Shakespeare is the poet of double vision.He was a mingler of comedy and tragedy,low life and high, prose and verse. Hewas a teller of English folktales who was Shakespeare isequally versed in the mythology ofancient Greece and Rome. His mind and the poet ofworld were poised between Catholicismand Protestantism, old feudal ways and double visionnew bourgeois ambitions, rationalthinking and visceral instinct. Nowhere ishis double vision more apparent than in AMidsummer Night’s Dream, a play thatmoves between the city and the wood,day and night, reason and imagination,waking life and dream.
Shakespeare’s type of romantic comedy follows a tradition...which has affinities with the medieval traditions of theseasonal ritual play. We may call it the drama of the greenworld, its plot being assimilated to the ritual theme of thetriumph of life and love over the waste land... in all thesecomedies there is the same rhythmic movement from normalworld to green world and back again. (Northrop Frye, The Anatomy of Criticism, 1990 , p 182)
The second world is called the ‘green world’ because it oftenThe first is a world belonging takes place in a forest, a This is the world created ourto older people or parental wood or another non-urban of the resolution in the play. Itfigures. It is usually environment. It is a world of is a world that has learnt fromrepressive and often urban. freedom, but it is also a world its past mistakes and hasThere is generally a lack of of confusion. Forests were resolved any previousfreedom due to the laws and sometimes viewed as being problems. Usually, charactersestablished ways of doing magical and dangerous return from the ‘green world’,things. Most often it is a world places (think of all the dark often back into the urbanresisted by the young people, forests in fairy stories). This world, but this time, a newwho find it unfair and is an environment most suited order is established.unsympathetic to their needs. to fairies, mix-ups, disguiseThe ‘old world’ may only be and misinformation.seen for a very short while inthe play. The ‘Green The ‘Old In Britain and Shakespeare was World’ time in which Europe during the The ‘New World’ writing,were untouched and of forest huge, dense swathes World’ unpopulated.
The ‘green world’ represents disorder. As comedies become MAGICAL THINKING In the age of candle, nights were more sophisticated over time, there are new ways in which this seriously dark! The night was ‘green world’ operates. We need to remember that despite an accordingly imagined to be seriouslyWood, night, imagination,people inThese are the co-ordinates of the overlay of Christianity, dream. this period were still very different from the day. The very factsecond form of sight, which is best described asand little thinking. It superstitious, believing in the work of fairies magical people. of long hours of light itself conferredis the mode of being that belongs to visionaries, astrologers, ‘wise a kind of magic upon Midsummerwomen’ and poets. It conjures up acomedy ‘is the drama of the Fry argued that Shakespearean world animated with energiesand spirit forces: it finds correspondencesto the ritual themes of the green world, its plot being assimilated between earthly things The ‘Green World’ Night. This is the night of the year when magical thinking is given full triumph of life and love over the waste land’ (Northrop Frye, The rein. For centuries, the summerand divine. of Criticism, 1990 in this way 182).‘in a fine frenzy’ asother Anatomy The eye that see , p rolls By this, and his solstice had been a festive occasionTheseus says, glancing ‘from heaven following: arguments, he seems to mean the to earth, from earth to celebrated with bonfires, feasting andheaven’. It ‘bodies forms of things unknown’, ‘turns them to shapes merrymaking.and gives to airy nothing a local habitation and a name.’ The rural world means that urban and business concerns can beMagical thinking answers a deep human need. It is a way of forgotten.making sense of things that would otherwise seem painfully random Time is also forgotten. There are no clocks.– things like love and beauty. An ugly birthmark on a baby would beexplained away by the suggestion that the infant might with. The older, restrictive generation can be dispensed be a‘changeling child’, swapped in the cradle by some night-tripping There is often gender confusion.fairy. mythical and real merge. in the process of what we now call The The sheer chance involvedsexual chemistry may be rationalized in the story of the magic It is a temporary holiday atmosphere.properties of the juice of the flower called love-in-idleness. And in aworld dependant on hierarchy. There is no social an agricultural economy, bad harvests weresomehow more palatable is explained by the intervention ofmalicious spritesthis can be seen again and weather. Fry notes that upon the vicissitudes of the again in Shakespearean comedy – notably in A Midsummer Night’s Dream.
