A Mid Summer Night's Dream
Relationships can be very difficult. Just ask anyone who has been married or in a committed relationship for a long time and they will tell you its no picnic. Now imagine for a second that you are with the same person for say...a few thousand years and instead of your marital spats just affecting you and your partner, they also affect the weather and other people the world over. A Midsummer Night's Dream, Shakespeare's ode to marriage, centers around two omnipotent beings from England's mythic past, Oberon and Titania, the King and Queen of the fairy kingdom. They traipse around the world with their respective courts bestowing blessings, making love with the odd mortal and generally are at odds with each other. The play catches up with them in ancient Athens before the wedding of two other mythical mortals, the Greek Hero Theseus and the Amazon queen Hippolyta. Throw in a lover's quadrangle, a group of clueless actors trying to put on a play, a mischievous fairy and some interesting plants and you have the makings of one wild night in the forest.
As the play appeared in the 1623 First Folio
The story begins as Duke Theseus and Queen Hippolyta, two middle aged lovers who are celebrating a well earned peace between their two peoples by getting married. Aegeus, a leading citizen brings his daughter Hermia before the Duke in hopes of forcing her to marry Demetrius a man of his choosing though she has been carrying on an affair with Lysander. Theseus declares to Hermia that she must do as her father wishes or join a convent. Hermia and Lysander decide to flee the city to the woods, though Hermia's friend Helena over hears their plans and decides to tell Demetrius. Helena is in love with Demetrius and figures that by giving him this news he will loose interest in Hermia, but the two go after Lysander and Hermia instead. Meanwhile a group of Athenian craftsman gather to put on a play in honor of the Duke's wedding. Lead by the overstressed Peter Quince, he tries to get his group of nervous first time actors and his overacting lead Nick Bottom to put on the tragical tale of Pyramus and Thisbe. As the group rehearse in the forest strange things abound.
Titania and Oberon run into each other as they come to bless the wedding. They are having a lover's quarrel that has disrupted the natural flow of the seasons over a young boy that Titania has been lavishing too much attention on. Titania adopts this son from one of her priestesses after she dies. While the boy is a child to beings thousands of years old, he is actually sexually mature and is the cause of Oberon's jealousy. Oberon demands the "child" to become his servant but Titania refuses. To get revenge, Oberon orders his mischievous servant Puck to administer a love potion to the queen so that she will fall in love with the first creature that she sees. Oberon also orders Puck to give the potion to Demetrius who he has heard mistreating Helena, the women who loves him. Puck inadvertently gives the potion to Lysander who falls in love with Helena and in trying to correct the mistake gives it to Demetrius. Both men lavish attention on Helena and leave a bewildered and angry Hermia in the dust. Continuing to cause trouble, Puck comes across the amateur troop bestows his critique on their performance by turning Bottom into a donkey. As the rest leave him in the woods, Titania falls in love with him. As all romantic comedies do, all is righted in the end and the marriage goes ahead as planned with some very interesting dinner entertainment.
The play's first appearance in print, the quarto of 1600
Midsummer is one of Shakespeare's most popular and often performed plays and can be enjoyed on many different levels. Its makes a great children's show with its magic, fairies and broad comedy and as an adult comedy with its subtle innuendo. The play is an ode to marriage and is replete with references either to impending nuptials or with a long time married couple. This has given rise to the theory that the first performance of the show was for a private affair, perhaps an aristocratic wedding. While several aristocratic candidates have been put forward, a logical choice seems to be the wedding of the mother of Shakespeare's patron and friend, the Dowager Countess of Southhampton and a much older man. This is driven home by the impending wedding of Theseus and Hippolyta, an older couple going on their second marriages as were the bride and groom here. Also, the figures of Oberon and Hippolyta show the later aspects of married life - fighting and making up. So much do the two couples complement each other and the marriage allusions that in most modern productions they are portrayed by the same actors.
The play was popular since its first performance and is seen as the comic twin of Romeo and Juliet, a play that it spoofs with the tale of Pyramus and Thisbe. Although it is difficult to know which title came first as they both are thought to have been written around 1594-1595. The show was the subject of a quarto a few years later in 1600 and this seems to be a good copy taken from Shakespeare's own manuscript. It also has the distinction of being one of the few plays that Shakespeare had no direct source and created the plot entirely himself, though all the major characters derive from Greek and English folklore.
Click below or on the side links to view the Play Text either as a full page or scene by scene format; a Directory of Characters with extensive descriptions and backgrounds; a Scene by Scene Synopsis of the play; and extensive Commentary on the show.
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