Study guide


Published on

Published in: Education
  • Be the first to comment

  • Be the first to like this

No Downloads
Total views
On SlideShare
From Embeds
Number of Embeds
Embeds 0
No embeds

No notes for slide

Study guide

  1. 1. UT Midsummer Night’s Dream The University of Madison University Theatre A Midsummer Night’s Dream By William ShakespeareMitchell Theatre, February 27 to March 14, 2009 Directed by Norma Saldivar Scenic Design by Aaron Kennedy Costume Design by Rachel Barnett Lighting Design by Matt Albrecht Sound Design by Ray Nardelli Stage Management by Marion Zennie Dramaturgy by Chris Morrison Study Guide By Chris Morrison 1
  2. 2. UT Midsummer Night’s Dream A Midsummer Night’s DreamOberon, King of the Fairies, as sketched by costume designer Rachel Barnett. Find out much more and see many more images at 2
  3. 3. UT Midsummer Night’s Dream Director’s Notes A Midsummer Night’s Dream is surely one of the most often produced ofShakespeare’s plays and, clearly for theatre producers, one of the most accessible. Itspopularity can be drawn from the distinctive characters that represent three uniqueworlds: those of the rarified world of nobility, ordinary workmen, and a fairy kingdomcaught in a web of action. At the core of the play is the theatrical device of moving thestory or action of the play and its characters from the court or society of men to thewoods where non-human entities reign. In doing so, Shakespeare provides us with anoutlet for change. He gives us the chance to witness the characters going through a life-altering experience. With the understanding that in Midsummer Shakespeare offers the complexity ofthree societies with the social hierarchy and unique social structures, we have attemptedto render this production in a non-traditional manner. We reveal the magic of this popularstory by placing it in the early 1950s on an unspecified island in the Greater Antilles. The Greater Antilles We mine the rich tapestry of Caribbean culture for inspiration on all levels of theproduction. In placing the production in the Greater Antilles, we have tried to emphasizethe universality of the playwright. Shakespeare’s extraordinary ability to expressfundamental human nature transcends not only time but also transcends culture and race. We attempt to transpose the story into a world influenced by the ideas of theislands, not to literally transpose the play to any one particular island but rather to use therich depth of culture to inform and articulate the play. Love is at the core of the story andlove is not always logical or completely reasonable, so this play is not grounded in aliteral world; it is dreamlike. And as such it is a mere reflection of a reality—recognizablebut not always logical, beautiful but sometimes frightening and—hopefully--inspiring. Norma Saldivar 3
  4. 4. UT Midsummer Night’s Dream Plot Summary Act One of A Midsummer Nights Dream begins in Theseus’s Athenian Palace.Theseus the Duke is warmly contemplating his upcoming marriage to Hippolyta, awarrior queen he “captured” abroad. We soon meet two sets of young lovers: Lysander &Hermia, and Demetrius & Helena. However conflict has arisen because Hermias fatherEgeus wants his daughter to marry Demetrius—Demetrius having recently fallen out oflove with Helena. Hermia, loving Lysander, refuses, so Egeus calls upon Theseus to usethe law to force Hermia to marry Demetrius. Theseus has no option but to tell Hermia shemust choose among (a) her father’s choice of husband (b) death or (c) spending the restof her life in a nunnery. Once alone, Hermia and Lysander decide to run away to theforest—beyond the bounds of Athenian law—and marry. They tell Helena of this and shedecides to try to win back Demetrius’s favor by telling him of the elopement plan. Meanwhile in the same forest the King and Queen of the Fairies, Oberon andTitania, have fallen into dispute over an Indian orphan. Titania has the boy and Oberonseeks possession. They argue and part in bad odor. Oberon instructs Puck AKA RobinGoodfellow—a particularly adept minion—to fetch him a very special flower, the juiceof which when applied to a sleeper’s eyes will make the victim fall in love with the firstperson (or animal) he or she sees on waking. Oberon hopes to apply this to Titania, thushumiliating her, and take the boy as his page. Both sets of mortal lovers (one set being “ex”) arrive in the forest separately.Demetrius, there to find Hermia and prevent her from marrying Lysander, is unpleasantto a “fawning” Helena. Oberon witnesses this, feels sorry for the young woman, and tellsPuck to put some of the same love juice on Demetrius’s eyes so that he will once againlove Helena. Puck mistakes Lysander for Demetrius so that when Lysander wakes andhappens to see Helena he falls for her. As the drug is potent, he now vociferously rejectsHermia whom he was about to marry. Confusion, angst, and recriminations abound. Also in the same part of the (crowded) forest, a group of Athenian tradesmen havemet to rehearse Pyramus and Thisbe—a rather silly Romeo and Juliet-like playconcerning two lovers, a lion, and a talking wall—which they hope to present before theDuke during the upcoming nuptials. Puck magics a donkey’s head onto Bottom, the mostbumptious of the actors, and Titania (with the love potion on her eyes) wakes up and fallsfor the now-monstrous Bottom. Oberon is delighted. However observing that Helena’splight