Carnival!

August 1, 2011 at 12:32 am (A Midsummer Night's Dream, Live Performances, Shakespeare's Plays) (, , , , , )

I love to get out during the summer to see outdoor Shakespeare. I’ve been wishing and wanting for months to see the Chesapeake Shakespeare Company’s carnival-themed production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream. Chesapeake Shakespeare Company lets kids in for free, and I thought this might be the perfect play for my boys, who are 6 and 9 and not very good at sitting still. Many of the shows begin at 8 PM, which is too late for us, but I made it out tonight for their 6 PM show, the last of the season! I am so glad.

I meant to get there early for the pre-show carnival games and fun, but we got tied up in DC beltway traffic and only made it about 15 minutes before showtime. The kids still enjoyed some games and had a quick burger before the show began. There was face painting and a sprinkler set up for the kids (I am kind of immune to the heat here, but I think the temp was in the high 90s at the show’s start… it felt pleasant to me and all the seats were in the shade). We brought a blanket and could have sat right up front, but the boys wanted to sit on folding chairs. There are no bad seats.

Molly Moores as Titania & Jose Guzman as Oberon from A Midsummer Night's Dream, photo by Teresa Castracane

I saw Chesapeake Shakespeare do Much Ado About Nothing last year, and I described their incredible outdoor performing space at the ruins of an antebellum finishing school in Ellicott City, Maryland. For A Midsummer Night’s Dream, they transform the ruins into a circus, with a tightrope, some signs, and lights… the carnival theme is not taken too far.

The show begins with some magic tricks, but again it’s not taken too far. Oberon is dressed as the circus master and Titania is his assistant, but other than that, the carnival theme fades and we’re in familiar forest and fairyland.

Jamie Jager as Puck & Stacy Downs as Peaseblossom from A Midsummer Night's Dream, photo by Teresa Castracane

I love this play, and there were no weak parts in this production. The Athenians were hilarious, and I loved watching them running all around, progressively losing their clothes and getting more worn out, leaves in their hair, etc. Funny. It was hilarious watching their fighting and insults and fun to watch Puck and Oberon sitting up in the windows of the ruins “enjoying the sport.”

Puck is great fun in this production — a big guy with cool shades. He’s very funny.

I loved Bottom in this production, as well. My boys have seen bits and pieces of A Midsummer Night’s Dream on video, and the part they know best is where Puck turns Bottom into the ass-head that the love-juiced Titania falls for. This had my 6 year old bending over laughing.

They also loved the Mechanicals — especially Flute playing Thisby. Both of my boys were laughing like crazy whenever Flute was out. They got a big kick out of the chink in the wall (fingers held out), too. The little one kept saying, “This is Ridiculous!” And indeed, it was. This version of Pyramus and Thisby was thoroughly ridiculous… as it should be!

I’m so very glad that I got out to see this production. My 9 year old pronounced this “the best day ever!” on our way home (we also had a hike in the morning and went fishing and butterfly hunting, so there was a lot for a little boy to love today). But I was glad that their first experience watching a full-length live production of Shakespeare was such a success. Bottoms up!

David R Tabish as Bottom, Robby Rose as Snout from A Midsummer Night's Dream, photo by Teresa Castracane

If you live in the DC area, think about joining the Shakespeare Explorers Meetup Group. They get out to a lot more shows than I do. For example, they’re going to see Taffety Punk stage King John for free at the Folger Theatre tomorrow!

© All Content, Copyright 2011 by Blog Author, Or What You Will. All Rights Reserved.

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WILLPOWER!

April 17, 2011 at 12:13 am (Live Performances, Shakespeare's Plays, The Tempest) (, , , , , )

Thanks to Jamie at Maryland Shakespeare for the heads up about Montgomery College’s WILLPOWER festival this week. Our community college puts on an annual celebration that includes a number of lectures and workshops about the Bard and his work. This weekend, Willpower culminated in several performances of The Tempest at the Robert E. Parilla Performing Arts Center on the Rockville campus.

I am so glad I was able to attend this evening’s show. It was wonderfully magical and very well done. I really enjoyed the magical atmosphere — the beautiful set and creative lighting and staging.

The scene has shifted a bit eastward from Shakespeare’s big storm. We’re on an island in the Bay of Bengal, and Prospero is the rightful Duke of Madras, while Alonso is the King of Nepal. The set is a magical jungle of huge banyan trees and vines.

I really enjoyed the Indian theme. Ariel is transformed into sort of a Greek chorus/dance ensemble played by five actors who step up perfectly in height, with each about 3″ taller than the next. The play begins with the actors stacked so that they resemble a Hindu god with multiple arms. They do a Bollywood-style line dance during Miranda and Ferdinand’s wedding.  I enjoyed this rendition of Ariel throughout the play.

