365 Days of Shakespeare

That's right – the Bard in a year.

252. Sexuality in “A Midsummer Night’s Dream”

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Though all of Shakespeare’s plays are filled with sexuality, it is most apparent in his beloved comedy “A Midsummer Night’s Dream”. This romp of a play can barely get through an iamb without a sex pun or a bawdy joke. And even those lines that were not perhaps meant to sound sexual are often interpreted that way by modern actors with dirty minds. Just what is it about this play that makes the mind go to the “that’s what she said” place with such frequency?

For the most part, it is simply the fact that the play itself is rather lusty. Set in the lush Athenian forest on a balmy summer’s night, tempers and passions run high among all three of the sets of characters. The young lovers, of course, are already charged with their love, the fairies all but ooze sexuality (especially Titania in most productions), and even the mechanicals get in on the game, though usually it seems as though they are raunchy purely by accident.

Take, for example, Helena’s impassioned plea to Demetrius to allow her to continue to love him, even if he does not return the favor: she begs to be “used as you use your dog”, a line that is frequently accompanied by certain gestures to make a line that would have been simply pathetic into something rather suggestive.

When Puck, the fairy king Oberon’s faithful (if mischievous) servant sets out to magically make Demetrius love Helena and Titania love Nick Bottom (who has been given the head of an ass…don’t think too hard about it), sexual puns are thrown about the stage like confetti is thrown on New Year’s Eve.

Is the sexuality of “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” actually important to the plot? Most critics would say that it is. Though the play would be effective if the characters were affected by a more chastely sort of affection for each other, much of the humor is found in the sexuality of the play. Moreover, it demonstrates the power of the setting – that behavior in the forest is so different from that in town – and the power of the magical flower used to cause so many of these feelings the characters have for each other.

So what does all this sexuality mean for an audience member? Mainly that before you decide to take the kids to a production, you may want to call ahead and find out if it is appropriate!

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Written by Caroline Mincks

June 10, 2010 at 8:48 PM

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