A Midsummer’s Night Dreamhttp://www.cambio.com/2011/10/03/a-midsummer-nights-dream/#
Anachronistic: something that is out of harmony with the period in which The Basics it is placedBelieved to have been written between 1590 and 1596, it is unknownexactly when A Midsummer Nights Dream was written or first performed,but on the basis of topical references and the reference to courtiers beingafraid of a stage lion (this may allude to an incident in Scotland in August1594), it is usually dated 1594 or 1596.Some have theorised that the play might have been written for anaristocratic wedding (for example that of Elizabeth Carey, Lady Berkeley),while others suggest that it was written for the Queen to celebrate thefeast day of St. John. No concrete evidence exists to support this theory. Inany case, it would have been performed at The Theatre and, later, TheGlobe.Although notionally it is set in Athens, the play could almost be set in apastoral British environment. Many of Shakespeare’s comedies are setabroad or in fictional realms. Some people believed this was helpfulbecause it prevented Shakespeare from upsetting anyone in Britain andnegated any censorship. Even though the play is set in Greece, it stillcontains many images, words and ideas from British society of the time.This can make some concepts anachronistic.Like the model set in previous centuries. Shakespeare realised that thebest kind of comedy is generated by a series of mix-ups where disorder isrife and life is turned upside down. All of his comedies look at thefoolishness of human beings.
Midsummer DayJune 24th is the Feast of the Nativity of St John theBaptist. It falls only three days after the SummerSolstice, the day on which the sun reaches its highestglory, and thereafter begins to decline. Anciently, it wasa fire-festival of great importance when, throughcountless centuries, the sun was ritually strengthened bybonfires burning everywhere on Midsummer Eve, bytorchlight processions through the streets, or by flamingtar-barrels.Midsummer’s Eve, June 23rd, is believed to be the mostmagical night of the year. It was believed that onMidsummer Night that the fairies and witches held theirfestival. To dream about Midsummer Night was toconjure up images of fairies and witches and othersimilar creatures and supernatural events.
Shakespeare’s Language Because Shakespeare wrote nearly four hundred years ago, some of the conventions that he uses in his plays are unfamiliar to modern audiences. Shakespeares writing falls into three categories:1) Rhyming Verse2) Blank Verse3) Prose MSND is 80% verse, 20% prose. There are fairly high incidents of rhyme, including deliberately bad rhyme in ‘Pyramus and Thisbe’.
Shakespeare’s Language1. RHYMING VERSE (“poetry” as we generally think of it): There is a distinct rhythm, and the ends of sentences or phrases rhyme (usually an exact rhyme, but sometimes words are used that almost rhyme). In general, comedies use rhyming verse throughout the dialogue, and fairies and witches always use it to cast spells or weave enchantments. When characters in a play speak rhymes they do it to emphasize what theyre saying, to reflect the language of love or to make the speech light- hearted or comic. Romeo: If I profane with my unworthy hand This holy shrine, the gentle fine is this— My lips, two blushing pilgrims, ready stand To smooth that rough touch with a tender kiss.
Shakespeare’s Language2. BLANK VERSE: Lines written in a poetic meter but the ends of sentences or phrases do not rhyme. Shakespeares blank verse is usually in iambic pentameter; which means that there are five measures (pentameters) and two syllables within each measure, with the accent (or emphasis) placed on the second syllable. [Note: "penta" means "five" and "meter" means measure; iambic refers to where the accent is placed]. Thus, there are generally 10 syllables to a Shakespearean line of blank verse; this is considered "regular". It is important to realize that “iambic” is the natural rhythm of the English language. If you are a native English speaker, you will automatically emphasize every second syllable. ‘I think I’d like to have a cup of tea.’ Is this the sort of thing we say every day? Write it out in the same way as the examples on the previous page. Is it iambic pentameter?
