Thursday, October 31, 2013

Malory’s Le Morte Darthur: Merlin’s Providence

Just a little Merlin (close reading) for some Hallowe'en reading...

The first noticeable difference in Sir Thomas Malory’s version of the Arthurian legends from the previous existing accounts is the pervasive influence of Merlin. Although Merlin has been given a prominent place in the modern notions of the Arthurian tradition, Malory’s is the first text to truly establish Merlin as a crucial player in the accession of Arthur to the throne as well as a character. Because Merlin only seems necessary in a few points in earlier texts, he is given little description or attention. In fact, Geoffrey of Monmouth seems to have spent the most time on Merlin’s character, and then only in a small anecdote of Merlin as a child and the discovery of him and his prophecies. However, the prophecies are set apart from the rest of the account and only a few seem to be truly integrated. Malory, on the other hand, creates a much more prominent as well as integrated Merlin, undetachable from the rest of the plot. Malory’s Merlin becomes, in Le Morte Darthur, the motion of God’s Providence.

It seems unclear, in the beginning, why Arthur must not be brought up by his father, Uther, but instead by the lower Sir Ector aside from the fact that Merlin orders it so. Malory does not seem to elaborate on this much; however, it is clear that in this way, Arthur is brought up in such a way that he does not know his royal heritage. Therefore, Arthur has the opportunity to fill his later inherited role as a good and righteous king, sympathetic to the common people and naturally kind to his former equals. This is shown first when Sir Ector witnesses Arthur pull the sword from the stone and recognizes Arthur as his superior, and not his son. Arthur, of course, swears to be his foster family’s “good and gracious lord,” and to have his “foster broder Syre Kay” as “senceall of alle [his] landes” (9-10). It seems that the peasants also desire one of their closer peers to take the throne (especially after they see the sign of “Goddes wille”): “[A]lle the comyns cryed at ones, ‘We wille have Arthur unto our kyng” (11). In this way, Merlin has created a good and desirable king (even though some see his youth negatively) by influencing Arthur’s upbringing. 

Of course, it is also Merlin who devises the sign for everyone to see that it is Arthur who should be king. It is Merlin who advises the Archbishop of Canterbury to make sure all lords and “gentilmen of armes” go to London to see “somme myracle who shold be rightwys kynge of this reame” (7). Because this was all “counceilled” and “devysed” by Merlin, it also seems clear that Merlin is responsible for the “miracle” supposedly from “Jesu” (7). However, rather than completely undermining God’s Providence, Merlin seems to almost be enacting it, instead. Merlin does recognize God’s will as is seen before Uther’s death, but puts himself alongside the workings of God stating, “God and I shalle make hym to speke” (7). This is seen also when Merlin acts through the Archbishop of Canterbury, a representative of God. Malory even describes this as the Archbishop acting according to “Merlyns provydence” (italics mine 11). Yet, Merlin’s providence still seems to be under God’s Providence

Merlin’s many prophecies, though made by Merlin, are still foreseeing what will happen. Even though Merlin aids in the creation of certain ends, his prophecies (and especially the ones that are seen fulfilled) prove that there is a predestined future, inevitable in one way or another. For example, Merlin foretells both his and Arthur’s deaths, saying it is “Goddis wylle” that Arthur “be punysshed for [his] fowle dedis,” but yet he will have a “worshipfull dethe” while Merlin will only have a “shamefull dethe, to be putte in the erthe quycke” (31). Even so, knowing his fate, Merlin cannot change it as it is later fulfilled through his hopeless love for Nenyve, a damsel of the Lady of the Lake. Even though she only uses Merlin for the “wondyrs” he can teach her, he continues to follow her anyway, until “by hir subtyle worchyng she made Merlyon to go undir that stone to latte hir wete of the mervayles there; but she wrought so there for hym that he come never oute for all the craufte he coude do” (79). Merlin may help along and help devise some of the pieces along God’s Providence, but the end is still out of his control.