The ‘new world’ is symbolised by several elements – notably a marriage, or very often multiple marriages. Multiple marriages are important because they usually cut across all classes of people, suggesting social harmony. Other important elements thatThe ‘New World’ represent this ‘new world’ are dancing (a celebratory act), feasting and an opportunity for those doling out the ‘law’ to reform and rethink. Sometimes a character will offer an epilogue, explaining what their hopes are for the future. Obviously, marriage not only signifies a union, but also the opportunities for children, and therefore progress in the future. Because love is a kind of uncontrolled and irrational force, marriage demonstrates that it is also a way of controlling and managing it in the ‘new world’. Epilogue The short concluding section of a play or poem, something summarising the content or theme.
A sense that they have had the ‘holiday’ of living in another world; of experiencing others’ lives and problems with the assurance that most of them will be resolved happily at the play’s end; of sharing a sense of the laughable absurdities of the ordinary world which can’t be fixed. As CastiglioneTwo hours’ traffic wrote. Whatsoever therefore causethWhat does the audience laughter, the same maketh the mind experience in the two jocund and giveth pleasure, nor suffereth a man in that instant to mind the hours’ traffic of a troublesome griefs that our life is full of.Shakespearian comedy? Therefore (as you see) laughing is very acceptable to all men, and he is much to be commended that can cause it in due time and after a comely sort.
A Midsummer Night’s Dream and Frye’s InterpretationNorthrop Frye’s ‘The Argument of Comedy’ pinpoints a pervasive structure: ‘theaction of the comedy begins in a world represented as a normal world, moves intothe green world, goes into a metamorphosis there in which the comic resolution isachieved, and returns to the normal world’. But for Shakespeare, the green world,the forest and its fairies, is no less real than the court. Frye, again, sums it upbrilliantly:‘This world of fairies, dreams, disembodied souls, and pastoral lovers may not be a‘real’ world, but, if not, there is something equally illusory in the stumbling andblinded follies of the ‘normal’ world, of Theseus’ Athens with its idiotic marriage law...’In The Tempest Prospero gives a speech about the dream nature of reality and howit applies equally to both the ‘old world’ of Milan and the ‘green world’ of theenchanted island. ‘We spend our lives partly in a waking world we call normal andpartly in a dream world which we create of our own desires. Shakespeare endowsboth worlds with equal imaginative power, brings them opposite one another, andmakes each world seem unreal when seen by the light of the other.’
Act 5 Scene 2OBERON: Now, until the break of day, Helpful hints: Through this house each fairy stray. •What is Oberon talking about? To the best bride-bed will we, Which by us shall blessed be; •What’s the rhyme scheme of Oberon’s And the issue there create(400) speech? What might this suggest about Ever shall be fortunate. the resolution of the play? So shall all the couples three •Which conventions of the dramatic Ever true in loving be; And the blots of Natures hand comedy does Oberon reference in his Shall not in their issue stand;(405) Never mole, hare-lip, nor scar, Oberon’s Epilogue speech? •Who are the ‘couples three’? Nor mark prodigious, such as are •What does he promise inat the veryto the Look at Oberon’s speech relation end Despised in nativity, Shall upon their children be. couples’ future children? Dream. It is of A Midsummer Night’s significant because it seems to With this field-dew consecrate,(410) •How does the speech reference the summarise so much about the function Every fairy take his gait, ‘greenShakespearian comedy. world’? of world’ and the ‘new As you And each several chamber bless, comment on the language, consider how •At the end of ties together the various this speech the speech what does Through this palace, with sweet peace; And the owner of it blest Oberon reference to suggest that like strands of the comedy. Note time? most ‘high status’ characters in Ever shall in safety rest.(415) How does this linkcomedy, ‘green world’ Shakespearean to the Oberon uses Trip away; make no stay; andverse. world’ ‘new Meet me all by break of day.
