Midsummer Night's Dream
One of the best-loved and most accessible plays in Shakespeare's canon, A Midsummer Night's Dream
is s delightful and magical exploration of man's endless pursuit of
love. The plot revolves around four sets of lovers- Theseus, the
Duke of Athens, and his fiancee Hippolyta, Queen of the Amazons;
Lysander and Hermia; Demetrius and Helena; and Oberon and Titania, who
are the King and Queen of the Fairies. Also involved are a group
of rustic workmen (the 'Rude Mechanicals') who are attempting to put
together a little play for the entertainment of the Duke and his Bride
at the wedding- among these bumpkins is Bottom, one of Shakespeare's
most colorful and humorous characters, who fancies himself to be quite
the expert on theatrical endeavors, to say nothing of his skills as an
actor, lover and all-around wise man. Perhaps the most famous of
this plays' many characters, though, is Puck, a mischievous sprite who
serves Oberon- but seems primarily interested in serving his own
amusements. The action of the play takes place in Athens and in
the surrounding forest; on the eve of the Duke's wedding Lysander and
Demetrius come before him with a grievance over Hermia- it seems that
both men are wooing her and her father has promised her to
Demetrius. Theseus tells Hermia she must abide by her father's
wishes or be condemned, but she loves Lysander. The pair run away
that night, into the forest, followed by a jealous Demetrius, who in
turn is followed by Helena, another Athenian maid who loves
Demetrius. In the forest, a battle of wills is taking place
between Oberon and Titania over the fate of a young Indian child.
As Oberon plots with Puck over how best to manipulate his Queen, the
two pairs of young lovers become entangled in the supernatural goings
on. Things are further complicated by the arrival of Bottom and
his amateur troupe of actors, who attempt to rehearse their play.
Much confusion ensues, orchestrated by Puck, who changes the lovers'
loyalties in several combinations, chases the would-be-actors around
mercilessly, and gives Bottom an asses' head. The
piece-de-resistance comes when Bottom stumbles upon Titania sleeping in
her bower, and thanks to the magic of mischievous Puck, the Fairy Queen
becomes enamored of this ass-headed clown. In the end, of course,
Oberon intervenes and all is set to rights, with the two couples
happily settled in the proper arrangements, Bottom's appearance
returned to normal, and a temporary peace set between the Fairy
rulers. The finale of the play is the performance (at Theseus'
wedding) of the play-within-a-play, in which both the onstage and
offstage audience are given the opportunity to laugh at the amateur
theatrics of Bottom and his band. Though the story is light and
frothy, the resonance of the issues in this play is powerful,
indeed. As it follows these characters- all enslaved to their own
visions of love, whether it be for another or for themselves, or for
power or just plain fun- the play unfolds example after example of
human foibles. From the fickle interchangeability of the lovers'
affections to the compulsive warring of the Fairy King and Queen, from
the unabashed ego of Bottom to the power-hungry doddering of Hermia's
father, each character and situation is a marvelous portrait of human
foolishness, as Puck gleefully watches and comments on it all.
However, there is such an understanding of and love for humanity laced
within that one never feels anything but affection for these
characters; for through them, Shakespeare has mirrored all our own
follies and foibles, and indeed, rather than mocking them, A Midsummer Night's Dream
is a clear celebration of them, and it is perhaps for this reason that
the play remains the Bard's most popular and well-known comedy.