However, Merlin’s end is not the end of his devices. Merlin plants certain things for the future to let them play out as they will. One such “device” is set up after the burial of Balyn and Balan when Merlin puts Balyn’s sword
into a marbil stone stondynge upright, as a grete mylstone, and hoved always above the water, and dud many yeres. (And so by adventure hit swamme downe by the streme unto the cité of Camelot . . . And that same day Galahad the haute prynce com with Kynge Arthure; and so Galaad brought with hym the scaberde and encheved the swerde that was in the marble stone hovynge upon the water. . .) (61)
Merlin also leaves the scabbard “on thys side the ilonde, that Galaad shole fynde hit” (61). In this way, Merlin both prophecies what will happen and helps to make it happen without his being there to guide events in that future. Even though here Merlin is devising God’s Providence, God is left to oversee that these events happen. 

Perhaps the reason for including Merlin so much more thoroughly is Malory’s way of playing off of what had become a much more popular figure in the Arthurian legend and creating a more solidly memorable character. Perhaps Malory meant to attempt a more concrete explanation for the random and ungrounded supernatural events that must happen in his encyclopedia according to the previous romances, accounts, or compilations. Whatever the case, Malory does seem to be mixing the traditional explanation that sufficed at one time—simply that of “God’s Providence”—with a more realistic means for the events within Malory’s reinvented Arthurian world.
Works Cited
Malory, Sir Thomas. Le Morte Darthur. Ed. Stephen H. A. Shepherd. New York: Norton, 2004. Print.

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Otherworld Intervention: The Role of the Supernatural in Geoffrey and Chrétien

A little Arthurian magic before Halowe'en...   

One of the always-present tensions in Arthurian legends is the conflicting duties of the chivalric code, serving both secular and religious ends. Chrétien de Troyes’s romance of the grail quest is a prime example, but even Geoffrey of Monmouth’s history of Britain displays some of his conflicting intentions. However, in the middle of this tension occurs the weird and mystical. The ideas of magic and supernatural have a very ambiguous role in the medieval Arthurian tradition where the lines between reality and the otherworld are constantly blurred and confused. Are these bizarre elements merely included for the excitement or intrigue they might provide, or do they serve a larger purpose? Examining the effects the supernatural has on the characters or events in the romantic history of Britain and the tale of Perceval while taking into account possible medieval reception and author motivations shows how the supernatural fits within the conflict between the sacred and secular. The role of the supernatural aspects in Geoffrey’s The History of the Kings of Britain and Chrétien’s The Story of the Grail (Perceval) serves to affirm a divine destiny and purpose.

 The range of medieval ideas of magic extends from the extremes of the evil power of demons to divine miracle with a kind of milder, ambiguous variety in between—perhaps not truly good or evil. Geoffrey of Monmouth appears to be exhibiting the middle realm in his History—or at least trying to make the possible extremes seem safer or more realistic. The finding of Merlin, a boy born without a father, whose blood King Vortigern requires to solidify the foundations of his tower fortress is the start of the more major elements of the supernatural in the history. Geoffrey, however, does not state it as fact that Merlin was conceived from an incubus but steps around making the assertion through using the words of the sage Maugantius (129). Since Geoffrey provides no alternative, the idea is taken for fact and serves as explanation for Merlin’s ability to make the subsequent prophecies. The prophecies themselves are then an instance of the supernatural entering the worldly sphere of reality, seemingly outside of any religion. 

 However, including this unearthly wise figure and his prophecies does not necessarily condemn Geoffrey’s credibility with his audience or church. Julia Crick argues that the inclusion of the prophecies actually helped give his History its credibility. Whether or not they truly believed in the prophecies, rulers and politicians would both use and reject various prophecies if it helped their cases (Crick 365). In the church, other, non-Christian prophets were already accepted, which let it see Merlin “as the mouthpiece for divine revelation” (362). Furthermore, when studied in conjunction with his History, readers were able to identify some of the prophecies already fulfilled in the historical events (363). In this sense, Merlin’s supernatural role is moved into the divine realm. Nikolai Tolstoy supports the ready acceptance of prophecy in the Middle Ages by noting that “prophecy played a central function in understanding the world and determining courses of action . . . . after all, several books of the Bible testified to its authority” (8). Again, the prophecies do not then conflict with a religious world view, but support divine destiny. This shows Geoffrey’s habit of keeping the history theologically Christian, but giving into his desire to include the marvelous. 

