Shakespeare's Fairy Dance with
Religio-Political Controversy in
The Merry Wives of Windsor
by Regina M. Buccola
Roosevelt University, Chicago, Illinois
Fairies "much affect the papacie."
Robert Herrick, "The Fairie Temple," from The Complete
Poetry of Robert Herrick
DESPITE SEVERAL RECENT ATTEMPTS to begin redressing the disparity,1 fairy tradition has lost out in the critical conversation about early modern drama to the ideologies of Christianity and classical Greece and Rome. However, the fairy tradition is every bit as significant to our critical attempts to situate early modern plays in their historical contexts as the struggles associated with state-mandated religious beliefs, and the delineation of classical literary influences are widely agreed to be. Fairy beliefs were much more than rural superstitions in sixteenthand seventeenth-century Britain. When fairies appeared in popular plays and were invoked in public debates in London and its environs, their airy bodies were made to resonate with a political and religious import that extended far beyond folklore.
Fairies were imaginative responses to the stresses of life in a rapidly changing world. The sixteenth and seventeenth centuries in Britain witnessed significant social changes, including religious reforms with immense socio-political implications, and a widening gap between urban, mercantile culture and rural, agrarian life. The powers and characteristics popularly attributed to fairies serve as a measure of early modern socio-cultural anxieties in the face of these changes.2 Early