Step 2: A closer look Working through the text using the AOs as a framework for detailed analysis
Generations of school children have been introduced to the fairies, laughter and magic of A Midsummer Night’s Dream. The key to success in this exam is not to underestimate this play. Although there’s plenty in it to appeal to children, it is a sophisticated and multi-layered text which, in recent years, has become the site of much discussion and controversy about the nature, meaning and status of Shakespeare’s dramas. We will be looking at the structure, character, themes and language of the play, but will also be exploring what it says about the experience of theatre itself. It is not the only Shakespearean play to feature a play-within-the-play but does go the furthest, in that it shows the director assigning roles and rehearsing the cast, as well as the end result. Many of the concerns of modern scholars in performance studies – for example, the ideas of theatre as a sign system and the role of the audience in creating meaning – are addressed in MND. Before we can explore these issues fully, we need to read the text closely.
Assessment Objectives AO1: Articulate creative, informed and relevant responses to literary texts, using appropriate terminology and concepts, and coherent, accurate written expression. AO2: Demonstrate detailed critical understanding in analysing the ways in which structure, form and language shape meanings in literary texts. AO3: Explore connections and comparisons between different literary texts informed by interpretations of other readers AO4: Demonstrate understanding of the significance and influence of the contexts in which literary texts are written and received.
The Assessment Objectives become our framework for interrogating the text. They should equip you with a way to organise your ideas. AO2 looking at dramatic, narrative, poetic means • Shaping of the action • Language of dialogue • Verse? Prose? • Language register, from formal to intimate AO3 Views of the action • within the text (characters on each other) • critics • productions AO4 Looking at context • Issues of the time (including language - overlaps with AO2) • Reflections of the age - then • Reflections of the age - now • How the play works for modern audiences
A general note... • What are these characters doing? • What ideas are embodied in their language? • How do you respond to what is going on? • Try to keep the idea of performance in mind: when a character says something, think about whether the language implied that a gesture or action goes with it, and try to imagine the physical bodies speaking those words or even not speaking at all. Don’t forget that characters may be on stage, even when silent, and may be making a significant non-verbal contribution to the scene. • [AO3 – consideration of interpretation through performance] ?
Act 1 Scene 1 AO4: Setting the scene... Why midsummer? Why Athens? SCENE I. Athens. The palace of THESEUS. AO1: What are the characters doing? Look at your notes for this scene and quickly summarise.
Act 1 Scene 1 AO2: What ideas are embodied in their language? “our nuptial hour” Love and marriage – sets the scene for a comedy (these often end with a marriage) AO3: How does our expectation of comedy affect our reading of the events which follow?
“our nuptial hour” Love and marriage – sets the scene for a comedy (these often end with a marriage) AO3: How does our expectation of comedy affect our reading of the events which follow? In the same way you suspend your compassion when Tom batters Jerry in cartoons, it’s possible you disengage yourself from an emotional response to the seriousness of what follows because subconsciously you expect that all the obstacles will be somehow removed by the end of the play. Can everyone do this? Could some people find this first scene uncomfortable?
AO2 SCENE I. Athens. The palace of THESEUS. Enter THESEUS, HIPPOLYTA, PHILOSTRATE, and Attendants THESEUS Now, fair Hippolyta, our nuptial hour Draws on apace; four happy days bring in Another moon: but, O, methinks, how slow This old moon wanes! she lingers my desires, Like to a step-dame or a dowager 5 Long withering out a young man revenue. HIPPOLYTA 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 10 Of our solemnities. Blank verse; iambic pentameter Long vowels slow old wanes lingers Repetition of his language Dream-like quality quickly ‘silver bow’ new heaven
AO2 A darker side of human relationships – they breed hatred and resentment as well as love Like to a stepdame or a dowager Long withering out a young man’s revenue Does he feel the wait is diminishing him? Is this also a daring joke at the expense of the Queen, who would not name her successor? cf. his clear desire Elizabethan propaganda created links between the Queen and Diana ‘silver bow’ links to Diana, goddess of hunting, the moon, and chastity – which also links to ‘the Virgin Queen’ [...] the moon, like to a silver bow New-bent in heaven, shall behold the night It also reminds us of Hippolyta’s former status as Queen of the Amazons Link to Cupid (and his arrows) who is responsible for love