Prospero with Ariel at the Montgomery College production of the Tempest. Photo by Peter Zakutanski and R. Scott Hengen

The costumes are beautiful, the student actors do a great job. This is well worth the 10 bucks it sets you back and I was a bit disappointed that the theater wasn’t anywhere near filled on a Saturday night. There is still one more performance of the show on Sunday, April 17 at 2 PM. If you’re in the DC area, I highly recommend that you make your way round the beltway tomorrow and experience this brave new world in Rockville. 

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Fairy Funny

July 4, 2010 at 12:39 am (A Midsummer Night's Dream, My College Papers, Shakespeare's Plays) (, , , )

A couple weeks ago, my drive down into the mountains of Virginia got me thinking about college. I went to school a few hours deeper into those beautiful hills, at Virginia Tech in Blacksburg. Anyway, then I realized I forgot to post about my college papers. Yep, I wrote one on A Midsummer Night’s Dream back in November 1986. Yawn. Why did I keep these papers? Why would I ever want to read them again? It’s a mystery. Anyhow, this one is entitled: “The Fairies’ Contribution to the Humor in A Midsummer Night’s Dream.” Yawn.

How do professors psyche themselves into reading this stuff over and over, year after year? How? It’s a mystery. Yawn. This paper is bleeding with red ink, but the guy should have been an MD… his handwriting is so bad I can’t make out what most of his notes say. I see “develop” and “expand” in a couple places; not sure what good comments like that do on a paper that would never be further discussed or revised. Anyway.

Actually, I kind of enjoyed reading the paper because it made me think about the difference between what I’m doing with this blog and what I did in school. In school, I’m sure I just did the minimum required. This paper is only 4.5 pages long, which was probably the minimum requirement (I bet there was a required word count and since this was typed on a typewriter… I bet I actually counted the words).

Also, I wonder about the whole concept of undergrad theme papers. Is it a useful way of teaching? Again, because I never went back and revisited the themes/rewrote the paper/had any useful conversation or input about it, I’m not sure what I got out of it. I guess just the exercise of coming up with something to put on paper is useful in itself. I guess.

On the other hand, I’m having a lot of fun with this blog and think I’m learning a lot. I can write about anything I want and not worry that every statement is backed up with “impressive” evidence that will get me a grade. And also, here I find I have more questions than answers. I’m just putting my thoughts out there and not always drawing conclusions. (I’d love to get more comments about my posts… that would be fun!)

Also, I like writing on the blog because it’s my party and I can do what I want. I can say things I’d never put in a school paper. I don’t have to mind my p’s and q’s so much… I can use slang and sentence frags when I feel more conversational and casual — sometimes it’s less cumbersome to get my meaning across without worrying about the presence and placement of all the parts of speech. I can neglect to ital titles, because I feel like it. I can do what I feel like because no one is grading me! This is more fun. I can spend as much time as I feel like on each play… no deadlines! And maybe (especially if you comment!) I get more out of it than I did from my college papers.

Alrighty. Let’s see. Is there anything insightful in this paper? I talk a bit about the popularity of nonhuman beings in folklore. How people enjoy fairy tales about sprites possessing both human foibles and magical powers. And how this combination of traits is especially amusing because it allows for more imaginative stories — not limited to the predictability of the human world.

For all their humanlike feelings, the fairies in A Midsummer Night’s Dream have resources for dealing with them that set them firmly apart from mortals. This endears them further to the audience, because the fairies deal with problems we can relate to, but they deal in ways that humans can only fantasize about. Yet for all their powers, they mess things up pretty well. There’s a lot of humor in that.

I compare and contrast the whimsical magic of the fairyworld to the slapstick shenanigans of the mechanicals. I also contrast the mystical, mischievous fairyworld here to the scary underworld of evil spirits, witches and scary magic in folklore. We have love juice here, not death spells. We have the mischievous, but not malicious, Puck.

I go into some detail about Puck — how this character was well-known to Shakespeare’s audience. Puck was the Elizabethan euphemism for today’s gremlins — the causers of all those little, inexplicable things that occur when no one is looking. Shakespeare recounts Puck’s exploits so that the audience is reminded of who he is. He’s a very funny character to include in the play because of his universality: everyone can relate to him because everyone has had a brush with Puck (I used the word “universalism” here, but I’m pretty sure I wasn’t talking about religion!).

I talk a bit about the poetic language of the fairies. How their pretty, ethereal language creates their mystique. And I compare it to the heavy-handedness of the mechanicals’ language. Let’s see, I go into the humor of Oberon’s prank, and the farce of Titania’s doting on Bottom. And then I talk about the humor stemming from dramatic irony… because the audience sees the fairies, but the Athenians don’t. We know all the silliness among the lovers stems from the love juice, but they are unconscious of the cause.

