A Midsummer Night’s Dream | 2014, 2010, 2005
About the Play by John Dunlap
“Another fabulous performance by the cast of YouthShakes! I heard several in the audience say this was the best “play within a play” they had seen, after attending several other productions of A Midsummer Night’s Dream. These actors really know what they’re doing — the audience howled with laughter. Productions by San Jose Youth Shakespeare are well-directed, professional and worthy of more than one viewing!”
– Lisa from Milpitas
“This is the 4th Youth Shakespeare show I’ve brought my 8 year old to see, this time I also risked bringing my extra squirrely, easily bored 5 year old…who woke me up this morning to say “thank you for bringing me to that play you bringed me to last night, it was hilarious!” ‘Nuff said.”
– Cara A. from San Jose
“The show was a total success – I’ve seen it twenty times at least … and this was for sure the funniest version.”
– Opening Night, August 13, 2014
The likely date for the composition of A Midsummer Night’s Dream is about 1595, when Shakespeare, in his early 30’s, was entering into the “middle period” of his developing genius. Although freely lifting scraps of material from Ovid, Apuleius, Chaucer, Lyly, and English folktales, the play is truly original. There is no known source or even precedent for the diffuse plot dynamics of the play’s intricate storyline.
Duke Theseus of Athens and the Amazonian queen Hippolyta are planning their wedding when the nobleman Egeus complains that his daughter Hermia refuses to marry Demetrius, a suitor whom Egeus has chosen for his daughter’s hand. Hermia has rejected Demetrius for her true love, Lysander. Egeus reminds Theseus of an Athenian law requiring Hermia to comply with her father’s wishes or suffer death. Theseus gives Hermia four days to choose: Demetrius, or death, or a life of enforced chastity as a nun devoted to the goddess Diana.
Hermia and Lysander flee Athens to elope beyond the purview of Athenian law. But Hermia has confided this plan to her friend Helena, who happens to be in love with the rejected Demetrius. To gain favor, Helena reveals the plan to Demetrius, who follows Hermia and Lysander into the forest, with Helena following Demetrius.
A second plot unfolds as we meet Oberon, king of the woodland fairies, and his queen, Titania. Titania refuses to hand over the son of one of her devotees–a boy whom King Oberon wants in his service. Oberon enlists the sprite Puck to help him punish Titania by means of a magic ointment which, applied to Titania’s eyelids as she sleeps, will force her to fall madly in love with whatever creature she first sees when she awakes. Oberon tells Puck to use the same charm on Demetrius, but Puck mistakes Lysander for Demetrius, and Lysander is now madly in love with Helena. Puck tries to correct the mistake, only to have Demetrius and Lysander both chasing Helena, with Hermia feeling distraught and Helena convinced she’s being mocked by both lovers.
Meanwhile, a third plot is underway when six laborers, whom we’ve met at the end of Act One, enter the forest to rehearse a play they intend to perform at the wedding celebration of Theseus and Hippolyta. Puck, alert to any chance for mischief, singles out Nick Bottom, a grandiloquent weaver and aspiring actor, as the object of Queen Titania’s drugged affection, transforming Bottom’s head into that of a donkey and ensuring that Bottom is the first creature Titania will behold when she awakes. The rest is clear enough as Shakespeare deftly entwines the subplots into a charming resolution for all.
Comedy, more capacious and flexible, does not lend itself to the precise analysis of tragedy we find, for example, in Aristotle’s Poetics. Tragedy is about an aspect of life; comedy is about life in the round. Amid all the madcap plot juggling of A Midsummer Night’s Dream, two characters reflect the play’s dreamlike counterpoint of nature and fantasy: Bottom and Puck, in whom we discover the lion’s share of the play’s exuberance and wisdom: “Lord, what fools these mortals be.”