Monday, August 30, 2010

A Balancing Act

In reading the first two acts of A Midsummer Night's Dream, there is clearly a developing theme of balance, or rather un-balance, and that of contrast. Perhaps the most obvious example of imbalance is the complicated relationships of the four young lovers, Hermia, Lysander, Demetrius, and Helena. While we, the reader, want for the lovers to break into two balanced couples, the two young men are both interested in Hermia leaving Helena out of the equation on her own. However, the fact that Demetrius once loved Helena provides a small hope for the opportunity of the couples pairing-off for a traditional happy ending.
While the search for balance in the characters' relationships continues, one can also recognize the reoccurring idea of contrast which, in turn, also serves as a form of balancing the opposites. For example, while the four love-struck Athenians are young, beautiful, and eloquent the craftsmen are frumpy, easily confused and clumsy. The young lovers are also extremely serious and the craftsmen are comical, creating some of the play's most entertaining scenes. The craftsmen are completely out of their element in trying to put on a dramatic production and often mess up their lines, while the lovers are naturally well-spoken and graceful. It is obvious that the inexperienced craftsmen take on more than they can handle in choosing to perform the tradgic Pyramus and Thisbe story but their humorous attempt at it also emphasizes the dramatic love tangle between the lovers, while poking fun at it.
The introduction of the fairies and their enchanted realm further the concept of contrast and balance within the three main groups of characters. As mentioned earlier, the lovers are serious and perhaps take themselves a bit too seriously. But Puck and the other fairies are the exact opposite, being merry and lighthearted. The fairies also contrast with the craftsmen in that they are delicate and engage in works of magic and enchantment, while the craftsmen are clumsy and perform manual labor. However, the intertwining and clashing of these three contrasting worlds into one play only adds to the magical and dreamlike aura.

Complications in Act 1 and 2

In Act one and two we are introduced to many characters at field in the game of love. Our first understanding, that of the human’s reality, is that Thesues is the end all of influencers, since he holds a king’s word, the authority of an empire. Lysander, Hermia, Helena and Demetrius’ love affairs are not only at the whims of cupid, but at mercy of Theseus’ power. From the variables just on this plane of interaction, Shakespeare’s other works show us the large potential for tragic resolution.

However, A Midsummer Night’s Dream introduces a second tier of influence, an additional manipulator and skewer of fate. The conduct of the fairies is determined by a different set of morals and limitations than Theseus’ Athenian rule. Contrastingly, the fairies, governed by a second hiarchy of Oberon and Titania, seem to make decisions not based on the upholding of a moral code (that Hermia must consent to her father’s choice of suitor) but based on their desires and emotions, joyous or angry. At any rate, they contribute to the factors interfering with love that Lysander lists in his conversation with Hermia in the plays first scene. Lysander, pessimistic from his unsanctioned love with Hermia, says even if difference in age, social class, or peer pressure do not dismember love, surely war, sickness and death will do away with what little chance remained. His speech, while possibly foreshadowing the failure of one or all of the plays love affairs, is highly ironic because he has so much to complain about with human concepts that if he knew he was to be caught in the game’s of fairies and love potions, he likely would have conceded all hope in the plays first act. So we continue into act three knowing the lives of the humans are about to get re arranged by the fairies’ strong potions and more reckless governing.

Chris Milea

Those Damn Fairies.

Considering my preconceived notions regarding Shakespeare, A Midsummer Night’s Dream wasn’t half bad. Not half bad in the sense of the content, but rather in my ability to understand it. The footnotes were a big help too.
The dialogue between Theseus and Egeus was fairly simple and quite the classic tale. The father wants a certain husband for his daughter but the daughter want her ideal man, we’ve heard this story so many times before but given the time period that Shakespeare wrote it in, it was probably more original than if it were done now. Even the dialogue in the very beginning was easy to understand, but the relationship between Theseus and Hippolyta is what kind of threw me for a loop.
The play starts off with those two characters talking about their wedding and how they can’t wait to get through the four days until then. But after reading the footnotes I discovered that Hippolyta was Queen of the Amazon and was captured by Theseus on his quest through the Amazon. Apparently he “wooed” her with his sword, real classy guy. It just seemed as though he went to the Amazon and most likely did some killing and destroying and then claimed her as her prize. Now, I could be entirely wrong, I’m still new to Shakespeare, but from what I read and gathered this is what seems like is going on.
I think the standout part of the acts we read was the dialogue between the workers, and their talk about putting on the play. Quince seems a little nervous about the whole thing, and its probably a lot of pressure to impress the Duke and Duchess on their wedding day. It’s also probably a horrible punishment if they screw it up. That part was the most comical to me, which I later found out after looking on the internet, this play is a comedy. That kind of changes the way I’m reading it. Shakespeare’s words make it a little difficult to see what genre he’s writing in.
I became a little confused and lost when those damn fairies came in. Maybe my brain was having trouble processing all the different names. I’m not one hundred percent what’s going on with Theseus and Hippolyta’s bed, but the two fairies seem to have opposing ideas about it. I think Oberon doesn’t want to “put” a child, the changeling, in the bed, and Titiana does. I’m not sure if they mean they’re putting a spell on so Hippolyta becomes pregnant, I’m going to have to reread a little more.
Like I said before, it wasn’t as painful as I originally had thought it was going to be, now I just have to see if it keeps up.

