A Midsummer Night’s Dream
Published ca. 1590
I read this book for the following Challenges:
MY THOUGHTS ABOUT THIS BOOK
I joined 2 reading challenges this year related to Shakespeare, and one of them had planned to have us read this play I had not read yet.
I have to say it’s not really my favorite by Shakespeare. I found the story within the story within the story a bit too complicated for a comedy. I did not like the characters of the women. My favorite character is probably Nick Bottom, that I would consider as the jester, smart and witty.
I even read along the cliffs notes volume on this play, just in case I was missing something big, but it did not seem so. By the way, this study book presents and analyses each scene, and presents then the general themes of the play.
After reading the play, I watched the BBC version of it, and found it a tiny bit more funny. I have the feeling anyway that Shakespeare would be horrified that we just read his plays, they should absolutely be watched to have a better idea. One example here is with Tom Snout playing a Wall, through which (that is, between 2 of his fingers), lovers tried to talk and kiss each other.
I’d like to integrate here a few comments I made to questions posted on the website hosting one of the challenges – click on the RIGHT challenge picture to see all the questions and comments for each act.
By the way, here is one of many online free versions
Do you perceive any allusions to myths and/or other works?
= yes, the relation between Hermia and her father Egeus reminds me a bit of Antigone nd her fasther Oedipus in Sophocles’ play:
Antigone is a daughter of the accidentally incestuous marriage between King Oedipus of Thebes and his mother Jocasta. She is the subject of a popular story in which she attempts to secure a respectable burial for her brother Polynices, even though he was a traitor to Thebes and the law forbids even mourning for him, on pain of death.
In the oldest version of the story, the funeral of Polynices takes place during Oedipus’ reign in Thebes, however, this is before he marries Jocasta. However, in the best-known versions, Sophocles tragedies Oedipus at Colonus and Antigone, it occurs in the years after Oedipus’ banishment and death, and Antigone has to struggle against Creon. In Sophocles’ version, both of Antigone’s brothers are killed in battle against the state. After Oedipus’ death, it was decided that the two brothers, Eteocles and Polynices were to reign over Thebes taking turns. Eteocles, however, did not want to give away his power causing Polynices to leave Thebes to set up an army. In the fight against Thebes, the two brothers kill each other. After this event, Creon declares that, as punishment, Polynices’ body must be left on the plain outside the city to rot and be eaten by animals. Eteocles, on the other hand had been buried as tradition warranted. Antigone determines this to be unjust, immoral and against the laws of the gods, and is determined to bury her brother regardless of Creon’s law. She attempts to persuade her sister Ismene to join her, but fails. Antigone buries her brother by herself; eventually Creon’s guards discover this and capture her. Antigone is brought before Creon, where she declares that she knew Creon’s law but chose to break it, expounding upon the superiority of ‘divine law’ to that made by man. She defies his arguments, provoking his wrath and punishment.
Sophocles’ Antigone ends in disaster, with Antigone hanging herself after being walled up, and Creon’s son Haemon (or Haimon), who loved Antigone, killing himself after finding her body.
Have you any quote/quotes that has/have struck you as interesting in some way?
Or, if there were a sympathy in choice,
War, death, or sickness did lay siege to it,
Making it momentary as a sound,
Swift as a shadow, short as any dream;
Brief as the lightning in the collied night,
That, in a spleen, unfolds both heaven and earth,
And ere a man hath power to say ‘Behold!’
The jaws of darkness do devour it up:
So quick bright things come to confusion.
= I was a bit shocked at how negative this description of love is, but again, this is a comedy, and Shakespeare could very well mock those that have that type of reaction to love.
The 2nd Act for me is a definite turn in the comedy genre, and this really gives me the desire to watch the play after I finish reading it – it’s at my library.
In this Act, one passage, related to love again, as in my comment on Act 1, brought to mind something totally foreign to it: a very famous song in French by the Belgian singer/poet Jacques Brel.
Here is Helena to Demetrius:
I am your spaniel; and, Demetrius,
The more you beat me, I will fawn on you:
Use me but as your spaniel, spurn me, strike me,
Neglect me, lose me; only give me leave,
Unworthy as I am, to follow you.
What worser place can I beg in your love,–
And yet a place of high respect with me,–
Than to be used as you use your dog?
And here is the famous song by Jacques Brel: Ne me quitte pas:
In English translation, here is the passage, with the dog:
Don’t leave me
I won’t cry anymore
I won’t speak anymore
I will hide right there
To see you
Dancing and smiling
And to listen to you
Sing and then laugh
Let me become
The shadow of your shadow
The shadow of you hand
The shadow of your dog
if you want to hear in French, with English subtitles, here is a live version: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZYiHBBuHWbI
this is a very silly parallel I admit, but I was struck by this image in Shakespeare, and right away thought of Jacques Brel, as this image is as striking in his own love song.