has not improved, he decides to remedy the situation and “juices” Demetrius’s eyesso that he too wakes and falls for Helena. Rather than solving the situation however, onfinding herself the object of intense sexual rivalry between both Athenian men, Helena—prone to self-doubt—thinks she is the butt of a trick concocted by her companions. Sheand Hermia almost come to blows while the two men run off to fight it out. Trying tohelp the bickering mortals, Oberon has Puck separate the four and put them to sleep. Oberon administers an antidote to Lysander and Titania (but not to Demetriuswho will probably pass the rest of his life under the influence of Cupid’s love juice).Oberon and Titania make peace and he gets the boy. Theseus and Hippolyta arrive in theforest to find the somewhat baffled lovers—now paired off to everyone’s satisfaction—waking from the strangest dreams. Finally at the wedding feast, which now embracesthree couples, Pyramus and Thisbe is performed to everyone’s great amusement. AMidsummer Night’s Dream ends with general frivolity and fairy blessings. 4
  5. 5. UT Midsummer Night’s Dream The Caribbean Connection. (Movie and Video Clips)The Lost City (205) a movie by Andy Garcia starring Garcia, Dustin Hoffman, and BillMurray. “In Havana, Cuba in the late 1950s, a wealthy family, one of whose sons is aprominent nightclub owner, is caught in the violent transition from the oppressive regimeof Batista to the Marxist government of Fidel Castro. Castros regime ultimately leads thenightclub owner to flee to New York.”Director Norma Saldivar suggests this movie as a good source of the ambiance of thisproduction of A Midsummer Night’s Dream.Trailer for The Lost City City Part 1 (the rest is on YouTube in parts): clip concerning Cuban religious customsVirgen del caridad del cobre Cuban Revolution (Warning! This has real firing squads) Revolution and local religion: MusicAny YouTube clip of the Buena Vista Social Club (A Cuban music group). For example:<>And the song “Silencio” by Ibrahim Ferrar <> 5
  6. 6. UT Midsummer Night’s Dream Character ListPuck - Also known as Robin Goodfellow, Puck is Oberon’s jester, a mischievous fairywho delights in playing pranks on mortals. Though A Midsummer Night’s Dream dividesits action between several groups of characters, Puck is the closest thing the play has to aprotagonist. His enchanting, mischievous spirit pervades the atmosphere, and his anticsare responsible for many of the complications that propel the other main plots: hemistakes the young Athenians, applying the love potion to Lysander instead ofDemetrius, thereby causing chaos within the group of young lovers; he also transformsBottom’s head into that of an ass. Oberon – (O-be-ron) The king of the fairies, Oberon is initially at odds with his wife,Titania, because she refuses to relinquish control of a young Indian prince whom hewants for a knight. Oberon’s desire for revenge on Titania leads him to send Puck toobtain the love-potion flower that creates so much of the play’s confusion and farce.Titania – (Tie-tan-ya) The beautiful queen of the fairies, Titania resists the attempts ofher husband, Oberon, to make a knight of the young Indian prince that she has beengiven. Titania’s brief, potion-induced love for Nick Bottom, whose head Puck hastransformed into that of an ass, yields the play’s foremost example of the contrast motif.Lysander – (Lie-san-der) A young man of Athens, in love with Hermia. Lysander’srelationship with Hermia invokes the theme of love’s difficulty: he cannot marry heropenly because Egeus, her father, wishes her to wed Demetrius; when Lysander andHermia run away into the forest, Lysander becomes the victim of misapplied magic andwakes up in love with Helena.Demetrius – (De-mee-tree-us) A young man of Athens, initially in love with Hermia andultimately in love with Helena. Demetrius’s obstinate pursuit of Hermia throws love outof balance among the quartet of Athenian youths and precludes a symmetrical two-couplearrangement.Hermia – (Her-mee-a) Egeus’s daughter, a young woman of Athens. Hermia is in lovewith Lysander and is a childhood friend of Helena. As a result of the fairies’ mischiefwith Oberon’s love potion, both Lysander and Demetrius suddenly fall in love withHelena. Self-conscious about her short stature, Hermia suspects that Helena has wooedthe men with her height. By morning, however, Puck has sorted matters out with the lovepotion, and Lysander’s love for Hermia is restored.Helena – (He-len-a) A young woman of Athens, in love with Demetrius. Demetrius andHelena were once betrothed, but when Demetrius met Helena’s friend Hermia, he fell inlove with her and abandoned Helena. Lacking confidence in her looks, Helena thinks thatDemetrius and Lysander are mocking her when the fairies’ mischief causes them to fall inlove with her. 6