Other instances of the supernatural in Geoffrey’s History continue to show his pattern of reconciling magic with realism and Christianity. Early in the History, when an Irish Sea creature abruptly appears and gobbles up the cruel King Morvidus just after he has his prisoners brutally killed, it is difficult not to interpret as a divine providence that decided to intervene (Monmouth 80). Taken from folklore or contrived by Geoffrey, the point he is making about evil kings is clear. Geoffrey also inserts Arthur’s shield, Pridwen, which bears a depiction of the Virgin Mary, “keeping him always mindful of her” along with “the greatest of swords,” Caliburn, “which had been made in the isle of Avalon” (166-167). With these superior weapons (Pridwen literally depicts spiritual matters and Caliburn comes from the mystical Avalon), Arthur defeats a staggering 470 Saxons each “with a single blow” (167). Arthur’s incredible victory eventually allows him to have mercy on the “holy men” and grant the bishops some land (169). These details keep Christianity at the center of Arthur’s success thus far in the history, which is reminiscent of biblical battles in which God is on the side of the believers, causing their success.  

 The more complicated instance of the supernatural is the concoction Merlin creates for Uther to take on the appearance of Gorlois so Uther can sleep with his wife Igerna without anyone knowing. Although it sounds like a fantastical, and rather demonic, potion, Geoffrey smoothes over the issue of black magic by attributing the “concoction” to advanced science, or “new arts that are unheard of in this day and age,” putting it into that more middle area of good and bad magic (158). This allows the king to commit adultery to satisfy a worldly desire. This is far from religiously acceptable; however, Geoffrey makes it seem not so sinful by meanwhile killing Gorlois in battle. Unlike what seems to be a mirroring of the biblical account of the sinful David and Bathsheba, Igerna is ignorant of what would be her sin (if Gorlois were still alive), and she becomes pregnant with Uther’s son, Arthur. So, rather than a detrimental act, Merlin’s concoction actually allows the existence of the famed king, fulfilling Merlin’s prophecy, and potentially occurs as an act of divine destiny. 

Chrétien, writing for the crusader, Count Philip of Flanders, clearly has a spiritual kind of chivalry in mind, as is seen from the dedication, for the romance, The Story of the Grail (Perceval). Throughout the story, there is a strong sense of destiny and a divine purpose—especially seen in the mystical and supernatural aspects—even though destiny may not be fulfilled through to the end.[1] There are at least six prophecies made about Perceval’s destiny. Perceval’s mother admits that he is “destined for knighthood,” and Perceval fulfills this destiny, although it seems he perhaps takes on knighthood rather than actually being knighted (386). Dennis D. Martin, in his analysis of Perceval based on the theological implications of the words give and take, suggests that Perceval’s failure arises from his inability to have “the discretion and discernment needed to know when to give and when to take” (179). Martin defines chivalry as having this discretion because “chivalry was all about giving and taking” (179). Perceval decides not to make the sign of the cross to invoke God’s help when he senses danger, deciding to use his own strength, he takes the maiden’s kisses and ring, and he forcefully takes the red armor. Even though the prophecies say Perceval will succeed in certain things—that he is already destined for them—Perceval tries to make his own destiny not trusting, or perhaps knowing, God.  To put first the spiritual chivalry over the secular, Perceval needs to trust in and remember God with a humble mind for true success and fulfillment of destiny.[2]

Aside from the prophecies, there are several other supernatural events in Perceval pointing to a divine plan. Oaths, in particular, seem to have a magical bind. Perceval also has no need to lock up his prisoners, as they have sworn “not to attempt to escape or ever seek to do them harm” (412). Each knight Perceval defeats and sends back to King Arthur as prisoner obediently goes and follows all of Perceval’s instructions exactly and perfectly. In this way, Perceval’s destiny to be the “supreme lord among all knights” by gaining his reputation so no one would “ever acknowledge” a knight better than he begins to form (Chrétien 394). It also carries his self-made promises (or perhaps prophecies) to Arthur’s court. Yet, this prophecy fulfilled seems to elevate the chivalric code of knights above the spiritual.

