Sunday, November 20, 2016

A Midsummer Night's Dream, William Shakespeare, edited by Jane Bachman (1995)

A play that becomes a play within a play. Though ambitious, this really wasn't my cup of tea. That being said, I'd be remiss if I didn't point out that the characters are wonderful and that their lines are sometimes exquisite.

However, establishing an intriguing plot in Act I, scene 1 that gets hijacked in Scene 2 by a separate cast of characters, who in turn are manipulated by forces outside the play they're rehearsing (while giving rise to a reflection only such a structure can affect), complicates things unnecessarily. Especially when you consider introducing a geas into the story. A geas, an archaic trope popular in ancient fairy tales, essentially serves as a manipulating factor, rendering a given character bound to desires beyond his or her own personality or control, making him or her a marionette at the mercy of, say, a potion or a psychosis.

Today we're most likely to call this trope a cheat. In this play, the geas allows the audience to consider the nature of romantic love in ways it might not have thought of it before. After all, could it not be argued that the very nature of romantic love renders our wills irrelevant? To be sure, despite our best rationalizations, romantic love forces us, arguably, into situations under which we otherwise would never have submitted ourselves. In that sense, this trope, if interpreted metaphorically at least, has much to say about our irrational state when in love, or at least as it pertains to the young.

Consider Romeo and Juliet. Despite their feuding families, despite what reason and good sense would dictate, they fall for each other not because they share an interest in primitive medicine or Plato. In fact, they seem to have nothing whatsoever in common apart from their youth and their eloquent speech, the latter of which hardly makes them unique in a Shakespearean play. Yet their romantic love fates them to live out a tragedy. For this reason, I can't deny that A Midsummer Night's Dream serves an artistic function. I just wished this had been achieved without resorting to such a convoluted play. Still recommended. Three out of five stars. Rated G

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