  7. 7. UT Midsummer Night’s DreamEgeus – (Ee-gee-us) Hermia’s father, who brings a complaint against his daughter toTheseus: Egeus has given Demetrius permission to marry Hermia, but Hermia, in lovewith Lysander, refuses to marry Demetrius. Egeus’s severe insistence that Hermia eitherrespect his wishes or be held accountable to Athenian law places him squarely outside thewhimsical dream realm of the forest.Theseus – (Thee-see-us) The heroic duke of Athens, engaged to Hippolyta. Theseusrepresents power and order throughout the play. He appears only at the beginning andend of the story, removed from the dreamlike events of the forest.Hippolyta – (He-paw-le-ta) The legendary queen of the Amazons, engaged to Theseus.Like Theseus, she symbolizes order.Nick Bottom - The overconfident weaver chosen to play Pyramus in the craftsmen’s playfor Theseus’s marriage celebration. Bottom is full of advice and self-confidence butfrequently makes silly mistakes and misuses language. His simultaneous nonchalanceabout the beautiful Titania’s sudden love for him and unawareness of the fact that Puckhas transformed his head into that of an ass mark the pinnacle of his foolish arrogance. Peter Quince - A carpenter and the nominal leader of the craftsmen’s attempt to put on aplay for Theseus’s marriage celebration. Quince is often shoved aside by the abundantlyconfident Bottom. During the craftsmen’s play, Quince plays the Prologue.Francis Flute - The bellows-mender chosen to play Thisbe in the craftsmen’s play forTheseus’s marriage celebration. Forced to play a young girl in love, the beardedcraftsman determines to speak his lines in a high, squeaky voice.Robin Starveling - The tailor chosen to play Thisbe’s mother in the craftsmen’s play forTheseus’s marriage celebration. He ends up playing the part of Moonshine.Tom Snout - The tinker chosen to play Pyramus’s father in the craftsmen’s play forTheseus’s marriage celebration. He ends up playing the part of Wall, dividing the twolovers.Snug - The joiner chosen to play the lion in the craftsmen’s play for Theseus’s marriagecelebration. Snug worries that his roaring will frighten the ladies in the audience.Philostrate – (Fi-lo-strate) Theseus’s Master of the Revels, responsible for organizingthe entertainment for the duke’s marriage celebration.Peaseblossom, Cobweb, Moth, and Mustardseed - The fairies ordered by Titania toattend to Bottom after she falls in love with him.(These notes taken from Sparknotes: <>) 7
  8. 8. UT Midsummer Night’s Dream A Production History Four Centuries of Staging Shakespeare’s Dream Were a twenty-first-century playwright to write a new work featuring (a) a one-breasted queen from a country called “Feminy,” (b) a Greek mythic hero who has justcaptured—and now wishes to marry—this fierce woman, (c) a tragic love story set inBaghdad featuring an apologetic lion and a talking wall, (d) a gang of bumbling artisansfrom rural sixteenth-century England, (e) blind Cupid, a misfired arrow, and a“wounded” flower, (f) a couple of Indian bystanders—one dead, the other kidnapped—twit in a donkey’s head, the playwright might face stern questions as to the state of his orher sanity. Blend in a knot of young lovers who spend much of their time scramblingthrough a moonlit forest like madmen on magic mushrooms and one can’t help sensingan overstretching of the already elastic bounds of postmodernist art. Yet over fourhundred years ago these were exactly the grab-bag of sources and situations thatShakespeare folded into his masterful and ever-fascinating A Midsummer Night’s Dream. To enjoy the play, we the audience need not know that Hippolyta may havesevered her own breast, or that, had she won the battle with Theseus, he might have faceda swift beheading. It is of little moment to us that the “merry and tragical” tale ofPyramus and Thisbe supposedly originated in Mesopotamia or that Oberon’s name hasaffinities to the dwarf Alberich in Wagner’s Ring Cycle. We need only enjoy the endresult as staged. And down the centuries, the complexity, range, and sheerimaginativeness of this comedy’s ingredients have stimulated some of the most culturallydiverse, innovative, and visually stunning productions of all among the Shakespeariancanon. Written sometime in 1594-6 when Shakespeare, just turned thirty, had completedabout one third of his oeuvre and had yet to tackle his great tragedies, for almost twocenturies now scholars have sought to place Queen Elizabeth I (reigned 1558-1603) at thefirst performance. What cozier picture of a supposedly Golden Age of Elizabethanharmony can one invoke than a heady divertissement penned to celebrate the highest ofhigh society weddings? Surrounded by loyal courtiers, the beloved Queen blushes atflattering references to a “fair vestal” and imperial votress [nun],” and smiles knowinglyat Shakespeare’s gentle mockery of her nation’s cack-handed bumpkins and love-druggedgentry. Indeed, in hopes of tying a set of nuptials into historical matrimony with theplay—in search of a “dream” Dream—the records of at least eleven likely weddings havebeen minutely examined. All to no avail; it is now thought unlikely that Elizabethattended the opening performance or that the play was written for any marriage. Queen Elizabeth 1 8