At the mysterious and mystical Grail Castle (which itself seems to appear out of nowhere), Perceval makes it clear which “higher” purpose he is aiming to follow. Ann McCullough makes a strong argument for the influence of the Jewish Passover celebration in the grail procession, meant to induce the youngest (Perceval, in this case) to ask about the reasons for the differences in that particular meal. This questioning would then have “liberated,” as in the Jewish tradition, the Fisher King and his lands (52). McCullough’s reason for the sin of the failure to ask is that Perceval, actually trying not to sin, “unknowingly breaks the religious law of the castle precisely because he is upholding another law: the law of chivalry” (54). The difference is that “[r]eligious law requires that one question—that is, that one should want to know; chivalric law requires that one remain mute and not exhibit the desire to know” (54). Perceval has followed the more secular advice of Gornemant. At this point, Perceval has become too earthly or secular minded to understand his role in the spiritual realm and greater divine plan, even though everything about the Grail Castle, the Fisher King, and the procession of the glowing grail and bleeding lance are all pointing him in the other direction. 

The natures of these puzzling relics also have significant effects on Perceval’s destiny. McCullough interprets Perceval’s inability to ask about the relics as caused by his aversion to pain and suffering as well as his “blindness” to them—and the grail and lance “point to a pain and suffering that must be acknowledged” (54). She believes this is why Perceval naïvely goes off to discover their secrets through knightly glory and chivalry, denying the possibilities of emasculation (54). The grail is some kind of serving vessel, symbolizing the mutual, humble service between Christians and Christ. That the pure “white lance” bleeding “a red drop” symbolically refers to Christ’s suffering and crucifixion for the redemption from sin requires a humble, servile mindset and potential suffering on the Christian’s part is foreign to Perceval (Chrétien 420). In this way, Perceval seems fated to fail. However, some critics trace this deficiency back to Perceval’s mother—whose fatal grief is, ironically, the apparent reason Perceval did not ask about the grail procession in the first place and sinned. Ewa Slojka blames Perceval’s mother’s loss of faith through her many sufferings as the cause of Perceval’s disconnect from the spiritual due to his “upbringing” from her (66). This dissolves Perceval’s bond with God—the supernatural—and God intervenes by having Perceval cross paths with Good Friday observers who direct him back to the “right” path, both literally to the holy hermit, and figuratively to repentance—inadvertently, to suffering on account of his sins (Chrétien 458).[3]
Even when the supernatural occurs because of secular reasons in both The History of the Kings of Britain and The Story of the Grail (Perceval), it ultimately leads to the greater Christian purpose. Where Geoffrey slyly inserts instances of the marvelous for reasons of both romantic intrigue and evidence of a divine destiny in the making, Chrétien boldly places mystical occurrences at the heart of his romance to point to the path of the superior spiritual providence over earthly glory. In The Story of the Grail, even secular preoccupations are turned by a higher intervention to the sacred in the end—whether or not readers will ever know the ending Chrétien had in mind! Geoffrey works to prove God’s divine will and active role within Britain, justifying its existence on a political level. The predestination emphasized by the supernatural in these works culminates in Perceval’s return to God, and likewise in the extra line of hope Geoffrey felt the need to add after Britain’s fallen fortune: “[Arthur] was carried away to healed of his wounds on the isle of Avalon” (199). Therefore, Arthur’s Christian purpose in Britain has hope to live on.


