A Midsummer Night’s Dream – whimsical comedy or fantastical thriller?

CAUTION! MAJOR SPOILER ALERT!!

What’s not to love about Shakespeare’s  A Midsummer Night’s Dream? It talks of love and fairies and dreams coming true. It seems fun and whimsical and even a little bit naughty.  But have modern audiences made it a lot more light-hearted than it really is?

The play opens with a court scene, where Hermia is told that if she doesn’t marry the man her father has chosen for her she will either become a nun, isolated from her friends and family or DIE! Those  are seriously her options?!??!!!! Then we meet Helena who is absolutely in love with Demetrius (who we find out is actually in love with her best friend Hermia). Oh, and guess what? Not only is Demetrius in love with Hermia but he’s the guy Hermia’s father is making her marry! Uhhh… No wonder Helena is upset. So far not so light and fluffy if you ask me.

The play lightens up a bit when we meet The Mechanicals, but even then the stakes are high. If they upset the Duke with their play they could get hanged!!!!! Hanged…Seriously… What the actual……. !!!!!

We are introduced to the third world of the play, the Fairy world, through the character Puck *cue dramatic instrumental music*. I bet you’re thinking  ‘Oh the fairies how cute and sweet and beautiful right?’ WRONG. If there is anything that Harry Potter has taught me, it’s that things that sweet, cute and beautiful may not be what they seem!

While I was reading up on Puck, I was surprised to find the character’s origins in Fae, a type of mythical being or legendary creature in European folklore. A form of spirit, Fae is often described as metaphysical, supernatural or preternatural. Quite dark in reality and not like the fairies we have come to associate the term with at all!  Hobgoblins are a another type of spirit I’ve looked at. According to folklore around different parts of England, hobgoblins were consider to be helpful spirits around the house. If annoyed thought, they could turn quite mischievous! In Irish folklore, the hobgoblin was actually considered a demon with head of an ass! In Wales, spirits like Puck were malignant, queer, little figures; long and grotesque with the look of something like a chicken. Gross.

Okay. So Puck has some dark origins but that doesn’t necessarily mean that he has to be played as dark character, right? Well I don’t know. It was almost as if Shakespeare anticipated  our confusion with the character, so (being the helpful playwright he was) he wrote a pretty clear character description of Puck using monologues and soliloquy. While Puck is generally regarded as mischievous at worst, he also seems to get pleasure out of the pain of other characters – borderline cruel  if you ask me! And speaking of cruel, Oberon and Titania’s relationship, whats going on there? Oberon is so mean to her!

A Midsummer Night’s Dream has all these dark undertones yet in this modern age we have turned it in to something whimsical, sweet and light-hearted. I guess its all down to interpretation, isn’t it? Our own view on fairies and magic has shifted from Shakespeare’s time. Throw a love story in with the story of normal, every day people like you and I and, well, it’s not hard to see the light-heartedness of the play.

The best thing about Shakespeare is that none of his plays are written in black and white. He leaves questions unanswered and writes flawed protagonists. Why? Well, he was writing about the world around him and frankly, life isn’t black and white. Life can be great but it can also be cruel. A lot of questions will never be answered. What is love really? Is there another world out there, other than our own? Is the supernatural real? Can we make our dreams come true through hard work or does luck have a lot to do with it ? One thing I think  the story of A Midsummer Night’s Dream does give us is the opportunity to look at ourselves and laugh, because there’s one thing that life is definitely not, and that’s boring.

— Abbie x