On this midsummer night, the woods are full of magic and enchantment, lovers and fairies.
A Midsummer Night’s Dream, one of Shakespeare’s romantic comedies, has whole batch of main characters, certainly more than most plays. From ancient myth we have Theseus, soon to be married to the Queen of the Amazons, Hippolyta. We have four young lovers Hermia, Helena, Lysander and Demetrius, who would really fit in to any time and place, since young people in love tend to act and think the same. From the English countryside of Shakespeare’s time, we have Nick Bottom, a weaver, who along with some other workmen is pulling together a play to perform at the wedding. Finally, Oberon and Titania, King and Queen of the Fairies, and Puck come from the world of folklore and magic.
At the beginning of the play, Hermia’s father is insisting she marry Demetrius, even though she truly loves Lysander, so she and Lysander conspire to run away together, agreeing to meet in the woods. As in any good fairy tale, here the woods are full of magic, change, potential danger. Helena, who is in love with Demetrius, tell him of the plans. He heads off to the woods to intercept the couple and she follows. I’m not sure why she tells him, perhaps she’s a little dull. Wouldn’t she want Hermia and Lysander out of the way so that she can have Demetrius for herself. Bottom and his acting troupe are meeting in the woods to rehearse their play, away from the city where they might be overheard. Also in the woods are Oberon and Titania, come to the area to bless the beds of their former lovers, Hippolyta and Theseus respectively, although they are arguing over a young Indian boy changeling, Oberon wants him to join his service and Titania won’t give him up.
That’s the set-up, and then the mischief begins. Oberon has Puck find a specific flower and makes a love juice from it. If place on the eyes of a sleeping person, he/she will fall in love with whomever they first see upon awakening. Obviously this is going to lead to all kinds of romantic entanglements, right. So, Oberon has Puck put some of the juice in Titania’s eyes, causing her to fall in love with bottom, who now has a donkey’s head, thanks to Puck. Oberon also has Puck place some of the potion on Demetrius, eyes, wanting him to fall for Helena, whom Oberon has seen how he treats her. Puck screws it up, and in the end, Titania has a man with donkey head in her bed, both Lysander and Demetrius love Helena, and Hermia is left out in the cold. It’s actually rather amusing, in a mean sort of way. In the end of course, everything is straightened back out, the three couples get married to the right people, and Oberon and Titania make up.
But did the whole evening really happen to the characters, or was it a dream, as the title implies, or does it matter?
Bottom, when he wakes up from his sleep, is sure it was a dream.
I have had a most rare vision. I have had a dream, past the wit of man to say what dream it was. Man is but an ass, if he go about to expound this dream. Methought I was – there is no man can tell what. Methought I was- and methough I had – but man is but a patch’d fool, if he will offer to say what methought I had. The eye of man hath not heard, the ear of man hath not seen, man’s hand is not able to taste, his tongue to conceive, nor his heart to report, what my dream was. I will get Peter Quince to write a ballad of this dream. It shall be called “Bottom’s Dream,” because it hath no bottom. (4.1.204-214)
I love Bottom, he gets his words mixed up, but he’s just a good everyday man. He’s also the only human here who gets to interact with the fairies. And he doesn’t seemed charmed out of his senses by Titania, he just seems to be going along with it. He seems to enjoy the company of the other fairies, her companions,. as much as he does hers.
I’m not really sure what the play has to say about love. The young men and women seem fairly interchangeable in personality and love seems rather fickle.
Shakespeare winds the different characters and storylines beautifully throughout the play. It’s an enchanting play. Maybe the play is our dream, the audience’s or reader’s, a dream to get lost in for a couple of hours.
And a quote, just because I liked it.
The lunatic, the lover and the poet
Are of imagination all compact:
One sees more devils than vast hell can hold,
That is, the madman: the lover, all as frantic,
Sees Helen’s beauty in a brow of Egypt:
The poet’s eye, in fine frenzy rolling,
Doth glance from heaven to earth, from earth to heaven;
And as imagination bodies forth
The forms of things unknown, the poet’s pen
Turns them to shapes and gives to airy nothing
A local habitation and a name.
Such tricks hath strong imagination,
That if it would but apprehend some joy,
It comprehends some bringer of that joy;
Or in the night, imagining some fear,
How easy is a bush supposed a bear!
5 out of 5 stars
Category: Classics- Play
First published 1598
Book source: Library
Shakespeare Reading Month is hosted by Allie at A Literary Odyssey.