Shakespeare’s Language The placement of punctuation, choice of words, the sound of words (harsh consonant sounds vs. soft vowel sounds), help keep regular blank verse lines from sounding alike. All of the lines below have ten syllables, with the accent on the second syllable of each meter, but they sound very different when pronounced out loud. First, divide the lines into five meters. Then speak each line out loud. Keeping the accent on the second syllable, experiment with how muchA horse, a horse! My kingdom for a horse! emphasis you place on each word. See if the emotion changes with more or less emphasis. For instance, in the first line, the word “horse” isShe lovd me for the dangers I had passd. always the accented syllable (the second syllable in a meter). But you might not place equal stressMethought I heard a voice cry, "Sleep no more!" on the word all three times.a What willstress, and the first two "horses" have medium happen if the last gets a heavy emphasis. How does thisAs I do live by food, I met a fool, make the speaker feel? Or, how do you feel if you place the most emphasis on the first "horse", then less on the second and even less on the third?Tis but thy name that is my enemy Experimenting with the amount of stress is a great way to start exploring what the character is going through in the moment.
Shakespeare’s LanguageIrregular Blank Verse: Although most of the lines in Shakespeare are written in regular blank verse, there are many which have more or less than 10 syllables. The reasons for adding or taking away syllables, or reversing the accent often help to clarify meaning, add emotional weight, or allow room for a change of thought. Some lines begin with the accent on the first syllable, which is determined by the sense of the line. These are called trochaic measures: Ay, or drinking, fencing, swearing, quarrelling, Then the whining schoolboy, with his satchel… OTHER CLUES TO UNDERSTANDING MEANING, EMOTION AND MOTIVATION: Once we know the basic rules of verse, we can look at lines or sections of text and use other information to find out more about its meaning.
Shakespeare’s Language3. Prose has:• Run-on lines (unlike iambic pentameter)• No rhyme or metric scheme• The qualities of everyday language You can easily spot dialogue written in prose because it appears as a block of text, unlike the strict rhythmic patterns of Shakespeare’s verse.
Shakespeare’s Language Shakespeare used prose to tell us something about his characters by interrupting the rhythmic patterns of the play. Many of Shakespeare’s low-class characters speak in prose to distinguish them from the higher-class, verse-speaking characters. Many short, functional lines like “And I, my lord,” and “I pray you leave me” are written in prose to give the play a sense of realism. In some longer speeches, Shakespeare allowed the audience to identify more closely with his characters by using the everyday language of the time. Shakespeare used it to create comic effect. Some of Shakespeare’s low-class comic creations aspire to speak in the formal language of their superiors, but do not have the intelligence to achieve this and therefore become objects of ridicule. It can also suggest a character’s mental instability. In Shakespeare’s day, it was conventional to write in verse, which was seen as a sign of literary excellence. By writing some of his most serious and poignant speeches in prose, Shakespeare was fighting against this convention. It is interesting that some plays like Much Ado About Nothing are written almost entirely in prose – an exceptionally brave move for an Elizabethan playwright.
The Comic PlotThe plot of MSND is quite complicated. There arethree plot threads, but they are interconnected. Theworking-class characters and the lovers bump into thefairies within the wood. The wood is a significantspace for these events to be occurring in. Think of thewood as a space outside of the law, where people canhide (like Robin Hood!).Each group of characters has a problem that needs tobe resolved: the Athenian lovers want to marry theright partners, the tradesmen want to successfully puton the play for Duke Theseus’s wedding, while Oberonand Titania are in disagreement over a changeling boy.
Look back at your notes on theThe Comic Plot characteristics of dramatic comedy and the development of dramatic comedy (Greek, Roman and To understand a Shakespearian comedy it is useful to consider the Medieval). Think about: overarching structure of the play. Consider the stage directions at •Where and with who does the play begin? What world is this? the start of each scene (printed below). What do these suggest •Where does the action move to about the patterns and structure of comedy in the play? next? What type of people are these characters?• Act 1 Scene 1 Enter Theseus, Hippolyta, Philostrate, with •In Act 2 the action moves to the Attendants. wood. What might this suggest? Which world is this? Whose entry• Scene 2 Enter Quince the Carpenter; and Snug the joiner; and reinforces this? Bottom the Weaver; and Flute the Bellows-mender; and Snout the •In Act 3 what do you notice about Tinker; and Starveling the Tailor. the mixture of characters? What• Act 2 Scene 1 Enter a Fairy at one door, and Puck at another. might this show us about the plot?• Scene 2 Enter Titania, Queen of the Fairies, with her Train. •How does Act 4 add to this?• Act 3 Scene 1 (Titania still lying asleep) Enter Quince, Botton, •Thinking about the features of a comic structure, what part of the plot Snug, Flute, Snout and Starveling. would we expect to be going on in• Scene 2 Enter Oberon, King of the Fairies, Acts 3 and 4?• Act 4 Scene 1 Lysander, Demetrius, Helena, and Hermia, still lying •What about Act 5? Where are we asleep. Enter Titania, Queen of the Fairies, and Bottom; now? What does this show? Peaseblosson, Cobweb, Moth, Mustardseed, and other Fairies; •Philostrate is the Master of Revels – Oberon, the King, behind, unseen. the coordinator of the wedding entertainment. What does his• Act 5 Scene 1 Enter Theseus, Hippolyta; Lords and Attendants, presence at the end tell us? among them Philostrate.
