Monday, September 10, 2012

Thoughts About Act V

Personally, I have never been much of a Shakespeare fan. Just the sound of his name has frightened me in the past. The language can be so difficult to understand that it is easy to be discouraged. Up to this point, though, I have found that A Midsummer Night’s Dream has not been as bad as I had originally prepared myself for. I find it quite interesting and the story is very entertaining to read. Unfortunately, Act V was quite disappointing. The play doesn’t end as I had hoped it would. In addition, I felt a little confused as I was reading. I would like to share some of the parts of Act V that I found disappointing or confusing.
                The beginning of Act V was okay, and I found the names of the plays Theseus had to choose from humorous (5.1 44-57). The first time I was confused occurred during the speech addressed by Quince. His speech is so poorly spoken that I had a hard time figuring out what was meant by it. Quince states, “We do not come as minding to content you, our true intent is. All for your delight we are not here” (5.1 112-115). Isn’t he practically saying that the actors are not here to make Theseus and the others happy? He states that the men are not here to delight their audience. As I was reading the speech, I thought I was reading something wrong or maybe even going crazy. As I continued to read, I realized that there is a purpose to this confusing and poorly written speech. I am assuming it is meant to be humorous to the audience who hear it spoken during a live performance of the play. I can imagine that it would have had a more positive effect on me had I heard it rather than read it. I wonder if this part of the play is really necessary.  Personally, I believe that reading something that is intended to be funny should not be confusing as well. It just takes away from the humor when too much time is spent being confused. That is especially true when reading the difficult language Shakespeare uses in his plays.
                I did find the play put on by the artisans to be funny and entertaining, as well as the comments made by the audience. What I didn’t like, though, is how Act V ends. I was hoping to have read about the wedding between the couples or whether or not Titania is angry about losing the boy to Oberon. These things just never came up. I wonder if there is a purpose as to why we never really get to the wedding. What could that purpose be? Did the wedding happen before the play was put on for them and we just weren’t told about it? I am very confused by this.
                Lastly, I really don’t like Puck’s Epilogue at the closing of the play. What does it mean? What purpose does it serve? He states, “And this weak and idle theme, no more yielding but a dream” (5.1 5-6). Are readers and audience members of the play meant to consider the play as a dream? I am just confused by this.
                Act V seemed to give me more trouble than any other acts but, overall, A Midsummer Night’s Dream was enjoyable to read.


Christine Richin said...

You address some points that I think many people who have read the play have similar feelings towards. Just as you mentioned in your post, I too was completely thrown off by the absence of the wedding scene. In Act IV Scene I, Theseus overrules Egeus’s request to dictate Hermia’s marital decisions in his final speech by saying, “Egeus, I will overbear your will,/For in the temple by and by with us/These couples should be eternally knit” (p. 884 lines 176-178). Then suddenly, by the end of Act IV Scene II it appears as though the lovers are already married when Snug says, “Masters, the Duke is coming from the temple, and there are two or three lords and ladies more married.” Although it is clear that the couples ended up being married, there is no real display of the ceremony. I think you were confused in the same way that I was, which is to say the complete disregard for the formal wedding scene despite it’s supposed significance in the opening lines of Act I. Wasn’t that ultimately the event we were waiting for?
My feeling is that the absence of this scene was a deliberate move by Shakespeare to indirectly make a well-rounded point. As we addressed in our class discussion, the absence of Helena and Hermia’s voice in the final Act was another way of representing the social role of women during Shakespeare’s time. This leads me to believe that any stage direction (or lack their of) in Shakespeare’s works that leaves the audience questioning must serve some sort of fundamental purpose for one of the many themes or perspectives that he incorporates into his plays. If anything is for sure in my mind, it is that Shakespeare is known for reaching into unexplored depths of language and literature, so I would not put it by him to leave holes in his plot that were not meant to be dug.
That being said, I believe the purpose for leaving out the wedding scene was to highlight the growth of the characters in regards to their views on love. In the beginning of the play the stress is focused on the formality of the courtship between lovers. What I gathered from Act I was that love is less of a feeling of passion and companionship towards another person and more of a business deal to be made by those in power. However, by Acts IV and V the pull of society seems to dissipate when the Duke himself tells Egeus that he is not going to interfere with the lovers and that Egeus himself should drop his reign on the situation. At this point, we get the feeling that all those involved in asserting their authority over the relationships in question have learned that no matter how much force is applied, hearts can not be forced into an undesired direction.
So again, the formality of courtship has dissolved by the end of the play and I believe the most effective way for Shakespeare to portray this was to eliminate the ceremony and skip straight to the celebration. Love between two people does not need to be proven or follow a set of rules, it just needs to exist, and its mere existence is enough reason to celebrate. As with many other concepts and conflicts that arise in the play, this is one of the resolutions we are met with. I saw this as a very logical and insightful move on Shakespeare’s part. The act of marriage as one that needs to be displayed in front of society in a dignified and clean-cut manner is a contradiction to what marriage truly stands for: honest love. In addition to bringing this play full-circle with a happy-ending, this kind of insight allows us to catch a glimpse of Shakespeare as an innocent romantic.

Maeve Halliday said...

I also found the exclusion of the marriages interesting. I agree with Christine that the exclusion of the marriage scene was deliberate, and that throughout the play marriage is portrayed as more of a formality than a vow of eternal love. The way I had understood Shakespeare's decision to leave out the marriage was to make concrete the idea that love is fickle and insubstantial. I always thought that the main intention of the love potion/partner-swapping confusion was to play on the idea that maybe love isn't as permanent and important as some of the characters (like Hermia, who is willing to die for love) swear it is.

Cyrus Mulready said...

Just to add this interesting conversation, one of the things that interests me in Shakespeare is how little emphasis we see placed on the marriage ceremony. Unlike in our time, when the marriage in the church or scenic setting is often a prime moment in film and TV, Shakespeare rarely chooses to show actual weddings. This might be, in part, because marriage could happen in different ways in Shakespeare's time, and didn't always involve formal ceremonies. But I like Christine's interpretation, too, that it places the emphasis on other matters in the relationship, and perhaps suggests a stronger bond between those being married.