(Act 2, Scene 1)
I know a bank where the wild thyme blows, Where oxlips and the nodding violet grows, Quite over-canopied with luscious woodbine, With sweet musk-roses and with eglantine: There sleeps Titania sometime of the night, Lull’d in these flowers with dances and delight; And there the snake throws her enamell’d skin, Weed wide enough to wrap a fairy in...
This is one of my favorite passages from Shakespeare, from one of my favorite of his plays. It’s not the whole monologue. After these few lines, Oberon allows his jealousy, because his wife has adopted a mortal boy, to turn him mean. He anoints his fairy queen, Tatiana’s eyes with a magic potion that will make her fall in love with the first thing she sees, the weaver, Nick Bottom, who has been magically given a donkey’s head.
I had to look up the flowers.
Weed is a synonym for a garment. So the snake’s enameled skin is a garment that would fit a fairy. If you’ve read novels set during the Nineteenth Century, you might have come across a reference to “widow’s weeds,” in other words, her mourning clothes.
In Shakespeare’s day summer was considered to begin on May first, thus, the summer solstice was midsummer, the time when the boundaries between the human world and the fairy world were particularly thin. Fairies could cross over then and meddle in human lives. Hopefully, for the better.