  9. 9. UT Midsummer Night’s Dream By the early part of the eighteenth century, the rise of the British merchant classled to a desire that plays carry a strong moral message. For example, a visit to GeorgeLillo’s The London Merchant (1731), which warns of the terrible fate awaiting those whostray from the path of purity, honesty, and loyalty, became for over three decades anannual pilgrimage for London’s apprentices. A Midsummer Night’s Dream, by contrast,failed to provide any such heavy-handed example. By then critics had come to considerthe play “wild and fantastical” (Samuel Johnson), or—the chronology beingmisunderstood—the early jottings of an “unripe” genius. Other than the relative value ofpatrimony and stable marriage over mad fumblings in a bewitched forest, what lessoncould a wealthy merchant draw from the play? “Young apprentices! When falling asleepin a forest, keep an eye out for love potion-carrying fairies!” Or “Fairies! Remember,when applying a love potion to a sleeping Athenian, make sure to check his identityfirst!”?? Hogarths The Rakes Progress "In the Madhouse" (1735). By the time Queen Victoria assumed the throne in 1837, Britain had firmlyembraced its identity as a mighty empire. But what connection could an Athenian courtcomedy have to the vast network of dominions, colonies, protectorates, mere mandates,and more that stretched across the globe? The answer lies in the figure of Theseus. Hemay do little more than bookend Midsummer’s madness with cool, patrician rationality,but by the beginning of the nineteenth century this “Greek argonaut” had risen toconsiderable significance within European culture. “The figure of Theseus loomed largein romantic art and literature’s constructions of the ancient world. Within the generalenthusiasm for the Hellenic world … we find [him] refigured in poetry and statuary as aparadigmatic protector of civilization over barbarism” (Williams 80). The English had begun to take their own Greek heritage seriously after theirfamous defeat of Napoleon at Waterloo (1815). Then adoration of all things Hellenicburst into florescence in the brouhaha surrounding marble statuary that Lord Elgin, anEnglish diplomat, “removed”—AKA “stole”—from the Parthenon and put on display inEngland. A central figure in the Elgin marbles was (mistakenly) thought to representTheseus. In 1816 when these magnificent sculptures found a home at the BritishMuseum, Frederick Reynolds took advantage of the confluence of events and rounded offhis A Midsummer Night’s Dream opera with: A GRAND PAGENT, commemorative of The Triumphs of Theseus Over the Cretans—the Thebans—the Amazons—the Centaurs—the Minotaur. 9
  10. 10. UT Midsummer Night’s Dream Ariadne in the Labyrinth—the Mysterious Peplum, or Veil of Minerva— the Ship Argo—and the Golden Fleece.Reynolds sought to compare a wildly aggrandized Theseus with a seemingly invincibleBritish Empire. From then on there was no looking back for A Midsummer Night’sDream. The Elgin Marbles: The figure in the center was thought to be Thesius. The identification of Ancient Greece with the Great British Empire, advances inscenery and lighting technology, and even the return of a strong woman to the Britishthrone led to the beginning of a Golden Age for this long-neglected play. Women inparticular made much of this opportunity. Lucia Elizabeth Vestris’s 1840 Londonproduction offered more of the text than had been performed in over two hundred years.And in assigning herself the role of Oberon, King of the Fairies, Vestris—by all accountsa beautiful woman with an enthusiastic male following—set a cross-dressing examplethat was followed by all but one major English and American production until 1914. Lucia Elizabeth Vestris in The Alcaid, c.1835. It was the actor-manager Sir Herbert Beerbohm Tree (1852-1917) who firstbrought live rabbits to the much-trampled forest outside Athens. His 1900 production ofMidsummer at Her Majesty’s Theatre, London can be considered “a kind of victory lap”for Victorian Shakespearian staging. Enormously popular (seen by 220,000), this 10
  11. 11. UT Midsummer Night’s Dreamproduction was sentimental, highly pictorial, monumentalized, and embellished withnovelties to the nth degree. Electric lights had now made it to the breastplate and crownof Oberon, played by a woman whose spiky crown instantly evoked Britannia, thepersonification of British nationalism. And yet these “comforting images of England asTheseus’s Athens, source of civilization” (Williams 132) had a hollow ring; just beforethe premiere Britain had experienced “Black Week” when its armies suffered severaldefeats in South Africa. The beginning of the end of the British Empire was nigh. (Rabbits roamed the stage in Beerbohm Trees 1911 MSND.) And—bran-munching bunnies aside (one bit Bottom)—the beginning of the endof Victorian over-elaborate, pictorial stagings of A Midsummer Night’s Dream was alsonigh. In 1914 a radically modern production opened in London’s Savoy Theatre. HarleyGranville Barker (1877-1946) worshipped only one theatrical deity: the text. “We havethe text to guide us, half a dozen stage directions, and that is all. I abide by the text andthe demands of the text, and beyond that I claim freedom” (Barker quoted in Williams144). A man of his word, Barker’s Midsummer used all but three of Shakespeare’soriginal lines. Out went the insanely illusionist scenery and, for audiences long addictedto excess, in came controversy. Beerbohm Tree’s 1900 MSND As we flit on through the early twentieth century, flying fairy-fast past Austriandirector Max Reinhardt’s visually eclectic Shakespeare productions, the influence ofAntonin Artaud’s Theatre of Cruelty, his book The Theatre and Its Double, and BertoldBrecht’s Berliner Ensemble productions, past Mickey Rooney as Puck (averting our eyes 11
