Thursday, June 26, 2014

Shakespeare's A Midsummer Night's Dream: One Wild Night!

Okay, so I'll admit, I'm a nerd. 

I discovered Shakespeare and have been drawn to his witty and imaginative works for years.  I named my cat, a black and white tuxedo, Puck, after the famous fairy sprite that causes so much havoc in the human world.  

My own mischief maker, Puck.  The red tabby beside him is Samhain

 Many of the quotes we toss back and forth today came from Shakespeare's pen, and some of our ideas about fairies came from his great work, too. 
Michelle Pfieffer as Titiania, 1999
Now, Shakespeare's fairy realm is nothing but imagination.  Titiania, the Fairy Queen in his play is not based on legend, but on his own imaginative works. Still, the 'Dream' survives today. The play is brilliant, combining several personal stories into one magnificent theatre stage work.  


In "Dream", Shakespeare shows us a little bit of the fairy world, as he depicts a husband-wife squabble in the royal court of the fairies. He also shows us the theatre player's world, as the common folk of the village join together to present a play in honor of the Duke's wedding feast. The players meet together in the woods to rehearse, and of course their trespass into the magical woods attracts the attention of the fairies as well. This is how poor Mr. Bottom is captured and transformed from his human self into a sort of donkey man beast--all because of the fairy king, Oberon's, desire to make sport of his estranged wife. Bottom garners the love of a besotted fairy, as I put it last time, she falls in love with an ass . . . . a spiteful joke by her fairy lord husband. That isn't romantic, but it does give the audience some great comic relief as they observe Titiania fawning over the donkey man. 

Here are a few of my favorite quotes from the play.

The course of true love never did run smooth.
A Midsummer Night's Dream, 1. 1

 "Ill met by moonlight, proud Titania." King Oberon to his queen, Titiania as they chance to meet in the forest
A Midsummer Night's Dream, 2. 1

 "Lord, what fools these mortals be!"  Said by Puck, mischievous Fairy sprite as he observes the mortals in the wood.
A Midsummer Night's Dream, 3. 2

I love this one that follows as it gives me the vision of a graveyard in the lonely moonlight:

 Night's swift dragons cut the clouds full fast,
And yonder shines Aurora's harbinger;
At whose approach, ghosts, wandering here and there,
Troop home to churchyards.
A Midsummer Night's Dream, 3. 2

Love looks not with the eyes, but with the mind,
And therefore is wing'd Cupid painted blind.
                      Helena, scene i

 And yet, to say the 

truth, reason and love keep little company together nowadays.

  • Bottom, scene i


Lovers and madmen have such seething brains,
Such shaping fantasies, that apprehend
More than cool reason ever comprehends.
The lunatic, the lover, and the poet,
Are of imagination all compact:
One sees more devils than vast hell can hold
  • Theseus, scene i

And so the play ends with Puck's famous speech: 

"If we shadows have offended,
Think but this, and all is mended,
That you have but slumbered here
While these visions did appear."
A Midsummer Night's Dream, 5. 1

A fitting end to a wild, imaginative play---if you don't like it, remember, it was just a dream! And a beautiful dream at that, with fairies, magic, true love and mistaken identities and mistaken affections. 
The morning after: Helena, Demetrius, Lysander and Hermia look a bit confused after their wild night!

Was that really a dream, or did that crazy shit really happen to us in the dark of the forest???

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Midsummer Magic: a season of love

Romance is in the air. No, it's not Valentine's Day, it's midsummer!

I know, it's a few days past that magical day, Midsummer, and I'm posting a bit about Midsummer. 

Well, I have a good excuse, really I do. I was married on Midsummer, some years ago, so June 21st is sort of a sacred dayfor me. It's my wedding anniversary. So, as you can guess, I was out celebrating with my honey! 


Midsummer is a pagan holiday, the time of the summer solstice, and a time of love and magic. A time for dancing round the bonfire and drinking honey mead. Hey, it's summer in the northeren hemisphere, and that's reason enough to feel romantic.  The June moon is called the Mead Moon, because of the brewing of ale, or Honeymoon, as the bees hives are full of honey at this time. Lovers often said their vows at the Midsummer festival.  In the Scandinavian traditions, it's often said that many a Solstice moon has set a cradle rocking in late winter.  


Shakespeare wrote an epic play about the magic of midsummer. It's my favorite storyline for many reasons. First of all, it features lovers, three sets of them in the human realm, and also lovers in the Fairy realm.  

