A Midsummer Night’s Dream – Shakespeare
Shakespeare’s ‘A Midsummer Night’s Dream’ is a play of romantic comedy. It is one of Shakespeare’s more famous comedies and has been performed by many different actors. The production of ‘A Midsummer Night’s Dream’ that I watched was performed in London’s Regents Park by the Open Air Theatre Company. The play was successful because of the dramatical techniques and acting shown by the performers. This essay explores the techniques and acting, and compares them to a cinema production of the same play. The play takes place in the Greek City of Athens, about the same time as Shakespeare.
There are three main groups of people in the play, the fairies, the lovers and the mechanicals. Each has a specific role in the plot of the play, and their separate worlds get intertwined during the middle section of the play. All the groups meet in the woods just outside of Athens, and it is here that the main section of the play happens. The fairies accidentally put a love potion into Lysander’s eyes, making him fall in love with Helena. They then put the love potion into Demetrius’s eyes in an attempt to rectify the situation. While this is happening the mechanicals have come to the woods to rehearse their play.
Puck, one of the fairies turns Bottom into an ass, and makes Titania, the Queen of the fairies fall in love with him by using the love juice. Each of the worlds are then separated and they return to their normal way of life and to the Wedding of the Duke of Athens to Hippolyta. Each of the groups’ roles are equally important and are explored below. The fairies are Titania, the Queen of the fairies, Oberon the King of the fairies, and Puck a mischievous fairy and a servant to Oberon. The fairies are introduced in the Open Air Theatre Production amidst smoke and turmoil.
This adds a magical feeling to their appearance, and provides a starting point for their part in the plot. Their paths cross in the woods and an argument ensues during which Titania utters the most famous line from this play, ‘The fairy kingdom buys not the child of me. ‘ In both productions this is played in very different ways. In the Open Air Theatre Production, Titania is depicted as a mild fairy with good intentions and Oberon as a strict and moody King. The temperamental side of Oberon is depicted in the line, ‘Why should Titania cross her Oberon? ‘
In the Open-Air production Oberon is in a rage while saying these words, whereas in the film he is calmer, simply trying to reason with Titania. However, in the film, Titania is portrayed with a more malevolent side and Oberon as a mild mannered and good-humoured character. This is evident in the lines ‘What, jealous Oberon! Fairies, skip hence; I have forsworn his bed and company. ‘ In the film, Titania is teasing Oberon with these lines in an attempt to anger him and irritate him into a rage. From this simple interchange the plot of the play is altered in both of the productions.
In the Open Air Theatre Production, there is a certain amount of sympathy towards Titania, and Oberon is seen as unreasonable and scheming. However, in the film, Titania is seen as moody and Oberon is seen as a gentler person with better intentions. Puck is introduced slightly before this scene. In the Open Air Theatre Production he is with one other fairy, and they discuss the problems caused by Oberon and Titania’s arguing. Puck is reserved, until the other fairy realises who he is and then he enacts his mischief and leaps around the stage.
This gives Puck an air of elfishness and fun. In the Open-Air Theatre production he is a more human character, simply one causing mischief. Whereas in the film he is seen as clever and cunning, slipping in and out of shadows. An excellent example of the differences between Puck’s character in the plays is when he says, ‘I go, I go: look how I go, Swifter than arrow from the Tartar’s bow’ While saying this in the Open-Air production his is walking very slowly, and glancing back at the audience. This is where the humorous side of Puck’s sarcasm is emphasised in this particular production.
In the film however, he is on a bicycle while saying these words, making them serve a more practical than comical affect. This does not have as much affect on the play as Titania and Oberon’s characters, but the subtle difference means that one finds Puck more amusing in the Open-Air production. In both productions they are faced with an issue about how to make the fairies seem fairy-like. In the film, they are sometimes depicted as tiny, fly-sized creatures that can shrink and grow at their own will. Whereas in the Open-Air production, they appear to be invisible to the rest of the cast, and can move about them without the cast realising.
In both the actors wear very strange costumes, and in the Open-Air production they also wear face paints and other make-up to add to the effect. In the film production, the fairies are shown to have little knowledge of the human world, and are fascinated by things like a record player and a bike. This also has some affect on the plays, because it adds to the mysteriousness of the fairies in the film production, and makes the fairies in the Open-Air production more human again. All in all I feel that the mixture of realism and fantasy in both plays is well balanced, but that the Open-Air production is perhaps more effective.
