A Shakespearean Glance at the People and Issues of the Day.

Thursday, August 03, 2006

A Midsummer's Night Pregnancy


My wife is pregnant. This is our first child, and the odd wonder of what is happening refuses to wear off. Every few days brings a new ache or pain, which my wife greets with an equanimity that is beyond me. Indeed she seems to welcome the more novel discomforts as continuing proof of his growing life. Too young for counsel, our son is naturally excused from any part he may be playing in her discomfort.

We have named him (or will name him, depending on your politics) Isaiah. You will recall that the prophet Isaiah was the one who persuaded the people of Israel, when in exile, that there was a purpose to their suffering - that it was intended to soften the hearts of their oppressors.

I know, we’re still waiting.

There is a pregnancy in A Midsummer’s Night Dream. It is recounted by Titania, a goddess who is squabbling with her lord - but we would say co-deity - Oberon. Somewhat desultorily (to them), their tiff is causing ruin to the human world –

Titania: “The ox hath therefore stretched his yoke in vain,
The plowman lost his sweat, and the green corn
Hath rotted ere his youth attained a beard…”

The two lovers are fighting over a young human boy. Titania, who came into possession of the boy when her human servant died in childbirth, won’t yield him up to Oberon, who seeks to make the boy his “henchman.” Out of love for the remembered mother, Titania will not give up the son:

“His mother was a vot’ress of my order
And in the spiced Indian air by night
Full often hath she gossiped by my side
And sat with me on Neptune’s yellow sands,
Marking the’ embarked traders on the flood,
When we have laughed to see the sails conceive
And grow big-bellied with the wanton wind;
Which she, with pretty and with swimming gait,
Following – her womb then rich with my young squire –
Would imitate, and sail upon the land
To fetch me trifles, and return again
As from a voyage, rich with merchandise.
But she, being mortal, of that boy did die;
And for her sake I will not part with him.”

Like a good republican, I at first typed, “to fetch me rifles.”

In any event, the image is of a young pregnant woman and her boss - a Greek goddess – sitting on a beach somewhere in India. How did they get to India? Well, Titania is a goddess, after all. It is nighttime and they are watching trading ships. The ships’ sails “conceive and grow big-bellied with the wanton wind,” and Titania's servant weaves about on the sand, using her pregnant belly to imitate them.

“To fetch my trifles, and return again
As from a voyage rich with merchandise.”

But it is no earthly voyage that my wife is on, now just a few weeks from her home port, as she fetches the rich merchandise of new life into the world from the place of its origin; that is, somewhere behind events, where our true purpose lies.

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