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A Midsummer Night's Dream July 1, 2015 12:00 AM | Tagged as A Midsummer Night's Dream, Fairies, Helen Mirren, Judi Dench, Kevin Kline

~~A Midsummer Night’s Dream
This play is one of my favorites and it is a crowd favorite.  A Shakespeare company’s artistic director once told me that whenever they needed to make money, they would stage this play because it is a guaranteed money maker. 
Shakespeare drew from many sources in creating this play, including Ovid’s “Metamorphoses,” and “The Golden Ass” by Apuleius, both Latin plays; and from the English “The Canterbury Tales,” by Chaucer.  He also drew on folk tales and superstitions from the Warwickshire area where he grew up.  The play is set in Athens Greece, but, contrary to what the title implies, it does not take place in the summer, but takes place in the four days leading up to May 1st.  May Day (May 1st), was the traditional wedding date where the marriage festivities that are depicted in the play would have taken place.  However, the majority of the play takes place in a magical wood at night time.  The magic and mischief that occurs in this wood finds its inspiration in Elizabethan midsummer revels, hence, the title of the play. 
 Early in the play we observe a dispute between a father, Egeus, who wants the Duke of Athens, Theseus (who is to be married in 3 days to Hippolyta), to demand that Hermia, daughter of Egeus, marry Demetrius whom she does not love.  Hermia is in love with Lysander and they wish to marry one another.  Hermia is devastated when she is told that she will be executed if she does not follow her father’s wishes.  Unwilling to do this, she and Lysander decide to run away.  Hermia tells her friend Helena, of their plans.  Helena, who loves Dimetrius herself, believes that if she tells Dimetrius of Hermia’s plan, he may show favor to her and in her misguided mind, he would fall in love with her instead of Hermia. 
As with most of Shakespeare’s plays, there is always a play within a play and this one has two other story lines.  Besides the star-crossed lovers, we have the battling magical fairies, Oberon and Titania, and their minions, most notably, Puck, in the woods creating havoc through magic spells as Hermia and Lysander escape and are followed by Helena and Dimetrius. 
There is also the story line of Peter Quince and his band of actors (including Nick Bottom) who are preparing a play to be presented to the Duke and his soon to be wife on their wedding day.  Quince and the actors get caught up in the magical happenings while rehearsing their play in the woods.  To me, this is the best part of the play! 
The play is very easy to follow.  In fact, I believe this play should be taught in school as the first introduction to Shakespeare for students, instead of Romeo and Juliet.  It is a delight, instead of what many find to be quite depressing. 
There have been a few movie versions of it also.  Most famous is the 1935 film that stars James Cagney as Nick Bottom, and Mickey Rooney as Puck.  Another is the 1968 version.  It stars several amazing, young actors that are familiar to many now, such as  Helen Mirren, Judi Dench, and Ian Holmes, all of whom have been knighted,  just to name a few! 
I have to admit that my favorite is the 1999 film that stars Michelle Pfeiffer as Titania, Rupert Everett as Oberon, Kevin Kline as Bottom, Stanley Tucci as Puck, Calista Flockhart as Helena, Christian Bale as Demetrius, and Anna Friel as Hermia.  What an amazing cast!  Although it shows more “skin” than necessary, it is a great production. Luckily I have an edited copy so I enjoy it often and share it with grandkids. 
The last production I want to mention is one of a series of four plays called “Shakespeare Re-told” that BBC created a few years back.  They took four Shakespeare plays and set them in modern day and language, with the story being the same as the original play.  Midsummer was one of these four plays and it is a fun adaptation.  If you are a purist you won’t like it, but I take Shakespeare any way I can get it, and I like it!  The other three plays in this series are Macbeth, Much Ado, and Taming of the Shrew.  Find them if you can and watch them.  James McAvoy is especially great as Macbeth.  I wished they had made a few more in this series. 
So, the options to see “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” are plentiful.  If you can’t find a stage production, try one of these movie versions and sit back to enjoy the ride.  It is a fun play! 


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