365 Days of Shakespeare

That's right – the Bard in a year.

241. A Midsummer Night’s Dream: Review

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I write on Helium from time to time (and by that I mean “all the time, and that’s where I have been rather than this actually remaining an accurate 365 project, whoops”), and lately I have been writing more and more about Shakespeare. I figure since I am about a full month behind on this project, I should kill two birds with one stone. So each time I write an article on Helium, I will cross-post it here!

My latest is a review of A Midsummer Night’s Dream:

“A Midsummer Night’s Dream”: a funny little play about rape, as a friend of mine once called it while we worked on a production together. And she’s not wrong – though it is a comedy (and a genuinely hilarious one at that), this play possesses a deeply disturbing bit of subtext beneath its whimsical romps through the forest.

Essentially, the play is one with three plots. There is the story of the lovers, two sets of young couples who are not paired up correctly. One couple, Lysander and Hermia, are desperate to escape the city and get married before Hermia is forced to wed Demetrius. Demetrius is more or less being stalked by Helena, whom he likely truly loves but who he shoves aside in favor of Hermia’s riches and beauty.

Then there is the story of the fairies, king Oberon and queen Titania, and Oberon’s faithful – if prone to mischief and mistakes – servant, Puck. Oberon and Titania are in the middle of a quarrel over Titania’s adopted son, and Oberon is so angered by her refusal to grant him custody of the boy that he sets Puck to the task of finding a magical flower whose bloom causes people to fall in love with the first living creature they see.

This is where the mechanicals enter, a ragtag group of wannabe actors trying to put on a decent show for the royals of Athens. The resident ham, Nick Bottom, is given the head of a donkey by Puck and is led to Titania, who promptly falls in love with him upon waking.

Such a fate is also set upon Lysander and Demetrius, who through a misunderstanding of Puck’s are both caused to fall in love with Helena. Hilarity ensues.

The show is usually presented as a lighthearted romantic comedy, whose characters are paired up happily ever after through extraordinary circumstances. However, many critics seem to believe that the use of the magical flower and the way that so many characters have their affections manipulated is a form of rape – emotional rape, yes, but it is a violation nonetheless. This may seem dissonant in a comedy, but Shakespeare was fond of inserting deeply serious messages into his “lighter” plays. “The Merchant of Venice”, for instance, is a play in which a man almost has a pound of flesh cut off his body to repay a debt, and the debtor is legally stripped of his faith – and it is listed as a comedy.

“A Midsummer Night’s Dream” is a lark when read on paper and a joy to see performed, no matter the interpretation. It is laugh-out-loud funny, often very touching, and certainly lives up to its title of “classic”.

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Written by Caroline Mincks

May 30, 2010 at 9:30 PM

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