Jun 12, 2007

A Midsummer Night's Dream by William Shakespeare

art by Charles Vess

I started reading this play last week, and even though it’s short, it took me a while to get through it. This was because I couldn’t help but to feel, at first, that something was amiss. I do not have the habit of reading drama. I’m not quite sure why; it’s just something I’ve never really done. So I never gained the habit, and perhaps for this reason sitting down to read a play was a little strange for me. And there is also the fact that drama is, first and foremost, meant to be performed. The text of the play is only half the story. There are certain subtleties, certain bits of emotional content, that are meant to be conveyed by the actors.

But then I decided to follow Robin’s excellent advice, and tried to immerse myself in the story in other ways.

Unfortunately I couldn’t get a hold of the 1999 film version and watch it again, but I read a retelling from Charles and Mary Lamb’s Tales From Shakespeare, a book I had actually forgotten I have. Then I also read E. Nesbit’s version, from Beautiful Tales from Shakespeare. Both versions are simplified, of course, and they leave certain things out, but they were good ways of renewing my familiarity with the story. There is no such thing as spoilers when it comes to this play, after all. I also read Bullfinch’s retelling of the myth of Pyramus and Thisbe. Knowing the stories behind the story helped make everything more understandable.

Then I read the play again from the start. It’s much easier to follow when you know the story well, and I could take my time to delight in Shakespeare’s beautiful language. Again, I point you towards Robin’s review, because she chose some beautiful passages to share.

One of my favourite things about this play is the way Shakespeare mixes a Classical setting with very English folkloric elements: the faeries, the forest, Puck or Robin Goodfellow. Shakespeare’s faeries are considerably tamer than their folkloric counterparts, but, regardless of that, I love the way they are used in this play. I also loved the way I recognized several quotations even though I had never read the play in its entirety before. Shakespeare is such an important part of Western culture that one cannot help but come across him. Some of the quotations I remembered from Pamela Dean’s Tam Lin, which I read recently.

art by Arthur Rackman

And finally, I could resist doing one last thing: re-reading Neil Gaiman’s “A Midsummer Night’s Dream”, from The Sandman: Dream Country. This is the third volume in the Sandman series, but it can actually be read on its own. It’s a collection of short stories that are not directly related with the main story arch, and I think it would be a good introduction to the world of the Sandman. In “A Midsummer Night’s Dream”, Neil Gaiman tells us the story of the first time Shakespeare’s play is performed: at a faerie mound on Midsummer Night, and with Queen Titania, King Oberon and their fairy court as spectators.
Morpheus: Now you have left, for your own haunts. And I would repay you all for the amusement, and more: They shall not forget you. That was important to me: that king Auberon and Queen Titania will be remembered by mortals, until this age is gone.

Oberon: We thank you, shaper. But this diversion, although pleasant, is not true. Things never happened thus.

Morpheus: Oh, but it IS true. Things need not have happened to be true. Tales and dreams are the shadow-truths that will endure when mere facts are dust and ashes, and forgot.”

Titania: If you say so, Dream Lord. We are honoured.
The comic is beautiful illustrated by the wonderful Charles Vess (the first image on this post is his, the second being Arthur Rackman's). For a great review of this story, I point you towards Dark Orpheus.

To complete my experience with this play, I plan on, like Robin, watching one of the movie versions soon. And hopefully later this year I will be able to actually see the play being performed.

Other Blog Reviews:
You Can Never have Too Many Books
Becky's Book Reviews
Trish's Reading Nook
Confessions of a Book-a-holic
Educating Petunia
A Fondness for Reading


  1. Wonderful post :) I can't wait to finish up the challenge with this play. It always puts a smile on my face. Some of my favorite passages in literature come from it. Gaiman's Sandman version is great. I love it. I want to get the Absolute collection of Sandman so bad! I just can't afford it. Midsummer Night's Dream is in there though re-inked and beautiful as ever. Love the Rackham illustration. A Midsummer Night's Dream has inspired so much beautiful art. I'd love to get my hands on some.

  2. Oh, I love this play so much. I think it's my favorite Shakespeare to see performed, whereas I like some of the others better to read or as movies. They always do something so magical with the stage set.