She likes him and he likes her, but daddy says NO!

Being a person who has had very little exposure to the works of William Shakespeare I found A Midsummer Night’s Dream a delightful introduction to his works. I found myself laughing at many of the small jokes between the fairies and cringing as Helena stood and took abuse from Demetrius.

The one thing I wanted to address in my blog for the week is the crazy love square going on between Hermia, Lysander, Demetrius, and Helena. To begin with I want to talk about Hermia’s choices and her punishment. Her choice to marry a man she despises or face death/the life of a nun is absurd and tragic. I was stunned by the cruelty a father could show towards his own daughter. I know when I was little and did something my dad didn’t like he’d just yell at me and send me into my room, but that seems like a paradise compared to what Hermia would be faced with. Just following her own heart could make that same heart stop beating. Besides Hermia’s choice another thing that intrigued me is the absurd character of Helena. This woman really baffled me and I pitied her as much as I despised her. On one hand I felt sorry for her that she loved Demetrius with all her heart, yet he showed only hate towards her. People can’t help who they fall in love with, yet maybe Helena should at least try to not like him. On the other hand I despise Helena and find her character annoying. Why? Because she just stands there following Demetrius through the forest like a lost puppy and listens to him say “I’ll run from thee and hide me in the brakes, And leave thee to the mercy of wild beasts (212-213).” Why would anyone stay around, let alone love someone after something like that is said? Helena took so much abuse from Demetrius in the forest yet still loved him. I guess what they say is true that love is blind deaf. Helena is an interesting character, I kind of even think of her as the main characters even. She has a relationship, either good or bad with everyone, and by the end of ACT 2 is the apple in Lysander’s eye. It should be interesting to see where that ends up as I haven’t finished the story yet, but I only hope that Helena’s character shows some improvement and gains some wit.

I’ll end my blog this week saying that from what I’ve read of Shakespeare it seems that love and tragedy are major themes in his works and I wonder if he has ever loved someone who he couldn’t have or even hated him. This is something I’d like to take some time to look into and maybe gain some insight into what made William write about such topics, what could have inspired such stories like this.

Toying with Emotions

It's as if Shakespeare is ridiculing love and how fickle people can be. Although it is known that during the time period of A Midsummer Night's Dream marriages were always arranged. Love had nothing to do with it. We learn during the first act that Hermia is in love with Lysander, who is not the suitor that Egeus, her father, had chosen for her. Egeus chose Demetrius to wed his daughter. Regardless of Hermia's love for Lysander, her father had made up his mind whether it meant his daughter's happiness was on the line or not. He didn't care. Hermia decided that she could care less what her father wants, which was more than uncommon for a woman of her time period, and she decides that she would run off to marry the one that she believes is her true love. Usually women of this time period would aim to please their parents, but due to the emotional state of things it's not even considered.
We all know that in reality there are no such things as fairies. I think that's where the ridiculing and toying of the idea of love comes in. The King of Fairies, Oberon, wants revenge on Titania, the Queen of fairies, so he had his attendant, Robin, fetch an herb that would be put in Titania's eyes while she slept and make her fall in love with the first thing she sees, whether it be an animal or something else. In my opinion, true love can't be damaged.
To top it off as far as toying with emotions, we have Helena who knew of Hermia and Lysander's get away and who is madly in love with Demetrius. At one point Helena and Demetrius were engaged to be married and apparently she never got over it, so she decides that she's going to do a little toying of her own. She informs Demetrius about Hermia and Lysander's plans to play with his emotions, which makes him go after them. Helena follows knowing that Demetrius hates her and had made it very clear to her that he would not protect her if anything should happen on their journey through the woods. How cruel is he! Helena's toying of his emotions defintely didn't make him want her anymore than before she gave him the news.
An incident that caught my attention as far as Shakespeare's way of ridiculing love and emotions as well as fickleness was when the herb that was placed in the fairy Queen's eyes was also put in Lysander's eyes while he was sleeping during his journey. The joke was actually on Hermia, because when she awoke after her slumber during their getaway she found that her love was gone. Little did she know that his love for her is no longer. He's in love with Helena.
It seems as though everyone's emotions are fair game in this Shakespearen play. Shakespeare pretty much makes a joke out of love when it comes to the unrealities of the fairies and how emotions are toyed with because of them.

