Pagan Fans interested in a Really Impressive Display of English Pagan Mythology helpfully preserved by William Shakespeare, may wish to check out this brief snippet from the BBC’s Shakespeare series production of The Merry Wives of Windsor (if this link does not ”do” somehow, you can help me out, right, Scott?)
Among the many English Pagan motifs which you will find in this, the conclusion to Shakespeare’s late sixteenth century comedy are:
As the BBC Shakespeare series was produced in the late 1970s through the mid-1980s specifically to enlighten people as to the Bard of Avon (there’s a Pagan connection for you right there- Shakespeare being popularly known as the Bard of Avon), I feel confident in passing on a YouTube link to someone else’s created work, perhaps not necessarily intended for YouTube distribution.
This is the Series’ production of Merry Wives (broadcast in the USA in 1983), starring Prunella Scales and the marvelous Judy Davis as the eponymous Good-Wives, with Richard Griffiths as Falstaff: its conclusion.
We see Mistresses Page and Ford gloat in anticipation of their revenge upon Sir John Falstaff: who soon makes his appearance as the Windsor bell tolls twelve. He is at the Oak of Herne the Hunter, dressed in imitation of Herne (and in accordance with Shakespeare’s stage-direction) with a “buck’s head” (and therefore mighty buck’s antlers) upon his head. He calls himself a “Windsor Stag.”
He is rattling a small chain in reference to Shakespeare’s line about Herne waving a chain at the site of his oak (a reference that I kind of don’t get, but there it is), excitedly looking forward to his romantic (so he thinks) rendezvous with the Merry Wives, Mistresses Page and Ford.
As their revenge-scheme, however, involves “punking” him with the Faeries, we next see Sir Hugh ushering the Windsor children into the pit in which they will hide. Faeries, to judge here, (1) wear Celtic white (2) with Celtic bells affixed to their costumes (3) and candles on their heads (in response to a line in the text), (4) with oddly wizard-like coned hats that cover their faces with a flap.
This mimics various English folkoric ritual animal-disguises, such as the Padstow Obby Orse, who celebrates the Birth of Spring on May Day by gambolling through the streets of Padstow, Cornwall.
The appearance of the “Faeries” interrupts Falstaff’s dalliance with the Wives- as well as his fantasy of “getting it on” as Herne the Horned Hunter (the English aspect of Horned Cernunnos).
Sir Hugh (masked as a Satyr) directs the Faeries in their Blessing Expedition into Windsor Castle, instructing them (in a reference to English Faerie-mythology) to pinch maids who have not cleaned the house well.
The Faerie-Queen (seen as a version of Elizabeth Herself; Elizabeth was frequently alluded to as the Faerie-Queen by her people) appears, to further direct the Fee-Folk in their Restorative Blessing of Windsor Castle; she is accompanied by a Hobgoblin. (Check out the Stang- the two-pronged staff held by Witches in medieval illustrations- wielded by Sir Hugh as the Satyr, as well as the Jack o’Lantern carried by one of the Faeries.)
Faeries Blessing a royal house is the conclusion to A Midsummer Night’s Dream as well, and is a reference to a pan-European Pagan custom of either Wandering Night-Ladies (in Central Europe) or the Faeryes (in the more Celtic regions) roaming about in the night, blessing homes with which they found favor.
The coolest moment (that I love) is when the Windsor Villagers, dressed like Faeries and Satyrs and Hobgoblins (to the tune of Elizabethan music), advance upon Herne’s Oak, to dance about it in a circle.
The moment is so atavistic in a way (so “is that what it looked like in the sixteenth century?”), it seems kind of amazing to me.
Anyway- through all of this Falstaff is hiding upon the ground in terror (cause mortals CAN NOT view Faerie stuff), and is therefore not super thrilled when they “smell a man of Middle Earth” (“Middle Earth” is therefore a phrase found in Shakespeare, before Tolkien, you see).
Herne the Proud Rutting Stag becomes here the Sacrificial-Victim Stag, as the Wild Hunt of Faeries sets upon him. As they leap over his petrified form (sort of as one leaps over a good-luck fire on a High Holiday), much Elizabethan festivity and masked revelry breaks out- forcing the question: is this something Elizabethan Folks at Windsor actually did (dress like Faeries, to dance with Horned Gods, at Herne’s Oak, at Midnight)?
Cause isn’t that kind of Pagan if they did?