“A Midsummer Nights Dream” starts with an interesting preface in my edition of the Norton. The text examines a rumor surrounding the history of the play. According to a story, the play was originally written to be performed in front of a wedding party, with Queen Elizabeth the first in attendance. The book paints a nice picture, presenting the play as an intergral part of the proceedings, commenting on the real world event through a lens of social farce. Fictional or not, this story got me thinking about what lies at the heart of this play, being mentioned in the first line; marriage.
That hand out we read before peaked my interest. I’ve never been particular to examine Shakespeare in social context. To be fair, I’ve never particularly examined Shakespeare at all. But I’ve never noticed the ambiguity of some of Shakespeare's works, particularly the subversive elements in the language. From the get go, “Midsummer” starts as a reflection on marriage, in all its forms.
The first act of the play, from the first scene, sets up that this will be a play about marriage, in all it’s forms. First off, we have the marriage between Thesus and Hippolyta, set up as the spoils of war. Thesus has defeated Hippolyta and her Amazons, and taken her to be his wife. The second is a marriage situation between Hermia and Demetrius, in which Hermia is betroved, and is in love with Lysander. This conflict is also another examination on marriage, that of elopement for true love. There is also the spurned relationship between Demetrius and Helena. This makes for a situation that is ideal for a popular comedy, but it also sets up a dialogue on the act of marriage itself. In reading some of the other blog posts, I found it interesting to note that marriage at this time was not merely for love, but also a way of shifting finances and alliances between families- in a sense it was also political.
I’m looking forward to continuing to examine these themes as the play progresses. Also, I will be interesting in watching the development of the female leads, as they both exhibit interesting qualities for their time period. Hermia is extremely bold, standing up to nearly all other characters in the play. Helena may have had an inappropriate relationship with Demetrius, again, something socially discouraged for the times. I am excited to see how these characters further advance the marriage critique outlined thus far.