Wednesday, February 01, 2012

A Midsummer Night's Dream - William Shakespeare

"The course of true love never did run smooth."

Theseus, King of Athens is getting married to Hippolyta, Queen of the Amazons and everyone's invited! This includes Oberon and Titania, King and Queen of the fairies who are having some marital issues as well as a group of young lovers with their own twisted quadrangle: Hermia, Helen, Lysander and Demetrius. Things go awry when Oberon plays matchmaker and messes in the love lives of his wife and the quartet of mortals running around the woods.

Oberon and Titania are married gods who need to attend couples therapy. It is their argument that leads to all the strife in the story. If not for Oberon, Bottom wouldn't have been transformed and the lovebirds would most likely have sorted out their own issues without the confusion caused by a love potion. I saw Oberon as a selfish and cruel manipulator, despite directing Puck to help the mortals out. His meddling caused more problems than it solved and what he does to his own wife to "teach her a lesson" felt like a form of abuse. What I didn't understand was why he wasn't omnipotent. Yes Puck makes a honest mistake, using love potion on the wrong people but why does Oberon allow him to make the mistake in the first place?

I liked the idea of the play being set in Greece but combining Celtic and Greek mythology with Brits playing was a weird mashup.

I also wondered why Bill chose to have two Robins in the play. Usually stories don't contain characters with the same or similar sounding names to avoid confusing the reader but here Bill doesn't seem concerned. We have Robin Starveling and Robin Goodfellow, names which may reference Robert Dudley and Robert Deveraux, both favourites of Queen Elizabeth I, monarch at the time of Shakespeare.

When I read this play I enjoyed it but wasn't blown away with what I consider to be seond-tier Shakespeare. Looking closer though, there's a lot more going on than meets the eye. Bill manages to juggle four different storylines within a small space and all blend together seamlessly. Theseus and Hippolyta's wedding, the play within a play, Oberon and Titania and Bottom and the four lovers in the forest. And as always, Bill is a master wordsmith and plays the funnyman. Look at what he does with alliteration.

"Whereat with blade, with bloody blameful blade,
He bravely broached his boiling bloody breast."

Talk about a tongue twister!

My major complaint was I found it tough to keep track of who was enchanted and who was in love with who, a major plot problem. But as with all of Bill's plays, I suspect it works better on stage than on paper. There's something about the spoken word that glosses over all the archaic language and long-forgotten references. It was a solid read and I'd highly suggest it for those interested in Bill's comedy plays.

Review 3.5/5

If you liked this review, please check out my Macbeth Review for part of Breadcrumb Reads - Reading Shakespeare: A Play a Month.

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