By William Shakespeare
Directors: William Chadwick Lloy Coutts
Performances: November 25-28,1998
Venue: Theatre of the Arts, Modern Languages Building
A Midsummer Night's Dream announces its wonderful strangeness from the very start. As a dream, it invites a more generous suspension of disbelief. As a midsummer dream, it raises expectations of love and lunacy, communal festivities and the heightened activity of preternatural beings.
The Dream is also, of all Shakespeare's plays, the one most obviously about plays. Athens' artisans cast their piece, tackle its staging problems, begin to rehearse (until the mischievous Puck makes an ass of Bottom), and, in the end, perform it before the Duke on his wedding day - perform it so badly, so brilliantly, that they transform the tragedy of "Pyramus and Thisbe" into comedy.
Bottom, the irrepressible amateur cast as Pyramus, represents the bottom of the Athenian social order too. Indeed he redefines that bottom when bearing the head of an ass on the body of a man, and as such, epitomizes the topsy-turviness of the world of the play: when he is most bestial he is most loved by the most lofty of creatures, Titania, the fairy queen.
This odd couple enjoys one of the many discordant relationships in The Dream. Duke Theseus won Hippolyta, he says, by doing her injury, about which she might have mixed feelings still. Hermia's feelings are clear: threatened by strict patriarchal laws to marry Demetrius, she elopes with her beloved Lysander, who (given Puck's mistake) falls for Helena, who loves Demetrius, who (given Puck's correction) also falls for Helena, who blames Hermia, who attacks Helena, ... Strained relationships, however, like the disturbing potential of fairies and dreams, are the very stuff of Shakespearean comedy, the stuff to be transformed into "so musical a discord, such sweet thunder" as the baying of Theseus's hounds.