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A Midsummer Night's Dream


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Hard to believe this is the first thread for one of the Bard's works, but I am sure it won't be the last.

 

The first play of my Shakey course this year and a nice way to start. The fairyland intrudes on the human world after the humans intrude in the fairyland.

 

There are many strands to this play but a quick synopsis of the plot goes like this. Theseus intends to marry Hippolyta. Egueus approaches Theseus for help with his wilful daughter Hermia, who refuses to marry Demetrius as she loves Lysander. Egeus wishes to exercise Athenian law which allows him to kill his daughter should she not marry Demetrius. And this is a comedy?! Helena loves Demetrius but he doesn't love her. Lost in the forest the four young lovers are met with mischief at the hand of Robin Goodfellow whom acting upon the wishes of Fairy King Oberon, drugs the wrong man and the ridiculousness and flippancy of young love is presented at its most comical.

 

Meanwhile, Oberon drugs his wife, the Fairy Queen, Titania, to fall in love with the first beast she spies on waking up, who happens to be an artisan called Bottom wearing as ass's head (see michevious Robin Goodfellow).

 

Now it's quite difficult to discuss or review a complex play such as the ones Shakey was wont to create, in isolation, so I do hope that fellowe Shakey fans in the BGO membership join in and an interesting discussion ensues.

 

I will say that, while I enjoyed the play very much, and love the malevolence in Fairyland, I wasn't immediately sold on Act 5 - the artisans' playlet Pyramus and Thisbe - it just seemed a little unnecessary and detracted form the main thrust of the play. Of course my study books quickly put me right, but study never entirely changes your opinion. My particular highlight was the details of Robin's error - it was deliciously mischevious.

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Nice start, Hazel, and one of my favorites, as well as the subject of my one extant piece of published scholarship! (It's been more than 5 years and I had to go back to see what I'd written.)

 

Egueus approaches Theseus for help with his wilful daughter Hermia, who refuses to marry Demetrius as she loves Lysander. Egeus wishes to exercise Athenian law which allows him to kill his daughter should she not marry Demetrius. And this is a comedy?!

 

Plenty-o-grimness in Shakespearean comedy. Look at Hero, who's presumed dead of Don John's wilful slander of her in Much Ado...and a few others I could name.

 

I will say that, while I enjoyed the play very much, and love the malevolence in Fairyland, I wasn't immediately sold on Act 5 - the artisans' playlet Pyramus and Thisbe - it just seemed a little unnecessary and detracted form the main thrust of the play. Of course my study books quickly put me right, but study never entirely changes your opinion. My particular highlight was the details of Robin's error - it was deliciously mischevious.

 

Ah, the malevolence! Bettelheim et al. have often reminded us of the forest as metaphor for the unconscious, and 16th century folk had a real terror of the unseen. Shakespeare's overall lightness of tone in this work hopefully turns audiences' potential reaction to the implied grimoire of creeping, crawling horrors from the screaming meemies to a pleasant shudder. I would call this a "green world" comedy, in which characters retreat from the corruption and challenges of everyday society to find a solution to their problems and come out the stronger for it. My prof in graduate school thought the dark landscape of Dream had gotten somewhat watered down in the 19th century - Mendelssohn's incidental music, etc. I'm not sure I agree; all you have to do to find Romantic demons is look at paintings by Fuseli, or read Poe or Mary Shelley.

 

Shakey does set us up for P&T's tragicall historie earlier on, the sylvan rehearsal being how Bottom gets his ass's head. And it gives the noble lovers some respite from their former travails. Will was such a popular dramatist because his plays have something for everyone - noble sentiment, low comedy/slapstick, sword fighting, dramatic tension, catharsis and a nod to good Queen Bess, the "fair vestal throned by the west" whom Cupid was unable to mark for his own. Happy reading!

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Bettelheim et al. have often reminded us of the forest as metaphor for the unconscious, and 16th century folk had a real terror of the unseen.

I like the scholarly turns of likening the forest to a place of carnival - where anything goes and human resort to base desires. Of course, everything rights itself in the end and no one is punished for wandering from the straight and narrow - it reminds me very much of Behn's The Rover.
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Like most of Shakespeare's comedies, I find myself unable to get on with this at all. I think his tragedies are, in the main, wonderful works, but the comedies just don't stand the test of time.

