Lottie Panebianco's Reviews > A Midsummer Night's Dream

A Midsummer Night's Dream by William Shakespeare
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Jun 02, 12

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A Midsummer’s Night Dream is perhaps Shakespeare’s best known and most well loved comedy. It is one of Shakespeare’s most readable plays, and most people seem to love it because of its use of language and wonder. Like in many of the other plays, a reader can see the use of doubling, for instance Theseus and Hippolyta with Oberon and Titania. Also present are Shakespeare’s low characters and the standard confusion and inversion of roles. As much as I love Dream, and I love Dream, it always leaves a funny after taste. It’s true that Shakespeare’s comedies are always a dance step away from his tragedies. It’s also true that dark comedy the like of Monty Python or Blackadder is very funny. That’s not the after taste. I don’t mind the fairy plot. Yes, Oberon is mean to his wife, but if we look the issue from Shakespeare’s time, Titania is suborning the rule of her king (not her husband, but her king), and even, maybe, has been emasculating the boy. Neither fairy King or Queen seems like the faithful type, and neither one seems to care over much. Their fight isn’t about sexual loyalty, but the right to the boy, almost like two parents battling over whether little Johnny should grow up or not. It also doesn’t seem likely, despite what some modern films suggest, that Bottom and Titania did anything more than just sleep (as in snoring). And who doesn’t love Puck? What really bugs me is the Greek men, the Greek noblemen. King Leonides they are not.
Exhibit A – King Theseus. Here is a man who wooed his wife by force of arms, by defeating her battle, by taking her (and if you know Greek myth, you know how the story ends). Here is a man who has abandoned, as Oberon tells us, other women. Here is a man who thinks nothing of threatening Hermia with death on the eve of his wedding. And how come his bride to be is so quiet?
Exhibit B – Demetrius. Here is a man who woos one woman, wins her love, and then throws her over for her best friend. When Hermia, rightly, wants nothing to do with him, Demetrius wins, how is unclear, the permission of her father. Demetrius doesn’t care what Hermia wants; it is what he wants that matters. He stands by and lets the woman he claims to love be threatened with death. Like Theseus, he seems to see women as things to be taken.
Exhibit C – Egeus. I really don’t need to go into detail, do I? Why exactly is Demetrius better? What difference between Lysander and Demetrius exists seems to point solely in the favor Lysander. Why is Egeus pushing for a different match? Is he selling his daughter?
Exhibit D – Lysander. Okay, nothing much is wrong with Lysander. When he abandons Hermia, it really isn’t his fault. He is, however, somewhat mean to the players in the last act of the play. In addition, there is the question of the love juice. Does Demetrius really deserve Helena? Do they deserve each other because she places friendship below love? Does Demetrius really love her? It seems like Helena is getting a bad end of the deal. Hermia was more right than she knew when she said, “By all the vows that ever men have broke/(In number more than ever women spoke)” (I.i.178-179). Then there is the treatment of the players. The heckling that Theseus, Demetrius, and Lysander do of the plays seems very much like Knight of the Burning Pestle and I find it unclear if Shakespeare is commenting on talkative theatre goers, amateur players, or bad actors. Interesting, you can read the last act as Hippolyta and the players versus Theseus and the guys. The men, at least to modern eyes, look bad, but Hippolyta looks regal and understanding. What is going on there? Some class comment, or something that no longer works because we have lost the meaning? Is it a continuation of the battle of the sexes that dominates sections of the play? It’s something you almost forget because of the presence of the fairies, in particular Puck, at the end of the play. Despite the disquiet, the play works because it is so right, so real. When Helena betrays her friendship in a desperate gamble to win love, we can see it. It is something that might happen. When Helena attacks Hermia, in part because of Helena’s own betrayal of the friendship, it works because it happens. Like most Shakespeare’s plays, one feels pity for the women of the play. Helena and her love. Hermia and her trials. It is why there is that aftertaste. I don’t know what themes Shakespeare was trying to address here. Status quo and the right of man might be suggested by the fairy plot, yet Shakespeare is so sympathetic to Hermia. Is he saying sometimes it is okay to disobey and sometimes not? Is he commenting on love and family? Saying that sometimes you have to let your children go? (Considering the match his youngest daughter would make, one wonders). Is there a class struggle going on? I don’t know. I always think Shakespeare wrote with one eye on his pocket book, wallet, and man purse. That’s why Dream succeeds. Shakespeare, like Walt Disney, James Cameron and Peter Jackson, knows how to appeal to the human sense of wonder.
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