The play features several sets of lovers. The most prominant in the story is a woman named Hermia whose father is forcing her to marry a man she doesn't care for, or face the city law that decrees she can be put to death for disobeying her father. Well, this bold woman will have none of that!  She had backbone, in Shakespeare's writing. She wasn't about to stand by an let fate deal her a bad marriage. Considering this play was written in the 16th century, by a man, that's a pretty incredible story-line.  

Joseph Noel Paton's 1846 depiction of Midsummer Night's Dream

Hermia is in love with Lysander, but her father insists she must marry Demetrius. She loathes Demetrius. So, she and Lysander decide to run away together. They plan to steal away into the forest at night. She confides in her friend, Helena about her plans. Helena, being in love with Demetrius, tells him of Hermia's plan to run away with his rival. Demetrius chases Hermia and Lysander through the forest in the night, hoping to stop them. Helena, obseessed with Demetrius, chases after him. This sets in motion some strange and wondruous events as the four young people are noted by the fairy folk in the forest. 

Oberon and Puck observe the human lovers quarreling and decide to intervene

Oberon, the fairy king, feels sorry for Helena, as she traipses after Demetrius like a faithful and much abused dog. He instructs his servant, the mischievious Puck, to find a plant in the forest that when a drop of the juice is placed on the eyelid of the patient, they fall in love with the first person they see.  He intends for Puck to put this magical juice on Demetrius's eyes while he nods off, but as this is a comedy, you can guess the fairy sprite makes a mistake and puts it on Lysander's eyes instead. Lysander awakens and spies Helena first. He falls madly in love with her, abandoning Hermia.  


 Puck, realizing his mistake, then puts the juice on Demetrius's eyes, and he, too, is suddenly obsessed with Helena. Now Hermia is put in the position of being the despised one as both men obsess over the heretofore neglected Helena.  The confusion adds drama and fun to the mix, as the four progress through the forest and wrangle with each other, both in words and physically. 


 This is just one plot in the storyline. Shakespeare was a master when it comes to plots, and characters. He also has a secondary plot running through the story with Oberon, the fairy king, and his wife, Titiania, the fairy queen. These two are married but estranged. So, Oberon also has his minion Puck put some juice on Titiania's eyes while she sleeps, and Oberon has it set up so she falls in love with the first man she sees, a human lost in the forest whom Oberon has changed in form so he has the head of a donkey, and brays like one. This is Oberon's joke on his wife, making her fall in love with an ass. She awakens, and dotes on this poor human who has been transformed and is lost in the forest.  

In this epic romance fraught with magic and fairy dust, we are given a glimpse into the fairy world. We are introduced to Puck (also known as Robin Goodfellow), to the fairy servants who attend Queen Titiania, and to the hidden world they inhabit. This, coupled with the story of the human lovers, makes for some very mystical entertainment. 

Titiania falls in love with an ass


 The play has many themes running through it, and many, many characters. You almost need a score card to keep up, as there are persons in the city who are putting on a play in honor of the Duke's wedding feast, and they practice in the forest. Also, the Duke and his lady, the warrior Amazon he is betrothed to, have some scenes. In the end, of course, all is set to rights, but the fun and mischief caused by love magic gone awry is engaing storyline. 




 I have seen the play a few times over the years. Each time I find it being put on by a group of players I try to attend, as each director will give the story his own interpretation.  One such rendition at the University of Green Bay had a female Puck, complete with flaming red hair and the ability to control the wind. That was an awesome and entertaining rendition of the famous play. There was a movie made in 1999, starring Michelle Pfieffer as Titiania and Rupert Everett as Oberon. That one is so memorable, with Stanely Tucci as Puck.  It is truly an all star cast and worth a view if you are in the mood for midsummer magic, romance and fairy mischief. It has a slower pace than most theatre productions, but is worth the effort if you enjoy Shakespearean comedy.  


 The lovers end up being set to right by the end of the night. Puck is exhausted as he tries to correct his mistake on the rambuncious humans. Finally, they awaken in the morning with Demetrius being in love with Helena, who has loved him for a long time. Hermia is relieved to find that Lysander's affections are restored to her, as Puck's antidote works to take away his false love for Helena. And Hermia marries Lysander as her father is forced by the Duke to forgive his daughter and give his blessing in her choice of a husband. So, there are three weddings in one: The Duke marries his Amazon queen, Lysander marries Hermia, and Demetrius marries Helena.  And Titiania is released from her husband's mischievious love spell and she and Oberon make up in the end. It all ends happily, after some madcap adventures in the fairy realm. 

Happy Summer everyone!  Fall in love, often and with passion and determination!