 

The jokes and puns are no longer funny in modern society, and the nonsensical and chaotic plots just annoy me rather than entertain. Give me Othello, Hamlet, Lear or even a history play such as Henry V any day over Shakespeare's unfortunate attempts to look at the lighter side of life.

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I agree thta I much prefer the tragedies and the histories, but I can't dismiss the comedies as you do. I think AMND does stand the test of time, as an exploration of the fictions surrounding social relationships and especially the flippancy of young love, which is surely relevant in all eras. Who of us can't identify with Helena, loving another but not loved back? While I don't laugh out loud at the text, though certain performances may make me laugh aloud, I certainly derive a wry amusement at the lovers' antics and Robin's mischeviousness.

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Like most of Shakespeare's comedies, I find myself unable to get on with this at all. I think his tragedies are, in the main, wonderful works, but the comedies just don't stand the test of time.

 

The jokes and puns are no longer funny in modern society, and the nonsensical and chaotic plots just annoy me rather than entertain. Give me Othello, Hamlet, Lear or even a history play such as Henry V any day over Shakespeare's unfortunate attempts to look at the lighter side of life.

 

 

I agree to this in most cases however the shakespheare retold version of taming of the sherw was great

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AMND is not a play that I have ever studied deeply in the past. However, for the purposes of this thread I have looked at it in more detail. Having read through this thread, I can now see far more in it so have enjoyed it more. As always with Shakespeare, in my humble opinion, there are greater depths than at first appear.

 

I particularly like the idea of the forest as a metaphor for the unconscious, Freydis. Also, as you point out Hazel, I too believe that his plays still have relevance today, concerning social relationships, young love and even arranged marriages in our multi-cultural society. Obviously the theme of 'love at first sight' is writ large here as a warning of its dangers in any society and that idea is timeless.

 

What has always amused me is that Titania falls for Bottom - who is a man with a false 'head'. Why would Shakespeare give him that name? Giving the groundlings the bit of comedy he puts in all his plays that was necessary to reach all levels of his audience.

 

You can probably tell from the above that my knowledge of this play does not allow me to add any incites or understandings that might be helpful - especially to you Hazel in your studies. I am enjoying reading the thread though and look forward to others on his work.

 

I have a copy of Norton's Shakespeare, but I also have two volumes of Leon Garfield's versions of the plays - something I got for my sons when they were younger. One of the best books I have is Shakespeare for Dummies which is a great quick reference book. My eldest son gave it to me as a joke one birthday, but I have found it very useful.

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As always with Shakespeare, in my humble opinion, there are greater depths than at first appear.
As I am finding out to my cost - 400 words over the word limit for my essay on AMND and I can't see anything I want to cut! Sometimes I wish those depths weren't so...deep.

 

Obviously the theme of 'love at first sight' is writ large here as a warning of its dangers in any society and that idea is timeless.
Golly, the connection between the purpose and effects of the love-juice and the phrase 'love at first sight' completely passed me by - blimey, another 100 words to the count. Gulp.

 

What has always amused me is that Titania falls for Bottom - who is a man with a false 'head'. Why would Shakespeare give him that name?
More than just a comedic name? I don't know. The mechanicals all have silly names in comparison to everyone else in the play: Flute, Starveling, Quince, Bottom...It is an ass's head that Bottom wears and the connotations of 'ass' and 'bottom' may be too modern for any laughs Shakey intended there.

 

I have a copy of Norton's Shakespeare
That's the edition we are asked to buy and use, which is based on the Oxford editions.
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Why would Shakespeare give him that name?

The notes in my Arden suggest that it's because 'bottom' was the name given to the core around which a weaver's yarn would be wound - Bottom being a weaver. I think also it would be intended to suggest he is socially the lowest out of all of them, providing an ironic contrast with his grandiose posturing and beyond that to his dalliance with the Queen of the fairies.

 

I'll add more to this interesting discussion but have been meaning to find time for a quick re-acquaintance with the details of the text!

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I too love this play. It was the first Shakespeare play I read at school (in the first form - we did one a year then, not one per key-stage) and I can clearly remember being captivated by the interwoven plots and feeling satisfied at working out a diagrammatic form of the love triangles.