Act 5 Scene 2Oberon is speaking inrhyming couplets. These Now, until the break of day,suggest that a certain Through this house each fairy stray. Oberon’s Epilogueharmony has been reachedat the end of the play. To the best bride-bed will we, Multiple marriage is an Which by us shall blessed be; important signifier at the end And the issue there create(400) of a Shakespearean comedy. speech, there is much In this short This refers to Theseus Ever shall be fortunate. that can be related to the overall and Hippolyta, Hermia So shall all the couples three and Lysander, and Helena and Demetrius. Ever true in loving be; function of comedies. Oberon And the blots of Natures hand refers to solutions and new Because of the fairy’s Shall not in their issue stand;(405) blessing, the children of beginnings. There is an emphasis the three couples will not Never mole, hare-lip, nor scar, on the importance of children. have any disfigurement Nor mark prodigious, such as are and will be born healthy. Despised in nativity, There is a notion that we would all Shall upon their children be. This is more magical since to bless our field wish fairies it comes from the homes in With this field-dew consecrate,(410) and perhaps is way. towater.structural this links back the concerns of Athenian drama. This fairy holy The The fairy world is Every fairy take his gait, importance of the new dawn is now in And each several chamber bless, harmony Through this palace, with sweet peace; also noted. again with the human And the owner of it blest The disorder of before has been negated. world. Ever shall in safety rest.(415) All the characters are now safe. Trip away; make no stay; Consider: How do you think modern audiences Meet me all by break of day. respond to the ending of MSND? Do you think they The night alluded to here is harmonious since the couples are now together. The dawn makes for a would believe in the capacity of fairies to bless a new era in Athenian society. house? Are superstition and folklore important?
Interpretations by other readers As you proceed through your studies of English literature you will come to understand that different readers offer different interpretations of texts. The ways in which they have been interpreted are often influenced by the time period the criticism was written in, as well as other trends in literary criticism. You should aim to read and recognise a number of different points of view that will help you to understand the text. It is often good to include or indicate these different reading in your coursework. Use their views to reflect your own. It is always worth keeping an open mind on what different observers are saying. The patterns proposed by Frye do work, by and large, they are a useful first approach to ‘meaning’. But as Jean Howard points out, reliance on certain premises of Frye can lead us to minimize some aspects of the comedies, most notably the degree of unresolved turbulence and contradictions present in those plays and present in the audience’s aesthetic experience of them... In MSND what might the ‘unresolved turbulence and contradictions’ be?
Create a representation (pretty picture) of each of the ‘worlds’ (old, green and new) in MSND. Annotate each with: a) evidence (Shakespeare’s lovely words) from the text which support the key features of Fry’s ‘Green World’ interpretation. Make sure that you spell out which feature each piece of evidence supports. b) evidence to support the conventions of dramatic comedy (see recap of conventions attached). Make sure you spell out which convention each piece of evidence supports.Frye’s ‘Green World’ A delightful added extra: Add, in relevant places, to your representations of the ‘worlds’ in MSND Your independent study task for the and historical and contextual titbits you have picked up along the way (either from that first homework or lessons). For example: although half term holidays. largely Christian in belief, the Elizabethan audience were still largely superstitious, believing in the work of fairies. Want to extend those brains? Read the Want to extend those brains some more? extended version of Look into the medieval traditions of the the lesson on: seasonal ritual play to which Fry compares http://missallenenglish. Shakespeare’s comedies. wordpress.com/
The Conventions of Dramatic Comedy (a recap): mix-ups, chaos, interlinked plots, happy ending, foolishness of human beings, love, exaggerations of stereotypes...General conventions:• Comedy highlights that human beings are in fact ridiculous and cannot change. Comedies, therefore, often confirm our view of the world.• Love is a motivating force and occasionally when people are in love and infatuated with someone else they do foolish things.• Usually end with a marriage or similar celebratory event, sometimes accompanied by music and dance.• Disorder is at the heart of comedy. This disorder can be funny and amusing, but it can also be threatening and dangerous.• Exaggerations of stereotypes are often used.• All dramatic comedies have the same basic structure to them: the tripartite structure of exposition, complication and resolution.Shakespeare’s conventions:• The main kind of comedies Shakespeare wrote are often labelled romantic comedies.• These plays are quite light-hearted, but do have some darker and more disturbing elements to them.• Like the model set in previous centuries, Shakespeare realised that the best kind of comedy is generated by a series of mix-ups where disorder is rife and life is turned upside down.• All of his comedies look at the foolishness of human beings.• They often have interlinked plots.
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