The Comic PlotThese stage directions offer some useful ideas on the patterns andstructure of comedy in the play. At the beginning we see the Athenianworld, where the central problem will be established. Philostrate is foundat the beginning and end of the play and, as the Master of Revels, his roleis to orchestrate the wedding that signals the happy ending required of acomedy. The high-order world of the Athenian gentry soon swaps to theworking class world of the men who wish to rehearse their play. Thereprofessions help to define their characters.The move to the wood suggests that disorder is imminent and this isreinforced with the entry of Puck in the next scene. The opposition is setup – Puck enters from another door to the other fairy, suggesting hisindependence and function. Titania is then introduced and linked in thenext scene with the Mechanicals, suggesting how the human and fairyworlds are colliding. In Act 4 this is enhanced further, showing how thelovers are also embroiled in this world. Acts 3 and 4 are precisely wherewe should expect most comic confusion.By Act 5 we are back to the order of Athens and seemingly events of theplay have been resolved. Philostrate’s presence indicates some kind ofcelebration.
Homework:1. Research and make notes on Shakespeare’s sources for the story and characters in MSND. Ensure you research fully e.g. if the source of part of the story is another text or a historical event you will need to research that text/event too.2. What was happening in 1594-1596? What were the issues, ideas and interests for British society at this time? Warning! There will be a test on the characters, plot and themes in MSND on Friday. You must score at least 85%
• Feminism• Male dominance is one thematic element found in A Midsummer Nights Dream. In A Midsummer Nights Dream, Lysander and Hermia escape into the woods for a night where they do not fall under the laws of Theseus or Egeus. Upon their arrival in Athens, the couples are married. Marriage is seen as the ultimate social achievement for women while men can go on to do many other great things and gain societal recognition. In his article, "The Imperial Votaress", Louis Montrose draws attention to male and female gender roles and norms present in the comedy in connection with Elizabethan culture. In reference to the triple wedding, he says, "The festive conclusion in A Midsummer Nights Dream depends upon the success of a process by which the feminine pride and power manifested in Amazon warriors, possessive mothers, unruly wives, and wilful daughters are brought under the control of lords and husbands." He says that the consummation of marriage is how power over a woman changes hands from father to husband. A connection between flowers and sexuality is drawn. The juice employed by Oberon can be seen as symbolising menstrual blood as well as the sexual blood shed by virgins. While blood as a result of menstruation is representative of a womans power, blood as a result of a first sexual encounter represents mans power over women.• There are points in the play, however, when there is an absence of patriarchal control. In his book, Power on Display, Leonard Tennenhouse says the problem in A Midsummer Nights Dream is the problem of "authority gone archaic". The Athenian law requiring a daughter to die if she does not do her fathers will is outdated. Tennenhouse contrasts the patriarchal rule of Theseus in Athens with that of Oberon in the carnivalistic Faerie world. The disorder in the land of the fairies completely opposes the world of Athens. He states that during times of carnival and festival, male power is broken down. For example, what happens to the four lovers in the woods as well as Bottoms dream represents chaos that contrasts with Theseus political order. However, Theseus does not punish the lovers for their disobedience. According to Tennenhouse, by forgiving of the lovers, he has made a distinction between the law of the patriarch (Egeus) and that of the monarch (Theseus), creating two different voices of authority. This distinction can be compared to the time of Elizabeth I in which monarchs were seen as having two bodies: the body natural and the body politics. Elizabeths succession itself represented both the voice of a patriarch as well as the voice of a monarch: (1) her fathers will which stated that the crown should pass to her and (2) the fact that she was the daughter of a king.  The challenge to patriarchal rule in A Midsummer Nights Dream mirrors exactly what was occurring in the age of Elizabeth I.•