[1] Even if Chrétien meant to redeem Perceval after he fails to question the Fisher King (as seems to be the direction when Chrétien leaves off), Perceval still does not succeed initially in his spiritual fulfillment.
[2] Martin states, “What was once the marvelous acknowledgement of true human dignity—our reception of our very selves from God in grateful dependence—has become dehumanizing to many” (185-186). He continues to say that, therefore, love has become replaced instead with power. This is seen in Perceval’s more forceful, self-fulfilling moments.
[3] This all still supports the idea that The Story of the Grail “is one of spiritual growth” from M. Amelia Klenke’s 1956 article.
Works Cited
Chrétien de Troyes. “The Story of the Grail (Perceval).” Arthurian Romances. London: Penguin, 2004. 381-494. Print.
Crick, Julia. “Geoffrey of Monmouth: Prophecy and History.” Journal of Medieval History 18.4 (1992): 357-71. Print.
Geoffrey of Monmouth. The History of the Kings of Britain. Trans. and ed. Michael A. Faletra. Peterborough: Broadview, 2008. Print.
Klenke, M. Ameila. “The Spiritual Ascent of Perceval.” Studies in Philology 53.1 (1956): 1-21. JSTOR. Web. 6 Feb. 2011.
Martin, Dennis D. “Give and Take in Grail-Quest, Gawain, and Roman Missal: Why Perceval Just Doesn’t Get It.” Logos 4.4 (2001): 169-203. Project Muse. Web. 13 Feb. 2011.
McCullough, Ann. “Criminal Naivety: Blind Resistance and the Pain of Knowing in Chrétien de Troyes’s ‘Conte du Graal.’” The Modern Language Review 101.1 (2006): 48-61. JSTOR. Web. 13 Feb. 2011.
Slojka, Ewa. “Escape from Paradox: Perceval’s Upbringing in the Conte du Graal.” Arthuriana 18.4 (2008): 66-86. Project Muse. Web. 13 Feb. 2011.
Tolstoy, Nikolai. “Geoffrey of Monmouth and the Merlin Legend.” Arthurian Literature 25.1 (2008): 1-42. Print.  

Sunday, October 27, 2013

Tiny Gardening for Red-Eyed Crocodile Skinks

It all started when my husband and I decided we would adopt these two vicious little dragons:
Smaug and Nessie, a male and female red-eyed crocodile skink pair (Triblonotus gracilis). I wasn't as keen on the idea of keeping those of the reptilian sort in my home, but my husband persuaded me by giving me free reign to build the terrarium I've always wanted for them to live in. After many trips to the pet store and florist shops, I came up with this set up:

The terrarium is a 36" x 18" x 16" Tetrafauna brand reptile habitat with top opening screens and front-opening glass sliding doors. Due to excessive air flow, we partially covered the screen tops with plexiglass panels to keep in moisture and increase humidity levels. For heating and lighting, we chose a 36" Exo Terra hood lamp that has places for four bulbs and two light switches. We put low wattage UVB lights on either end (they go with one switch) and two low wattage heat lamps in the center (on the other light switch), so we can easily turn them off and on for day or night. We added an additional heat pad on the back side of the tank (the substrate layers are too thick to make it effective on the bottom of the terrarium, where it is usually placed) on the left end to help create more of a temperature gradient for our tropical inhabitants.

The terrarium also has a drainage hole at the bottom right (the side on which we keep the water sources), which we've been allowing to drain continuously. A layer of water always stays in the drainage layer, so only excess water seems to drain out. We used large aquarium pebbles over the bottom for the drainage layer, then added a double layer of outdoor bedding liner to separate the drainage layer from the substrate. We mixed substrates to include bark and added a few pebbles, too (croc skinks are, indeed, burrowers). Lastly, we added a thin layer of sphagnum moss over most of the substrate to vary the "terrain" and finish off the look. The moss also keeps up the moisture levels, as it holds a lot of water.

As tropical lizards, the "tribbies" provided me with the chance to keep plants normally reluctant to thrive even indoors in the dry winter conditions of Minnesota. I grabbed a variety of terrarium-friendly tropical plants, as tribbies don't seem to disturb them much or attempt to eat them, being insectivorous. After a good initial soak, most of the plants have so far done well with a regular misting. Tribbies also need a lot of hiding places, the shy creatures that they are, so I chose a mix of foliage that would also give them some "cover" when they move about the vivarium.

For the decor and tribbie playground items, we chose to theme the vivarium on the medieval/fairytale castle tropes after the tribbies' dragon-like looks. For an extra hide, we chose a gray rock-shaped hide (the most different from the more common tans of desert terrarium pieces) that we can move about the vivarium, a half-log turtle hut to give the lizards some cover in the soaking dish and provide another climbing opportunity, and some larger rocks to place randomly. I purchased a large aquarium castle to be the centerpiece. To make it look a natural part of the vivarium, the castle was set directly on the bedding liner before filling it in with substrate. This worked well as the substrate filled in around the various rock formations and protrusions that make up the castle's base. After filling the inside with substrate and moss as well, it has become a favorite hide for Nessie. The castle itself also provides a lot of nooks and crannies, in the base and up inside the turrets where she likes to climb.

