Having now spent the better part of a year here in the United Kingdom, I have a far better appreciation of Shakespeare than I had a couple years ago. Let’s take a look at A Midsummer Night’s Dream. I believe that my insights may offer you a better understanding of the play.
Let’s first start with Hermia and Lysander. They were in love and decided to run away out into the woods. So far, so good. But then there are Helena and Demetrius also lovers who decide to flee into the woods. Now, the scholars who waste time studying Shakespeare from the US would tell you that they fled to the woods to escape the tyrannies of Egeus and the rest of their unnamed parents. In truth, they went into the woods to avoid the heat of the city. Out in the wild they could snog in the cool evening breezes and escape the heat that is the city in midsummer.
They generally act crazy until in the middle of the night they collapse into confused and troubled slumber. (Sounds like a summer night in London to me!)
And what of Egeus, the Duke, Theseus, and Hippolyta? What makes them try and enforce their wills on these young lovers? Why are they so contrary? I’d say it was probably the 37 Degrees Celsius, no air conditioning and not a cold beer in sight! What they really need here is a good beer garden that serves a nice cold lager. Perhaps their children would have stayed home (or at least gone to the pub) if they had had a good local.
Billy Bottom is obviously suffering from allergic reactions to all the pollens in the air. Why else would he think that his head had swollen-up to the size of that of a common ass? I know the feeling that sinus pressure gives one. When Puck says that Bottom is an ass, he probably had just been sneezed upon due to the allergies. Bottom needs an Allegra and a good nasal cleaning!
You can tell that despite Shakespeare’s note that the play is set in Athens that it is really right here in London. How? Well think about it. There are all these people who think they should get out into the park and perform. They are either in London or New York! (... and since New York had yet to develop its penchant for street performance art, I’d have to say that leaves London ...)
My theory that this is London is further bolstered by the clues that are hidden (not very well, I may add) in the scenes set in the wild. Furthermore, I can isolate the postal code to being in the KT8 area of London. (That area of Kingston that includes my favorite pub, the King’s Arms; I know... you’re wondering how I could possibly know this.)
Well, these poor lovers try and get alone on a summer evening and are accosted my hoards of people (that Shakespeare tries to disguise as fairies and tradesmen) who interfere with their plans and intrude on their solitude. Their interlude is spoiled by those unthinking idiots, Philostrate, Quince, Snug, Bottom, Snout, Flute and Starveling. Shakespeare mentions no more than these, but then it is late in the evening. I’d be willing to bet that earlier in the afternoon they would have been accosted and had their day ruined by hundreds more!
(I know you’re ahead of me... but as Monty Python so often encourages in the build-up to the punch line: “Wait for it!”)
Additional clues are to be found in the instructions that Oberon gives to Puck to go and find some exotic plants. There is also the fact that Titania is schlepping around her “companions” Peaseblossom, Mustardseed, Cobweb and Moth. It should now be obvious to everyone, the crowds in the wilderness, the exotic plants, the ruined solitude! The four have had their quiet evening spoiled by the hoards at the Hampton Court Flower Show! Well, Mr. Shakespeare, that pretty much cinches it.
He out blogged me. His description of how bad the summer here in London can be has been misunderstood and enjoyed for hundreds of years. I’ll be lucky if mine is remembered tomorrow.
I hope that wherever you are, it is a pleasant (if somewhat balmy) midsummer’s day!
Don Bergquist - 21 July 2006 - Thames Ditton, Surrey, UK