Additional analysis methods include:• PUNCTUATION: The punctuation marks in Shakespeares verse not only help us understand what is happening in the play, but can also indicate how a character is feeling or thinking, or how a line can be delivered by an actor.•• Full Stops: Indicates the end or closing of a thought. Sometimes a sentence will continue for many lines before coming to a full stop.•• Period: indicates the end of a sentence and of a thought (just as in contemporary English)•• Exclamation point: reflects a moment of much emotion--anger, ecstasy, inspiration, surprise, pain, etc. Should be delivered in a big way.•• Question Mark: indicates the end of a thought but makes sure the question asks a question.• Change of Tone: In Shakespeares verse, pauses and changes of vocal tone are very important.•• Colon (:) or Dash (—): tells us that it is not the end of the thought, therefore we should not come to a complete stop when speaking. It is literally “connected” to what comes next, so there should be a noticable change of tone. Sometimes we can think of a colon or dash as meaning “because”.•• Semi-Colon (;): again, this is not the end of the thought. Unlike a colon or dash, the tone change with a semi-colon is more of a side- thought, and we can add a silent “and” in our speaking of the line.•• Comma (,): not really a pause—very important in identifying parenthetical clauses (see below) as well as lists of things.•• Parentheses (): sets a word or phrase inside a sentence apart from the rest (a thought within a thought). The information adds more detail to clarify the larger thought. This requires the biggest change in vocal tone. Oftentimes a parenthetical statement will exist in Shakespeare without the punctuation marks (either commas or parentheses), but you can hear the vocal shift when speaking the text out loud.
• IMAGERY: Shakespeare uses imagery in his verse just as any other poet would, and it occurs in different ways. It can be a literal description of a real event or thing, or it can be a comparison between two things (as in similes and metaphors). These descriptions generally use heightened language that "paints" the images with words. Imagery can also be built up by the use of different words that reflect the same concept (such as the repeated use of actual names and words that describe names and titles in Juliets balcony speech).•• REPEATED WORDS AND SOUNDS: Whenever Shakespeare repeats the same word (or root word) it is an indication that this concept or meaning is very important. When speaking the text out loud, repeated words should get extra emphasis. This allows us to discover what a character is trying to achieve through repetition, depending on the word and the circumstance.•• There are also many repeated sounds, not just words, which add to the imagery and evoke particular feelings or emotions.•• Alliteration: The repetition of two or more consonant sounds. There is a subtle build with every repetition, and different sounds have different emotional effects (Bs and Ds have a different feel than Ts and Ks for instance). Alliteration most often occurs at the beginning of each word (tongue twisters are the most common form: Peter Piper picked a peck of pickled peppers); but there are a lot of repeated consonant sounds within words in Shakespeares verse. The following speech of Iagos from Othello has many Ss, which can sound like hissing or whispering. Thus, we might guess that Iago is up to no good.
• Assonance: Like alliteration, but vowel sounds are repeated instead. Think of Juliet’s opening line in the balcony scene, with all those O sounds. When you say it out loud, and really let the Os stretch out, what emotions do you feel?•• ONOMATOPOEIA: A word that sounds like what it describes (such as Buzz or Hiss). The use of these words also creates an emotional response in both the speaker and the audience and should be emphasized.•• SINGLE SYLLABLE• WORDS: When a line of verse consists of many or all single syllable words, it is an indication to slow down and make sure each word is given weight—it usually means the line is meant to be emphatic.•• Understanding all of the hidden meaning in Shakespeares verse is like reading a good mystery story. There are clues throughout the language that tell us what characters are thinking and feeling, and even whether they are telling the truth or lying. Using the methods explained above, you can take a single speech in any of his plays, and find many layers and many messages. Ultimately, however, Shakespeares language was always meant to be spoken and heard, so these tools are most important in conveying those hidden meanings to an audience.•