Monday, June 13, 2011

A Midsummer Night’s Dream: Romantic Confusion and Magical Solutions

A Midsummer Night's Dream by Elizabeth E. Schuch for Immortal Longings Ltd.
Way before Oprah or Dr. Phil got in the game, Shakespeare was taking on the most difficult situations that people in a romantic relationship are likely to face, and A Midsummer Night’s Dream is a veritable self-help guide for those wayward lovers.  Reconfigured in the lingo of the self-help genre, chapters of the Midsummer Night’s Guide to Messy Relationships would include (in no particular order):

How to Deal with the Violent Invasion of Your Country by a Devilishly Handsome Monarch

Why Your Daughter Will Marry Who You Say She’ll Marry 

followed closely by 

Policies and Procedures for Having Insolent Daughters Lawfully Executed

What to Do When Your Fairy Queen Won’t Give You the Small Indian Boy You’ve Been Asking For

Why Hallucinogenic Concoctions Will Only Make Courtship More Complicated

And everyone’s favorite,

What to Do When You Realize the Guy You’ve Been in Love With Is, Quite Literally, An

Tell me that chapter doesn’t contain timeless advice, ladies.  I dare you.

A Midsummer Night’s Dream presents a number of different relationships, and would-be relationships, in varying stages of turmoil.  In the process, we get views on love and romance from people at all levels of the societal food chain: from the working class, to respected higher-ups, and even the King and Queen of the Fairies.  These various characters and their respective entanglements all become quickly intertwined, and it is clear that no matter your status, or even mortality, matters of the heart are never without their complications.

The play is framed by the wedding of Theseus, Duke of Athens, to Hippolyta, the Amazonian Queen whom he has captured.  At the play’s outset, their nuptials are quickly approaching, and despite the strange circumstances, their marriage and happiness never come into question.  It’s everyone else’s relationships that are in trouble, not the monarch and his captive bride.  They get along swimmingly.  Who would have thought?

Other relationships in the play also seem out of order, as cranky old Egeus is ready to have his young daughter Hermia killed (according to the Athenian law) if she refuses to marry the husband of Dad’s choice, Demetrius.   Disobedient Hermia, meanwhile, is in love with Lysander (some other dude that Dad doesn’t like), and so Egeus comes begging Duke Theseus for harsh justice against his daughter, as Hermia comes begging the Duke for the freedom to choose her own spouse.   But Hermia has come to beseech the wrong guy with the feminist argument that a woman should be able to choose her own husband.  Duke Theseus, after all, can hardly burn the bridge that he himself is about to cross.

Completing the awkward young Athenian love square is Helena, who loves Demetrius, though he is busy trying to force Hermia to marry him (with Dad’s help), even though she wants to marry Lysander.   It’s a hot mess, I know.  Who could possibly sort out all of these hurt feelings, hormones, and misplaced affections?

While I might personally opt for Dr. Drew (pictured above) over the less qualified Dr. Phil or Oprah, sadly none of the above were available in Athens at the time.  So, bring on the fairies!

As it turns out, Oberon and Titania – King and Queen of the Fairies – have been having a bit of a tiff themselves over the possession of a small Indian boy – and you thought things were weird in your relationship!  In any case, this supernatural discord is throwing off the elements, the seasons, and, as a result, the mortals who are subject to their influence.  What’s more, the blessing of the royal fairy couple will be necessary to bring “joy and prosperity” to the bed of the soon-to-be-married Duke and his Amazonian bride, so the clock is ticking.  

With the help of the mischievous hobgoblin Robin Goodfellow (a.k.a. Puck), King Oberon is determined to set his affairs, and everyone else’s, to rights - the gist is that they plan to place the juice of a magic flower over the eyes of several key players while they're asleep that will drastically change their affections when they wake up - but things get worse before they get better.  Any plan that starts with hallucinogenic substances is bound to have some serious complications, and such is certainly the case here. 

On one level, A Midsummer Night’s Dream is a fun, fantastical, light-hearted play, easy to read and easy to enjoy.  You could as easily call it Love and Magic in the Forest, so what’s not to like? At any depth of analysis, it brings up a lot of interesting questions about love and reality:  Does love blind us to the true nature of our beloved?  How can we love someone who has hurt or betrayed us?  What are the implications of dishonesty or deception in a “loving” relationship?  There is also plenty going on in A Midsummer Night’s Dream that is substantially dysfunctional, if you care to look closely - I won't offer any more spoilers for now.  One of the many brilliances here is the fact that the play is rewarding at any level. 

1 comment:

  1. We're all waiting for the next installment!
    This is a longer wait than the one for Game of Thrones season 2!