Tuesday, June 21, 2011

A Midsummer Night's Dream...

What is really happening in this play? Yes, it's a big, bawdy comedy set in Athens complete with love quadrangle wherein the young lovers are entangled by fairy mischief, a wedding, and The Fairy King and Queen are fighting over a changeling: each claims him for their own. But what are the real consequences of this rift? It's in Titania's first speech. My notes are in italics.

...And never, since the middle summer's spring,
Met we on hill, in dale, forest or mead,
By paved fountain or by rushy brook,
Or in the beached margent of the sea,
To dance our ringlets to the whistling wind,

Ringlets! Circles! She just said they haven't done their usual ritual... Great Rite much?

But with thy brawls thou hast disturb'd our sport.

It's Oberon's fault for trying to take her changeling!

Therefore the winds, piping to us in vain,
As in revenge, have suck'd up from the sea
Contagious fogs; which falling in the land
Have every pelting river made so proud
That they have overborne their continents:

The wind hasn't gotten its tribute and therefore the weather is fucked! Floods!

The ox hath therefore stretch'd his yoke in vain,
The ploughman lost his sweat, and the green corn
Hath rotted ere his youth attain'd a beard;
The fold stands empty in the drowned field,
And crows are fatted with the murrion flock;
The nine men's morris  is fill'd up with mud,
And the quaint mazes in the wanton green
For lack of tread are undistinguishable:

Nine Men's morris is a boardgame from ancient Italia. She's saying that it's not being played, like baseball was almost suspened during WWII. More importantly: No crops! The animals are dying off too. 

The human mortals want their winter here;
Their circle will turn the wheel of the year and usher in the harvest season. At this point, it's eternal summer and fucking up everything!

No night is now with hymn or carol blest:
Therefore the moon, the governess of floods,
Pale in her anger, washes all the air,
That rheumatic diseases do abound:
The people are too confused and upset to pay homage to their Gods and The Moon is ticked off!

And thorough this distemperature we see
The seasons alter: hoary-headed frosts
Far in the fresh lap of the crimson rose,

Another reference to their lack of ceremony screwing up the weather

And on old Hiems' thin and icy crown
An odorous chaplet of sweet summer buds
Is, as in mockery, set: the spring, the summer,
The childing autumn, angry winter, change
Their wonted liveries, and the mazed world,
By their increase, now knows not which is which:
Heims is Old Man Winter/Winter personified. It's like the Holly King wearing the Oak King's crown. Chaos, I tell you!.

And this same progeny of evils comes
From our debate, from our dissension;
We are their parents and original.
Again, the screwy weather, the lack of offerings to Deity, the crops failing and herds dying is their fault because they have not not turned the wheel!

We have a follow up reference after they argue about the changeling:

... If you will patiently dance in our round
And see our moonlight revels, go with us;
If not, shun me, and I will spare your haunts.

He declines and vows revenge. Fast forward past the angst filled lovers, mistaken identity, silly actors, and a wedding and now we've come to the end of the play. Happily, they finally get to their revels. Oops, spoiler :P I don't have to annotate this, just a summary: The fairies turn the wheel and bless all of the couples who were married that night and their future children:

Through the house give gathering light,
By the dead and drowsy fire:
Every elf and fairy sprite
Hop as light as bird from brier;
And this ditty, after me,
Sing, and dance it trippingly.

First, rehearse your song by rote
To each word a warbling note:
Hand in hand, with fairy grace,
Will we sing, and bless this place

(Song and dance) <--- This would be their wheel-turning ceremony which sets the season to rights.

Now, until the break of day, Through this house each fairy stray.
To the best bride-bed will we, Which by us shall blessed be;
And the issue there create Ever shall be fortunate.
So shall all the couples three Ever true in loving be;
And the blots of Nature's hand Shall not in their issue stand;
Never mole, hare lip, nor scar, Nor mark prodigious, such as are
Despised in nativity, Shall upon their children be.
With this field-dew consecrate, Every fairy take his gait;
And each several chamber bless, Through this palace, with sweet peace;
And the owner of it blest Ever shall in safety rest.
Trip away; make no stay; Meet me all by break of day.

One of my favorite quotes comes right before this scene, spoken by Puck Himself:

Now it is the time of night
That the graves all gaping wide,
Every one lets forth his sprite,
In the church-way paths to glide:
And we fairies, that do run
By the triple Hecate's team,
From the presence of the sun,
Following darkness like a dream,
Now are frolic: not a mouse
Shall disturb this hallow'd house

Ten years ago I directed a production of Midsummer and was fortunate enough to work with the best Puck ever, Shay Ansari. He crossed over several years ago, taken much too soon. I know he will be out this night with the Faery Band. Blessings on you, Shay. May you dwell on the bank where the wild thyme blows...

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