Shakespear, Teenagers and Hormonal Fairies

Fairies are planning mischief. They are going to play tricks on the emotions of the kids we are introduced to at the beginning of “A Mid Summer’s Night Dream”, and we know, as the audience, that things aren’t going to go to plan. Of course, that’s what fairies do. They play tricks on us humans. Just think of all those fantasy novels where they kidnap human children and replace them with changelings, which are fairy children they put in place of human ones. It’s like the fairies represent the hormones of the teenagers, well, I assume they are teenagers; we are introduced to in the opening of the play. Theseus, Hippolyta and Philostre are introduced, and they are already talking of whom they are getting with. “Therefore, fair Hermia, questions your desires know of your youth, examine well your blood, whether, if you yield not to your choice, you can endure the lively of a nun, for aye to be in sady cloister mewed, to live a barren sister all your life”, says Theseus to Hermia, and Hermia is offered the choice that all teenagers are offered. She can either rebel or go after boys in the comedy that will follow or become a nun or follow her father’s choice. Of course, things will get messy because of her hormones. The hormones are represented by the fairies that plan on messing with the kids in the woods. How curious that the fairies are going to use a magical juice to make the kids fall in love with the first things they see upon walking. “So I, being young, till now ripe not to reason. And touching now the point of human skill, reason becomes the marshal to my will, and leads me to your eyes, where I o’relook love’s stories written in love’s richest book”, says Lysander, who is loved by Hermia. Youth and love will be a central theme in Shakespeare’s play. The fact that things will get so complicated as the fairies start to play tricks on the kids shows that things are sure to be much like a hormone driven teenage comedy slash drama. “Do I entice you? Do I speak you fair? Or rather do I not in plainest truth tell you I do not nor I cannot you?” to which Helena says back “And even for that do I love you the more.” That’s simple young love. Shakespeare shows that young love existed even that many years ago. Those difficult teenage years will be shown throughout A Midsummer’s Dream, much like the teenage movies of today. The problem is that they will fall in love with each other, and all the teenagers will get mixed up with each other. Does it help that supernatural forces are at work as fairies play around with the hormones of the kids in the woods? Of course, that’s why we still read Shakespeare. His tales of young love still ring a bell in the popular ear of today’s stories.

O Fortuna

Something jumped out at me right as I began. In simply the first act of this play, there seems to be one unifying factor: The moon. Everything seems to be planned around it, deadlines all seem to be set to it, and everyone is thinking about it. The people of this time period all seem to use the moon as the way they judge when to do something rather than using actual dates. There is symbolism laced into each of the reasons why this moon would be the time they would be to make this choice or commit this act as well. The first time the moon is mentioned is with Theseus and Hippolyta. “Four happy days bring in Another moon—but O, methinks how slow this old moon wanes!” This is said by Theseus and is the second sentence said in the play. This line is describing how long it will be until these two characters are wed. Shakespeare has been known to use astrology in his works, and “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” is no different. From the way it is said—speaking of the waning of the moon, etc—it can be assumed that their wedding is to take place on the new moon, which makes sense.

The new moon symbolizes many things, but the most important of these things is new beginnings. To have something begin on a new moon is rumored to be good luck because, as it is dark on the new moon, it will soon become light after. It symbolizes new life as well. This may be why Theseus also sets Hermia’s decision to the new moon. Hermia must choose to wed Demetrius, die by her father’s hand by choosing to love Lysander instead, or become a nun. Incidentally, she must become a nun of Diana. Diana was a virgin goddess, but she was also the goddess of the moon…see a pattern? The new moon may be seen as the time of new beginnings; however, it certainly isn’t for Hermia in this case. There is another thing about the new moon: it is also the darkest time…as I assume it would be Hermia’s, had she stayed.

