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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