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.

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