English Question

Notes #8 – A Midsummer Night’s Dream

Welcome to your last Notes assignment! J Due by 5 pm, April 8th

The adaptation of A Midsummer Night’s Dream that we will focus on is the 2016 film directed by David Kerr. It is available on Amazon Prime with a free 7-day trial to Broadway HD.

https://www.amazon.com/Midsummer-Nights-Dream-Maxine-Peake/dp/B07BXNKNHK/

A close study of Shakespeare’s plays reminds us that it is wrong and inaccurate to try to claim that women didn’t have power in Shakespeare’s time. In fact, Renaissance England was more accustomed to women rulers than male ones: Queen Mary Tudor, Mary Queen of Scots, Queen Elizabeth I, Queen Henrietta Maria, Marie de Medici Queen of France, and so on.

Written c. 1595, A Midsummer Night’s Dream illustrates the frustration that some men (perhaps Shakespeare himself?) felt about being ruled over by Queen Elizabeth I. During her long, prosperous, and successful reign, Elizabeth I was known in epic literature as “The Fairy Queen” and was often depicted, and depicted herself, as a virgin warrior, an Amazonian goddess. Elizabeth never married, turning down several proposals and political matches and instead preferring to rule the country by herself, as the sole monarch of England. In A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Shakespeare has two characters who reflect these attributes of Queen Elizabeth I. Those characters are Hippolyta the Queen of the Amazons and Titania the Queen of the Fairies. Rather than show Hippolyta at the height of her strength, Shakespeare sets his story after the Amazons have been defeated by Theseus, Duke of Athens. At the beginning of the play, Theseus is planning his wedding to Hippolyta, but make no mistake—Hippolyta is Theseus’s prisoner of war. The second representation of Queen Elizabeth I in this play is the Fairy Queen Titania, and she too is involved in a power struggle with her husband, Fairy King Oberon, throughout the play. In Shakespeare’s play, Titania ends up reconciling with her husband and he takes over command of the nuptial blessing at the end of the play.

Forcing queens to submit to the rule of their husbands—this was a fantasy on Shakespeare’s part. In real life, women had much more power and had no interest in relinquishing it. Queen Elizabeth I went on to reign as sole monarch and supreme head of church and state until her death. If the Queen knew about Shakespeare’s play, she never commented on it. Shakespeare had zero power in comparison to her and was simply not of significance to her; she had a country – several countries, ultimately – to run.

Part 1.) Written Notes

Take your primary focus that emerged from your Much Ado and/or Othello film notes and apply the same focus to the MSND film. In addition to that, choose a second focus and apply that focus to the MSND film as well. As a reminder, the literary approaches are: Postcolonial, Cultural History, Psychological, Class, Gender, Queer, Performance, or Class Studies.

Some suggestions if you’re finding it difficult to choose a second literary approach:

This production takes many fascinating liberties with the text, especially with the sexualities of the characters, that will work well with a Queer Studies approach to literary analysis. For instance, this version reassigns lines to different characters so that the fairy queen Titania is the ally/love of Amazon queen Hippolyta whereas in Shakespeare’s play King Oberon is in love with Hippolyta and Queen Titania is jealous. Also, in Shakespeare’s play Puck puts a potion on Demetrius’s eyes and he falls in love with Helena instead of Hermia. In this production, the potion works to make Demetrius fall in love with Lysander—the other guy—first before Demetrius falls in love with Helena. The ending of the Theseus and Hippolyta plotline is also very different in this film. If you read any of the reviews, you’ll see a single-star comment from a high school English teacher who is enraged by, as they put it, “the homosexuality infused into the story.” But this criticism is misplaced, especially given that in Renaissance England, plays were performed by all-male acting companies. Homoeroticism is not “infused” into Shakespeare’s storylines – it was, historically, a foundational component of his plays – so it should come as no surprise that Shakespeare’s plays lends themselves to fluidity as far as sexuality and gender.

If you take a Psychological approach, keep in mind that the title of the play itself suggests that much of the play is a dream, is part of the psyche. Think about the play as someone’s dream, with no superego to keep their subconscious thoughts in check. In both Much Ado and MSND, characters experience thoughts and feelings of jealousy, desire, fear, being lovestruck, wanting revenge, and engaging in battles of wit.

Here is another play in which an approach focusing on cultural historical studies will see a preoccupation with the institutions of marriage and the military. Directors rarely bring this out, but in MSND Hippolyta is Theseus’s prisoner of war. There’s a connection to the Don John and Don Pedro situation right there. Another similarity is that in MSND, as in Much Ado, characters experience anxiety about getting married, especially because of their fears of being cheated on.

For those who took a gender approach to Much Ado, it’s relevant to point you toward the characters of Hippolyta and Titania in particular. Hippolyta is the Queen of the Amazons, and as such she is a separatist. She might have anticipated the possibility of losing a military battle against a man but she certainly was never hoping or expecting to get married to one. But at the beginning of MSND, Theseus, the Duke of Athens, has defeated Hippolyta in battle and he has subsequently engaged her to marry him. Most scholars and many directors see Theseus and Hippolyta’s power struggle as being subconscious and kept silent in their plotline because it is being dramatized in the battle between Queen Titania and King Oberon in the forest. In fact, a lot of productions cast the same actors to play Theseus/Oberon and Hippolyta/Titania. Certainly Hermia’s defiance of her father’s mandate of an arranged marriage lends itself to gender analysis as well.

As you watch A Midsummer Night’s Dream, carefully make note of moments and details in each scene that relate to your primary focus and your secondary focus. Be sure to watch all of the film and note details about each scene throughout the film, using the chart that begins on this page. These should be YOUR observations. Do not consult secondary sources.

Part 2.) Reading Assignment

The film we are watching is making several bold choices. In order to be able to discuss them, I would like you to READ the following scenes from A Midsummer Night’s Dream so you have an accurate point of comparison. I have put the text on Canvas under “Files” and will also attach it in a “reply” box under the assignment sheet on the “Discussion” tab.

Act 1, scene 1 (pages 153-156 in the PDF of the text)

Act 2, scene 1, lines 60-186 (pages 158-159 in the PDF of the text)

Act 3, scene 2, lines 114-161 (pages 166-167 in the PDF of the text)

Act 5, scene 1, lines 1-433 (pages 174-179 in the PDF of the text)

There is EXTRA EXTRA CREDIT at the end of this assignment sheet.

Time marker / Scene

Primary Literary Approach

Second Literary Approach

Extra Extra Credit

The usual 5-point extra credit is available for turning in Notes 8 before noon on April 8th. Additional extra credit is available (up to 10 points) for typing up your notes on the differences between the four passages in Shakespeare’s written play A Midsummer Night’s Dream and the 2016 film adaptation. These should be YOUR observations. Do not consult secondary sources.

Passage

Shakespeare’s text of the play

The 2016 film adaptation

Act 1, scene 1 (1.1)

2.1.60-186

3.2.114-161

5.1.1-433


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