Robert Herrick

Tom Cain and Ruth Connolly (eds), The Complete Poetry of Robert Herrick, Vol. 2

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The 'Oberon' poems: MS 15 * King Oberon's Apparel by Simeon Steward; MS 16 Oberon's Feast; MS 17 Oberon's Palace


15* Beinecke Library, Yale, Osborn b 197, pp. 1–2

16 BL Add. MS 22603, ff,6i1r–62r

17 BL Add. MS 22603, ff.59r–61r

These three poems were composed by Herrick and Sir Simeon Steward, probably during their joint residence at Trinity Hall, Cambridge, and before 1626.36 The practice of responding to one another's poems may have been habitual with them, although only one other example of such competitive versifying survives (see MS 9 and 2.494–5). Doubts about the likelihood of Steward's authorship of 'King Oberon's Apparell' have been resolved by Cain ('Robert Herrick') and in light of the fact that fifteen of the poem's twenty-four MS witnesses attribute the poem to Steward, another, Grey 7.a.29 corrects its attribution from Herrick to Steward and only one witness, Folger V.a.322, actually attributes 'King Oberon's Apparell' to Herrick, the case that it is Steward's work is persuasive. The friends must have met at Cambridge, most likely at Trinity Hall, where Steward (1579/8o?–1629?), the older by two decades, is thought topg 83 have still had a room when Herrick migrated there in 1615. There is some evidence that Michael Drayton and William Browne were familiar with Herrick's and Steward's work (see 2.8–10) and drew on it for their own fairy poetry. The tone of these three poems and Herrick and Steward's connection to Sir John Mennes's 'Order of the Fancy' has also led Raylor to argue for these poems' importance in influencing the growth of the burlesque as a literary form in 1630s London, a mode championed by members of this literary network.37

Two pieces of information suggest that the poems may have been composed around 1626, although an earlier date is possible. Mildmay Fane, in a poem addressed to Herrick written in spring 1626, mentions that he has Herrick's 'Obberon' for company; and the subtitle to the (bowdlerized) 1634 printed version of 'King Oberon's Apparell' retitles it A Description of the King of Fayries Clothes, brought to him on New-yeares day in the morning, 1626, by his Queenes Chamber-maids.38 The final poem, 'Oberon's Palace', is copied by the mid-1620s miscellany BL25303 (see 2.331 for dating) so, if they are written consecutively (and this is by no means certain) it is likely that all three poems were composed before the spring of 1626, and 1625 seems a reasonable terminus ad quem.

Steward's poem logically begins the sequence—a narrative of the fairy king's dressing, dining, and departing—and Herrick's two poems conclude it, although all three poems appear together in only five witnesses and not all of these place the poems in this order or even copy them consecutively. Four of these five also use the same source, the Herrick 'collection' (see 2.13–15), for all three poems.39 The second and third poems are printed in Hesperides as numbers 293 and 443 respectively and, like the 'Sack' poems, they are placed well apart in the volume, deliberately it appears.40 Herrick also wrote a third Oberon poem (223), which does not survive at all in MS, and may have been intended to replace 'King Oberon's Apparel'. Steward's poem is by far the most popular of the three in MS, followed by 'Oberon's Feast' with 17 MS and 1 print witness (besides 1648) and 'Oberon's Palace', which appears in 7 MSS.

Since the poems are composed in dialogue with one another, we have chosen here, as with the 'Sack' poems, to present them one after the other. Each poem has been collated separately and in every case the copytext was a witness to the version of the poem in the Herrick 'collection'. Given that there are at least four witnesses to this parent for every poem, we opt in each case to reproduce the material witness which has the fewest errors. We keep its accidentals but correct any clear errors or misreadings on the authority of the remaining witnesses to the same parent. For 'King Oberon's Apparel' we use the MS of Tobias Alston, Osborn b 197 (see 2.14–15 ) and for both poems by Herrick we reproduce the text found in BL22, transcribed probably in the mid-1640s (see 2.13 for dating). Unlike 'King Oberon's Apparel' or 'Oberon's Feast', there is an early witness topg 84 'Oberon's Palace', BL Add. MS 25303 (BL25), which is copied from a different source and has equally strong claims to be a copytext. However, since BL25 omits a couplet, we have opted to reproduce the text of BL22, but we have amended the copytext of 'Oberon's Palace' at three points (ll. 79, 93, and 98) where it is in disagreement with both BL25 and 1648.

Notes Settings


Editor’s Note
36 For cross references and notes to MS 16 and MS 17 see the commentaries to 293 and 443.
Editor’s Note
37 See Raylor, Cavaliers, Clubs and Literary Culture, pp. 128, 140.
Editor’s Note
38 Fane's poem comments that 'Frute trees bear not now, but blow [i.e. are in blossom]' (Poetry, p. 61, l.10 ).
Editor’s Note
39 These are YA19, BL22, BDA3 and BDR1. The odd one out is BDE4, which copies its text of 'Oberon's Palace' from a copy of this source but uses a different source for 'Oberon's Feast' and 'King Oberon's Palace'.
Editor’s Note
40 See Herrick's comment, 293.5–6 'Take first the feast; these dishes gone; | Wee'l see the Fairy-Court anon.'
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