on the eyes of those who sleep will make them, when they
wake, to love the first thing they see. I will put some of the
juice of that flower on my Titania's eyes, and when she wakes she
will love the first thing she sees, were it
 lion, bear, or wolf,
or bull, or meddling monkey, or a busy ape."
While Puck was gone, Demetrius passed through the glade followed
by poor Helena, and still she told him how she loved him and
reminded him of all his promises, and still he told her that he
did not and could not love her, and that his promises were nothing.
Oberon was sorry for poor Helena, and when Puck returned with
the flower, he bade him follow Demetrius and put some of the juice
on his eyes, so that he might love Helena when he woke and looked
on her, as much as she loved him. So Puck set off, and wandering
through the wood found, not Demetrius, but Lysander, on whose eyes
he put the juice; but when Lysander woke, he saw not his own
Hermia, but Helena, who was walking through the wood looking for
the cruel Demetrius; and directly he saw her he loved her and
left his own lady, under the spell of the purple flower.
HELENA IN THE WOOD.
When Hermia woke she found Lysander gone, and wandered about the
wood trying to find him. Puck went back and told Oberon what he
had done, and Oberon soon found that he had made a mistake,
set about looking for Demetrius, and having found him, put some
of the juice on his eyes. And the first thing Demetrius saw when
he woke was also
 Helena. So now Demetrius and Lysander were both
following her through the wood, and it was Hermia's turn to follow
her lover as Helena had done before. The end of it was that Helena
and Hermia began to quarrel, and Demetrius and Lysander went off
to fight. Oberon was very sorry to see his kind scheme to help
these lovers turn out so badly. So he said to Puck—
"These two young men are going to fight. You must overhang the
night with drooping fog, and lead them so astray, that one will
never find the other. When they are tired out, they will fall
asleep. Then drop this other herb on Lysander's eyes. That will
give him his old sight and his old love. Then each man will have
the lady who loves him, and they will all think that this has been
only a Midsummer Night's Dream. Then when this is done, all will
be well with them."
So Puck went and did as he was told, and when the two had fallen
asleep without meeting each other, Puck poured the juice on
Lysander's eyes, and said:—
"When thou wakest,
In the sight
Of thy former lady's eye:
Jack shall have Jill;
Nought shall go ill."
Meanwhile Oberon found Titania asleep on a bank where grew wild
thyme, oxlips, and violets, and woodbine, musk-roses and eglantine.
There Titania always slept a part of the night, wrapped in the
enameled skin of a snake. Oberon stooped over her and laid the
juice on her eyes, saying:—
"What thou seest when thou wake,
Do it for thy true love take."
Now, it happened that when Titania woke the first thing she saw
was a stupid clown, one of a party of players who had come out
into the wood to rehearse their play. This clown had met with
Puck, who had clapped an ass's head on his shoulders so that it
looked as if it grew there. Directly Titania woke and saw this
dreadful monster, she said, "What angel is this? Are you as wise
as you are beautiful?"
 "If I am wise enough to find my way out of this wood, that's enough
for me," said the foolish clown.
"Do not desire to go out of the wood," said Titania. The spell of
the love-juice was on her, and to her the clown seemed the most
beautiful and delightful creature on all the earth. "I love you,"
she went on. "Come with me, and I will give you fairies to attend
So she called four fairies, whose names were Peaseblossom, Cobweb,
Moth, and Mustardseed.
"You must attend this gentleman," said the Queen. "Feed him with
apricots and dewberries, purple grapes, green figs, and mulberries.
Steal honey-bags for him from the
with the wings
of painted butterflies fan the moonbeams from his sleeping eyes."
"I will," said one of the fairies, and all the others said, "I
"Now, sit down with me," said the Queen to the clown, "and let me
stroke your dear cheeks, and stick musk-roses in your smooth,
sleek head, and kiss your fair large ears, my gentle joy."
"Where's Peaseblossom?" asked the clown with
 the ass's head. He
did not care much about the Queen's affection, but he was very
proud of having fairies to wait on him. "Ready," said
"Scratch my head, Peaseblossom," said the clown. "Where's Cobweb?"
"Ready," said Cobweb.
"Kill me," said the clown, "the red bumble-bee on the top of the
thistle yonder, and bring me the honey-bag. Where's
"Ready," said Mustardseed.
"Oh, I want nothing," said the clown. "Only just help Cobweb to
scratch. I must go to the barber's, for methinks I am marvelous
hairy about the face."
"Would you like anything to eat?" said the fairy Queen.
"I should like some good dry oats," said the clown—for his donkey's
head made him desire donkey's food—"and some hay to follow."
"Shall some of my fairies fetch you new nuts from the squirrel's
house?" asked the Queen.
"I'd rather have a handful or two of good dried peas," said the
clown. "But please don't let any of your people disturb me; I am
going to sleep."
 Then said the Queen, "And I will wind thee in my arms."
And so when Oberon came along he found his beautiful Queen lavishing
kisses and endearments on a clown with a donkey's head.
TITANIA PLACED UNDER A SPELL.
And before he released her from the enchantment, he persuaded her
to give him the little Indian boy he so much desired to have.
Then he took pity on her, and threw some juice of the disenchanting
 flower on her pretty eyes; and then in a moment she saw plainly
the donkey-headed clown she had been loving, and knew how foolish
she had been.
Oberon took off the ass's head from the clown, and left him to
finish his sleep with his own silly head lying on the thyme and
Thus all was made plain and straight again. Oberon and Titania
loved each other more than ever. Demetrius thought of no one but
Helena, and Helena had never had any thought of anyone but
As for Hermia and Lysander, they were as loving a couple as you
could meet in a day's march, even through a fairy wood.
 So the four mortal lovers went back to Athens and were married;
and the fairy King and Queen live happily together in that very
wood at this very day.
Hundreds of additional titles available for
online reading when you join Gateway to the Classics