She does not stay however. Lysander and Hermia decide to run away to Lysander’s aunts and elope. How do they set this time? By the moon of course. Lysander says: “…when Phoebe doth behold Her silver visage in the wat’ry glass…a time that lovers’ slights doth still conceal…” They plan to leave at a time most lovers usually have their meetings when they want no one to see, when the moon is small enough to see by, but not bright enough to give them away. And the way he says it suggests most lovers would do this at this time, thus more proof as to how the people of this time ran their lives by the moon.

The new moon is symbolic of a fresh start and new beginnings, which these characters seem to be racing towards as the new moon approaches. There is the obvious new beginning of being married, seen with Theseus and Hippolyta. Marriage is always a fresh start, a new life with someone else. But there is also the new start that Hermia and Lysander are intending to escape to. They are attempting to run away before the new moon, so that they too can have a new beginning without fear of Hermia’s father putting her to death. The new moon plays a heavy role in this story right from the beginning

Shakespeare and the Jersey Shore

What is better than sitting down and watching people fall in and out of love with one another, while adding tricks, arguments and deception to lighten the evening? He loves her, but leaves for another woman. She loves him, but falls in love with another man; who in turn falls in love with another. In the past few years reality television has become a phenomenon, a way of living vicariously through other peoples dramatic love triangles the consequences and actions which are related to the insanity of their lives. Shows such as Jersey Shore follow the lives of people as they go in and out of love, relationships, friendships and argue over who is right and wrong. However, this inclination of watching others complicated lives and the dramatic elements which make up the shows plot is nothing new; it is something which has been seen before, in plays such as Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream. One could receive just as much entertainment; see the dramatic love triangle and drama when reading this play and still find the comedy which is seen in these reality shows. The play is a testament that this complicated weaving of different people’s emotions in one set area is nothing new and has been seen and written about since Shakespeare’s time.

The essential plot of A Midsummer Night’s Dream depicts the drama of a group of people lives and how they are all in essence connected. In the beginning the reader is presented with the one and only happy couple, Theseus and Hippolyta. Almost immediately there is controversy. Hermia, daughter of Egeus is expected to marry Diemetrius, but, she is in love with Lysander and refuses to enter a marriage with Diemetrius. Her father Egeus goes to Theseus to explain to Hermia that she must obey her father’s wishes. In retaliation Hermia and Lysander decide to run away together. Meanwhile, we discover Diemetrius was once betrothed to another, Helena, who is still in love with him. Separately, Oberon and Tatania the King and Queen of fairies are in a heated argument over a knight who was stolen and cannot be settled amongst the two. In order to win Oberon puts a potion on Tatania’s eyelids so she will fall in love with the next person she sees, or as he hopes an animal. Puck gets a hold of the potion as well and places it on Lysander’s eyes while he sleeps, but not before the story adds some sexual tension between Lysander and Hermia as he invites her to sleep close to him by the bank of the river. As result of the potion Lysander wakes up and see’s Helena, the potion makes him instantly fall in love with her and of course the love triangle continues.

It is no secret that our culture loves to watch other people and critic their lives. This is nothing new and our fascination with drama and conflict in the lives of others has stood the test of time. A Midsummer Night’s Dream is merely a testament that this intrigue has been felt since Shakespeare’s time and his play exemplifies that Snookie, “The Situation” and others are a small part of this trend which has evolved and changed throughout the course of time.

Love Triangle(s)