I wind it up by giving the fairies credit for putting things to right, one hilarious step at a time, for leaving everyone feeling like it was all a strange dream, and for making this one of Shakespeare’s most entertaining plays. B+

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A Glowing Review

May 10, 2010 at 12:45 am (A Midsummer Night's Dream, Film Adaptations, Shakespeare's Plays) (, , , , , , , , , )

It’s been many years since I’ve seen a ballet performed live. They can be poorly staged, or shaky and out-of-sync dancers can distract.

Or a ballet can be perfectly beautiful, glowing, entrancing, and magical—with sumptuous costumes, lavish sets, beautiful music, gorgeous dancing. That kind of experience reminds me that humans can create great beauty.

That’s what I think while watching the Pacific Northwest Ballet’s performance of Balanchine’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream, filmed in 1999 at London’s Sadler Wells Theater. Wow. Just wow.

The story starts in the forest, bypassing the opening scene with Theseus, Hippolyta and Egeus. From there, it follows Shakespeare’s narrative pretty closely.

I enjoy watching the interplay between the four lovers. It is well done—the loving dance between Lysander (Ross Yearsley) and Hermia (Julie Tobiason) and then the cold Demetrius (Jeffrey Stanton) pushing away the distraught Helena (Lisa Apple). The love-juice-inspired confusion, Lysander lusting after Helena and spurning Hermia, the dueling and confusion in the foggy forest (beautiful sets!).

I enjoy the fairies, as well. Oberon (Paul Gibson) is regal and in control. Puck (Seth Belliston) is an amazing mime. Titania (Patricia Barker) is absolutely lovely. The set for her bower is gorgeous and her fairy entourage is magical.

I love it all. It is hilarious to see this nymph, this ethereal beauty, this Queen of the Fairies, dancing with the ass-headed Bottom.

The second act has little to do with Shakespeare (no mechanicals, no Pyramus and Thisby). There is the courtly wedding (including the ubiquitous Mendelssohn wedding march) and then an extended series of beautiful dances. This is grand entertainment: gorgeous dancing, beautiful sets, fantastic costumes (I love that Hippolyta actually looks like an Amazon queen!). Watching this makes me really long to see a beautiful ballet presented live.

Lovely!

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Einstein in Fairyland and Horton Hears a Who

May 4, 2010 at 11:41 pm (A Midsummer Night's Dream, Analysis and Discussion, Shakespeare's Plays) (, , , , , , , )

Thanks to reader Tue for commenting about Shakespeare’s vision of understanding the Truth through science. I want to mention a couple of things I’ve been thinking about.

Four Days
The play opens with Theseus telling Hippolyta it will be four days until their wedding day.

Now, fair Hippolyta, our nuptial hour
Draws on apace; four happy days bring in
Another moon
I.1.1-3

Theseus tells Hermia she has until his wedding day to decide whether she will marry Demetrius, die, or become a nun.

Take time to pause; and, by the next new moon–
The sealing-day betwixt my love and me,
For everlasting bond of fellowship–
Upon that day either prepare to die
For disobedience to your father’s will,
Or else to wed Demetrius, as he would;
Or on Diana’s altar to protest
For aye austerity and single life.
I.1.83-90

Then, all the play’s action in the forest occurs (the Midsummer Night’s Dream). It seems to take up a single night. On the morning of Theseus and Hippolyta’s wedding, the hunting party finds the four young lovers asleep in the forest.

But speak, Egeus; is not this the day
That Hermia should give answer of her choice?
IV.1.131-135

So, somehow, four days (and four, or maybe even five nights) have past.

And yet, I can only account for two nights, not four. In the opening scene, Lysander tells Hermia to meet her in the forest the following night.

                                          If thou lovest me then,
Steal forth thy father’s house to-morrow night;
And in the wood, a league without the town,
Where I did meet thee once with Helena,
To do observance to a morn of May,
There will I stay for thee.
I.1.163-168

It’s really a minor detail when you watch the play, but I keep thinking about it. Were the kids wandering around in the woods for two days and two nights (or more)? The forest and fairyland seem like a different world, so maybe time works differently there.

I keep thinking of Einstein; it’s as if the Athenian lovers enter some kind of space/time continuum… like a wormhole.

