“What hempen home-spuns have we swaggering here,
So near the cradle of the fairy queen?”
Puck, A Midsummer Night’s Dream
I’ve been consumed by Shakespeare of late – reading the plays, watching productions, listening to classical composer’s interpretations, reading critical writings (Jan Kott you are sorely missed). I eat breathe and live Shakespeare. The Bard oozes from my pores. All this is in preparation for my upcoming production of “A Midsummer Night’s Dream.”
I feel like it was in another lifetime that I worked on a piece of classical theater. That’s not a bad thing for a couple of reasons. In the interim, the theatrical art I was creating was based on modern and contemporary pieces and I learned so much. Also, I feel that I understand Shakespeare so much better now than I did in that other lifetime. I have lived thru many of the themes expressed in Shakespeare’s writing. Kott was right – Shakespeare is our contemporary. Is it any wonder then why Neil Gaiman centered an entire ark of “The Sandman” around “The Dream”?
When Samuel Pepys went to see “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” in 1662 he was not impressed. “We saw ‘Midsummer’s Night’s Dream,’ which I had never seen before nor shall ever again, for it is the most insipid ridiculous play that ever I saw in my life”. Luckily, theater goers ignored Pepys. Pepys is largely forgotten today while “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” is still widely performed.
Random thoughts on “The Dream” …
I have discovered so much about Shakespeare and I see “The Dream” in a whole new light. This is a joyous play; it is full of magic and illusion. It is a celebration! It’s a celebration of the arts, of performance, of love. There are no restrictions here. “The Dream” celebrates theater and so it should be theatrical. In my vision gone are the fairy wings and tutus; banished are the pretentious and declamatory styles of acting — sorry Maurice Evans. In other words, gone are the 19th century snobbish trappings and attitudes.
Why are we still so charmed by this play 419 years after it was first performed? I’ll tell you why; it’s the longest day of the year, a time when our ancestors believed the supernatural came particularly close to the human. It is here that Shakespeare sets his play, on Midsummer night where, the world as we know it gets turned upside down? And where does he set it — in a secretive and mysterious place, full of unexplained sounds and shadows. In a forest, of course!
“The Dream” is a beautifully constructed play containing some of Shakespeare’s most memorable poetry. There’s no direct source for the play but Shakespeare drew heavily on the stories and legends which he would have heard as a child and which many country people still believed in. He also created compelling characters and a story in which a fairy queen falls in love with an ass, a recipe for confusion and slapstick humor. The “Dream” can be set in virtually any time or place, and or in my case, no time. This is interesting because of the artistic freedom this allows the production.
More thoughts …
… Puck … The Heart and Soul of The Dream …
Puck represents awareness, action and creation. He embodies the possibility of making an idea come true. Puck is the emotional and creative power of the soul; he realizes we must have a physical outlet to be of real use. Powers unused are powers non-existent, we have to set them free in order to make the most of them, and to gain and renew. Puck is the master alchemist.
Puck is aware of the power in life; he can be a symbol for all the creative skills and ideas inside. Most people don’t really act; they just react, being driven from one situation to the next. Puck shows us that power is ready to use as soon as it is recognized.
Puck’s function in the play is crucial; all the plots develop around him. Puck represents the difficulties of love, the power of magic, the nature of dreams and the relationships between fantasy and reality.
Puck is essential to the plot. Without his mistakes, the plot is lost and senseless. Without his mischief, the play would not be a comedy. It is Puck who ties and unties, deforms and creates. Although he has created all chaos, at the end he makes amends by restoring all among the players.
By setting in motion the events of chaos, Puck also ensures that the audience will have a good time. In this way, Puck is also a kind of “lord of misrule” figure; he’s appointed to reign over carnival festivities, which included drinking, eating, and raucous theatrical productions. It’s fitting, then, that Puck should close the play by delivering the Epilogue. He is also the only character with the credibility to tell the audience that he knows the play is like a “dream,” and he promises that, if we didn’t like the play, he’ll soon make it up to us with another.
So as I plunge even more deeply into the words of The Bard and into “The Dream” let us dance on tables and create art …