Sunday, March 11, 2007

A Midsummernight's Dream

And now, back to Shakespeare!
A play that everyone knows -- but it's fun to read or see one of the many films of it over and over. Here are just a few random thoughts from one more enjoyable reading.

Puck is one of my favorite characters. His descriptions of tricks, wiles, rapid travel around the world use the most wonderful language of any fairy I know.

Puck's master Oberon is angry and vengeful. So what does he do? He tells Puck to make Titania, who has refused his willful demand, fall in love. He instructs Puck how to do it -- to pick some inappropriate object, use the magic flower dust, and so on. And then, in a spirit of mischief, he has Puck also afflict a few mortals who have wandered into his way. Shakespeare knew the depths of revenge and meaningless evil-doing in human beings. His fairy people are such a light and pleasant contrast to real human emotions and actions. Their rivalry, mischief, and trivial tricks are such a relief.

Before the fairies' first scene, we have already met these fated mortals whose love life Puck is about to derail. Two men love one woman, Hermia. Her father insists that he will have her killed or made a nun if she doesn't marry his choice -- the one she dislikes. Her best friend Helena loves the rejected lover. For all of them, love is a big pain. Said Hermia, about to flee her father's wrath:
Before the time I did Lysander see
Seemed Athens as a paradise to me.
O, then, what graces in my love do dwell
That he hath turned a heaven unto a hell! (I, i, 209-212)

What does Shakespeare say about love in this play? I think he says love is a trickster just like Puck.

Love's pains and the power of revenge are both so light in this forest near "Athens" -- which seems so totally Shakespearean and English. It's only a play, Shakespeare constantly reminds us. The bumbling "mechanicals" who put on the play within a play are so worried about acting too well that they constantly get out of their roles to remind their audience that they are only pretending. Of course this is the most humorous part of the play as no one would conceiveably be fooled by their artifice!

Puck's constant motion, lists of tricks, and ability to be everywhere at once are so splendid. No wonder we have a word for him: puckish -- meaning the impish sprit of pucks or pookas.

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