Unseen Forces
Because Dr. Seuss is never far from my thoughts, I find myself thinking about Horton the Elephant while reading and watching A Midsummer Night’s Dream. Horton faintly hears a tiny voice coming from a speck of dust on a flower, and realizes that there is a whole planet with a town called Whoville with lots of Whos living on that speck. The Whos’ reality is shaped in part by the unseen influence of things in Horton’s world. So, when the flower holding the dust speck containing the Whos is stolen by an evil eagle and dropped into a field of identical flowers, the Whos suffer cataclysmic damage to the infrastructure on their world. Says the mayor of Whoville:

“We’ve really had trouble! Much more than our share.
When that black-bottomed birdie let go and we dropped,
We landed so hard that our clocks have all stopped.
Our tea pots are broken. Our rocking-chairs are smashed.
And our bicycle tires all blew up when we crashed.
So, Horton, Please!” pleaded that voice of the Mayor’s,
“Will you stick by us Whos while we’re making repairs?”

I see a parallel to the influence of fairyland on the mortal world in A Midsummer Night’s Dream. Arguments between Titania and Oberon cause natural disasters in the mortal world. Titania describes the mayhem that their fighting causes:

These are the forgeries of jealousy:
And never, since the middle summer’s spring,
Met we on hill, in dale, forest or mead,
By paved fountain or by rushy brook,
Or in the beached margent of the sea,
To dance our ringlets to the whistling wind,
But with thy brawls thou hast disturb’d our sport.
Therefore the winds, piping to us in vain,
As in revenge, have suck’d up from the sea
Contagious fogs; which falling in the land
Have every pelting river made so proud
That they have overborne their continents:
The ox hath therefore stretch’d his yoke in vain,
The ploughman lost his sweat, and the green corn
Hath rotted ere his youth attain’d a beard;
The fold stands empty in the drowned field,
And crows are fatted with the murrion flock;
The nine men’s morris is fill’d up with mud,
And the quaint mazes in the wanton green
For lack of tread are undistinguishable:
The human mortals want their winter here;
No night is now with hymn or carol blest:
Therefore the moon, the governess of floods,
Pale in her anger, washes all the air,
That rheumatic diseases do abound:
And thorough this distemperature we see
The seasons alter: hoary-headed frosts
Far in the fresh lap of the crimson rose,
And on old Hiems’ thin and icy crown
An odorous chaplet of sweet summer buds
Is, as in mockery, set: the spring, the summer,
The childing autumn, angry winter, change
Their wonted liveries, and the mazed world,
By their increase, now knows not which is which:
And this same progeny of evils comes
From our debate, from our dissension;
We are their parents and original.
(II.1.81-117)

Beyond that, Oberon and Puck choose to influence individual mortals directly via the love juice and pranks like turning Bottom into an ass. Dr. Seuss’s Whos are somehow aware of the source of the unseen force that causes mayhem in their world; they realize there is a world beyond and encompassing their own. In A Midsummer Night’s Dream, the force (the fairies) are invisible and mortals are unaware that their reality is shaped and changed by the actions of fairies.

This also seems Einsteinian to me (not that I know much about Einstein’s theories)… like layers of an onion with each containing a different world—separate, yet interrelated. I also think of this when I read the introduction in my Pelican Shakespeare edition. It says:

Shakespeare’s comic assault on the proud and their smug conceptions of order and truth contributes to his larger challenge to conventional notions of ontology—to our sense, in other words, of who we are and what constitutes reality. If Puck’s proud narration of the havoc he creates in the mortal world—causing spills, knocking old ladies off stools—troubles our sense of causality and human control, his own mistake in anointing the wrong Athenian’s eyes might provoke further speculation. Perhaps yet another unseen agent causes Puck to err for the amusement of a higher god?

And then like my onion analogy, it goes on to say:

Shakespeare’s manipulation of perspective takes its most revelatory form in the arrangement of the play-within-the play. During the performance of “Pyramus and Thisby,” we may imagine the stage and the theater and the world as a series of concentric circles. At the very center are Bottom and Flute, playing tragic lovers. They are watched by actors playing the courtly lovers, characters whose experience might have paralleled that of the doomed Pyramus and Thisby but who fail to notice the similarity. They, in turn, are watched by the theater audience, spectators who laugh smugly at the smugness of the onstage audience. This set of symmetries implies that we may be mistaken in thinking of ourselves as the final audience. Isn’t it possible that we, too, are performing for unseen spectators, that our delight in the foolishness of what we see may itself be a brand of folly, and that the world we take to be real may be nothing more than a stage set for a divine audience?

Hmm, something to ponder there! 

A Dream Through a Jungian Lens
I’m glad I took the time to re-read the introduction (by Russ McDonald from the University of North Carolina at Greensboro). It is fascinating. There is much discussion of the psychological “dream” aspects of the play. McDonald says:

At the risk of oversimplifying a symbolic relation explored with great subtlety, we may say that the fairy kingdom is to the natural world as the unconscious is to the conscious mind, or the imaginative to the logical faculty. This correspondence is thematically crucial, the relation to which all the other parallels and contrasts between the human and the fairy world contribute.

