This is a magical (and hilarious) play of love and its complexities. Basics of Comedy In the First Folio, A Midsummer Night’s Dream is officially listed in the genre of comedy. Shakespearean comedy isn’t only about humour, although that is an important aspect of it. It is a dramatic genre that has formal rules and conventions. Like tragedy, comedy existed in classical times (i.e. in the plays of ancient Greece and Rome) and Shakespeare inherited some of the formal rules and conventions from comedies of that period. But one of the most interesting things about Shakespeare is that he puts his own spin on the dramatic genres, developing them and pushing them into new territory. In A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Shakespeare draws on the pastoral tradition by locating most of the play’s action in the woods outside of Athens, marking a contrast between the natural world and the city, Athens, where the lovers’ problems begin. This contrast between city and country, and the movement of the lovers from one to the other, is also a contrast between and movement from the rational, ‘normal’ world of the city to the natural, less rational world of the magical woods. The spin that Shakespeare puts on his use of the pastoral tradition is to make the woods less idealized: And as the play’s title tells us, the action in the woods takes place at night. In Shakespeare’s time, night-time in the woods, with no sources of light, would have been seriously dark. Comedies have a romantic component: one of the central themes is Love. Love in comedy doesn’t have the serious consequences that it has in tragedy. The light-heartedness of comic love is on display in A Midsummer Night’s Dream, as the quarrelling couples are more amusing than anything else. In relation to the light-heartedness of comedy, the ancient Greek philosopher Aristotle noted that comedy represents the ridiculous, and that its plot moves from a bad situation to good one. Hence, A Midsummer Night’s Dream fits this description of comedy. Comedy carries within it the seeds of tragedy, and we are aware of this in A Midsummer Night’s Dream in the argument that Titania and Oberon are having over possession of the little Indian boy. Their fight has dire consequences in the natural world and for the humans who live in that world. Similarly, the jealousy of the four lovers could easily have resulted in tragedy, as they fight between themselves in the woods. In the end, the plot of comedy magically moves away from its tragic trajectory towards a happy ending as Shakespeare intervenes to ensure a comic conclusion that involves three marriages. Marriage is a common aspect of Shakespearean comedy. Who’s who….. The Court Duke Theseus, the ruler of Athens, is calm and rational and decisive in his rule. His wedding to Hippolyta ends the play. Hippolyta is the Queen of the Amazons, and a captive of war. She is quiet and observant but because she has only a few lines in the play, her character is open to a number of interpretations. Egeus, the father of Hermia, blocks his daughter's marriage to Lysander, preferring Demetrius, and insists on Hermia's death if she does not obey his wishes. The Lovers Lysander is a gentleman who is in love with Hermia. He wishes to marry her, despite her father's objections. Demetrius is a gentleman who is in love with Hermia. He has her father's support, and attempts to marry her against her wishes. He was once in love with Helena, whom he despises at the beginning of the play. Hermia is in love with Lysander, and wishes to marry him despite her father's objections. She is a brunette, and short, and also feisty. Helena is in love with Demetrius. She is fair, tall and a selfproclaimed coward but she is determined in pursuing Demetrius. The Fairy Kingdom Oberon, the King of the Fairies, is proud, jealous and dictatorial. While he is harsh with his Queen, he is often generous in dealing with mortal characters. Titania, the Queen of the Fairies, is proud and stubborn. Puck is described as a spirit, sprite, and hobgoblin. He works for Oberon and is the most mischievous of the fairies The Mechanicals (The mechanicals are so called because they belong to the working class, and their jobs involve manual labour.) The mechanicals (Bottom, Quince, Snug, Snout, Flute, and Starveling) are a group of tradesmen from Athens, sometimes labeled in the stage directions as clowns, who are chosen to perform a play – called The Comical Tragedy of Pyramus and Thisbe – which they rehearse for Theseus and Hippolyta's wedding. Their leading actor, Bottom, who is given the head of a ass by Puck, is one of Shakespeare's great comic characters. Bottom is gentle, well meaning, and has an uncomplicated view of life. Why does this play matter? A Midsummer Night's Dream matters, because it represents a very modern idea of love. The idea of marrying for love was becoming popular in Shakespeare's day. In Shakespeare's time, a daughter was often considered the property of her father, and he chose the man she would marry. In A Midsummer Night's Dream, the idea of an arranged marriage is represented by Egeus's plan for his daughter, Hermia, to marry Demetrius, even though she's in love with Lysander. Also in Shakespeare's time, people generally married others of the same social class. While everyone in A Midsummer Night's Dream ends up marrying a person of their own class, they don't all marry the person they're supposed to. (For example, Demetrius ends up marrying Helena, even though, originally, he was in love with Hermia; however Hermia’s father finally allows her to marry Lysander) This somewhat absurd conclusion is the symbol of the triumph of emotion and the irrational over reason and the established order. In this regard, Shakespeare understood that humans are creatures of passion and sometimes