Don’t you just love it when things come together? My friend Karen and I had been trying to buy tickets to the Lake Tahoe Shakespeare Festival. This year’s play is A Midsummer’s Night Dream, so it is only fitting that something magical happened. Tickets were selling out fast so the only day available was August 17th with only the upper gallery- seats on the grass far from the stage- left. We were not sure we wanted to spend the money to hear the play, not see it, when Karen received a phone call from another friend. “Two of my friends can’t make to see Shakespeare, do you want the tickets?”. Turns out the tickets were for the 17th and in the lower gallery! So this afternoon I am heading up to beautiful Lake Tahoe to see Shakespeare’s words in action!
The play will not be set in ancient Athens, instead it will be set in 1960’s London. I was looking forward to some good old fashion Elizabethan costumes, but looking at some pictures from a London production done in the same fashion, I think I’ll end up having a groovy time.
I thought this might be a nice time to post a short blog post based on a paper I wrote and some facts I found on Lit.Char.com
Title: A Midsummer Night’s Dream
Author: William Shakespeare
Type of work: Play
Genre: Comedy, Fantasy
Written in: London, circa 1595
First published: 1600
Setting: The city of Athens and the forest just outside, in some distant, ancient time when it was ruled by the mythological hero Theseus.
Theme: Love . Shakespeare explores how people tend to fall in love with those who appear beautiful to them. People we think we love at one time in our lives can later seem not only unattractive but even repellent. For a time, this attraction to beauty might appear to be love at its most intense. Shakespeare explores the arbitrary nature of love/attraction by having the young lovers be almost interchangeable. There is little physical difference between Demetri and Lysander, while Helena and Hermia are mentioned as having grown up as “two cherries on the same branch”. Shakespeare’s audience is forced to consider what an apparently irrational and whimsical thing love is, at least when experienced between youngsters.
Shakespeare wrote Romeo and Juliet around the same time he wrote A Midsummer Night’s Dream. In A Midsummer Night’s Dream, it appears that Shakespeare mocks tragic love stories through the escapades of the lovers in the forests and the ridiculous version of Pyramus and Thisbe (a tragic romance from Ovid’s The Metamorphoses) that Bottom and his company perform. So at the same time Shakespeare was writing the greatest love story ever told, he was also mocking the conventions of such love stories.
It is generally agreed that the play was created to celebrate a wedding in a noble household.
There are two such occasions appropriate for this first performance. One is the wedding in 1595 of Elizabeth Vere, Lord Burghley’s granddaughter, to William Earl of Derby at Greenwich Palace. The other, considered more likely, is the wedding in 1596 of Elizabeth Carey to Thomas, son of Lord Berkeley at the Blackfriars house of the bride’s father, Sir George Carey. Elizabeth Carey was the granddaughter of Henry, Lord Hunsdon, Lord Chamberlain to Queen Elizabeth. Lord Hunsdon was the patron of the Lord Chamberlain’s Men, Shakespeare’s company. A Midsummer Night’s Dream was probably performed at court on 1 January 1604.
Unlike many of Shakespeare’s plays, there’s no single source for the plot of A Midsummer Night’s Dream. Shakespeare took various tales and characters from a wide number of sources and stitch edthem together to create his play. For example, the characters of Theseus and Hippolyta come from an English translation of Plutarch’s Lives of the Noble Grecians and Romans, the tale of Pyramus and Thisbe and the name of Titania comes from Ovid’s Metamorphoses, the story of a man turned into an ass is told in Apuleius’s Golden Ass, and Oberon’s name comes from a medieval French romance entitled Huon of Bordeaux.
Thoughts about the play
Shakespeare uses the woods as a symbol of transformation. All the human characters that enter the woods come out a little wiser and a little bit surer of themselves. The woods offers a safe place for Shakespeare’s characters to disappear into in order to learn, then re-emerged changed for the better.
Lysander and Hermia run off into the woods in order to escape the Athenian law that forbids them from marrying. Had they stayed in the city there would have been no hope of being together. By leaving society and entering the woods, the two lovers are free to plan a life together. Demetrius enters the woods only to bring Hermia back to the city, back to the rules of proper society. He has no intention of staying in the woods for long. Helena follows Demetrius hoping he has a change of heart. She sees the trip into the woods as a chance to transform Demetrius’ love of Hermia. She too knows that she would have no hope of this in the city. By having the lovers go into a woodland setting, Shakespeare can have them experiencing events outside of realm of normalcy.
The actors in Shakespeare’s play with-in a play, chose to go into the woods in order to practice in private. Quince remarks, “There (the woods) we will rehearse, for if we meet in the city, we shall be dogged with company and our devices known”(I.2-99-100). That a group of laborers or rude mechanicals as they are known, think they are good enough to act in front of a Duke, makes sense only in the world of fantasy. It is little wonder they meet in the woods to practice. The contrast between their aspirations of putting on a play for the Duke’s wedding does not stop here; the play they start to practice in the woods bears little resemblance to the play they actually put on once back in the city. Shakespeare is showing us, what happens in the woods, stays in the woods. Reality and fantasy will not meet. Even at the end of the play, when the fairies enter the Duke’s palace, they do so only when everyone is asleep and perhaps dreaming of the woods.
But why an ass head?
In Greek mythology Centaurs are creatures that have horses bodies and human heads. Most were savage; more beast than men, but save one, Chiron. Chiron was known for his wisdom and kindness. In Edith Hamilton’s Mythology she notes that Chiron “thought thoughts too great for man” (414). Upon waking Bottom declares “I have had a dream past the wit of man to say what it was”(4.1 215-216). It would seem Bottom also had thoughts too great for man. Shakespeare would have known of Chiron’s wisdom and used Bottom as a pun on classic mythology. Shakespeare has Bottom’s head transformed, not his body and shows him to be less than wise.
The course of true love never did run smooth.—Lysander tells Hermia that they are not the only true lovers who have had troubles.
Lord, what fools these mortals be!—Puck’s gleeful comment on the fallings in and out of love of Helena, Hermia, Lysander, and Demetrius.
And though she be but little, she is fierce.—Helena describes Hermia as she pleads with the men to defend her from Hermia’s jealous rage.