  3. Nymeth, thank you, thank you for this wonderful post...your love for Shakespeare (in particular this play) comes shining through! My daughter is doing this play for her grade 10 Lit. class, I am going to ask her to read your wonderful post, thank you!

  4. I wasn't aware that there was a connection between Midsummer's Night and Pyramus and Thisbe. I'll be sure to read my Bulfinch. I plan to read the play(and anything else I can squeeze in) over the weekend.

  5. Thanks for dropping by my blog Nymeth! I have a beatiful book with a collection of Shakespeare's plays, but I have yet to start reading it. I need to get to it!

  6. I'm so glad you enjoyed it. I agree that with Shakespeare it is better to have an understanding of the story before you either read it or see it performed on stage. I recently read Othello and plan on reading Hamlet and Midsummer this year too. I am seeing Midsummer performed outdoors in London hopefully next weekend which I am looking forward to.

  7. Chris: Thank you! I do my best to forget that the Absolute Sandman even exists :P I really want it, of course, but like you I absolutely can't afford it at this point. Ah well, some day, hopefully. And yes, it's wonderful to see the amount of art that this play - All of Shakespeare's work, indeed - has inspired.

    dewey: I can imagine! I really hope I get to see it some day.

    Lotus: I'm actually more or less new to Shakespeare, shamefully enough. The only play I'd read before was Romeo and Juliet. The rest of his work I only know indirectly. But I really did love this play, and I will be reading more of his work in the near future. I envy your daughter for being exposed to Shakespeare in school - growing in a non-English speaking country, I did not have that chance. I hope she enjoys the play!

    Petunia: Pyramus and Thisbe is the play the troupe of actors performs. It's not essential to the plot, but knowing the story helped me understand the humour in those final scenes.

    anali: Hi! Thanks for dropping by mine as well!

    Rhinoa: I'm so grateful that Robin suggested reading retellings first. It really made everything clearer. I want to read more Shakespeare this year as well. I think I'm going to read The Tempest next. And how lucky you are to be seeing it soon! I hope I have the chance to see it as well when I'm over there.

  8. Oh, what a wonderful review! I love the art work, and you gave me some wonderful new things to read and look forward to: the E. Nesbit's book, Beautiful Tales From Shakespeare (!); Bullfinch's retelling of Pyramus and Thisbe; AND Neil Gaiman's A Midsummer Night's Dream! These will add a whole new dimension to my immersion into the play! Now to find a live performance somewhere in the vicinity this summer...!

  9. Great post. MSND always makes me think of the movie "Dead Poets Society"

  10. Nope, I haven't read The French Lieutenant's Woman, but I saw the movie a LONG time ago.

  11. Nymeth, my hat is off to you for taking the time to explore Shakespeare's plays, you inspire me! I have a collection of some of his better known plays, perhaps I should read along with you and my daughter? :)

    Where did you grow up? I grew up in India, where I went to a convent school so I studied in English. We were exposed to Shakespeare but in minuscule amounts.

  12. To me, Shakespeare is meant to be seen and to hear. The reading of it can be awkward. That being said, Midsummer's is so my favorite.

  13. Robin: I'd love to know what you think of Neil Gaiman's "A Midsummer's Night Dream"! It's one of my favourite Sandman stories. I did not know about the E. Nesbit book until you suggested retellings for younger readers in your review - I went looking, and I found that one!

    myutopia: thanks! I love that movie, but the last time I watched it was far too many years ago. I need to see it again one of these days.

    Lotus: Do! I think you'll find it a rewarding experience. Just make sure you get acquainted with the stories first in other ways, which is what I'll keep doing when reading more of his plays. I grew up (and still live) in Portugal, so all I was exposed to in school was Portuguese Literature.

    Carrie: I agree. But I still found reading it an enjoyable experience, despite that initial awkwardness.

  14. I bought the movie a year before I read the play but I didn't watch it until after the reading. Somehow, following the words with the vision makes it clearer for me. I've read Hamlet twice, but never seen a film version and it's still Greek to me.


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