I also employed cork rounds as planters to create different levels and more climbing and hiding opportunities for the lizards. Evidence in my front-most cork round suggests a tribbie tried to burrow into it from the top, but must have decided it was an inadequately hidden nest and has since left it alone. Thankfully, most of my plant in that round survived. I also used a flat log piece of cork bark (after first making the mistake of getting a grapewood log--they mold immediately in a damp environment) across the back left corner to bank up the substrate behind and create another planting level (on top of which is my other cork round planter).

This has since become the perfect burrowing location for Smaug (as shown on left), who has since renovated and made the gap between the cork bark log and back of the tank his new doorway. (Can you find him?)

You can also see the sheet of coconut fiber (meant for a hermit crab cage, I believe) I hung across the back of the terrarium to create a more natural-looking background--and functional! The tribbies do like to climb, and they can easily navigate the course fibers with their sharp little claws. To give it a more finished look, I cut slits into the fiber sheet in order to attach sphagnum moss at various intervals. Most of the moss has since been torn down by curious climbing lizards, but the coconut fiber itself still provides a nice background visually, almost looking like a cliff face with the castle for perspective.

In the pictures, the inescapable mealworm dish is also visible. We chose this method to keep track of the food better than if we left the lizards hunt for it. This way, we can just refill it every time it is empty and let them eat when they want to. So far, they have been emptying it every couple of days, which seems to be normal.

Lastly, we added two water sources. One is for soaking, the other for drinking and providing humidity. We decided to go with a large reptile soaking dish so that it would have enough surface area. However, it is slightly deeper than it needs to be, so we layered the bottom with pebbles (larger rocks around the outsides) to prevent the lizard from drowning and to help them climb out again. The water needs to be changed and the dish cleaned every few days. For appearances, and for ease of access for the lizards, we sunk the dish in the substrate so that it sits on the bedding liner. In order to disturb the plants and substrate near the dish as little as possible every time we need to remove it for cleaning, we created a sheath for the dish with thick plastic sheeting and duct tape. This holds the substrate back when we take the dish out and helps to hold everything in place.

We purchased the medium-sized Exo Terra waterfall, which has a space for the optional fogger. The waterfall construction and pump keeps the water clean for the tribbies to drink. We use Aquasafe and Biotize in the water (in both locations) especially to keep a slimy layer from forming on the waterfall. The fogger does help with keeping moisture levels up on a regular basis in the vivarium, since we are not able to spray it down frequently enough; however, I still find that a regular misting seems necessary for the plants and humidity--especially on the opposite side of the terrarium. The fogger is fickle at best, often requires replacement parts, but has so far been the best option for our vivarium setup since we have the waterfall it goes with. The waterfall pump is pretty stable, but occasionally needs to be cleaned out if dirt or substrate goes into the basin and clogs it. So far it has always worked after cleaning. The tribbies appear to like it. We've seen them climbing on the waterfall and once even found them up inside of it! We have since remedied that problem with a little plumbers putty to keep the various pieces of the waterfall sitting securely in place.
Smaug peeking out of his newly renovated
home dug out behind the log.

After arranging everything, I found there was still room for a few more plants, had I wanted them, but decided to save the remaining open spaces for the enjoyment of the little dragons--not that they're bold enough to use them much, but after more time, perhaps they will get more comfortable with us!
As it turns out, I have become quite attached to our little dragons and have striven to make the vivarium as comfortable as possible for them.

Saturday, October 26, 2013

A Midsummer Night's Dream: A Theatrical Interpretation

Although this post comes too late for the reading of A Midsummer Night's Dream in the monthly Shakespeare readings I host, I thought I'd still share this theatrical design I once created years ago for the play:

A Midsummer Night’s Dream: Analysis and Justification

William Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream has been a favorite classic to produce for years. It has a very fairytale-like quality that enchants its audience and performers alike. Traditionally, the play is rather aesthetic and, in a way, almost pastoral in nature. These kinds of pieces tug at the imagination and draw viewers in. They evoke whimsical emotions and something not quite so different from nostalgia. This play has given many directors room to play and manipulate the concept within the script’s bounds. Countless interpretations have been given—from the extremely bizarre to Shakespeare’s traditional. For my concept of William Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream, the whole play is to be in Puck’s imagination as a work of art.