A Midsummer Night's Dream is my favorite of the comedies written by William Shakespeare. Following the inter wining stories between a group of four young lovers and marriages between humans and fairies alike, it is one of Shakespeare's best works. Hermia, a young beauty of Athens, is courted by both Demetrius and Lysander, of whom the latter she only has eyes for, but her father has other ideas. Being forced to a decision she rather not make she proclaims "I would my father looked but with my eyes". I feel throughout this play a lot of the conflicts arise when certain people cannot see through the eyes of those around them. Egeus clearly cannot see why his daughter would rather marry Lysander over Demetrius because Demetrius is friendly with Egeus, where Lysander only cares what Hermia thinks. A with the fairies, obviously Oberon only wishes Titania's little Indian boy for his own personal use, whereas Titania wishes to protect and nurture him as his mother would have.
Both of these love triangles contain different forms of love, treachery and jealousy. The introduction of Helena, formerly Demetrius' lover, expands their entanglement into a square. While Helena is a good friend to Hermia, she is all the while particularly jealous of her; "Call you me fair? That fair again unsay. Demetrius loves you fair. O happy fair! Your eyes lodestars, and your tongue's sweet air More tunable than lark to shepherd's ear,". As Hemria and Lysander plan on escaping Athens to remove away from everyone else they allow Helena in on the secret, which she tells Demetrius in hopes of him coming to his senses and realizing that it is her, not Hermia, that he loves.
With the fairies, Oberon, on spite of Titania's stubborn refusal, comes up with the scheme of obtaining the magical juice from a certain flower which will cause Titania to fall in love with the first sight she sees upon waking, thus causing her attention upon the Indian boy to falter. For this he selects Puck to perform. Upon overhearing the quarrels between Demetrius and Helena in the forest, he wishes to help the two young lovers and orders Puck to drip liquid over the young mans eyes, but Puck mistakes a sleeping Lysander for Demetrius, and of course when he awakes he discovers Helena and falls in love with her, causing him to forget all about his love for Hermia.
The idea of trying to posses something instead of loving and caring for is where the conflicts arise in these first two acts. The love of Hermia and Lysander being impeded for her father's desire to keep control over her and Oberon's greediness for the young page are the two driving forces here. Throw in the magical juice and one is surely to be entertained for a couple more acts.


“Saw it written and I saw it say/ Pink moon is on its way/And none of you stand so tall/ Pink Moon going to get you all/ And it’s a pink moon…”


( Nick Drake, “ Pink Moon”, Pink Moon, Island, 1972)

“…Four happy days bring

Another moon- but O, methinks how slow

This old moon wanes!

She lingers my desires…”

(1.1 2-4) William Shakespeare

“Four days will quickly steep themselves in night,

Four nights will quickly dream away the time;

And then the moon, like to a silver bow

New bent in heaven, shall behold the night

Of our solemnities”

(I.I 7-11) William Shakespeare.

With 356 years between them, two British poets, seek to capture the intangible feeling brought on by the shift in Moon Phase. What is it about that milk, dipped orb that is both so enchanting and essential to us as humans then and now? More so how do allusions to the moon in A Midsummer Night’s Dream used by Shakespeare to craft a reality of fantasy? Where anything is possible, where the head of an ass can replace that of a man’s, where mischievous Puck squeezes the Elizabethan version of love potion number nine into the eyes of mortals, and the mortals find the pluck to defy the conventions of their society.

The first words in a play literally set the stage for the play and cast hooks out to the sea of the audience. Whether the audience becomes attached to the play is easily determined by whether they take the bait of the opening scene. With this in mind, how exciting is within the first five lines of the play Shakespeare through Theseus begin the dissolve the boundaries of reality. Within the next eleven lines Hippolyta delivers her words cast a spell upon the audience setting them up to be introduced to the parallel world of the faye. Shakespeare doesn’t need to slap the audience in the face with this, instead he hands the audience the moon and a whole world opens up.

Unlike proving that using leeches to bleed someone or basing medical treatment based on a person’s humor, the moon during Shakespeare’s time was something, which could be concretely observed. When it shifted so did other things in nature. The moon brought on the changing of the ocean’s tides. Considering England’s status as an Island the change of tides must have been an event of significance to its occupants. Not just the alteration of the tide could be observed with the waxing and waning, but other natural happenings as well. There was and still is whole almanacs written chronicling and foreshadowing the shifts in the lunar cycle. Like the pink moon spoken about by Nick Drake the Elizabethans had their names for each moon phase. Midsummer would have been celebrated around the summer solstice. The old moon which Theseus is so anxious to be rid of could have been the flower moon ( The new moon, could have very well been the hay moon.

However perhaps more importantly than the occurrence of the time that would take place with its coming, is the passage of transition. The fours days which are spoken of the moon would have been visible. ( The moon would not have been showing, it would have been with out a true phase a time when the strict structure of nature loosens and anything goes! This is reflected in the ethereal path the play takes. When the moon returns to its full phase so does the order. The nuptials ensue, lovers are re-matched, a father is reconciled to his daughter, an ass remains an ass but the literal sense is removed, and two equally matched forces lay down their quarrel. How could this be? Blame it on the moon.