  12. 12. UT Midsummer Night’s Dreamfrom James Cagney and Louis Armstrong as Bottoms), we come to Peter Hall’s 1959Midsummer in Stratford-upon-Avon. In the aftermath of Modernism and World War II apsychological and sexual unease now gloomed the once-Eden-innocent, fairy-lit forest."There could be no going back to Athens after Freud. [Post-war p]roductions were ...marked by explorations of repressed dreams, the unconscious, and the irrational—whether as a supposed source of authenticity or as dehumanizing" (Williams 204). And,perhaps for the first time, North American developments influenced British trends inShakespearian production. Hall was influenced by Tyrone Guthrie’s Stratford Festivalmove back to semi-Elizabethan thrust staging. To Hall new directorial directions were"not a sin but a necessity because the accretions of time have to be stripped away" (Hallquoted in Williams 207). Thus Judy Denchs Titania “[was] costumed as a sensuous,undersea queen, finned, barefoot, and crowned with wild white flowers ... natures child... whose fondness for Bottom was sexually playful" (Williams 208). And as the loversscrambled around the forest, their self-confidence was "steadily and ludicrously turnedinside out" (Williams 210). Finally, just as the play itself takes us happily back to where it started—Theseus’spalace—we arrive back where this production history began: Postmodernism. But thistime it’s real—and not at all happy. The Polish theatre theoretician Jan Kott’s bookShakespeare Our Contemporary, in which he compares King Lear to Samuel Beckett’sabsurdist Endgame and Waiting for Godot, had a dark, bleakening effect on PeterBrook’s 1962 staging of Lear. But that great tragedy is itself bleak. By comparison, isn’tMidsummer a jolly lark?: (Not for Hermia, below.) Kott’s reading of A Midsummer Night’s Dream reflects his general vision of the bleak condition of humankind in a cruel, inscrutable world, void of any metaphysical design and meaning, subject to the terrors of the state 12
  13. 13. UT Midsummer Night’s Dream and the “Grand Mechanism” of a continuingly corrupted human history. Knott characterizes Puck as a manipulator, akin to the devil and to Ariel in The Tempest, whom Kott compares to a soviet KGB agent. He argues that the suddenness of desire in the young lovers and the[ir] absence of individuality … reduces them to mere sexual partners, making the play brutally erotic and very modern. (Williams 215). One can assume that Brook’s Kott-influenced Midsummer would not haveamused Queens Victoria or Elizabeth. Played in a white trapezoidal box set with hugeladders and swings (see image below), “it is as though … a husband secured the largesttruck driver for his wife … to alleviate the difficulties in their marriage” (Brook quoted inWilliams 227). But that was almost forty years ago. Today we mortals live in (as usual) troubledtimes, and, in the absence of scientific evidence of fairies, we have only ourselves toblame for these troubles. And while Puck will never be wrong when she says, “Lord,what fools these mortals be,” the fact that we allow her to keep saying it (even pay to seeher say it!) shows—perhaps—that we know we are fools and want to be reminded. Andas long as we know we’re fools, we may actually be less foolish than those who try tofool us think we are.The research for these program notes comes very largely from Our Moonlight Revels: AMidsummer Night’s Dream in the Theatre by Gary Jay Williams. (University of IowaPress, 1997.)A more detailed version of this production history, including larger illustrative images,can be found at <>. 13
  14. 14. UT Midsummer Night’s Dream Who was Shakespeare? Little is known about William Shakespeare, generally acknowledged as thegreatest playwright of all time. In some ways, the lack of information is ironically fitting.Whereas we can draw on personal history to understand and explain the work of mostwriters, in the case of Shakespeare, we must rely primarily on his work. His command ofcomedy and tragedy, his ability to depict the range of human character, and his profoundinsights into human nature add clues to the few facts that are known about his life. Shakespeare was born in April 1564 in the English town of Stratford-upon-Avon.The son of John Shakespeare, a successful glovemaker and public official, and MaryArden, the daughter of a gentleman, William was the oldest surviving sibling of eightchildren. Shakespeare probably attended the local grammar school and studied Latin. Hiswritings indicate that he was familiar with classical writers such as Ovid (the source forthe story of Pyramus and Thisbe, the play-within-a-play in A Midsummer Night’sDream). Throughout Shakespeare’s childhood, companies of touring actors visitedStratford. Although there is no evidence to prove that Shakespeare ever saw these actorsperform, most scholars agree that he probably did. In 1582, at the age of 18, Shakespeare married Anne Hathaway, the daughter of afarmer. The couple had become parents of two daughters and a son by 1585. Sometime inthe next eight years, Shakespeare left his family in Stratford and moved to London topursue a career in the theater. Records show that by 1592, he had become a successfulactor and playwright in that city. Although an outbreak of plague forced the Londontheaters to close in 1592, Shakespeare continued to write, producing the long narrativepoem Venus and Adonis and a number of comedies. By 1594 the plague was less of athreat, and theaters reopened. Shakespeare had joined a famous acting group called theLord Chamberlain’s Men, so named for their patron, or supporter, a high official in thecourt of Queen Elizabeth I. One of the first plays Shakespeare wrote for this companywas Romeo and Juliet. In 1598 Shakespeare became part owner of a major new theater,the Globe. For more than a decade, Shakespeare produced a steady stream of works, bothtragedies and comedies, which were performed at the Globe, the royal court, and otherLondon theaters. However, shortly after the Globe was destroyed by fire in 1613, heretired and returned to Stratford. The Globe Theatre: 14