The second set of characters is the mechanicals. They provide the main comic element of the play, and so the way they are portrayed is very important. The group is introduced in a similar way in both plays, but with a very important difference. In the film, there is a lot more focus on Bottom, the weaver. He is seen as an intelligent person but with a menial job. This is very important in respects to the comic element of the play. Bottom has wine poured over him in the cinema production and the audience is encouraged to feel sympathy towards him. In the Open-Air production, the comic element of Bottom’s role is played much more.
He speaks with a dialect and is out spoken and over-acts everything. In the film Bottom is still as lively, but slightly classier in the way he does so. This makes one feel empathetic towards Bottom, and therefore makes it a little more difficult to laugh at him. This is not a problem in the Open-Air production, because we are meant to laugh at Bottom rather than feel sorry for him. The scene where this is most prominent is I, ii. The most obvious part is lines 27 to 34, ‘The raging rocks And shivering shocks Shall break the locks Of prison gates; And Phibbus’ car Shall shine from far And make and mar The foolish Fates. In this act Bottom’s character is set for the entire performance. In the Open-Air production Bottom is very loud, jumping from tables and running around exaggerating everything, this makes us immediately like Bottom, for his comic parts, and also shows the rest of the mechanicals admiration for him. His clothing shows his status in society and does not really reflect his job. In the film, however, Bottom is portrayed as what one might call a ‘struggling artist’ with fine clothes, much out of place for his menial job. The clothes, although being better in comparison to the other mechanicals, are still cheaper than those of the lovers are.
More importantly, Bottom is admired less by the mechanicals in this production, and there is more a sense of them putting up with Bottom’s antics. This scene is where the audience’s sense of sympathy arises. Also in this scene we are introduced to the other mechanicals, Peter Quince- a carpenter, Snug-the joiner, Flute- the bellows mender, Snout-the tinker and Starveling the tailor. Each has certain comic elements, Quince’s being his short-temper with Bottom, which is emphasised more in the Open-Air production and less in the film.
Snug in both performances is portrayed as being rather thick, which is suggested by Shakespeare with the line ‘Have you the lion’s part written? Pray you, if it be, give it me, for I am slow of study. ‘ In the film this is emphasised more by having Snug speak also with a dialect. Flute features very little in the play until the play within the play. In both productions, Flute delivers his monologue as Thisby with such emotion that the audience and even the other mechanicals are dumbstruck. This is played upon more in the Open-Air performance, with the rest of the mechanicals looking round the stage at Flute in amazement.
Snout performs his part in the play within the play to much amusement. In the Open-Air production, his emphasis on the word wall, makes him all the more funny. His inability to act is played upon also in the film, but not as much. There is more emphasis on how ridiculous he looks. The final mechanical, Starveling is portrayed in both productions as stuck-up and rather reserved, more so in the Open-Air production. ‘All I have to say is to tell you that the lanthorn s the moon; I, the Man i’ the Moon; this thorn-bush, my thorn-bush; and this dog, my dog. The way he delivers these lines in the Open-Air production, makes it appear as though he would rather not be in the play at all, and seems fed-up to even be there. This is not emphasised as much in the film, but he is seen as frustrated at the lack of attention from the audience. In both productions the mechanicals are played similarly but with subtle differences that make them equally affective. The lovers in both cases are seen as carefree youths that are trying to escape from the rules of Athens. Hermia in both productions is seen as a pretty girl, who is very relaxed, and very much in love with Lysander.
Lysander is a rather bohemian character, in scruffy clothing and in both cases with rather long hair. The love between both Hermia and Lysander is evident in both productions, but the sexual side played more in the film. Helena in the Open-Air production is neither ugly nor pretty, and it is the same with the film. In the Open-Air production, we are encouraged to feel sympathy towards Helena, who is equally as pretty as Hermia, but is only lacking the love of Demetrius. In the film however, the sympathy is not encouraged and one feels almost irritated and embarrassed by Helena’s lust towards Demetrius.
This same lust is apparent in Demetrius’s affection towards Hermia, in the Open-Air production it is played more for its comedy, the fact that he is being rejected and the way in which Hermia does so. However in the film, Demetrius’s affection is more sexual and Hermia’s rejections justified. One scene that is played in different ways in both productions is II, I, 188-244. In this scene Helena and Demetrius are alone in the woods, Demetrius is trying to run away from Helena, but she still pursuits him.