Helena loves Demetrius, who loves Hermia, who loves Lysander. At first this seems like your mundane, high school love triangle, or should I say love square. However, upon closer inspection, what emerges is a glimpse into a society with a dichotomous view in regards to feelings of love with respect to a man and with respect to a woman. Several moments in Acts I and II of William Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream convey the idea that a woman in love is somehow more compelled by irrational, fleeting fancies and foolish whims, while a man in love is driven by logic, sense, and reason.

First Egeus, father of Hermia, complains to Theseus that Lysander has somehow “bewitched the bosom of [his] child,” insinuating that Hermia is not in love of her own accord, but rather entranced by Lysander (Shakespeare 1.1.27). Despite Hermia’s articulate attempts at both validating her sentiments and championing her right to choose love on her own terms, she is told to “question her desires,” and is harshly reminded that, ultimately, her father has final say (Shakespeare 1.1.67). She is treated as though the love she supposedly feels is superficial and fleeting, and that if she succumbs to the whims of her father, she will suddenly discover that what she thought was love was actually nothing of the sort. Thus, the supposed “logical” question is posed to the “irrational” girl – life without love, or no life at all?

Helena too, is depicted as someone whose love is both irrational and fleeting. During both Acts I and II, we are repeatedly allowed into the thoughts of Helena, whose soliloquies are filled with so much love and pain, that as a reader you feel almost embarrassed to voyeuristically witness her heart wrenching lamentations. At face value she seems obsessed with Demetrius, openly willing to forego everyone and everything for the simple gift of being able to be near him. Yet, it cannot be forgotten that at one point her love was reciprocated by Demetrius. Why is it that her love is considered fleeting and irrational? Late in Act II, when Puck unknowingly applies the love flower to Lysander, and he awakens to the realization that it is Helena, not Hermia, that he loves, we see his love validated by logic. Demetrius tells Helena that he was young until that very moment, and that he was “ripe not to reason,” but now that he is able to understand reason and logic, they have “become the marshal to [his] will / And leads [him] to [Helena’s] eyes” (Shakespeare 2.2.124, 126-127). Again, whose love is fleeting and irrational?

These ideas open to a host of questions. Was Shakespeare mocking the belief that men are lead by logic, while women are lead by emotion? Is love ever really logical? Is love ever really irrational? Just because Helena’s love is unrequited, is it any less pure? And finally, is it possible to really be in love with someone, if they don’t return that love?

Shakespeare in the Classroom

Can we all agree that William Shakespeare was a super cool guy, just for a minute? Thanks.

Now, how would you convince a six or seven year old that he was this super cool guy, when they might already have preconceived ideas that Shakespeare is difficult and frustrating? What is he writing about? How does this apply to a child's education, and more importantly, how do you ensure that the child is able to absorb the material? I'm an Early Childhood Education major, and I have absolutely no doubt that there will be tiny thespians in my future.

I think that Shakespeare's comedies are a wonderful introduction for young children. One of the things that makes A Midsummer Night's Dream so inviting is the sense of wonder, fantasy and magic that has the power to hold a student's attention. Children have the opportunity to play a character, with a fun and over-the-top selection. Want to be a fairy, a king or a donkey? Sign me up! If given a chance to express themselves through Shakespeare's words, they may discover how much his story resonates with their lives. A Midsummer Night's Dream has all the goods: power, fighting, love. Aren't these all things that children, let alone adults, have to deal with? Children will be able to internalize the characters' emotions and sympathize. Who wouldn't like to pretend to play pranks on mere mortals, like Puck? Or be as obnoxious as Bottom? Playing and living are the greatest learning tools. Giving children the outlet to play with their work is a much more rewarding experience than working on a Shakespeare worksheet at a desk.

However, it's still important that a young class' Shakespearean adventures be developmentally appropriate. Am I expecting a kindergarten class to memorize all of Act I? No, but there are other interactive ways for the students to communicate the material. They can portray their character through interpretive dance, painting and putting Shakespeare in their own words. Teachers can have older students from other classes come in and help the younger ones grasp their parts. Not only should the Shakespeare curriculum include educational books, but videos and performances as well.

There is no reason why Shakespeare can not be taught in every classroom. Although it has become more and more difficult to incorporate "fun" elements due to budget cuts and higher standardized testing demands, Shakespeare is able to transcend through different school subjects to teach the whole child.

Sunday, August 29, 2010

Meaningful LOLs

Before I dive head-first into my very first entry for this blog, I would like to make one thing clear: Shakespeare and I have never really gotten along together. From the time I screwed up my lines in a middle school production of A Midsummer Night's Dream to the time I cringed watching Mel "telephone" Gibson in the 1990 film adaptation of Hamlet to the time my library copy of Titus Andronicus fell into a puddle, my relationship with the Bard has been pretty shaky.

