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All the World's a Page

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The Adventures of Augie March
Saul Bellow, Christopher Hitchens
Roland Barthes, Stephen Heath
Selected Poems and Four Plays
W.B. Yeats, Macha Louis Rosenthal
On the Edge of the Cold War: American Diplomats and Spies in Postwar Prague
Igor Lukes
A Midsummer Night's Dream - Stephen Orgel, A.R. Braunmuller, Russ McDonald, William Shakespeare It's Midsummer! The world is crazy! Hermia loves Lysander, Demterius loves Hermia, Helena loves Demetrius, and no one loves Helena! *sudden FAERIE MAGIC* Lysander and Demetrius love Helena! Helena thinks they're mocking her and flees them both, no one loves Hermia! *more Pucking around* All is right, relatively... there are some weddings, in any case. Again we see Shakespeare aligning flowers with madness (cue Ophelia's floral coronet, Lear's flower crown, now Oberon's pansy potion). All the world is not just a stage, but a staging of a dream. An absurd dream, an enchanting dream, and amusing (and bemusing) dream: A Midsummer Night's Dream!

The story of the two lover pairs, while it gets the major focus in adaptations like "Get Over It" is really the backseat absurdity to the real high comedy of Titania, Bottom, and (to lesser degree) the players. The whole play is about the closest I have read of farce: meaningless, roving, absurdly funny. The play is wholly summered up by Theseus and Hippolyta:
...Seem'd all one mutual cry: I never heard
So musical a discord, such sweet thunder.

My hounds are bred out of the Spartan kind,
So flew'd, so sanded, and their heads are hung
With ears that sweep away the morning dew;
Crook-knee'd, and dew-lapp'd like Thessalian bulls;
Slow in pursuit, but match'd in mouth like bells,
Each under each. A cry more tuneable
Was never holla'd to, nor cheer'd with horn
The play is a complete "discord, such sweet thunder" - it is farce, it is pure entertainment no message. A Midsummer Night's Dream is like the Spartan hound, bred purely for the sound but useless in the hunt (of meaning). Likely because this play was written as a sort of farcical epithalamium for a noble wedding in which Queen Elisabeth was in attendance (hence her allusions in the play). There is not quite a total lack of meaning in the play, though it does lack the heavy moral and philosophical implications of some of Shakespeare's great tragedies or late romances/tragicomedies. What the lover's story signifies to me is the farce of young love. Love-at-first-sight, which is apotheosized in Romeo and Juliet is turned from romantic tragedy to nightmarish comedy. What I notice again and again in Shakespeare is the almost meaningless pairings of young lovers. Hero and Claudio in Much Ado About Nothing, everyone in Twelfth Night, even Edmund's nonchalance in picking between Goneril and Regan in King Lear: there is nothing predictive in pairing, all young love leads to success of failure and the courting is only a superficiality; in the words of Hamlet's Player King: Our wills and fates do so contrary run
That our devices still are overthrown;
Our thoughts are ours, their ends none of our own
Young lovers' thoughts and actions are their own, they choose who the "love," but ultimately that is meaningless because the destination of those choices is decided by fate not supposed affection. Though Hermia and Lysander are mutually "in love" it is hard to say whether they will be the happier couple than the still-enchanted Demetrius and Helena.

What makes this play so funny is the endearing humanity of Bottom, turned into an ass and become the object of affection of the faerie queen Titania. Bottom is adorably childlike in disposition, and full of innocent exuberance. He is the less grotesque and better-natured clown than Malvolio. He has the self-awareness to know Titania is mad, and not madly in love, but he enjoys his sojourn in the faerie realm, making friends with the small attendants: Peaseblossom, Mote, Mustardseed, and Cobweb. Contrary to Twelfth Night, wherein the whole cast, save Feste, is somewhat insane, too imaginative, or in any case "too much" of something, in Midsummer Night's Dream the human cast, except Bottom and perhaps Puck, seems largely unimaginative. We are alone enchanted by Bottom and by Puck: Bottom because he is silly, but always self-possessed (his composure at being turned ass puts Gregor Samsa to shame for his shock); Puck is the benign trickster, a sort of Ariel to Oberon's Prospero, but with a joking/pranking disposition like Iago or Hamlet. Puck, the benign joker, Bottom the good-natured joked. We love Bottom because he is the better human than ourselves: he is easy going, he is shrewd (admittedly without wit), and yet he is not beyond us: He is no Hamlet, his consciousness is not infinite, we know its circumferences from the play.