I am far from understanding, but there is much to think about here… physics, philosophy, psychology, oh my! And I was okay before with just the silliness of the situations and beauty of the words and images.

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A Dream Come True

May 2, 2010 at 8:05 pm (A Midsummer Night's Dream, Film Adaptations, Shakespeare's Plays) (, , , , , , , )

I almost didn’t bother with Max Reinhardt’s 1935 version of A Midsummer Night’s Dream. I figured it would be dated and old-fashioned, not worth my time. Wow, I was wrong. I loved it. 

What’s to love? It’s visually stunning. There’s beautiful music (Mendelssohn) and fantastic ballet. Fairyland is wonderful—dazzling, sparkling, fantastic (in the sense of a fantasy!). The special effects (remember, this is 1935!) are amazing—the fairies fly and glide and dance and everything is magical and weird (in a good way). Oberon (Victor Jory) is definitely a king, not menacing, but with authority. Titania (played by Anita Louise) is all sweetness and light in the manner of Glinda the Good Witch, and it works well here. Mickey Rooney’s Puck took some getting used to, but grew on me. He’s strange—very mischievous and naughty and given to loud cackling.

James Cagney does a great Bottom. I still like Paul Rogers’ Bottom from the 1968 version better, but Cagney really brings out the fool in this foolish character. He’s fun to watch, and all the mechanicals are funny. I especially enjoyed Joe E. Brown’s performance of Thisby. Hysterical.

What’s not to love? They cut some of the speeches, yet the movie still ends up almost 2.5 hours long. It didn’t drag, but that’s a bit long for me. Aside from the length, I would recommend this version for kids to watch. It’s beautiful and magical and there’s nothing too adult in it. That said, my kids weren’t particularly interested.

I don’t like their fussy costumes, but I otherwise enjoy the Athenian lovers. This is Olivia de Havilland’s screen debut (as Hermia). She is fine in the role, as are all the young lovers. I read most critics agreed that Dick Powell was miscast as Lysander, that he didn’t want the role and didn’t understand his lines. Still, I like his performance! He brings good humor and teenage smart-alecky eye-rolling to the role, which I find amusing. I think he gives Lysander some personality.

This beautiful film won Oscars for Best Cinematography (a write in!) and Best Editing. I think it’s well worth watching.

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The Course of True Love

May 1, 2010 at 10:28 am (A Midsummer Night's Dream, Analysis and Discussion, Shakespeare's Plays) (, , , , , )

The course of true love never did run smooth.
(I.1.134)

This is one of the more famous lines from A Midsummer Night’s Dream. Lysander says this to Hermia as they bemoan their own problems and discuss various ways that love can go wrong. They hatch a plan to elope and when Helena wanders by, they tell her of their plan to meet in the woods and run away together where Athenian law can’t follow them.

Poor Helena. She is lovesick for Demetrius. She says, “The more I love, the more he hateth me” (I.1.199). She cannot wrap her mind around the switch in his affections to Hermia. Helena says:

As waggish boys in game themselves forswear,
So the boy Love is perjured every where:
For ere Demetrius look’d on Hermia’s eyne,
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.1.240-245)

It’s at this moment that Helena thinks to tell Demetrius that Hermia and Lysander plan to run away to the woods. She then will follow him and throw herself at his feet in her desperation to win back his affection.

I’ve been thinking about Helena’s motivation here. This has been weighing on me since I watched Picture This. In screenplay writer and director John Fisk’s video about adapting a Shakespearean play he explains his reasoning for veering from a strictly Shakespearean storyline. One of his reasons has to do with what he sees as Helena’s selfish motives. He feels she deserves different consequences than Shakespeare provides (her apparently happily-ever-after marriage to the apparently permanently love-juice-influenced Demetrius). Fisk points out that true love cannot come from a place of selfish interests. Because Demetrius is drugged, Fisk says, it’s not true love. Picture This provides a different ending for this couple than Shakespeare.

John Fisk commented on my blog about this: “I know ‘A Midsummer Night’s Dream’ is a comedy however when watching the play or a movie version of it I’m always struck by how Helena treats her friend Hermia. In writing screenplays, the theory goes that, it is really important to look at the choices which your characters make. This really defines the character. In other words the character is the choices that they make.”

I appreciate his point and I really appreciate him stopping by this blog and sharing his thoughts with us. I can see how he could interpret Helena’s actions as selfish. In the video, Fisk says one of the main questions for him in writing the screenplay was: “Can love that comes from a dark and selfish place lead to a true love of total selflessness?”