 

When I taught in mainstream I similarly used it as an introduction to Shakespeare and always found it went down well. At first I wondered whether the fairies would be off-putting to the boys, but they never were – I think that, perhaps, Puck’s audacity helped there. This was certainly the case when I took a class to a 1980s’ production that had all the fairies slinking around the stage in skin-tight leather and spiky hair. I suppose the rest of the cast ws also in modern costume, but it’s only the fairies I can remember.

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The notes in my Arden suggest that it's because 'bottom' was the name given to the core around which a weaver's yarn would be wound - Bottom being a weaver. I think also it would be intended to suggest he is socially the lowest out of all of them, providing an ironic contrast with his grandiose posturing and beyond that to his dalliance with the Queen of the fairies.

 

That's very interesting David - I didn't get such helpful information with my Norton edition!

 

'Bottom' certainly does seem to illustrate his lowly status of him and emphasise the posturing he does. I love that he asks to do every part in the playlet.

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When I taught in mainstream I similarly used it as an introduction to Shakespeare and always found it went down well.

Part of my studying the play was a discussion about whether or not AMND would be a good introduction for young people to Shakey, and actually the majority said no. Ironic really as the play has much to say about young love. Most thought the play was too complex for Shakey novices to grapple with and the tension between comedy and tragedy would be difficult to grasp. Weirdly, one theatre director recommended Julius Caesar as a good start. I would have thought Othello.
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Most thought the play was too complex for Shakey novices to grapple with and the tension between comedy and tragedy would be difficult to grasp. Weirdly, one theatre director recommended Julius Caesar as a good start. I would have thought Othello.

Interesting. I've always found kids fascinated, but then of course with eleven year olds the study would not be as deep and concentrating on unravelling the various stories and looking at the different characters is was enough. They saw comedy, but I doubt that they saw any tragedy to cause tension!

 

I can see Julius Caesar working, but youngsters don't seem to have much ancient history knowledge nowadays so there could be a great deal of context work.

 

I wonder how much is dependent on how much the teacher knows/likes a play and 'infects' the pupils with this passion. You obviously know 'Othello' well enough to see it work as a first play. I'm less familiar with it, but had to teach it twice recently, to Year 11 pupils who came from schools where they had started it (I don't get Year 7s these days). I found it hard going and so did they. . . . but they did both thank me and said that one to one tuition had helped.

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eleven year olds the study would not be as deep and concentrating on unravelling the various stories and looking at the different characters is was enough. They saw comedy, but I doubt that they saw any tragedy to cause tension!
And of course the fairies, the forest and mischevious Puck would be enough to have them rapt.

 

You obviously know 'Othello' well enough to see it work as a first play.

Well, I think that with Othello it is more straightforward than a lot of the other plays - still complex, but less so, and the fundamental concepts of jealousy and suspicion are easily understood. Plus, Iago is a great baddie and kids like a good baddie. He is so easy to pluck apart for his wrong-doings.

 

I found it hard going and so did they. . . . but they did both thank me and said that one to one tuition had helped.
I can imagine that 1-to-1 tuition would help - it takes that kind of concentration to immerse yourself in the language - you can't just passively listen in a classroom and hope to grasp the plays.
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I wouldn't use Othello with year 7 - the sexual jealousies are far too complex for 12 year olds to appreciate. AMND is much more accessible to them - many of them actually study that in primary school. We do The Tempest in year 7 and currently Romeo and Juliet in year 8, though that will change next year when it becomes a SAT text. At the moment yr 9 are studying Much Ado about Nothing.

 

In my experience kids relate most easily to Romeo and Juliet, especially when they realise that the main characters are actually closer to their ages, andalso thanks to the Baz Luhrman film!!

 

I always find it amazing that the powers that be insist that Shakespeare be studied - the sexual innuendo in the text is absolutely rife, yet condoned. If was to get them to study a modern text with some of the same sexual references I would be arrested!!!!

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In my experience kids relate most easily to Romeo and Juliet, especially when they realise that the main characters are actually closer to their ages, andalso thanks to the Baz Luhrman film!!

 

Of course, that is a good introduction and the Luhrman film must help.
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