The Encyclopedia Americana (1920)/Oberon

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OBERON. Of all the works of the once fashionable, facile and wildly piquant senior member of the poetical galaxy which made the court of Karl August of Saxe-Weimar the literary centre of Germany, his romatic epic ‘Oberon’ (1780), is the only one universally read to-day in Germany. However, it is difficult for our age to appreciate Goethe's enthusiastic reception of the poem with the prophecy that “as long as poetry remains poetry, gold gold and crystal crystal, ‘Oberon’ will be loved and admired as a masterpiece of poetic art.”

It transplanted the manner and form of Ariosto's ‘Orlando furioso,’ though the stanzas are not so regularly built as the Italian. Based on Count de Tressan's (1778) narration of the chanson de geste of “Huon de Bordeaux” (12th century) and influenced by Shakespeare's ‘Midsummernight's Dream’ and Pope's version of Chaucer's ‘The Marchantes Tale,’ it mingles the fairy lore of Brittany and of ‘The Arabian Nights’ to celebrate exploits of the king of the fairies, Oberon (Old French Alberon, derived from the German Alberich — ‘Elf-prince’). For the slaying of Karl the Great's despicable son, Charlot, Huon duke of Guienne, is condemned to go to Babylon (or Bagdad) and demand four molars and a tuft of the beard of the kalif after kissing the latter's daughter and slaying her intended. This feat is accomplished through the friendship of Oberon and the magic power of his horn, a blast of which causes all wicked persons to dance, and of a certain ring, which had been abstracted from its owner, Titania, and to which all the spirit world was subject. Commanded to go to the Pope at Rome before consummating marriage with the kalif's daughter, Huon yields to temptation and the couple are thrown on a desert isle by Oberon, who had deserted his Titania with the vow never to return to her unless a human couple should be found who were absolutely faithful, since she had championed the faithless girl wife of an aged dotard. About the invented quarrel of Oberon and his queen, Titania, is centred the whole conception of Wieland's poem. Thrown by the instrumentality of Titania into captivity in Tunis, Huon and Rezia withstand the first test of temptation and, reunited, return to Paris and reconcile Karl. C. M. von Weber based his opera ‘Oberon’ on Wieland's poem. Consult Köhler, Reinhold, ‘Oberon’ (Leipzig 1868); Wieland, C. M., ‘Gesammelte Werke’ (Franz Muncker, Vol. I, Stuttgart and Berlin); id., ‘Werke’ (Prussian Academy of Sciences, Erich Schmidt and others, 1909; English trans., William Sotheby, London 1805).

Carl E. Eggert.