It’s a great question. I totally get what he did in the film Picture This and it makes a whole lot of sense if you’re coming from the viewpoint that Helena is selfish. I have thought about Helena’s motivation each time I’ve viewed a film adaptation or read the text since hearing this idea; I still don’t interpret her actions the same way as Fisk. (If he returns to read this, I hope he understands that I’m using his opinion as a point to ponder; he’s entitled to his viewpoint!).

I have a lot of empathy for Helena. She loved Demetrius with all her heart and he returned her love (this is prior to the play’s action, but it’s referred to by Lysander and Theseus in the opening scene).

LYSANDER
Demetrius, I’ll avouch it to his head,
Made love to Nedar’s daughter, Helena,
And won her soul; and she, sweet lady, dotes,
Devoutly dotes, dotes in idolatry,
Upon this spotted and inconstant man.

THESEUS
I must confess that I have heard so much,
And with Demetrius thought to have spoke thereof;
But, being over-full of self-affairs,
My mind did lose it.
(I.1.106-114)

We are not given an explanation for Demetrius’s switch from Helena to Hermia. All we know is that he has Egeus’s permission to marry Hermia. It’s not particularly clear to me that he loves Hermia. Maybe the betrothal was a business transaction between Demetrius and Egeus. Who knows? Hermia would have nothing to do with him; she loves Lysander. The strongest language Demetrius uses toward Hermia is:

O, why rebuke you him that loves you so?
Lay breath so bitter on your bitter foe.
(III.2.43-44)

It’s not that convincing to me. Still, why drop Helena if he loved her. Who knows?

Back to Helena’s motivation. She is a little conniving in her decision to tell Demetrius that Hermia and Lysander will be in the woods. However, her intention is not to hurt Hermia. She already knows Hermia has no feelings for Demetrius and is, in fact, eloping with Lysander and planning to leave Athens forever. If she did nothing, Hermia would be out of the picture and Helena could try her luck getting Demetrius back.

It seems to me that she’s just lovesick and not thinking clearly. She knows Demetrius will follow Hermia into the woods. She sees this as an opportunity for herself to follow Demetrius and throw herself at him. She is Desperate with a capital D. Who can blame her? She has loved Demetrius and has no idea why his love turned away. She thinks she can somehow win it back. She doesn’t seem selfish to me so much as confused and desperate. I don’t think she means any harm to anyone.

Hermia goes through a similar out-of-body experience when Lysander is under the spell of the love juice and claims to hate her. She can’t believe her ears:

You speak not as you think. It cannot be.
(III.2.191)

And then as Lysander continues, Hermia thinks he is joking. When she realizes it’s not a joke, she’s just confused:

Hate me! wherefore? O me! what news, my love!
Am not I Hermia? are not you Lysander?
I am as fair now as I was erewhile.
Since night you loved me; yet since night you left me.
Why, then you left me–O, the gods forbid!–
In earnest, shall I say?
(III.2.271-277)

At this point, Hermia reacts with anger toward Helena, assuming that Helena must have done something to cause Lysander’s eyes to wander.

To me, Helena’s quiet jealousy of Hermia and desperate offers to Demetrius are normal reactions, as are Hermia’s confusion and anger. Both women are behaving as you might expect under confusing circumstances where a once trusted and professed love is suddenly gone.

Selfish? Deserving consequences? I don’t see it that way. Sad and confused and desperately trying to make sense of altered reality… yes.

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Seeing Green

April 29, 2010 at 10:37 am (A Midsummer Night's Dream, Film Adaptations, Shakespeare's Plays) (, , , , , , , )

Peter Hall’s 1968 film version of A Midsummer Night’s Dream features the Royal Shakespeare Company including many actors who went on to great things like Judi Dench, Helen Mirren and Diana Rigg.

I had a schizophrenic experience with this film. I watched half one night and half the next. The first half I found nearly unwatchable. The second half, I loved. It was so strange that I forced myself to re-watch the first half. I still hated it.

Let’s start with the problems. It feels very 1960s mod with the girls in their minis and eyeliner and the boys with their moptops. There are odd camera angles, frenetic editing and bad special effects. The fairies run in large groups, reminding me of Planet of the Apes (also released in 1968—maybe it was the style). The wandering around in the woods with a moving camera reminds me of Blair Witch Project. None of this is good. I just could not get a read on this movie.

