Shakespeare Coursework Daniel Bowman 10CU
A Midsummer night’s Dream is a romantic comedy play. This play was written in the 1590s by William Shakespeare.
The play consists of two pairs of lovers who run away into the wood on a midsummer’s night. While sleeping in the wood the king of the fairies, Oberon tells his servant Puck to drop flower drops onto the eyes of Lysander and Demetrius. This causes confusion because both men fall in love with Helena. Also in the wood a group of workers are rehearsing a play for the wedding of Duke Theseus. Because Oberon’s wife won’t give him an Indian boy, he turns Bottom’s head into an ass’s head and makes his wife fall in love with him for revenge and amusement. In the end all the problems are worked out. The lovers are reunited and the mechanicals perform their play at the wedding ceremony.
In this play Shakespeare creates three distinct worlds on the stage: the world of the court, the world of the mechanicals and the world of the fairies. He creates these worlds through his choice of language, settings and the characters themselves.
Act 1 Scene 1 – The World of the Court
In the world of the court we are introduced to some of the main characters and themes of love and enchantment. The people in this scene are upper class. The very first scene of the play is set in the palace of Duke Theseus, The Duke of Athens. Preparations are going underway for the Duke’s wedding. He is going to marry Hyppolita in four days. He can’t wait to marry her as the text shows: “Methinks how slow this old moon wanes.” (L3). The mood soon changes when Egeus arrives, bringing with him his daughter Hermia and her two suitors, Lysander and Demetrius. Egeus wants Hermia to marry Demetrius. If she disobeys him then he will have her killed. Hermia does not want to marry Demetrius as she is in love with Lysander. Theseus tries to persuade Hermia to marry Demetrius: “Demetrius is a worthy gentleman.” (L52). He also gives a third option to become a nun. They argue and she sticks up for herself. In the days when this play was written, it was against the law for daughters to disobey their farther, so Hermia keeps on refusing to marry Demetrius. Every one leaves except Lysander and Hermia. They plan to run away across the forest the following night to one of Lysander’s aunts. Helena enters the scene. Helena loves Demetrius but Demetrius does not love Helena. Hermia and Lysander confide their plan to Helena.
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In this scene Shakespeare presents the world of the court to the audience. He does this in a variety of ways.
The main characters of Act 1 Scene 1 are wealthy as we get the impression of importance, power, and sophisticated when we read Act 1 Scene 1. Several points show us this. The names of the characters are all formal, elegant and serious. Theseus is a duke who is marrying a queen, which means that they must be aristocratic. Theseus gives orders and commands: “Go, Philostrate” (L12) He is also obeyed. The attendants call Theseus “My noble lord” (L24) and “My gracious duke” (L26).
Another way Shakespeare presents the world of the court is in the language he gives his characters. They all speak Standard English. We know that these characters are upper class because Shakespeare always wrote their scripts in blank verse which is decasyllabic which means that each line has 10 syllables. This text is also written in an Iambic pentameters format which means the rhythm is unstressed followed by stressed syllables. Lines 1 - 10 are written in blank verse and Iambic pentameters format:
Now, fair Hyppolita, our nuptial hour
Draws on apace: four happy days bring in
the end words of each line in this verse rhyme with the end word of the following line, which in this case is “mind” and “blind”. This is called rhyming couplets and suggests that the characters have been well educated. The language is formal and stately. Another way that tells us that the characters have been well educated is the way Lysander refers to Greek mythology: “I swear to thee by cupid’s strongest bow” (L169). Lysander uses the language of Elizabethan love poetry when he says to Hermia:
How now, my love? Why is your cheek so pale?
How chance the roses there do fade so fast?
in Shakespeare’s time poets often compared their lover’s faces to roses and cherries.
If I was directing this scene I would set it in the Elizabethan period. It would be in a room of a palace. A back drop with a large open fire would help to set the scene. The furnishings would be expensive looking and tasteful. I would also have bookshelves painted onto flaps; this tells the audience that the characters have been educated. The curtains would be made from velvet. The colours of the textiles (cushions, curtains, sofas, carpets etc) and wallpaper will be dark reds, blues and gold. These colours especially gold will suggest to the audience that the characters are rich. The costume for women should be dresses with lots of fancy pattern which would be colourful. I would also make them wear gold jewellery and diamond rings. The men would wear suits and perhaps Duke Theseus wearing a suit of armour that shows he is powerful. The women would all have their hair tied up. The men would have mid length hair combed. I would have Elizabethan music playing in the background for the world of the court. This would consist of lutes and recorders. It is quite light but not bright because it is indoors.
Act 1 Scene 2 – The World of the Mechanicals
In Act 1 Scene 2 we are introduced to the world of the Mechanicals. This scene is set in Peter Quince’s abode (house) in Athens. A group of men have got together. They are all working class. They are going over which parts they are going to play in a performance “Pyramus and Thisby.” This play is going to be performed at the Duke’s wedding. A character called Nick Bottom wants to play all the characters parts because he thinks he is better than everyone else. The scene ends where they decide to meet in the wood the following night, where they will secretly rehearse.
In this scene Shakespeare presents the world of the mechanicals to the audience. He does this in a variety of ways.
