Introduction to A Midsummer Night’s Dream Mythology, Theatre, and Language
Mythology • Shakespeare mixes the everyday world with the world of mythology. • He draws his mythological characters from both classical Greek mythology and from English folklore.
Greek Mythology--Theseus • Theseus is one of Greek mythology’s greatest hero. • He is best known for defeating the Minotaur and escaping from the Labyrinth. • He stole the Amazonian queen, Hippolyta, and made her his bride. He later ditched her for a younger bride. • He founded the city of Athens—his name literally means “institution.”
Theseus • In Shakespeare’s play, Theseus represents authority and order. • The play starts four days before his wedding to Hippolyta; and he can’t wait. • Theseus is called on to enforce the laws of Athens when Hermia refuses marry Demetrius, the man her father wants her to marry.
The Love Quadrilateral In the beginning… • Hermia and Lysander love each other • Demetrius love Hermia, too (whomp, whomp)… • Helena loves Demetrius, but he’s too obsessed with Hermia to care about her Then the magic worlds intervenes… • Lysander loves Helena (Whoops!), and forgets all about Hermia • Demetrius now loves Helena, too… Naturally. • Helena is freaked out and thinks everyone is messing with her • Hermia is beyond confused. (Don’t worry… This will all get sorted out.)
English Folklore—Oberon and Titania • Oberon is the traditional king of the faeries—creatures associated with nature that would have minor influence over people’s lives. • Titania is his wife, the queen of the faeries. • The argument between these two has the faerie world in turmoil. • In order to get back at Titania, Oberon makes Titania fall in love with a man-turned-donkey.
The Changeling Debate • Oberon wants the changeling to be a part of his posse. • Why he wants this is unclear, it’s most likely his male dominance issues. • Titania does not want to give up the changeling, as his mother, who died in childbirth, was a devotee to Titania. • Her disobedience causes a ruckus.
Robin Goodfellow (Puck) • Puck is a knavish sprite who pulls tricks by kicking over milk buckets, making milk go sour, or leading travelers astray at night by flashing a light. • He is Oberon’s main henchman in the play. • He creates the main action of the play with the magic potion that causes people to fall in love with the first thing they see (often accidentally).
Pyramus and Thisbe • The plot of Romeo and Juliet borrows heavily from this myth • Two lovers whose parents are in conflict are separated by a wall. • They fall in love by speaking through a crack in the wall. • They agree to meet at Ninus’s tomb in order to elope.
The Tragic End • Thisbe gets to the tomb first, sees a lioness, and flees, dropping her scarf as she does. • The lion musses up the scarf. • Pyramus shows up, believes the lion has killed Thisbe, and kills himself. • Thisbe returns, finds Pyramus dead, and kills herself. • The tragic nature of this story contrasts with the comedic love affairs that occur in the play as well as the inexpert performance of this story at the end of the play.
Cracking the Shakespearean Language There is a method to the madness…
Word Issues • Meanings have evolved over time • Notes for most of these are on the opposite page • Some words aren’t really used any more • Again, notes for most of these are on the opposite page • Sometimes Shakespeare omits words to achieve a certain rhythm • Some words are used to build a dramatic world • Ex: references to other worlds (Athens, India, etc.)
Interrupted Thoughts Locating and rearranging words that “belong together” is especially necessary in passages that separate basic sentence elements by long delaying or expanding interruptions. • The song “I Swear” by Boys II Men • And I swear by the moon and the stars in the sky I'll be there I swear like a shadow that's by your side I'll be there For better or worse, till death do us part I'll love you with every beat of my heart And I swear • Hermia talking to Lysander (I.i.172-81) • I swear to thee by Cupid’s strongest bow,By his best arrow with the golden head,By the simplicity of Venus’ doves,By that which knitteth souls & prospers loves,And by that fire which burned the Carthage queenWhen the false Trojan under sail was seen,By all the vows that ever men have broke(In number more than ever women spoke),In that same place thou hast appointed me,Tomorrow truly will I meet thee.
