A Midsummer Night's Dream
Approaches to the Play:
This wonderful play is replete with characters who display,
in large form, morsels or gobs of what many of us wish we had, or were, ourselves.
Strength. Confidence. Power. Forgiveness. Lack of inhibition. A sense of humour. Fealty to
parent and tradition vs emerging independence. Being comfortable in our own skin. Daring.
Love. Unselfconsciousness. Fidelity. Revenge. Friendship. The list could go on and on.
This fine-wrought fantasy may be approached in many ways; some possibilities include the
use, and abuse of power, the hasty jumping to conclusions (which, in this play, could be
an Olympic sport), '-ism' of many sorts (sexism, ageism, narcissism) and our love, as a
species, for daydreams and fantasy. One may wish to see the play as an allegory. Others
might investigate the personal commentaries, which abound.
The action is made up of three sub-sets, which intertwine. There is the marriage play
leading to the union of the Theseus and Hyppolita. There is the faerie play of love, lust
and consummation, with a love-triangle between Titania, Oberon and Bottom, each of whom is
'played with' by Puck. There is the action of Bottom and his friends practicing to put on
a drama, which becomes a sub-subset (the Pyramus & Thisbe drama). Tragedy is
interwoven with comedy. There are two proposed elopements. Shakespeare owes a great debt
to Ovid's 'Metamorphoses', which seems to be the source-text for many of the ideas,
perhaps filtered through the quill of Chaucer.
The human world and faerie world parallel each other: Each major character has an
'opposite number'. The Duke and Oberon. Titania and Hyppolita. Bottom and Puck. The
quartet of Lysander and Hermia, Demetrius and Helena are the mortal echoes of each other
they are the humans who want to marry within the constraints of Time, which the
faeries live outside of
and Theseus' and Hyppolita's relationship is idealized.
Everyone winds up with the right partner, but the confusion is in the getting there.
Oberon speaks what must be the truly magic words that anyone in a loving relationship
would wish to be blest with; a safe home, fortunate children, constancy in love, a joyous
marriage-bed, a house of peace.
As you proceed through the play, try to diagram who is (at present) in love with who. What
a tangled web we weave! What are the expectations and foibles that get everyone into the
messes they find themselves in, at one point or another? How do these situations talk
about your life? What advice would you give to each character if, at one point in the
play, they wrote a letter to "Dear Abby" and complained about their current
circumstances? What are the faerie characteristics that are, oh! so human?
And what part of you is Puck?
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