  15. 15. UT Midsummer Night’s Dream Fairly wealthy from the sales of his plays and from his shares in both the actingcompany and the Globe, Shakespeare was able to buy a large house and an impressiveamount of property. He died in Stratford in 1616. Seven years later the first collection ofhis plays was published. 15
  16. 16. UT Midsummer Night’s Dream Elizabethan Fairies and Folk CustomsA Midsummer Night’s Dream is associated with two traditional occasions of festivity:May Day and Midsummer Eve. The first of these paid homage to the arrival of spring andsymbolically reaffirmed a relationship between human and natural cycles. As such it wasessentially a fertility rite and thus invariably associated with courtship and marriage. APuritan writer of Shakespeare’s time, John Stubbes, gives perhaps the most vivid pictureof the form its celebration took in sixteenth-century England: Against May … all the young men and maids, old men, and wives, run gadding overnight to the woods, groves, hills, and mountains, where thy spend all night in pleasant pastimes; and in the morning they return, bringing with them birch and branches of trees to deck their assemblies withal. … But the chiefest jewel they bring from thence is their Maypole, which they bring home with great veneration, as thus; they have twenty or forty yoke of oxen, every ox having a sweet nose-gay of flowers placed on the tip of his horns. And these oxen draw home this Maypole, which is covered with flowers and herbs, bound around about with strings from top to the bottom, and sometimes painted with variable colors, with two or thee hundred men, women, and children following it with great devotion. And being thus reared up with handkerchiefs and flags hovering on the top, they straw the ground around about, bind green boughs about it, set up summer halls, bowers, and arbors hard by it. And then they fall to dance about it, like as the heathen people did at the dedication of the idols. The holiday of the play’s title is one of the oldest and most popular of the paganrites observed in sixteenth-century England. It was originally a worshipping of the sun atthe peak of his summer powers; but by Shakespeare’s time it had become a night of ruralfestivity associated with magic and enchantment. The rituals connected with it werenumerous and included all-night vigils in woods and fields; the collecting of herbs andflowers which were believed to be able to cure sickness or bring luck or reveal one’sfuture lover; the building of fires; and the carrying of torches in procession. It was a timealso when illusions were common, and when mischievous spirits were abroad playingstrange tricks upon humans. One of the most notorious of these was the misleading ofmen and animals by the sprite’s becoming a “fool’s fire” or will-o-the-wisp or assuming atrick voice to lure unwary travelers into swamps and ponds. It is through his special association with this kind of mischief that the Puck orRobin Goodfellow is naturally a part of the Midsummer Night’s happenings. A ballad ofthe time describes this aspect of his activities in language very similar to that used byShakespeare in his play: Sometimes he’d counterfeit a voice, And travelers call astray. Sometimes a walking fire he’d be And lead them from their way.Robin Goodfellow’s pranks were not, however, restricted to any special season. He was alone creature, variously called puck, bugbear, pixie, hobgoblin, who was not traditionallyconnected to the fairy world and certainly owed no allegiance to King Oberon. He wasthe best-known elf of sixteenth-century rural England, whose activities are best describedin the speeches of the First Fairy and himself after his entrance in Act 2, scene 1: the 16
  17. 17. UT Midsummer Night’s Dreamfrightening of young girls, the skimming of milk, the misleading of travelers, the causingof harmless accidents, and the helping or frustrating of servants and farmers. While hewas considered in general as a harmless—if mischievous—country elf, the Englishattitude to him had in it also the element of fear which associated him with ghosts,witches, and other less friendly supernatural beings, and which is reflected in the play inhis speech to Oberon at 3. 2. 385-94.Mabillard, Amanda. "Sources: A Midsummer Nights Dream". Shakespeare Online. 2000. 17