My biggest problem: I really dislike the fairies—I mean, extreme distaste for these fairies. All the fairies are painted green. Their green skin makes their red lips and white teeth stick out in an odd way. It’s a bit overdone for me. Puck (Ian Holm) is an annoying green menace with a strange tongue tic. I dislike him very much throughout the movie. I also dislike Oberon (Ian Richardson). He looks very 1960s sci-fi/alien to me and his makeup is more metallic green than the others. It’s off-putting. I don’t even like Judi Dench as Titania, although her costume (or lack thereof) is eye catching!

So what changes midway through this film? All I can tell you is I resumed play on the second day just before the one-hour mark (it’s a two-hour movie) while I was heating up dinner in the kitchen. At this point in the film, the Athenian lovers are starting to quarrel in the forest. I wasn’t paying much attention at first, but a few minutes into it, I realized I really liked what they were doing.

The whole feel of the movie changed for me. The mechanicals came out to rehearse and I realized I really enjoyed them, as well. So, I continued watching through the end with rapt attention. I can say the second half is really enjoyable. The four lovers and the mechanicals are wonderful—maybe the best versions I’ve seen in the films I’ve watched. For me, Paul Rogers really nails the character of Bottom. I loved his performance.

This version of Pyramus and Thisby is also, I think, the best version I’ve seen. Watching it, I got the feeling it was exactly what Shakespeare intended… rustic and silly and unselfconscious.

So, I feel very mixed on this film. The fairies are the worst. The young lovers and the mechanicals, the best. What does that make the film as a whole? I’m not sure. I wonder if I’d watched it all in a single sitting what my reaction would have been. As it is, I’m glad I saw it. Your mileage may vary.

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Ch-ch-ch-ch-ch-ch-ch-ch Cherry Bomb!

April 28, 2010 at 2:53 pm (A Midsummer Night's Dream, Analysis and Discussion, Shakespeare's Plays) (, , , , , , , , )

I went to see the movie The Runaways about Joan Jett’s first band last weekend, and I can’t get this song Cherry Bomb out of my head. It may seem like a stretch to find something Shakespearean to say about Cherry Bomb or The Runaways, but I can’t get it out of my mind. So, here’s what I’ve been thinking about.

A Midsummer Night’s Dream is a very funny play. It’s silly, there are fairies, there’s magic, the four teenagers are great sport to watch, and the ending is happy. But as I pointed out in my post about Titania, there’s darker stuff here, as well.

It boils down to this: misogyny. As Picture This director John Fisk points out in his video about adapting a Shakespearean play, “The world in which Shakespeare lived was a world of misogyny.” Women were made subordinate to men.

This is so true when you start picking through A Midsummer Night’s Dream. Hippolyta is tamed. Titania is tamed. Hermia is her father Egeus’s property and he can do with her as he wants! Theseus advises Hermia:

To you your father should be as a god;
One that composed your beauties, yea, and one
To whom you are but as a form in wax
By him imprinted and within his power
To leave the figure or disfigure it.
(I.1.47-51)

This is the law of Athens and Theseus says Hermia will be put to death or forced to become a nun if she doesn’t subordinate herself to her father’s wishes.

So what does all this have to do with Cherry Bomb? The Runaways were an all-female band trying to break into the mostly-male rock and roll world. Manager Kim Fowley cherry picked Cherie Currie at age 15 for lead singer of the fledgling band due to her blonde bombshell looks. She inspired the song Cherry Bomb because that’s what she represented—jailbait.

It’s a catchy tune, but the situation these girls were in was exploitive and misogynist. The band members start out just wanting to play rock n’ roll. During rehearsals, Currie wants to do slower songs and isn’t comfortable with the graphic lyrics or the gyrations. But they all do what Fowley tells them they have to do to get noticed. In an odd way, the girls in The Runaways are tamed in the same way that we see Hippolyta and Titania tamed. They do what they have to do to get by in a male-dominated world.

I see other themes from A Midsummer Night’s Dream in The Runaways… defiant youth, impulsive youth, the chaos of youthful love. So, as blog reader Chris pointed out, yes, it all comes back to Shakespeare. 400 years later, the universal themes and issues in his plays are all around us still.

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Proud Titania

April 26, 2010 at 7:38 pm (A Midsummer Night's Dream, Analysis and Discussion, Shakespeare's Plays) (, , , , )

I love the fairies in A Midsummer Night’s Dream. I love the magic, the beauty, the naughtiness of Puck, the haughtiness of Titania. There are some things that really baffle me, though.

Titania. She starts out so wonderful. She’s angry with Oberon. She has presence. She’s nobody’s fool and she’s not going to let Oberon push her around. She calls a spade a spade. She is angry with Oberon’s philandering (II.1.64-73).

When she talks about the impact of their quarreling, she speaks with such eloquence. She could have just said, “Our fighting is causing mayhem in the mortal world.” That’s how my small mind translates her beautiful words. What images!

