As I’m heading to London tomorrow to see this performed in the open air I decided a read of Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream was in order. It’s also exactly the right time of year to read or see this play as the lazy, long, days of summer are a defining characteristic of this story.
This is a story of star-crossed lovers, jealousy, and mistaken identity tangled up in the ongoing games of immortal fairies. Hermia is being forced to marry Demetrius (who loves her) but Hermia is in love with Lysander. Also tangled here is Helena who still love Demetrius but he ditched her. When Hermia and Lysander run away, Helena tells Demetrius and they all end up lost in the woods tangled in an ongoing feud between Titania and Oberon the fairy queen and king.
Through the machinations of Oberon’s aide Puck we have a comedy of errors that sees Titania fall in love with an actor transformed into a donkey, and our lovers mismatched. You can tell it’s a Shakespearean comedy because at least everyone is alive at the end!
As with any of his plays Shakespeare proves a master of the sly pun and double entendre, a lot of which will go straight over the head of many readers as they are buried in a language that is not common use. The humour still works well and does translate for a modern audience. The fight between Titania and Oberon over possession of an Indian boy is a bit awkward, but creates the framing structure for the events that follow and shows the capricious and inhuman nature of the fairies. Setting wise it shows clearly that Shakespeare doesn’t know the locations he writes about (this is not an Athenian setting) but was probably writing to please a patron who had visited and knew stories of this area (e.g. character names being Greek legends).
As a quick read it is enjoyable once you get into the rhythm of the language, but I am happy that modern stage productions tend to adapt the play somewhat as I think these interpretations can help bring more people to the work