  18. 18. UT Midsummer Night’s Dream Imagery in A Midsummer Night’s Dream NatureNature and animal imagery also abounds in the play, helping to maintain the “enchantedforest” atmosphere. Oberon’s description of the place where Titania sleeps is an exampleof this imagery: I know a bank where the wild thyme blows, Where oxlips and the nodding violet grows, Quite over-canopied with luscious woodbine, With sweet musk-roses and with eglantine: There sleeps Titania sometime of the night, Lulld in these flowers with dances and delight; And there the snake throws her enamelld skin, Weed wide enough to wrap a fairy in. (2. 1. 259-266) Moon Imagery With four separate plots and four sets of characters, A Midsummer Nights Dreamrisks fragmentation. Yet Shakespeare has managed to create a unified play throughrepetition of common themes — such as love — and through cohesive use of imagery.Shining throughout the play, the moon is one of the primary vehicles of unity. In herinconstancy, the moon is an apt figure of the ever-changing, varied modes of loverepresented in the drama. As an image, the moon lights the way for all four groups ofcharacters. The play opens with Theseus and Hippolyta planning their wedding festivitiesunder a moon slowly changing into her new phase — too slowly for Theseus. Like adowager preventing him from gaining his fortune, the old moon is a crone who keepsTheseus from the bounty of his wedding day. Theseus implicitly invokes Hecate, themoon in her dark phase, the ruler of the Underworld associated with magic, mysticism,even death. This dark aspect of the moon will guide the lovers as they venture outside ofthe safe boundaries of Athens and into the dangerous, unpredictable world of the forest.In this same scene, Hippolyta invokes a very different phase of the moon. Rather than thedark moon mourned by Theseus, Hippolyta imagines the moon moving quickly into hernew phase, like a silver bow, bent in heaven. From stepmother, the moon is transformedin the course of a few lines into the image of fruitful union contained in the "silver bow,"an implicit reference also to Cupids arrow, which draws lovers together. Utilizing theimagery of the silver bow, Hippolyta invokes Diana, the virgin huntress who is theguardian spirit of the adolescent moon. In this guise, the moon is the patroness of allyoung lovers, fresh and innocent, just beginning their journey through life. This new,slender moon, though, wont last; instead, like life itself, she will move into her fullmaturity, into a ripe, fertile state, just as the marriages of the young lovers will grow,eventually resulting in children.(The above essay taken from Cliff Notes,pageNum-166.html) 18
  19. 19. UT Midsummer Night’s Dream ThemesDoes Love ultimately triumph?What are the pitfalls of Love? As Lysander tells Hermia in Act I, Scene I, "The courseof true love never did run smooth" (Line 134). Why is this?Are appearances deceiving?Does father always know best? Egeus orders his daughter Hermia to marry a man shedoes not love. Hermia protests and runs away. In the end, Egeus is proven wrong?Can we dream the impossible dream? Notable Movie Versions of the Play 1. 1999 directed by Michael Hoffman with Michelle Pfeiffer, Kevin Kline (as Bottom) and Calista Flockhart as Helena. 2. 1935 directed by Max Reinhardt with James Cagney as Bottom and Mickey Rooney as Puck. 3. 1968 directed by Peter Hall featuring leading actors from the Royal Shakespeare Company. Famous Dream QuotesShakespeare coined many popular phrases that are still commonly used today. Here aresome examples of Shakespeares most familiar quotes from A Midsummer Nights Dream.You just might be surprised to learn of all the everyday sayings that originally came fromShakespeare!"The course of true love never did run smooth." (Act I, Scene I)"Love looks not with the eyes, but with the mind, and therefore is winged Cupid paintedblind." (Act I, Scene I)"O, hell! to choose love by anothers eyes." (Act I, Scene I)"I am slow of study." (Act I, Scene II)"That would hang us, every mothers son." (Act I, Scene II)"Ill put a girdle round about the earth / In forty minutes." (Act II, Scene I) "My heart Istrue as steel." (Act II, Scene I)"I know a bank where the wild thyme blows, / Where oxlips and the nodding violetgrows, / Quite over-canopied with luscious woodbine, / With sweet musk-roses and witheglantine." (Act II, Scene I)"A lion among ladies is a most dreadful thing." (Act III, Scene I)"Lord, what fools these mortals be!" (Act III, Scene II)"The true beginning of our end." (Act V, Scene I)"For never anything can be amiss, / When simpleness and duty tender it." (Act V, SceneI) 19
  20. 20. UT Midsummer Night’s Dream Study Questions1) How does Shakespeare use different forms of language? Prose, blank verse, andrhyme are used to differentiate between characters (i.e. fairies and mortals; nobility andrustics) or to create other effects (increased solemnity or silliness; poetic effects).2) There are four plot levels in A Midsummer Nights Dream: the royal wedding ofTheseus and Hippolyta; the story of the Athenian lovers, Lysander, Hermia, Demetrius,and Helena; the conflict between the fairies, Titania and Oberon (seconded by Puck); andthe efforts of the "Rude Mechanicals," Bottom, Quince and company, to put on a playworthy of a royal wedding. Know characters (by name!) in each plot level, and be awareof the ways in which they (the characters and the plot levels) interact. How are theyparallel or contrasted? What do the different plot levels have in common? (e.g. amovement from conflict to harmony; the theme of love triumphing over great odds). Howdoes Shakespeare use these parallel plots (and characters) to unify the play as a whole?3) Acts I and V take place in the "real" world of Athens (by day), Acts II, III and IVin a dream world, the woods outside the city (by night). Why does Shakespeare make useof the two settings? How can each be characterized? Do they serve any symbolicpurpose? Who governs each world? What kinds of power are contrasted? Which isultimately more powerful? (Does one have an effect on -- transform -- the other?)4) The play begins with a forced marriage, fighting fairies, and thwarted lovers; it endswith