 Theatre in itself is art, and A Midsummer Night’s Dream is one of the most artistic plays. Visually, it is very involved and generally pleasing to look at. Sets for this play are often intricate and extensive. The visual aspects for A Midsummer Night’s Dream are the first to grab my attention. Second is the music that can hold powerful influence over the undertones of the performance. Then the masterful poetry of the work alone is artistic and is particularly appealing to me because of its categorization in the fantasy genre. It is, overall, a playful romance with humorous mischief and satire, which makes it incredibly endearing. 

Puck’s line in act III scene ii, “Lord, what fools these mortals be!” essentially defines Shakespeare’s main reason for writing A Midsummer Night’s Dream. The play confronts the difficulties of love and dreams that humans face, how they treat it (specifically their unreasonableness), and their stubbornness with which they determine reality from fantasy. Shakespeare uses it to bring up a question of the actual nature of art and fantasy—or of the imagination in general. He is able to do this by using very bold contrasts and the fickle (if rather realistic) run of human emotions and actions. 

A Midsummer Night’s Dream takes place in Athens and a nearby wood during an interesting combination of characteristics from the English Renaissance and Ancient Greece. Shakespeare did something very remarkable with the characters. He seemed to bring together a mixture from previous literature such as Greek mythology and English folktales all to interact in one unique plot. Simply, the play tells the story of the following characters and their issues of love: Theseus and Hippolyta of Athens and the Amazons; Oberon and Titania of the Fairies; and the four Athenians, Lysander, Hermia, Demetrius, and Helena. It deals with a forbidden love, (and that moves the setting to the forest), Fairies disputes, the wedding preparations for the Duke of Athens and the Queen of the Amazons, and how one sprite can make a royal mess of it all. Fascinatingly, this particular play is successful without the usually necessary plot pyramid. Neither does there really seem to be a true protagonist or antagonist. It just does not seem to need any to maintain interest and attention. That, in many ways, is a major feat of this play and makes it easier to see it as an artwork—or painting.

The idea that is going to impel every other facet of my production brings in the question of the nature of art. It makes A Midsummer Night’s Dream more than merely a “dream.” By handing Puck a paintbrush, all manipulation lies with him. It is still a dream, but, more definitively, Puck’s dream and creation. I imagine it as his fantasy about these fool mortals and a parody on his own kind. In this way, the uncertainty of fantasy (or dream) and reality remains intact—as it is crucial to Shakespeare’s initial underlying incentive. I still want the audience to be subtly given that question to be able to think on even after the performance is over. Yet, I still find the traditional motivations and ideas of the play of great importance so I was inclined to find a way in which the play would not lose any of its original splendor. The story stays the same; it is now just changed to have a defined perspective in order to bring out more clearly the theme of art I wish to emphasize. I envision the set to be in the style of a Romantic period oil painting, but keeping a sort of muddled and tangled illusion. The costumes and characters should also be in this style. This concept may also introduce a few new ideas about human character in relation to reality. 

The audience should realize from this that though there is a separation of fantasy and reality, the best choice may not always be to make that distinction in the context of personal creativity. At the same time on the other end of the spectrum, they should understand the concept that sometimes humans’ lack of reason and treatment of events is sometimes as absurd as if a mischievous sprite were making it up. From the original themes of the play itself, the audience should still understand the issues it pokes fun at.    

Ultimately, my production of William Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream is to be Puck’s masterpiece as he is painting it. This concept emphasizes the nature of art and gives the play a defined perspective without spoiling the genius work that already exists. It also motivates humans’ common foolishness and gives the audience something to thoughtfully consider. This idea makes the fuse of reality and fantasy more obvious and gives it deeper meaning. With this concept, A Midsummer Night’s Dream should still be just as enthralling and whimsical as it was originally meant to be while still adding something new.