And never, since the middle summer’s spring,
Met we on hill, in dale, forest or mead,
By paved fountain or by rushy brook,
Or in the beached margent of the sea,
To dance our ringlets to the whistling wind,
But with thy brawls thou hast disturb’d our sport.
Therefore the winds, piping to us in vain,
As in revenge, have suck’d up from the sea
Contagious fogs; which falling in the land
Have every pelting river made so proud
That they have overborne their continents:
The ox hath therefore stretch’d his yoke in vain,
The ploughman lost his sweat, and the green corn
Hath rotted ere his youth attain’d a beard;
The fold stands empty in the drowned field,
And crows are fatted with the murrion flock;
The nine men’s morris is fill’d up with mud,
And the quaint mazes in the wanton green
For lack of tread are undistinguishable:
The human mortals want their winter here;
No night is now with hymn or carol blest:
Therefore the moon, the governess of floods,
Pale in her anger, washes all the air,
That rheumatic diseases do abound:
And thorough this distemperature we see
The seasons alter: hoary-headed frosts
Far in the fresh lap of the crimson rose,
And on old Hiems’ thin and icy crown
An odorous chaplet of sweet summer buds
Is, as in mockery, set: the spring, the summer,
The childing autumn, angry winter, change
Their wonted liveries, and the mazed world,
By their increase, now knows not which is which:
And this same progeny of evils comes
From our debate, from our dissension;
We are their parents and original. 
(II.1.82-117)

And then she continues with the beautiful, heartfelt explanation of why she cannot give the mortal boy to Oberon. Here’s my simplistic version: “I loved his mother and want to take care of him in her memory.” Here are the words Shakespeare put on Titania’s tongue:

Set your heart at rest:
The fairy land buys not the child of me.
His mother was a votaress of my order:
And, in the spiced Indian air, by night,
Full often hath she gossip’d by my side,
And sat with me on Neptune’s yellow sands,
Marking the embarked traders on the flood,
When we have laugh’d to see the sails conceive
And grow big-bellied with the wanton wind;
Which she, with pretty and with swimming gait
Following,—her womb then rich with my young squire,—
Would imitate, and sail upon the land,
To fetch me trifles, and return again,
As from a voyage, rich with merchandise.
But she, being mortal, of that boy did die;
And for her sake do I rear up her boy,
And for her sake I will not part with him.
(II.1.121-137)

Luscious, isn’t it? The words and images are so beautiful. They speak to the character and strength of this fairy queen. I’m in awe of her!

And then it’s all downhill for Titania. It’s depressing. Oberon puts the love juice on her, she falls for the ass-headed ass, Bottom, she dotes on him. It’s embarrassing. She gives Oberon the mortal child with no fight. Then Oberon gives her the antidote to the love juice, she sees in horror that something awful happened to make her love an ass. And that’s that. The last we hear of her is this:

Come, my lord, and in our flight
Tell me how it came this night
That I sleeping here was found
With these mortals on the ground.
(IV.1.98-101)

That’s it? No wrath from the proud Titania? What a letdown.

I understand there is some connection to how it goes between Theseus and Hippolyta. The notes in my edition point out that Theseus/Hippolyta and Oberon/Titania are parallel couples and often played on the stage by the same actors since they never appear on stage together.

I had to think this through a bit, because the connection is not obvious to me. For me, Hippolyta is almost a nonentity. She’s hardly present in the play. I only know she’s queen of the Amazons because it says so in the list of characters. I only know that Theseus captured her in war because it says so in the note… and Theseus says “I wooed thee with my sword” (I.1.16). She is a non-presence in the play.

And then I thought… maybe this is the point. This is how she parallels Titania. Hippolyta was the queen of the Amazons. She must have been a proud and powerful woman. Theseus subdued her and now he will marry her. She has nothing to say in the matter. She is tamed.

And so it goes with Titania. We just catch up with her a little earlier in the process. We see her at the height of her strength, we witness the war with Oberon, we see her downfall. She is tamed.

Both Hippolyta and Titania follow this path, but we only see it happen in the play with Titania. It is a sad turn of events for me. Of course I appreciate the comedy of Bottom in her love nest. But, she’s a drugged zombie.

I have to agree with John Fisk, screenplay writer and director of Picture This. Oberon deserved different consequences for his cavalier treatment of Titania. Watch John Fisk’s excellent video about adapting a Shakespearean play for more on his viewpoint about Oberon’s misogyny.

I will let it go at that. Titania’s character seems to have so much to offer us and then the payback is just comedy at her expense. I want more!

P.S. Oh my goodness, 2000 hits on my blog! Thanks for reading! Please keep commenting… your comments give me ideas to write about.

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