of violent emotion. This play also matters for the relationship it has to another play, which Shakespeare wrote around the same time, Romeo and Juliet. The story of these doomed young lovers is well known. In many ways, A Midsummer Night's Dream is like the other side of the Romeo and Juliet coin. A Midsummer Night's Dream also matters for the stages of love it represents. While we all remember the excitement of our first love, love changes as we go through life. A Midsummer Night's Dream Overview Four Athenians run away to the forest only to have Puck the fairy make both of the boys fall in love with the same girl. The four run through the forest pursuing each other while Puck helps his master play a trick on the fairy queen. In the end, Puck reverses the magic, and the two couples reconcile and marry. Act I As Duke Theseus prepares for his marriage to Hippolyta, Queen of the Amazons, he is interrupted by a courtier, Egeus. Egeus asks for the Duke to intervene in a dispute. His daughter, Hermia, will not agree to marry Demetrius (whom Egeus has chosen for her) because she loves a gentleman named Lysander. The Duke asks Hermia to be obedient to her father. He offers her one of two options: she must either die or accept a celibate life as a nun in Diana's temple. Naturally upset with the offer, Lysander and Hermia plan to elope and share their secret with Helena, Hermia's friend. Helena is desperately in love with Demetrius, who seems to have abandoned her in favour of Hermia. At night, Lysander and Hermia escape from Athens; but they soon lose their way in the woods. After Helena tells him of their intention to defy the law, Demetrius decides to follow the lovers into the woods. In turn, Helena follows Demetrius in the hope that he will give up on Hermia and choose her instead. Meanwhile, a group of working men are preparing a play of the tragic love-story of Pyramus and Thisbe to present before the Duke Theseus on his wedding day. Nick Bottom, the weaver, is to play the lover Pyramus, while Flute, the bellows-mender, begrudgingly agrees to play Thisbe. ACT II Nearby, Oberon - King of the Fairies—has recently quarreled with his queen, Titania. She acquired a magical child (Indian Boy) from one of her waiting women, and now refuses to hand him over to Oberon to use as a page. Oberon begins to plot a way to get revenge on Titania for her disobedience. He sends his fairy servant, Puck, to fetch a purple flower with juice that makes people fall in love with the next creature they see. Afterwards, Oberon overhears Helena and Demetrius arguing in the forest. Oberon hears Demetrius mistreat Helena and tells Puck to anoint 'the Athenian', so Demetrius will fall in love with the first person that he sees. Puck mistakes the Athenian and puts the flower juice on the eyes of the sleeping Lysander. When he is woken by Helena, he immediately falls in love with her and rejects Hermia. When Demetrius rests, Oberon puts magic juice on his eyes, which makes him fall in love with Helena as well. Act III The workers' rehearsals in the wood are overheard by Puck, who plays a trick on them by giving Bottom an ass's head. After frightening the others away, Bottom is lured towards the sleeping Titania whom Oberon has anointed with Puck's magic flower juice. On waking, the fairy queen falls in love with the ass and entertains him with her fairies. Meanwhile, Demetrius and Lysander, still under the spell of the flower juice, pursue Helena. Hermia is jealous and confused about the lack of attention paid to her. Oberon and Puck watch the chaos, and Oberon commands Puck to put it right again. The lovers' arguments have tired them all out as they have chased one another through the woods. Puck eventually distracts the two men from their pursuit of Helena by impersonating their voices, and they get lost in the woods. The four lovers fall asleep, exhausted. Puck places restorative juice on Lysander's eyes. Act IV After an afternoon of being pampered by Titania's fairies, Bottom falls asleep beside her. Oberon restores Titania's sight and wakes her. After expressing her dismay at the sight of Bottom, she reconciles with Oberon, and she ends up giving him the little Indian prince for his page. Bottom's ass head is removed, and he returns to the city to rejoin his friends as they prepare to perform their play. The lovers are woken by Theseus and Hippolyta's hunting party. Lysander sees Hermia and falls in love with her once again. Act V Happily reunited (Lysander with Hermia and Demetrius with Helena), they agree to share the Duke's wedding day. The play of 'Pyramus and Thisbe' is presented before the wedding guests. As the three couples retire to bed, Puck and the fairies return to bless the palace and its people. Major Themes Love’s complexities Magic Dreams Jealousy Loss of individual identity Ambiguous sexuality Male dominance Film Adaptation Initial release: April 26, 1999 Director: Michael Hoffman The ensemble cast features Kevin Klein as Bottom, Michelle Pfeiffer and Rupert Everett as Titania and Oberon, Stanley Tucci as Puck, and Calista Flockhart, Anna Friel, Christian Bale, and Dominic West as the four lovers. References Courses.edx.org. AdelaideX: Bard101xShakespeare Matters https://www.bbc.co.uk/sounds/play/p06btvrw Theseus' "The lunatic, the lover, and the poet" speech is in A Midsummer Night's Dream V.I.2–22 Cavendish, Dominic (21 June 2014). "10 things you didn't know about A Midsummer Night's Dream". The Telegraph. Archived from the original on 29 September 2016. Retrieved 1 April 2017. Kehler, Dorothea (1998). "A Midsummer Night's Dream: A Bibliographic Survey of the Criticism". In Kehler, Dorothea (ed.). A Midsummer Night's Dream: Critical Essays. Garland reference library of the humanities. 1900 (reprint ed.). Psychology Press. pp. 3–76. ISBN 978-08153-3890-1.