All of the characters in this scene are working class. Therefore all of the characters have jobs. Their names are comical and also associated with their jobs. Peter Quince is a carpenter. “Quince” is similar to “quine” which is a wooden wedge. Nick Bottom is a weaver. Weavers unwind thread from a “bottom.” Francis Flute is a bellows mender. A “flute” is a pipe on a bellows powered organ. Tom Snout is a tinker. “Snout” is similar to “spout” – a part of a kettle. Snug is a Joiner. Joints are usually referred to as “snuggerly tight.” Robin Starvling is a tailor and they are traditionally undernourished. Peter Quince is in charge of the performance probably because he is more sensible and a little more educated than the other workers. Bottom is going to play Pyramus in the play. Flute is playing Thisby. Snout plays Pyramus’ farther. Snug plays the lions part and isn’t very bright: “for I am slow of study.” (L60). Starvling plays Thisby’s mother. In Shakespeare’s time women’s parts where played by men as women where not allowed to act. Some of the comical aspects of the play come from this scene, especially Bottom, who is arrogant, disruptive and child like. He has self importance; He is easily flattered and gullible when he is told that he has to play that part because it is important and no one else can do it. Despite his immature behaviour he has enthusiasm for acting, advising and encouraging. The craftsmen are naive because they are convinced that that the audience will not be able to tell the difference between a real lion and Snug in a costume. The craftsmen reveal vulgarity. They talk about French crowns which refer to gold coins but also refer to baldness caused by so called French disease “syphilis” which would be considered rude in the day the play was written. This can be found in line 85: “Some of your French crowns have no hair at all.”
The language of scene 2 is al lot different from scene 1. They do not speak in blank verse; instead they speak in prose, which has no rhythm and Shakespeare always writes lower class characters in prose. The characters try to use educated language but they get it wrong and it sounds silly. This is called a malapropism, like in line 95: “We will meet and there we may rehearse most obscenely” instead of saying “obscurely.” Another example of a malapropism is on lines 71-72:
But I will aggravate my voice so, that I will
roar as gently as any sucking dove.
instead of saying “aggravate” they should of said “moderate.” Characters also use colloquial expressions like “Nay” in line 40. A colloquial expression is a slang word.
If I was presenting this scene on stage I would set it outside in a market place of the town. The back drops and flaps would have images of ancient Greek buildings which would help to set the scene of that day. I would also have some stalls set out on stage where actors can buy or sell pottery or food. I would have the characters wearing old clothing, not very colourful and unwashed. This gives the impression of working class. They could also wear cheap jewellery and beads. The male characters would have long hair to suggest that they can’t afford a hair cut. I would have a background noise of people chatting because it will not be quiet in the centre of a town. The scene will be bright because it is set outside.
Act 2 Scene 1 – The world of the Fairies
The setting of this scene is in the woods outside of Athens. Here we encounter the character of Puck, a mischievous spirit who has the power to cast spells and to fly at lightening speed, also known as Robin Goodfellow. Puck speaks with one of the enchanted forest's fairies before their king, Oberon and their queen, Titania arrive in the middle of an argument about an Indian boy which Titania has taken but Oberon wants. She refuses to give the boy to her husband, and when she departs with her train of woodland fairies, Oberon devises a scheme to punish her through a joke. He instructs Puck to obtain a magic flower extract, which he will then apply to Titania's eyes as she sleeps. This particular ointment has the power to make Titania (or anyone else) fall in love with the first warm-bloodied creature they see upon awakening. While Puck goes on this task, Demetrius enters, followed by the lovesick Helena. After watching Demetrius cruelly reject Helena, Oberon tells the returned Puck to use some of the same love potion on Demetrious and to arrange for Helena to be the first thing he sees and falls madly in love with.
In this scene Shakespeare presents the world of the fairies to the audience. He does this in several ways.
We know that some of the characters in this scene are fairies because of the way Puck talks to one of the enchanted fairies. They greet each other with, “How now, spirit!” They also discuss things like, “Make the flowers sparkle.” And “Creep into acorn cups.” Puck is also known to be mischievous, evidence of this is that he frightens people in the village and he makes humans lose their way when walking through the wood.
Another way Shakespeare presents the world of the fairies is in the language he gives his characters. Fairies make use of rhyme when chanting spells and charms. Short-lined passages are rhymed creating a song like quality, like in lines 2 - 5:
Over hill, over dale,
Through bush, through briar,
Over park, over pale,
Through flood through fire.
like in Act 1 Scene 1, some of the text is written in blank verse and in an iambic pentameters style:
These are forgeries of jealousy;
And never, since the middle summer’s spring,
The poetic language is out of place in the mouths of humans. Titania creates a vivid impression of the countryside. She personifies the wind, rivers, seasons and moon which suggest her supernatural intimacy with the forces of nature.
If I was creating this scene on stage I would have lots of cardboard trees to set the scene of a forest. The back drop would also have paintings of trees to make the forest look big. I would have the scene set in autumn because the lighting could be reds and oranges which would look good on stage. The fairies would look like fairies as they would wear white sparkly costumes. They would be played by children to make them smaller than the other characters. I would have some quite, background flute music which gives the audience an impression of enchantment. Titania and Oberon would wear crowns to suggest that they are king and queen of the forest.