AO2 Sets the tone of the play THESEUS Go, Philostrate, Stir up the Athenian youth to merriments; Awake the pert and nimble spirit of mirth; Turn melancholy forth to funerals; 15 The pale companion is not for our pomp. Exit PHILOSTRATE Hippolyta, I woo'd thee with my sword, And won thy love, doing thee injuries; But I will wed thee in another key, With pomp, with triumph and with revelling. 20 Phallic image Melancholy Love and pain Love as powerful and irrational
“I woo’d thee with my sword/ And won thy love, doing thee injuries” Conflict: Egeus and Hermia Egeus and Lysander Demetrius and Lysander Demetrius and Helena Theseus and Hippolyta? Love and Pain: “Or, if there were a sympathy in choice, War, death, or sickness did lay siege to it, Making it momentary as a sound, Swift as a shadow, short as any dream; Brief as the lightning in the collied night, That, in a spleen, unfolds both heaven and earth, And ere a man hath power to say 'Behold!' The jaws of darkness do devour it up: So quick bright things come to confusion” (I.i.141-9) ~*~ “And by that fire which burn'd the Carthage queen, When the false Troyan under sail was seen, By all the vows that ever men have broke, In number more than ever women spoke” (I.i.173-4) AO2
AO3: How do you respond to what is going on? • Hippolyta has a more positive view of the moon than Theseus, in the context of the passage of time before the wedding. He believes it is delaying the marriage, she that it is moving quickly. When we consider this alongside the references to conflict and pain in this scene, does it point to the key theme of perception being unreliable or... • ...is Hippolyta a reluctant bride? • First step: What does our AO4 knowledge add to this? • Second step: What evidence is contained within the language of the opening scene? • Third step: how could this be performed on stage? Key moments to consider: Theseus must respond to Hippolyta’s speech before he orders Philostrate to leave. How would you direct him? Hippolyta’s tone when she speaks her lines and non-verbal reactions to Theseus when he speaks his.
What about Egeus’ speech suggests he is keen to complain? vexation complaint bewitch’d feigning stolen cunning filch’d harshness AO2 EGEUS Full of vexation come I, with complaint Against my child, my daughter Hermia. Stand forth, Demetrius. My noble lord, 25 This man hath my consent to marry her. Stand forth, Lysander: and my gracious duke, This man hath bewitch'd the bosom of my child; Thou, thou, Lysander, thou hast given her rhymes, And interchanged love-tokens with my child: 30 Thou hast by moonlight at her window sung, With feigning voice verses of feigning love, And stolen the impression of her fantasy With bracelets of thy hair, rings, gawds, conceits, Knacks, trifles, nosegays, sweetmeats, messengers 35 Of strong prevailment in unharden'd youth: With cunning hast thou filch'dmy daughter's heart, Turn'd her obedience, which is due to me, To stubborn harshness: and, my gracious duke, Be it so she; will not here before your grace 40 Consent to marry with Demetrius, I beg the ancient privilege of Athens, As she is mine, I may dispose of her: Which shall be either to this gentleman Or to her death, according to our law 45 Immediately provided in that case. Stage direction built in – allows audience to identify characters by name ‘me’/’my’ etc = self-centred; concerned with own self; Hermia = possession AO4: arranged marriage typical in Eliz. England but this seems harsh even to them. Athens as setting adds to believability.
AO3/4: Would an Elizabethan audience respond differently to Hermia’s plight than a modern audience? It’s likely. For many modern audiences the idea of a father having the power to ‘leave the figure or disfigure it’ is abhorrent, if not incredible, whereas in Shakespeare’s time the father’s power over the family was seen, by the dominant class at least, as one of the main props of social order. In this case, though, the father is going beyond what most sixteenth-century thinkers would sanction. Perhaps we are meant to see Athens as unreasonably rigorous and legalistic? How/where could you set the play in order to affect the audience’s view of this situation and sympathies? e.g. Tim Supple’s 2006 production was set in India.
AO2 THESEUS Either to die the death or to abjure For ever the society of men. Therefore, fair Hermia, question your desires; Know of your youth, examine well your blood, 70 Whether, if you yield not to your father's choice, You can endure the livery of a nun, For aye to be in shady cloister mew'd, To live a barren sister all your life, Chanting faint hymns to the cold fruitless moon. 75 Thrice-blessed they that master so their blood, To undergo such maiden pilgrimage; But earthlier happy is the rose distill'd, Than that which withering on the virgin thorn Grows, lives and dies in single blessedness. 80 Another negative reference to the moon Maternity (cf. ‘thorn’ of virginity) shady barren faint Cold fruitless withering thorn Thrice-blessed they that master so their blood, To undergo such maiden pilgrimage; AO4: possible reference to the ‘elected’ chastity of Queen Elizabeth (and, of course, Diana the goddess of chastity)
AO3: Theseus gives Hermia “time to pause” until his wedding day – the ‘next new moon’. How does this affect our view of him?
