“A Midsummer Night’s Dream” is the story of a love quadrangle gone awry. Hermia loves Lysander, but her father wants her marry Demetrius. Helena, Hermia’s best friend, is in love with Demetrius but he can’t stand Helena. Hermia and Lysander decide to escape to the forest (read green world) so they can be together. Helena is made aware of the plans but is angry with Hermia so she tells Demetrius in order to gain favor with him. Demetrius storms off after the lovers with Helena in two trying to woo him. They all run into the faerie world and suddenly things get even weirder.
The faerie queen is mad at the faerie king so he decides to use a potion to make the queen fall in love with him. Along the way he over hears the complex love quadrangle and decides he needs to fix it. He has Puck, his servant/sidekick/groupie give some of the potion to the lovers. Puck messes it all up resulting in the queen falling in love with a donkey, Lysander and Demetrius falling in love with Helena and Hermia being shamed now that she’s the one without a suitor. Still with me?
I read this play because I was going to see it performed. I’m not as widely read in Shakespeare so this was my first time through. Seeing it performed highlighted some of the issues I had with the text, especially in light of the #MeToo movement. There’s a lot of toxic masculinity in this play that doesn’t get called out. Oberon, the faerie king, has been messing around with other faeries which results in Titania, faerie queen, being mad at him. Instead of apologizing, making things right, and changing his behavior, his go-to is to magically change Titania’s mind so that she HAS to love him again. This is the same decision he makes for the lovers. It felt like a metaphor for date rape. None of the women are given a choice of who they want to love and a lot of the men coerce them into being with the men of the play.
On top of all that, Oberon gets to be the hero in the end by setting things right and reversing all of the spells he’s cast. Titania falls in love with him again for “benevolent” undoing the mess he created. Except for one detail. Demetrius is given the potion so that he’ll fall in love with Helena. Helena doens’t complain so they end up together as the only couple who’s not sincerely in love with each other. So now the toxicity of Oberon’s masculinity is now even coercing other men to fall in love with women and forcing women to buy into his toxicity in order to find happiness.
Yes, there were a few humorous moments almost exclusively with the players preparing their play for the king. The script and the performance carried this off extremely well which saved the experience from being one I detested. This play still doesn’t sit well with me so I don’t see myself reading it again unless it’s in a context of dissecting and analyzing the pieces that haven’t translated to our current times.