A review by edb14
A Midsummer Night's Dream, by William Shakespeare


Ah, a Midsummer Night’s Dream. A wonderful walk down memory lane for me, as I had not read this play since the seventh grade. This was my first Shakespearean play (actually, the first play I had ever read at all) and it was long before I realized that Shakespeare was a name greatly feared in the halls of my school, one that haunted the dreams of many a Language Arts student burdened with naming all of the possible symbols hidden inside. I didn’t know any of that; I just wanted to read Macbeth because it sounded cool, and I was told to read this one first.

As an intro to Shakespeare for a young kid in love with adventure novels, it was not a bad start. I might have chosen Twelfth Night instead if I were recommending to a like-minded youth today, considering Midsummer’s lower stakes and fewer action scenes, but this one had enough hijinks to keep me entertained. Four young people all in love with a different person escape into an enchanted wood where the men are enspelled by mischievous fairies to chase after a different woman, and the women are simply confused by this change in behavior. In a completely unrelated B plot, the Queen of the fairies is tricked into falling for an idiot whose head has been changed into a donkey. Eventually all knots are untangled and the four lovers simply sit down to enjoy a play with their king. The jokes and hijinks are broad enough that even a young reader unfamiliar with the intricacies of Shakespearean English can follow them.

However, on a second reading, I begin to see why contemporary critics walked away from the play with contempt. It is absolute ridiculous nonsense. The two plots are barely related and are tied up with no thought at all for the consequences. One of the men is apparently permanently bespelled to love a different woman and must now live with his ensorcelled choice forevermore, I guess, but we are not encouraged to think about this as anything approaching a moral is far too complex for this silly story. The lovers fall in and out of love expressly for the purpose of spouting as many metaphors about love as possible, seemingly, in the short time they are on stage. Oberon and Titania are barely given characters at all, and Bottom the weaver is perhaps the most broad and slapstick of all of Shakespeare’s well-known comic relief characters. To top off everything, both main plots are wrapped up in the fourth act and the fifth act is devoted entirely to watching a badly performed play-within-a-play that every character derides.
Even though I rolled my eyes at the coincidences and silly changes in everyone’s affections, I could not deny the power of Shakespeare’s writing. Even in a nonsensical story like this one, the prose is extraordinary. Evocative and varied metaphors for love, both falling into and falling out of, abound. Every character has great lines that are a joy to read. I love reading this play out loud because of the poetry of the lines, but also because of the changes in tempo and emotions. I can see that it would be enormously fun to act mainly because of how over the top and silly it is. It would be very fun to direct because you have so much license with the visuals by attempting to portray the enchanted forest, and then you get to make fun of your own attempt in the final act through the play-within-a-play. It would be fun to design sets for. It would be fun to design costumes for. I can definitely see why this is one of Shakespeare’s most popular works. It is the ultimate self-indulgence for someone with a good sense of humor who is in love with the theater.
Despite its meandering lack of purpose, this still has some of Shakespeare’s most famous lines and it is an enduring and popular play. I don’t know that I would recommend it as a starting point into Shakespeare, but it is definitely worth checking out.