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William Shakespeare’s Thieves and Faeries

Shakespeare’s Thieves and Faeries

Shakespeare’s Puck, the mischievous household sprite Robin Goodfellow, resembles a more benign sketch of Sir John Falstaff and the other motley thieves in Henry IV, Part One.

Both Robin and the thieves tend to go by night, use disguises and magic, and act as jesters to their respective royalty. Falstaff declares, “. . . we that take purses go by the moon and the seven stars, and not by Phoebus. . .” [I.ii.13-15] and adds, “Let us be Diana’s foresters, gentlemen of the shade, minions of the moon. . . under whose countenance we steal.” [I.ii. 25-30] The action in A Midsummer Night’s Dream takes place by moonlight as well; in fact, Robin worries aloud to Oberon that he may not be quick enough to undo the love-spell’s damage by dawn, when his powers are presumably diminished. Robin often travels invisibly or in disguise, as when he imitates in turn the voices of Lysander and Demetrius, or eavesdrops on the rude mechanicals without being espied. Poins, for his part, produces vizards for all on the evening of the planned robbery. Gadshill says that he has “the receipt of fernseed, we walk invisible.” [II.i.89] And just as Robin and Oberon put stars in the lover’s eyes with an enchanted pansy, Falstaff declares that Poins must have given him “medicines to make [Falstaff] love him.” [II.ii.18]

Falstaff clearly occupies a privileged position as a sort of court jester, his constant jabs at Hal and the crown itself accepted without punishment — save Hal’s verbal parries at Falstaff’s slovenliness. Robin explains to a passing faerie that his purpose is to “jest …

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…t things can be set right: “The man shall have his mare again, and all shall be well.” [III.ii.463]

Even when they try to portray evil, Falstaff and Robin do such a lousy job of it that we are assured of their relative innocuousness. Puck brags, “I am fear’d in field and town,” [III.ii.398] but given his previous recital of his pastimes [II.i.43-56] we can’t possibly take this contention seriously. What have we to fear from one who merely makes an old woman spill her ale, or impersonates a three-legged stool? And who in his right mind would believe that the corpulent Falstaff battled an ever-increasing number of buckskinned warriors and later singlehandedly finished Harry Hotspur? Robin cannot be wicked and Falstaff cannot be cunning, and the really malevolent must exhibit both properties.

The Significance of the Earth in The Good Earth

The Significance of the Earth in The Good Earth

“And O-lan in the house was not idle. With her own hands she lashed the mats to the rafters and took earth from the fields and mixed it with water and mended the walls of the house, and she built again the oven and filled the holes in the floor that the rain had washed.”

There can be no doubt that the symbol of earth in Buck’s novel, The Good Earth, is one so potent that it permeates and binds the entire tale. It is presented repeatedly throughout the novel, either through gentle allusion or outright statement. None can dispute that the earth itself is a vital component in the livelihood of any farmer, thus it is not surprising that the farmer Wang Lung places so much value into his lands; however, there is a separate element of the earth that Pearl S. Buck brings forth in her tale about a farmer’s prosperous rise in feudal China, that element of regeneration and revitalization that is so apparent within this selected passage from the book.

Many times throughout the book did the earth pull Wang Lung through hardship and difficulty, and it was the one constant factor in his life, even as things changed–people dies, great houses fell, war and famine raged, and inner turmoil plagued his very being. Throughout all of these obstacles the earth was always there, waiting for Wang Lung–whether as poor farmer or as wealthy man of the village–to return to it, and draw from it those ever-present qualities of life and healing. The very words of the selected passage are pregnant with these qualities, as Wang Lung and his family, returning from the south to his land after a great and terrible period of famine, close those horrible years through the almost magical substance of the earth. It is symbolic how O-lan the wife, tending to the structure of the farmland house (a symbol itself in the Wang family) uses the “earth from the fields” to mend the walls of the house–thus the ailments of the “house” are healed by the richness of the land.

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