Act 4, at the end of scene 1, Bottom says:
[Awaking] When my cue comes, call me, and I will
answer: my next is, ‘Most fair Pyramus.’ Heigh-ho!
Peter Quince! Flute, the bellows-mender! Snout,
the tinker! Starveling! God’s my life, stolen
hence, and left me asleep! 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
methought I had,–but man is but a patched 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; and I will sing it in the
latter end of a play, before the duke:
peradventure, to make it the more gracious, I shall
sing it at her death.
with parallel to Saint Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians:
1 Corinthians 2:9-10:
But as it is written, Eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, neither have entered into the heart of man, the things which God hath prepared for them that love him.10 But God hath revealed them unto us by his Spirit: for the Spirit searcheth all things, yea, the deep things of God.
WHAT IS IT ABOUT
Shakespeare’s intertwined love polygons begin to get complicated from the start–Demetrius and Lysander both want Hermia but she only has eyes for Lysander. Bad news is, Hermia’s father wants Demetrius for a son-in-law. On the outside is Helena, whose unreturned love burns hot for Demetrius. Hermia and Lysander plan to flee from the city under cover of darkness but are pursued by an enraged Demetrius (who is himself pursued by an enraptured Helena). In the forest, unbeknownst to the mortals, Oberon and Titania (King and Queen of the faeries) are having a spat over a servant boy. The plot twists up when Oberon’s head mischief-maker, Puck, runs loose with a flower which causes people to fall in love with the first thing they see upon waking. Throw in a group of labourers preparing a play for the Duke’s wedding (one of whom is given a donkey’s head and Titania for a lover by Puck) and the complications become fantastically funny. [Goodreads]
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
William Shakespeare (baptised 26 April 1564) was an English poet and playwright, widely regarded as the greatest writer in the English language and the world’s pre-eminent dramatist. He is often called England’s national poet and the “Bard of Avon” (or simply “The Bard”). His surviving works consist of 38 plays, 154 sonnets, two long narrative poems, and several other poems. His plays have been translated into every major living language, and are performed more often than those of any other playwright.
Shakespeare was born and raised in Stratford-upon-Avon. At the age of 18 he married Anne Hathaway, who bore him three children: Susanna, and twins Hamnet and Judith. Between 1585 and 1592 he began a successful career in London as an actor, writer, and part owner of the playing company the Lord Chamberlain’s Men, later known as the King’s Men. He appears to have retired to Stratford around 1613, where he died three years later. Few records of Shakespeare’s private life survive, and there has been considerable speculation about such matters as his sexuality, religious beliefs, and whether the works attributed to him were written by others.
Shakespeare produced most of his known work between 1590 and 1613. His early plays were mainly comedies and histories, genres he raised to the peak of sophistication and artistry by the end of the sixteenth century. Next he wrote mainly tragedies until about 1608, including Hamlet, King Lear, and Macbeth, considered some of the finest examples in the English language. In his last phase, he wrote tragicomedies, also known as romances, and collaborated with other playwrights. Many of his plays were published in editions of varying quality and accuracy during his lifetime, and in 1623, two of his former theatrical colleagues published the First Folio, a collected edition of his dramatic works that included all but two of the plays now recognised as Shakespeare’s.
Shakespeare was a respected poet and playwright in his own day, but his reputation did not rise to its present heights until the nineteenth century. The Romantics, in particular, acclaimed Shakespeare’s genius, and the Victorians hero-worshipped Shakespeare with a reverence that George Bernard Shaw called “bardolatry”. In the twentieth century, his work was repeatedly adopted and rediscovered by new movements in scholarship and performance. His plays remain highly popular today and are consistently performed and reinterpreted in diverse cultural and political contexts throughout the world.
In February, we will read Macbeth, a favorite of mine that I studied every hard decades ago, so stay tuned!
HAVE YOU READ THIS PLAY YET?
WHAT DO YOU LIKE OR DON’T LIKE IN IT?
DO YOU FEEL LIKE READING IT?
SHARE YOUR THOUGHTS IN A COMMENT PLEASE
I should try getting a hold of the BBC version of this play. I too don’t particularly care for it much, though I loved the bits with the inexperienced bunch of actors. I could so imagine the last act of this play in my head!
As for the quotes…the one of Hermia declaring she like a spaniel…while I like the way it was written, I simply could not help cringing… eeks!
Great review, btw! 🙂
Actually, it is better watching the play, even this passage with the spaniel sounds more acceptable, and it fits quite well the character, at least the way it is played in the BBC production
I feel like Shakespeare is always better when you see it. It was meant to be seen live, so just reading it doesn’t have the same effect. I’m glad you liked it though!
I totally agree with you, I believe I even wrote it in my post. Especially for comedies, I think
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