Word Inversion Shakespeare flips word order to achieve a certain rhythm • Flipping verbs and subjects—not too tricky • Modern example: • “He goes” becomes “Goes he” • Shakespearean Example: • “Full of vexation I come” becomes “Full of vexation come I” • Flipping objects and subjects—trickier • Modern example: • “I hit him” becomes “Him I hit” • Shakespearean Example: • “And my love shall render what him what is mine” becomes “And what is mine my love shall render him”
Wordplay(Warning: it gets tricky in this play) Shakespeare uses two main methods: • Puns (not used all that often in Midsummer Night’s Dream) • Figurative Language (more frequent, and a bit complex)
Wordplay—Puns(Warning: it gets tricky in this play) • Words that sound the same, but have different meanings. • Bottom (as Pyramus): Now die, die, die, die Demetrius: No die, but an ace, for him, for he is but one. Theseus: With the help of a surgeion he might yet recover and yet prove an ass. • Malapropisms—words that are confused with similar(-ish) sounding words. • “But I will aggravate my voice so that I will roar you as gently as any sucking dove”—he means “moderate” not “aggravate”
Wordplay—Figurative Language(Warning: it gets tricky in this play) • Buried similes • Theseus charges that the moon“lingers my desiresLike to a stepdame or a dowagerLong withering out a young man’s revenue” • Extended similes • I.i.36-51: Lysander compares love to a series of things that are brief: sounds, shadows, dreams, lightning, night. • Elaborate personifications
Implied Action(Remember: It’s a play!) • Be aware of stage directions • If someone says “come here” or “go,” then someone will probably obey. • What’s this imply? • “Out of this wood do not desire go…Tie up my lover’s tongue.Bring him silently…So doth the woodbine the sweet honeysuckleGently entwist; the female ivy soEnrings the barky fingers of the elm.” • Language implies setting: • “But soft, what light through yonder window breaks? / It is the east, and Juliet is the sun.”
Elizabethan Theatre • During the late 16th-early 17th century, drama productions were just recently brought into public places called theatres. • Acting companies had rich, contemporary costumes, but used little in the way of sets or props. • Much of the action, props, and scenery had to be communicated through the language of the play. • The audience, then, was required to use their imaginations to picture what was going on.
What is Shakespeare Saying in These Lines? JULIET Wilt thou be gone? it is not yet near day:It was the nightingale, and not the lark,That pierced the fearful hollow of thine ear;Nightly she sings on yon pomegranate-tree:Believe me, love, it was the nightingale. ROMEO It was the lark, the herald of the morn,No nightingale: look, love, what envious streaksDo lace the severing clouds in yonder east:Night's candles are burnt out, and jocund dayStands tiptoe on the misty mountain tops.I must be gone and live, or stay and die. Romeo and Juliet Act 3, scene 5
What is Shakespeare Saying in These Lines? MACBETH Thou art too like the spirit of Banquo: down! Thy crown does sear mine eye-balls. And thy hair, Thou other gold-bound brow, is like the first. A third is like the former. Filthy hags! Why do you show me this? A fourth! Start, eyes! What, will the line stretch out to the crack of doom? Another yet! A seventh! I'll see no more: And yet the eighth appears, who bears a glass Which shows me many more; and some I see That two-fold balls and treble scepters carry: Horrible sight! Now, I see, 'tis true; For the blood-bolter'dBanquo smiles upon me, And points at them for his. Macbeth Act 4, scene 1
What is Shakespeare Saying in These Lines? CASCA Are not you moved, when all the sway of earth Shakes like a thing unfirm? O Cicero, I have seen tempests, when the scolding winds Have rived the knotty oaks, and I have seen The ambitious ocean swell and rage and foam, To be exalted with the threatening clouds: But never till to-night, never till now, Did I go through a tempest dropping fire. Either there is a civil strife in heaven, Or else the world, too saucy with the gods, Incenses them to send destruction. Julius Caesar Act 1, scene 3
What is Shakespeare Saying in These Lines? HAMLET Examples gross as earth exhort me: Witness this army of such mass and charge Led by a delicate and tender prince Hamlet Act 4, scene 4