Review: A Midsummer Night’s Dream

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Old-fashioned looking page from Shakespeare's play

Get ready for sex and a big party!  So says Theseus, Duke of Athens: “Stir up the Athenian youth to merriments.”

Now comes Egeus, unable to govern his own daughter, with a complaint.  The overprotecting father is incensed about the sweet things young Lysander has done to woo his Hermia, rebuking Lysander’s “feigning voice, verses of feigning love.”  He wants Hermia to marry Demetrius instead.  Let me kill her if she disobeys me, Egeus tells Theseus.

Theseus tells Hermia “your eyes must with his [your father’s] judgment look.”  He gives her until his own wedding date with war bride Hippolyta to make up her mind.

Hermia attempts to elope with Lysander, but she is chased by Demetrius into the woods.  Helen, Hermia’s friend, chases after Demetrius, hopelessly in love, telling him “I am your spaniel.”  More insightfully she adds, “We cannot fight for love as men do:  We should be woo’d, and were not made to woo.”

Elf king Oberon sends his jester Puck to spread love potions around.  Lysander, under the influence, falls for Helen, asking her, “Content with Hermia? No:  I do repent / The tedious minutes with her have spent.”

Theater people plan a production for Theseus’s wedding.  Their hope for the ladies in the audience is “not to fear, not to tremble.”  They settle silly details about the play, and Quince adjourns them, saying “Come, sit down, every mother’s son, and rehearse your parts.”

Bottom plays Pyramus, who wears an ass’s head.  Oberon’s queen awakes to fall in love with Bottom, who says “reason and love keep little company.”

Oberon sends Puck to fix his mistake with Lysander by making Demetrius love Helen.  She thinks both men are mocking her and complains excessively.

Oberon and Puck make things right:  Titania comes to her senses, Lysander loves Hermia again, and Demetrius keeps his love for Helen.  Upon Demetrius explaining his feelings to Theseus, the Duke says, “These couples shall be eternally knit” in a triple wedding ceremony.

In the play-within-the-play after the wedding, Pyramus thinks his lover Thisbe has been killed, so he kills himself.  Finding his body, Thisby does the same, in the style of Romeo and Juliet.

In the final scene, Shakespeare says it’s late, and tells everybody to have a good night.  Wink, wink.

A Midsummer Night’s Dream is a fairly quick read, appropriate for spring or summer, with great lines about the fickleness of love.  We should each read it at least once in our lives, no?

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Review: Richard III leads sheep to the slaughter

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Recognizing the threat posed by Gloucester early on, Queen Elizabeth says, “I fear our happiness is at the height.”  Ten murders later with Gloucester crowned as Richard III, the former queen, Margaret, laments to his mother, “From forth the kennel of thy womb hath crept a hellhound that doth hunt us all to death.”  Separately, Margaret sums up some of the recent changes in succession during the regicidal War of Roses saying “I had an Edward, till a Richard kill’d him; I had a Henry, till a Richard kill’d him.”  The observations of the women in Richard III are among the keenest and most enjoyable elements of Shakespeare’s play.

The noblemen vacillate between opposing and supporting Richard.  Clarence, his brother and one of his first on-stage victims says, “The great King of kings hath in the table of his law commanded that though shalt do no murder: will you then spurn at his edict, and fulfil a man’s?”

Spurn it he does, deceiving and stabbing his way to the throne.  Richard demonstrates the traits that brought him to power through pointed, unrivaled language.  Ruthlessness:  “Conscience is but a word that cowards use.” Decisiveness:  “Off with his head.”  Self-aggrandizement while belittling others:  “To royalize his [Henry VI’s] blood I spilt my own” and “Small herbs have grace, great weeds do grow apace.”  And speed:  “Delay leads impotent and snail-pac’d beggary.”

Richard’s lethal rise makes the audience scratch its collective head about why more of the characters don’t act sooner to stop him.  But we can ask ourselves the same questions about quiescence in the face of totalitarian regimes in the 20th Century and today.

But eventually Richard’s thirst for blood and paranoia (“my kingdom stands on brittle glass”) alienate even his most ardent toadies.  His denial of an earldom to Buckingham is enough to send him into the growing camp of rebellion.  Eventually the forces of Richard and Richmond, a nobleman descended from both the Lancaster and York families, meet on the battlefield.  Richard is haunted by the ghosts of his victims in dreams the night before the battle, which doesn’t bode well for him.  After being famously unhorsed and killed, Richmond promises, at long last, “We will unite the white rose and the red.”

The parade of Henrys, Edwards, and Richards in English history and Shakespeare’s histories can be challenging to follow.  The troops of uncles with place names and Christian names that don’t always match the character cues doesn’t help much either.  But a willingness to slog through those challenges is necessary to experience the grandeur of the language and to confront our own moral cowardice in the face of evil.