So, enter the $64,000 question of "Tyler, what exactly are you doing here?"
Answer: I want to finally see the light of Shakespeare's brilliance.

Fortunately, encountering AMND in an academic setting this semester has made things better. The catalyst for this has been the events surrounding Act I, scene ii. "Hilarious" is an understatement; the carpenter Quince's rehearsal for his production of The Most Lamentable Comedy and Most Cruel Death of Pyramus and Thisbe is a rough and ridiculous affair, with Nick Bottom's insistence that he can speak like a woman better, Flute's denial of the role of Thisbe because he wants to grow a beard, and Snug's worries about not learning the part of the lion in time. Everything that can go wrong goes wrong indeed, but what is a frustrating affair for the amateur actors is a comedic riot for the audience.

In addition to being an exceptionally funny scene (and perhaps a behind-the-scenes look at how some actors were in Shakespeare's time), scene ii is vital in providing contrast between the comedy of Quince's actors and the serious romanticism of scene i's focus of Hermia, Lysander, Helena and Demetrius. Not only does it create for ebbs and flows of entertainment (instead of non-stop laughs or non-stop woes), it also contributes to the "dream" detailed in the core of the story. It is a variety of extremes coming together to create one giant mass of fantasy. This emotional architecture of sorts is complex, but would anything of Shakespeare's mind be anything but? It is comedy, but with bigger goals than just laughter.

The masterful use of contrast, as well as the heart of the story, is keeping me in place for an inevitable acceptance of Bill Shakes. That is, until I drop the textbook in a puddle and I'm once again smacked by The Bard.

Act I, scene ii - performed by Aletheia Stage & Film Co.
Hamlet (1990 film adaptation trailer) - cringe with me, guys

Defiant Tweens

Immediately when reading the opening act of "A Midsummer Nights Dream" you can sense the hormones rushing throughout all of the characters. There is no doubt adolescence plays a huge influence in this play, making the reader wonder when first reading this, why Shakespeare came up with the idea of teenage emotions playing such a significant role in his work during the time period. Upon reading the first act you can sense the tension between Hermia and her father (Egeus) instantly; he views his daughter as a defiant child, with the threat of death among her if she disobeys his wish of her marrying Demetrius. Even today it's a known fact that most teens don't see eye to eye with their parents on just about everything and will do the complete opposite to defy them. However, Hermia claims to truly be in love with Lysander, but if she is purposely defying her father through that love remains to be seen by the reader. Egeus acts as though his daughter is his object, his trophy, his prize to give away to the best contestant, whom he believes to be Demetrius. I believe Hermia resents her father more and more throughout the course of the play because of this, nobody likes to feel like they're being controlled by another person, especially teenagers who are out to assert their newfound sense of independence.

The theme of unrequited love also plays a significant role in the play. Hippolyta does not seem to have the same level of love for Theseus as he does for her. Theseus can hardly wait to be married, claiming how long four days is, where as Hippolyta dismisses it, saying it will go by fast. Hermia is deeply in love with Lysander, whom she is forbidden to marry over Demetrius, chosen by her father, Egeus. Helena loves Demetrius. In this tale it seems to be an endless circle of love, with everyone intertwined and somehow involved with one another, like six degrees of separation.

The fact that this play resembles "Romeo and Juliet" in many ways proves to be interesting also. Shakespeare seems to have had a passion for writing about lovers in different social rankings and the many obstacles they faced. Could this possibly have been something he struggled with during his time period?

Another factor here that plays into the "tween" sense is the betrayal and gossip. Helena is hurt and insecure by Demetrius's love for Hermia, so she plans to tell him of Hermia's plan to run away with Lysander, even though she would be rid of her if she just kept quiet, she'd much rather stir up trouble- much like a teenage girl would.


