A Midsummer Night’s Dream
Things to consider while reading A Midsummer Night’s Dream
Conventions of the Elizabethan Stage
If you haven’t read the section on Shakespeare’s Theater, do so. It’s repeated in virtually every volume of the Folger Library editions, so you don’t need to read it every time, but it’s good to know what you’re dealing with. Consider the following as a starting-point:
- For whom was Shakespeare writing?
- What kind of physical environment does Shakespeare envision?
- What are the verbal conventions of the play?
- What are the things that go without saying?
- Boys as women
- Altered identity, and why nobody can tell
- Prophecy is always fulfilled
- What kinds of physical helps did he have -- sets, props, etc.?
- Viewing Shakespeare today
A narrative retelling of A Midsummer Night’s Dream from Tales from Shakespeare by Charles and Mary Lamb is linked here at the Eldritch Press Site.
Themes that emerge in the play
- Love and marriage
- Law and lawlessness (law and grace? law and mercy?)
- The city vs. the country
- Representation of reality in drama: the drama looks at itself.
Symmetries in the play
- Note that there are two separate courts involved here: there is the Athenian court (Theseus and Hippolyta) and the Fairy court (Oberon and Titania). How are they related to each other? How do the two reflect each other? Do they oppose or complement each other? (In at least one recent film production of the play, the same actors play Theseus and Oberon, Hippolyta and Titania.) Do they represent opposite principles or forms of nature?
- What is the place of the two couples? Are they, as the discussion in the back of your volume suggests, virtually interchangeable?
- What is the function of the transformation of Bottom and his interlude with Titania?
- What is the function of the Indian boy as opposed to the domestic issue of marriage with Egeus and his daughter?
- How many pairs of lovers are there in the play?
- What (if anything, other than a good laugh) is added to this complex perspective by the two lovers in the internal play within a play -- the Pyramus and Thisbe story?
Inconsistencies or problems in the play
- Is there a problem with the fact that Demetrius ends the play effectively in his “enchanted” state?
- If Theseus could “by no means extenuate” the Athenian law regarding daughters and the will of the father, why or how does he apparently do just that at the end of the play?
- Are we to take the play within a play at all seriously?
- What is the relationship of “Pyramus and Thisbe” to “Romeo and Juliet”? Does it pillory “Romeo and Juliet” to such an extent as to discredit it? (This is something we will return to in greater depth when we have read “Romeo and Juliet.”)
- Is the issue dividing Oberon and Titania resolved satisfactorily?
- Many people object to the so-called deus ex machina -- a dramatic device in which problems are solved wholesale by the intervention of an outside agent. Does that happen here? If so, why? If not, why not?
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