A Midsummer Night s Dream
A Midsummer Night's Dream is a comedy by William Shakespeare. The full text of A Midsummer Night's Dream is available at Project Gutenberg. Aside from The Tempest, it is the only other play Shakespeare did not base on an older play or story.
The play features three interlocking plots, all of which are connected by a celebration of the wedding of Duke Theseus of Athens and the Amazonian Hippolyta. Two young Athenian men, Lysander and Demetrius, are both in love with the same woman, Hermia; Hermia herself loves Lysander, but her friend, Helena, is in love with Demetrius. When the father of Hermia forbids her to marry Lysander, the four pursue each other into the woods around the city, losing themselves in the dark and in the maze of their romantic entanglements. As usual with Shakespeare, the comedy has a bitter-sweet note, when Hermia's two lovers both, temporarily, turn against her in favor of Helena.
Meanwhile, Oberon, king of the fairies, and his estranged wife, Titania, arrive in the same woods to attend the upcoming nuptials. Titania refuses to lend her Indian page-boy to Oberon for use as his 'henchman', and Oberon seeks to punish her for her disobedience.
At the same time, a band of 'mechanicals' (lower-class artisans) have arranged to perform a crude pageant on the theme of Pyramus and Thisbe to stage for the wedding festivities, and venture into the forest for their rehearsal. Most notable among them is Bottom the Weaver, one of Shakespeare's most admired comic creations.
Oberon recruits the mischievous Puck (also called Hobgoblin and Robin Goodfellow) to help him regain Titania's devotion, but his simultaneous attempt to help the young lovers goes wrong, resulting in confusion. Bottom finds his head transformed into that of an ass, and the fairy queen is made to fall in love with him.
It is not known exactly when the play was written or first performed, but it is assumed to be between 1594 and 1596. A Midsummer Night's Dream might have been written as inspired by or to be performed in connection to a royal wedding.
The Dream on the stage
After the English Renaissance, A Midsummer Night's Dream was never performed in its entirety until the 1840s. Instead, it was heavily adapted in such forms as Henry Purcell's musical adaptation The Fairy Queen (1692), or in shortened versions that turned Bottom into the main character.
The Victorian Dream
In 1840, Madame Vestris at Covent Garden returned the play to the stage with a relatively full text, but padded it out greatly with musical sequences and balletic dances. Vestris took the role of Oberon, and for the next seventy years, Oberon and Puck would always be played by women. After the success of Vestris's production, nineteenth century theatre continued to treat the Dream as an opportunuity for huge spectacle, often with a cast numbering nearly one hundred. Huge, detailed sets were created for the palace and the forest, and the fairies tended to be envisaged as gossamer-winged ballerinas. The much-loved overture by Felix Mendelssohn was always used throughout this period, with the text often being cut to provide greater space for music and dance.
Granville-Barker, Max Reinhardt and after
In the early twentieth century, a reaction against this huge spectacle emerged. Innovative director Harley Granville-Barker introduced in 1914 the modern way of staging the Dream: he removed the huge casts and Mendelssohn, using instead Elizabethan folk music. He replaced the huge sets with a simple system of patterned curtains. He used a completely original vision of the fairies, seeing them as robotic insectoid creatures based on Cambodian idols. This increased simplicity and emphasis on directorial imagination has dominated subsequent Dreams on the stage.
Max Reinhardt staged A Midsummer Night's Dream thirteen times between 1905 and 1934, introducing a revolving set. After he fled Germany he devised a more spectacular outdoor version at the Hollywood Bowl, in September 1934. The shell was removed and replaced by a "forest" planted in tons of dirt hauled in especially for the event, and a trestle was constructed from the hills to the stage for the wedding procession inserted between Acts IV and V crossed a trestle with torches down the hillside. The cast included John Lodge, William Farnum, Sterling Holloway, 18-year-old Olivia de Havilland, and Mickey Rooney, with Erich Wolfgang Korngold's orchestrations of Mendelssohn. (The young Austrian composer would go on to make a Hollywood career.) On the strength of this production, Warner Brothers signed Reinhardt to direct a filmed version, Hollywood's first Shakespeare event since Douglas Fairbanks and Mary Pickford's Taming of the Shrew (1929). Rooney (Puck) and De Havilland (Hermia) were the only hold-overs from the cast.
Brook and after
Another landmark production was that of Peter Brook in 1970. Brook swept away every tradition associated with the play, staging it in a blank white box, in which masculine fairies engaged in circus tricks such as trapeze artistry. Brook also introduced the subsequently popular idea of doubling Theseus/Oberon and Hippolyta/Titania, as if to suggest that the world of the fairies is simply a mirror version of the world of the mortals. Since Brook's production, directors have felt free to use their imaginations freely to decide for themselves what the play's story means, and to represent that visually on stage. In particular, there has been an increased amount of sexuality on stage, as many directors see the 'palace' as a syumbol of restraint and repression, while the 'wood' can be a symbol of wild, unrestrained sexuality, which is both liberating and terifying.
The Shakespeare play has inspired several movies. The following are the best known.
A Midsummer Night's Dream was adapted for comics by Neil Gaiman for his series The Sandman. The adaptation won several awards, and is distinguished by being the only comic that will ever win a World Fantasy Award (see Dream Country)
de:Ein Sommernachtstraum fr:Le Songe d'une nuit d'été sv:En midsommarnattsdröm