a triple wedding and a newly reconciled pair of Fairy monarchs. In this movementfrom conflict to harmony, notice how marital/erotic love is used as a symbol of socialharmony and concord. Note also the imagery of fertility (natural fecundity vs. blight, butalso the implicit fertility of the couples who will be united in marriage.) What are Titaniaand Oberon fighting about at the beginning of the play? (What is the symbolicsignificance of the Changeling boy?)5) The story of Pyramus and Thisbe is taken from Ovids Metamorphoses, stories aboutmagical transformations. What are some of the transformations in the play? Considerboth literal transformations ("Bless thee, Bottom! thou art translated!" [III.i.119-120])and figurative ones (between day and night, discord and harmony, reality and dream,unhappiness and bliss).6) Trace the references to dreams and dreaming in the play. What do "dreams"represent? Who presides over the dream world (the forest at night)? What is the power ofdreams? Can dreams have an effect on "reality"?7) Characterize the fairies and their magic. To what extent do they represent naturalforces (i.e. the power of nature?) What else might they represent? Notice that the fairiesmagic takes place at night, and that it is several times compared to (or mistaken for)dreams. To what extent is their "magic" a double of the playwrights magic, making a"dream" come to life on the stage? In this regard, you may want to consider references to 20
  21. 21. UT Midsummer Night’s Dreamdreams and dreaming, to magic, and to poetry (e.g. Theseuss conversation withHippolyta in V.1.1-27), as well as Pucks epilogue.8) Some think that A Midsummer Nights Dream was first written to be performed at acourt wedding. Pyramus and Thisbe is a "play within a play" put on by the "RudeMechanicals" to celebrate a royal wedding. In Act V, then, we are watching an audiencewatch a play that is like the play we are watching as an audience. What does thisparallelism suggest? What function does the "play within a play" serve? (What is itsdramatic significance and thematic relevance to the work as a whole?) Are there parallelsbetween the stories of Pyramus and Thisbe and of the Athenian lovers? (Or with Romeoand Juliet, which dates from 1594-1596 -- the same years as A Midsummer NightsDream?) In other words, are Bottom and company there only for comic relief, or do theyconvey a more serious message? If so, what? (Questions from <> 21
  22. 22. UT Midsummer Night’s Dream Classroom Activities Adapted from ClassZone McDougal Littell, available at Theme Openers Chart. Work in small groups to create a chart that lists different sources of romanticattraction. Be as specific as possible. For example, one column of the chart might listphysical attributes, such as sparkling eyes, a delicate complexion, luxurious hair, athleticism,and so on. A second column might list personality characteristics, such as a sense of humor,kindness, intelligence, and so on. Go beyond the obvious in their lists. Each group shareshould its completed chart with the class. Discuss what the charts reveal about the nature ofromantic attraction. Linking to Today: Contemporary Images of Love. Discuss how romantic love isportrayed in contemporary culture. Consider how love is depicted in movies, televisionshows, commercials, music, and other media. Is love depicted as irrational, or does it have abasis in sound judgment? Is love measured by the excitement it creates or the commitment itelicits? Discuss how popular images of love might influence young people or reflect theirown experiences of love. Extracurricular Activities Imagine that you are one of the characters in the play. Write and deliver a speechabout the nature of love and its importance in marriage. Use quotes from A MidsummerNights Dream and refer to incidents in the play. Create a cartoon strip of your favorite scene in the play. Illustrate elements that wouldbe especially difficult to portray onstage, such as the size of fairies and Bottoms fantastictransformation. Research Assignment The Magic of Mythical Creatures. Research a type of mythical creature, such asmermaids, gnomes, leprechauns, golems, or genies. Write an essay comparing the creaturethat they research and the fairies in A Midsummer Nights Dream. Here Comes the Bride. Work in groups to research and present marriage customsaround the world and across the ages. Suggested Procedure: Brainstorm a list of countries and historical periods that you are interested inresearching. Ask questions about marriage that should be answered, such as the following:What are the typical ages of brides and grooms? What role do the parents have in the choiceof a marriage partner? What financial arrangements are involved? What are the customs ofthe marriage ceremony and celebration? Divide into small groups. Each group choose a country and a historical period. Groupmembers should discuss and decide among themselves how they will divide work andpresent information. Possible formats include posters, collages, audiotapes, videotapes,computer presentations, dramatic scenes, puppet shows, lectures, panel discussions, andquestion-and-answer sessions. Groups should do the necessary research and ensure that information about 22
  23. 23. UT Midsummer Night’s Dreammarriage customs is presented clearly and accurately. Some groups may require rehearsaltime. Much more information on the UT production can be found at 23