AO3: Theseus gives Hermia “time to pause” until his wedding day – the ‘next new moon’. How does this affect our view of him? He seems sympathetic and diplomatic. He has given Hermia time, rather than judging immediately. He seems to represent reason versus Egeus’ anger and irrationality. After this, he acknowledges that he has heard poor report of Demetrius, and he invites Egeus and Demetrius to leave the stage with him (knowing they cannot refuse) for some “private schooling” (schooling can either be interpreted as ‘advice’ or ‘admonition’ – either reflects well on him, but it does change our understanding of his intent). He turns a judgement into a trial and sets our expectations of plot.
AO2 LYSANDER I am, my lord, as well derived as he, As well possess'd; my love is more than his; My fortunes every way as fairly rank'd, If not with vantage, as Demetrius'; And, which is more than all these boasts can be, 105 I am beloved of beauteous Hermia: Why should not I then prosecute my right? Demetrius, I'll avouch it to his head, Made love to Nedar's daughter, Helena, And won her soul; and she, sweet lady, dotes, 110Devoutly dotes, dotes in idolatry, Upon this spotted and inconstant man. ‘courted’ ‘dotes’ = religious in tone; repetition/alliteration emphasises Helena’s obsession and prepares us for later events
“Come, my Hippolyta. What cheer, my love?” AO3: Add to your ideas from earlier: how would you direct Hippolyta throughout this scene? How would she leave the stage? What effect would you aim to have on your audience?
AO3: Add to your ideas from earlier: how would you direct Hippolyta throughout this scene? How would she leave the stage? What effect would you aim to have on your audience? • What reactions has she had? • Is she disturbed by what she sees or does she remain indifferent? • Whose side is she on? • Is she sympathetic to Hermia? Lysander? Demetrius? Egeus? • How does she react to each of these characters? • Does she see parallels between herself and Hermia? • Does she resent her wedding day being linked to a day of judgement? • Does she think her happy day will be ruined by the stubbornness of another? • How does she react to Theseus’ judgement and handling of the situation? • How does she respond to his question?
AO2 AO4: conventional verbal equivalent of sighs LYSANDER: How now, my love! why is your cheek so pale? 130 How chance the roses there do fade so fast? HERMIA: Belike for want of rain, which I could well Beteem them from the tempest of my eyes. LYSANDER: Ay me! for aught that I could ever read, Could ever hear by tale or history, 135The course of true love never did run smooth; But, either it was different in blood,-- HERMIA: O cross! too high to be enthrall'd to low. LYSANDER: Or else misgraffed in respect of years,-- HERMIA: O spite! too old to be engaged to young. 140 LYSANDER: Or else it stood upon the choice of friends,-- HERMIA: O hell! to choose love by another's eyes. Expectation of the plot ahead Stichomythia (speaking alternate lines) = heightens emotion Repetition of “O!” could be comic if not so passionate. Overwrought emotions cf. Pyramus and Thisbe
During Hermia’s “My good Lysander!” speech, she switches to rhyming couplets. This would be familiar to Elizabethan audiences as a rhetorical device of courtly love. How does this add to the vow she is making? AO2 My good Lysander! 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 and prospers loves, And by that fire which burn'd the Carthage queen, When the false Troyan 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, To-morrow truly will I meet with thee. AO4: Because the audience would recognise the convention, it would add to their impression of Hermia and Lysander’s love as true and ‘meant to be’. AO3: Would a modern audience have the same reaction?
AO2 HERMIA God speed fair Helena! whither away? HELENA Call you me fair? that fair again unsay. Demetrius loves your fair: O happy fair! Your eyes are lode-stars; and your tongue's sweet air More tuneable than lark to shepherd's ear, When wheat is green, when hawthorn buds appear. Sickness is catching: O, were favour so, Yours would I catch, fair Hermia, ere I go; My ear should catch your voice, my eye your eye, My tongue should catch your tongue's sweet melody. Were the world mine, Demetrius being bated, The rest I'd give to be to you translated. O, teach me how you look, and with what art You sway the motion of Demetrius' heart. Pun on light skin/ beauty (AO4: Elizabethans valued light skin over dark) AO3: Helena rejects the idea that she is ‘fair’ because Demetrius is not attracted to her. Helena is often presented as tall and blonde, usually as attractive as Hermia, suggesting these feelings are caused by his rejection and not reality (theme: perception and unreliability). In the 1981 BBC production, however, the actress playing Helena was made to look ‘distinctly frumpy’. Do you think that one of these approaches is more effective than the other? How would you cast Helena? Is she ‘fair’?