The role of men and women during this time was something that could be expected within plays. They men would fight and woo the women and the women, soft-spoken and beautiful, would long after the “perfect man”. This play, however, takes these general roles of men and women and “spins” them in an interesting fashion, but Shakespeare also focuses on the relationship (mainly marriage) between men and women in an interesting light. The King and Queen in the beginning of the play have a different relationship than what most readers during the time of Shakespeare are used to.
The King Theseus right in the beginning of the play goes on about how he cannot wait for the night he marries Hippolyta. His betrothed goes onto calm him by telling him the night will come soon enough. The Queen herself does not seem to be as excited about the wedding as the King himself is. We later learn that she was “wooed” when the King overtook her land (the Amazons) this can lead the reader towards the possible fact that Hippolyta does not want to marry this man but is being forced to. Relationships in this play are already forcing the reader to consider the term “relationship” in a new light. The “love square” is another specific part that I was interested in reading in regards to relationships within the play.
Hermia loves Lysander but she is set to marry Demetrius who does love her and he is followed by Helena who loves Demetrius. This interesting knot of love and lust is something that I took particular attention to. The reader learns of Hermia and Lysander’s plan to escape and marry (which did remind me of the unforgettable Romeo and Juliet story) however the entrance of Demetrius and Helena added some drama to the story itself. To note that Helena and Demetrius were once engaged lets the audience feel like they are a part of a taboo relationship. It was common for women to marry who ever the father saw fit and to have Hermia disregard her father adds another feeling of taboo to the story itself. As a reader I tended to question Shakespeare for writing this during a time when relationships were thought to be set in stone and adultery was not a laughing matter. That led me into the next part of the story where the fairy King and Queen were arguing over their own relationship problems.
The fairy King (Oberon) is certain that his Queen (Titania) is in love with the King Theseus. The fairy Queen is also certain of the Kings’ love for the Queen Hippolyta. This confusion and distrust is something that most writers during this time would not have openly shown to the audience. My first question would be was Shakespeare ridiculed and possibly “punished” for these taboo subjects? It would take a secure writer to even consider writing a play with these themes.

Property & Desire

I was immediately intrigued by the male/female relationships in the opening scenes of A Midsummer Night’s Dream because they illustrate the hierarchy of the power relations in Athens while serving as example with which to contrast the homosocial bonds. The play begins with Theseus expressing his impatience for his wedding day. His fiance, Hippolyta, expresses the exact opposite feelings, and understandably so, since she has in effect been coerced into the marriage: she is basically one of the spoils of Theseus’s victory over the Amazons, which reminds me of King Henry V and his courtship of Catherine. He has “wooed” her through violence, and she is an extension of his military political conquest. I noticed that Quince refers to the wedding as “his,” and not “theirs,” which emphasizes that it is a fulfillment of his desires, not hers. The other male/female relationships mirror this one; this may be because Theseus is the Duke, the ultimate authority, and so in a process of hegemony, or “the revels of power,” the morals/beliefs of his subjects echo his own. Egeus considers his daughter to be his property, as evidenced when he says “She is mine.” His language is rampant with evidence of his almost capitalistic (?) relationship to Hermia, who he only understands in terms of worth: her obedience is “due” to him, Lysander has “stol’n” her love and “filched” her heart. He dehumanizes Hermia by saying that he wishes to “dispose” of her, which distances him from the ontological implications of his request. He reminds me of Shylock, who trades in flesh as a capitalistic venture, as do Bassanio and Portia’s father in The Merhcnat of Venice. It is ironic that he says Lysander “filched” Hermia’s heart because the OED defines the word as “to steal something, especially of small value.” It’s no surprise that he would think Hermia’s heart is of small value, (Hermia as a person is so inconsequential in his eyes that he considers Lysander to have filched her heart from him, not from her) but it is what is causing problems for him. Her heart - her desire - is what is allowing her to be able to exert some agency and challenge his authority, which is something that Hippolyta does so hesitatingly that Theseus doesn’t even respond to it, and she remains mute for the rest of the 2 acts. Perhaps if Hippolyta’s desires were positive, in that they were more than not wanting to marry Theseus, if they could be realized in the form of another person, she would be more able to test her situation. Theseus, meanwhile, upholds this system of dehumanization through determining worth by telling Hermia that Demetrius is the “worthier” suitor because Egeus approves of him. So the men in the play are subject to the same rules of valuation: however, the system is made more complex beacause it is the richer men who make the rules (the Duke) and the less rich who must abide by them (Demetrius.)

Of course, all this is disrupted by the fairies, but I thought it was interesting that Titania attributes her taking the Indian boy (also a trade in human flesh) to the homosocial bond she had with his mother while Oberon maintains he had been “stol’n” (again) by her.These observations aside, I don’t think Shakespeare is depicting a thoroughly patriarchal world. After all, the word most said is “moon” and they all escape into the woods, both of which are always associated with women.