Why should you read “A Midsummer Night’s Dream”? – Iseult Gillespie


a group of youths sneak into the woods, where they take mind-altering substances, switch it up romantically, and brush up against creatures
from another dimension. “A Midsummer’s Night’s Dream” sees
Shakespeare get psychedelic – and the result is a treat in the
theatre and on the page. First performed in the 1590’s, this play is one of Shakespeare’s
friskiest works, filled with trickery, madness and magic. Set over the course of one night, Midsummer progresses at a rollicking pace. The plot is structured around patterns of
collision and dissolution, where characters from different worlds
are thrown together and torn apart. Shakespeare uses these patterns to mock
the characters’ self-obsession and question authority with a comic twist. The action is set in Ancient Greece, but like many of Shakespeare’s plays
it reflects his contemporary concerns. The magical setting of the woods at night disrupts the boundaries between
separate groups, with bizarre results. Here, the bard plays with the rigid class
system of his own time, taking three distinct groups
and turning their society upside-down in a world where no mortal is in control. The play opens with young Hermia raging at her father Egeus and
Theseus, the King of Athens, who have forbidden her to marry
her lover Lysander. Hermia has no interest in her father’s
choice for her of Demetrius – but her best friend Helena
definitely does. Furious at their elders, Hermia and
Lysander elope under cover of darkness, with Demetrius in hot pursuit. This is further complicated
by Helena’s decision to follow them all into the woods,
in the hope of winning Demetrius’ heart. At this point, the woods are
getting crowded, as the lovers are sharing the space
with a group of “rude mechanicals”— a troupe of workers drunkenly rehearsing
a play, led by the jovial Nick Bottom. Unbeknownst to them, the humans have
entered into the world of the fairies. Despite their magical splendor,
Oberon and Titania, the king and queen of the fairies,
have their own romantic problems. Furious at his inability to control
Titania, the jealous Oberon commands the trickster Puck to squeeze the
juice of a magical flower over her eyes. When she wakes up, she’ll fall in love
with the first thing she sees. On his mission, Puck gleefully sprinkles the juice over
the eyes of the napping Demetrius and Lysander, and transforms Bottom’s head
into that of a donkey for good measure. As eyes flicker open, a night of chaos commences that includes
broken hearts, mistaken identity, and transformations. Out of all the characters, Bottom probably
fares the best – when the bewitched Titania
lays eyes on him, she calls on her fairies to lavish him
with wine and treasures and sweeps the transfigured donkeyman
off his feet: “pluck the wings from painted butterflies/ To fan the moonbeams
from his sleeping eyes. Nod to him, elves,
and do him courtesies.” While magic is the catalyst to the action, the play reflects the real drama
of the things we do for love – and the nonsensical behavior
of the people under its spell. The moon overlooks the action
“like a silver bow,” signifying erratic behavior,
the dark side of love, and the bewitching allure of a world
where the usual rules don’t apply. Although the characters eventually
come to their senses, “A Midsummer Night’s Dream”
raises the question of how much agency we have
over our own daily lives. But it’s not the more realistically
rendered lovers, rulers or workers who have the last word, but the impish Puck who queries whether we
can ever truly trust what we see: If we shadows have offended, Think but this and all is mended: That you have but slumbered here While these visions did appear. And in so doing, he evokes the effect of entering into the
magical world of great theatre that plays with the boundary between
illusion and reality – and dramatizes the possibility
that life is but a dream.

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