In the Open-Air version, the comical side of this is emphasised more than the sexual. As Helena says the lines, ‘I am your spaniel; and, Demetrius, The more you beat me, I will fawn on you. Use me but as your spaniel, spurn me, strike me, Neglect me, lose me;’ While saying this she is hanging off of Demetrius’s leg as he tries to walk around, she then throws herself on top of him, and he rolls on top of her. Here the sexual side of the lines, ‘You do impeach my modesty too much To leave the city and commit yourself Into the hands of one that loves you not;
To trust the opportunity of the night, And the ill counsel of a desert place, With the rich worth of your virginity’ In these lines Demetrius threatens to rape Helena, but is used more for comedy and their darker meaning downplayed in the Open-Air production. When Demetrius realises the compromising position he is in he jumps up immediately to escape from Helena. In the film, the sexual elements of this scene are much more greatly emphasised. Helena and Demetrius speak very closely to each other and Demetrius then forces Helena backwards so that they are even closer.
The threat of rape is much more real in this scene, which obviously affects the play because the audience now knows the darker side of Demetrius. Similarly to ‘The Woman in Black’ there is a play within a play. With the woman in black this allows the audience to be drawn into the play more, it provides closeness between the actors and the audience and adds to the fear and anticipation experienced in the play. The play within the play in ‘A Midsummer Night’s Dream’, is one being performed by the mechanicals for the Duke of Athens on his Wedding Day.
This play provides the main comic element of main play and justifies the involvement of the mechanicals. It also adds to the confusion between the characters when they are in the woods and their world’s become intertwined. The parts are played by the mechanicals who are mentioned above. Each of the actors provides a separate comic element and each are equally as funny. The Prologue, played by Quince, is comic because of his tightness in delivering the lines. Pyramus, played by Bottom, is funny for the opposite reason. Bottom is very flamboyant in his acting, and over-acts his lines making him seem ridiculous.
Thisby, played by Flute, is not funny, but rather more shocking as he delivers his speech perfectly in both performances. The Wall, played by Snout, is amusing because it is a wall speaking. In the Open-Air version, his emphasis on the word wall adds to the humour. Moonshine, played by Starveling, is humorous because of Starveling’s frustration when trying to deliver his lines. He is interrupted while trying to say his line and gets more and more frustrated; this is emphasised more in the Open-Air version when Starveling moodily delivers his lines then stomps off stage.
The final part is the Lion, played by Snug. Snug’s stupidity is emphasised in this part, more so in the Open-Air version. The play within the play emphasises each of the actors’ characteristics and plays upon them. The theme of love and sex is apparent throughout the play, mainly within the fairies and lovers. One particular scene in which this is apparent within the fairies is; ‘Come, sit thee down upon this flow’ry bed, While I thy amiable cheeks do coy, And stick musk-roses in the sleek smooth head. And kiss thy fair large ears, my gentle joy. ‘
In this scene Titania is making sexual remarks to Bottom, and is coming on to him quite strongly. In the Open-Air production, Bottom is oblivious to this and is not aware of Titania’s desires. In the film however, there is an obvious suggestion that they actually do have sex, this is connected once more to the sympathy we feel towards Bottom, that makes him seem more human. Whereas in the Open-Air production Bottom is almost larger than life, so his ignorance to Titania’s come-ons provides comedy. With the lovers one scene which is played differently in each production is II, ii, 35-65.
In this scene Lysander is trying to get Hermia to sleep with him, and Hermia is refusing. The Open-Air production emphasises the comic side once again, where as the film focuses on the sexual side. There is a certain amount of farce within the lovers, where we have a comic reversal of Lysander and Hermia’s situation, in which Helena is trying to get Demetrius to sleep with her. This is typical of Shakespeare’s humour and adds to the comic elements of the play. In conclusion both productions are successful for different reasons.
The film focuses greatly on the sexual side of the play, emphasising the more romantic and lustful gestures that could be made. The Open-Air production, however, focuses more on the comic elements of the play, drawing-out the humorous side to the love scenes. Personally I preferred the Open-Air production because I felt it had a good balance between the romantic and the comic sides of the play. All in all the different dramatical techniques and acting used in each performance allows two versions of the same play to be vastly different.