Title: A Midsummer Night’s Dream
Author: William Shakespeare
Published: 2016 (originally 1595)
After the tragic Hamlet I wanted to read a comedy by Shakespeare. I decided to pick up A Midsummer Night’s Dream because I’ve always loved the movie adaptation from 1999 with Michelle Pfeiffer, Rupert Everett and Stanley Tucci. The story centres around the events in the build-up to the marriage between Theseus, Duke of Athens to Hippolyta. The play features three narrative threads that eventually intertwine.
The first thread is that of four young lovers: Hermia, Lysander, Demetrius and Helena. The play opens with Hermia refusing to marry Demetrius, the man her father has chosen. Hermia declares she is in love with Lysander, while Helena secretly longs for Demetrius. Hermia is forced to choose between life long chastity or marrying the man she does not love. Hermia and Lysander therefore decide to elope, but Helena betrays her friend Hermia by telling Demetrius of their plan, hoping to win Demetrius’s love. Demetrius is furious when she tells him this, but rejects her declarations of love and follows his promised wife and her lover into the forest of Athens. Helena follows him, desperately declaring her love for him.
Meanwhile, a second story line develops: six amateur actors are practising a play (in the same forest the lovers have escaped to) which they want to perform during the marriage festivities. Nick Bottom is one of the actors but is so over-enthusiastic that he offers to play almost every role and wants to change several lines and characters in the play to suit himself.
The third story line centres around the feud between Oberon and Titania, king and queen of the fairies. Oberon and Titania are arguing about Titania’s Indian changeling and who he belongs to. Oberon decides to punish Titania by making her fall in love with an animal and thus shaming her into obedience. He instructs his ‘servant’ Puck to apply a magical concoction on Titania’s eyes while she’s sleeping which will make her fall in love with the first thing she sees when she opens her eyes.
The course of true love never did run smooth.
Naturally, everything turns into one big mess. Puck changes Bottom into a donkey, makes Titania fall in love with the donkey version of Bottom, confuses Lysander with Demetrius and causes mayhem between the lovers.
Love looks not with the eyes, but with the mind,
And therefore is winged Cupid painted blind.
I enjoyed this play, but less than I thought I would. I loved the movie so much, but I enjoyed Hamlet more than A Midsummer Night’s Dream. I don’t really mind, because I still liked it very much. The prose is beautiful and it was fun to recognise lines from the movie. It was a four star read for me, just like Hamlet, but that only proves that a five star rating system isn’t perfect.
I know a bank where the wild thyme blows,
Where oxlips and the nodding violet grows,
Quite overcanopied with luscious woodbine,
With sweet musk roses, and with eglantine
Would I recommend starting with a comedy or tragedy when reading Shakespeare? I’m not sure. Hamlet is really, really good. I loved its prose and characters more than in both A Midsummer Night’s Dream and Twelfth Night. One the other hand, a tragedy might scare some people. If the prospect of reading a play is daunting to you, I suggest watching a movie adaptation first. That clarifies most of the story lines so that you can fully appreciate the prose when you’re reading the play .
She was a vixen when she went to school, / And though she be but little, she is fierce
I would recommend this to everyone who wants to read Shakespeare, although out of the three I’ve read so far, it’s not my absolute favorite. Great play, though!