http://www.bbc.co.uk/learningzone/clips/a-midsummer-nights-dream-helena-and-hermia/8280.htmlhttp://www.bbc.co.uk/learningzone/clips/a-midsummer-nights-dream-helena-and-hermia/8280.html AO3: Helena rejects the idea that she is ‘fair’ because Demetrius is not attracted to her. Helena is often presented as tall and blonde, usually as attractive as Hermia, suggesting these feelings are caused by his rejection and not reality (theme: perception and unreliability). In the 1981 BBC production, however, the actress playing Helena was made to look ‘distinctly frumpy’. Do you think that one of these approaches is more effective than the other? How would you cast Helena? Is she ‘fair’?
BBC, Shakespeare Re-Told, 2005 Brigham Young University, 2008 http://blog.cfac.byu.edu/2008/01/byus-midsummer-nights-dream-jan-25-feb-9-has-carnival-flavor/ Tim Supple, 2006 Duke Energy Theatre, 2008 “I won't call Depta's casting colorblind, but Wilson must be when she declares she's every bit as fair as Paula Schmitt's Hermia.” http://clclt.com/charlotte/what-the-puck-sympathy-for-the-jobless/Content?oid=2147677
AO2 Stichomythia: emphasises frustration and heightened emotion of Helena HERMIA: I frown upon him, yet he loves me still. HELENA: O that your frowns would teach my smiles such skill! HERMIA: I give him curses, yet he gives me love. HELENA: O that my prayers could such affection move! 200 HERMIA: The more I hate, the more he follows me. HELENA: The more I love, the more he hateth me. HERMIA: His folly, Helena, is no fault of mine. HELENA : None, but your beauty: would that fault were mine! It also highlights her jealousy of Hermia. Hermia’s situation is mirrored by Helena’s own.
AO2 The images here create a deeply romantic atmosphere. This suggests Lysander’s optimism about his plan, and his idealised view of his and Hermia’s love for one another. Helen, to you our minds we will unfold: To-morrow night, when Phoebe doth behold Her silver visage in the watery glass, Decking with liquid pearl the bladed grass, A time that lovers' flights doth still conceal, 215 Through Athens' gates have we devised to steal. AO3: Look at Hermia and Lysander’s exits. How would you direct them to leave the stage and what effect would you aim to have on the audience?
AO3: Look at Hermia and Lysander’s exits. How would you direct them to leave the stage and what effect would you aim to have on the audience? • Note that Hermia leaves the stage before Lysander does. Why don’t they leave together? What does this say about their characters? • As they leave are they... • Fearful? • Excited? • Something else? Lysander - Nancy Meckler, 2011
AO2 Love makes lowly, ugly things beautiful and worthy How happy some o'er other some can be! Through Athens I am thought as fair as she. But what of that? Demetrius thinks not so; He will not know what all but he do know: And as he errs, doting on Hermia'seyes, So I, admiring of his qualities: Things base and vile, folding no quantity, Love can transpose to form and dignity: Love looks not with the eyes, but with the mind; And therefore is wing'd Cupid painted blind: Nor hath Love's mind of any judgement taste; Wings and no eyes figure unheedy haste: And therefore is Love said to be a child, Because in choice he is so oft beguiled. As waggish boys in game themselves forswear, So the boy Love is perjured every where: For ere Demetrius look'd on Hermia'seyne, He hail'd down oaths that he was only mine; And when this hail some heat from Hermia felt, So he dissolved, and showers of oaths did melt. I will go tell him of fair Hermia's flight: Then to the wood will he to-morrow night Pursue her; and for this intelligence If I have thanks, it is a dear expense: But herein mean I to enrich my pain, To have his sight thither and back again. ‘beauty is in the eye of the beholder’ Love transforms but it also robs the lover of reason Perception does not always match reality The imagination of love Love is about imagination not reality Love is easily fooled Cupid is blind because he does not see, he feels She values his sight/perception even though it is unfavourable
Essay question: How effective an introduction to the play is Act 1 Scene 1? • At least 500 words. • Think about: • plot • character • theme • what we know • what we can expect • use of language to express this • possibility for interpretation