Waking Up From A Midsummer Night's Dream


Heather S. McIntosh


Triangulating Shakespeare


As with every play we read this quarter, we started A Midsummer

Nights Dream with only a text. Reading the script is the foundation of

Shakespeare, and the least evolved of the ways that one can experience

it. There is no one to interpret the words, no body movement o!r voice

inflection to indicate meaning or intention. All meaning that a reader

understands comes from the words alone. The simplicity of text provides

a broad ground for imagination, in that every reader can come away from

the text with a different conception of what went on. The words are

merely the puzzle pieces individuals put together to bring coherence and

logic to the play.

Although we all read generally the same words, we

can see that vastly different plays arise depending on who interprets

them. By interpreting the word-clues that Shakespeare wrote into the

script to direct the performance of the play, we were able to imagine

gestures, expressions, and movements appropriate to the intention of the

playwright. An example of this can be seen in the different Romeo and

Juliets: Luhrman clearly had a more modern vision after reading the

script than did Zeffirelli did only 18 years before. The live

performance at the CalPoly theatre also carried !with it a very

different feelless intense, more child-like and sweetwith nearly the

same words. Reading also affects our experience in that without the

text, we would most likely not be able to enjoy Shakespeare at all;

having the text makes Shakespeare widely accessible (available for free

on the web) to all that desire it. Once the script is obtained, anyone

can perform Shakespeareeven everyday, non-actor citizens put on

Shakespeare whether it be in parks, at school, or in a forest.

My experience reading Shakepearean plays has shown me that reading

is necessary and fundamental part of grasping the fullness of the works.


I had wanted to read A Midsummer Night's Dream for quite some time.

Besides being a play by Shakespeare, I believe my desire to do so came

from seeing bits and pieces of it done in Hollywood movies like Dead

Poet's Society. I didn't realize how much small exposures like! those

could cause me to prejudge the actual text; after I had read the play

for myself I was surprised at how much the text differed from my

expectations. Not knowing the whole of the plot, but rather only bits

and pieces, I expected a play filled with fairy dust and pixy-women

toe-dancing, laughing, with flowers everywhere, or something like Hylas

and the nymphs. What I did not expect was a group of rag-tag laborers

putting on a play, young females catfighting over their men, or Titania

being "enamored of an ass." (Act IV, Scene i, MND)

Even with surprises, though, the text by itself held little detail and richness in my mind.

I thought it a decent play, but certainly nothing like I had hoped, and

I didn't feel involved in it or connected to it in any way. One of the

things that did impressed me, though, was finding out for myself how

accessible Shakespeare actually is. When it came time for me to learn

my lines for Philostrate (MND), I copied them from a site on the

internet which posted the text in its entirety. I realized the!n how

lucky we are that plays like these survived through the ages, sometimes

probably making it from one hand to the next in a form no better than

the paperback I carried in my bag. Through my reading, the importance

of the text was impressed upon me, and I feel that I have gained a new

appreciation for the lasting and foundational qualities of pure script.


Viewing a play adds a kind of second dimension to a textual

reading. While our primary impressions of a Shakespearean play are

established with the initial reading, those impressions are challenged

when we come into contact with a play performed. At this point we have

a first hand contrast between how we felt and how someone else felt

about the same play. Once we have sampled another's interpretations we

necessarily question ourselves on what we would have done differently,

had we directed the play. Perhaps something we expected to see on stage

was omitted; perhaps! something unusual was added. We might even sample

the same play dozens of times, all performed by different companies; it

is common, it is even expected, that none of the twelve interpretations

will be much the same. Unlike with reading, with viewing we are not

allowed to sample the play in whatever manner we want. As the audience,

our experiences are directed. We must resign ourselves to be the

two-hour subject of another's whims and methods.

This kind of challenge

is usually very enlightening, bringing new thoughts and perspectives

where we would otherwise have only our own. These new thoughts and

perspectives often materialize in the form of visual and auditory

details, mostly because the script stays generally the same. Viewing an

actual performance adds depth and detail to what was before only words.

We are given scenery, costumes, voices, faces, body movements, and other

forms of physical (rather than verbal) expression that contribute to a

particular feel. These types of details are in reality just instances of

the direct!ors influence, interpretations and preferences that cause us

to challenge our initial ideas, and accept us a possibly richer taste of

the play.

Because I was involved in two scenes of A Midsummer Night's Dream,

viewing this play on film held particular interest for me. I often

found myself looking to the films for ideas on how to play a character,

or a scene. Unfortunately (or perhaps fortunately, for originality's

sake), neither of the films we reviewed portrayed A Midsummer Night's

Dream in a way that particularly struck me. The 1935 Reinhardt edition

seemed to me overdone in nearly every respect. The characters were much

too Roman, the actresses quite over-dramatic, the fairies and

black-winged bats far too many in number, and the movie, in general, way

too long. The author of "Max Reinhardt and William Dieterle's A

Midsummer Nights Dream" described it well as, "a vast!

balletic-operatic extravaganza with huge casts, elaborate scenery, and

lavish costumes." (37, Jorgens) Overall it was a very large film. The

BBC version, on the other hand, erred in the opposite. It was slow,

relatively unemotional, and somewhat difficult to watch. After viewing

both these versions, I realized that my perceptions of the text were

much different than either of the films. I wanted something more

normal, less mystical, more possiblehowever, the time for me to voice

those desires had not yet come.


This third dimension of experiencing Shakespeare comes only when a

reader-turned-viewer decides to become the actor. This aspect of the

Shakespearean experience is nearly the only of the three mentioned that

supports and encourages open creativity and self-expression. Now our

questions of, "what would I have done differently" have a chance to be

answered. It is in the acting that the text becomes less detached from

us, becoming more our own. We are no longer in !the passive mode, but

the active. Now, we wait for no one, cut lines if we like, say it fast,

draw it out. There are few, if any, limits to how a play can be done.

Performing brings one's original, textual conceptions in synergy with

those viewed of others, creating a play that is both wholly collage, and

wholly new. The play begins to conform to what we, as individuals,

perceive to be the best or most right interpretation of the text.


After viewing the two film versions of A Midsummer Night's Dream,

I envisioned something much more casual and lighthearted, even funny,

for our own performance of Act III, Scene ii. Because of this, and

probably because of the nature of the cast in general, our group took on

a more youthful, somewhat ridiculous approach to the play. Demetrius

was played by a woman, Lysander dressed in ruffles and knickers, Helena

victimized and "shrewish" to the extreme, and Hermia was more often than

not stepping into violen!ce. Nevertheless, in some ways we found

ourselves doing exactly the things that we saw in the films. For

example, once performing, it was not difficult to see elements of the

characters we play in us; specifically, we more often than not felt and

appeared like the "Rude Mechanicals." We were not unlike them, coming

together with nothing but a script, none of us actors. (Heather the

Grant Writer, Tricia the Administrator, Giselle the Grader, Matt the

Director, all of us students.) Beginning with nothing but bare

Shakepearean text, we assigned roles, gave out scripts, rehearsed, and


At Swanton Ranch, "The Dream Team" stood in a forest to

practice our play, hearing Puck recite, "A crew of patches, rude

mechanicals, that work for bread upon Athenian stalls, were met together

to rehearse a play." (Act III, Scene ii, MND) We were much the same.

We even had some hard-hat rude mechanicals accidentally appear in the

background as we spoke! Even before we arrived, though, a place was

sought out f!or us, our director no doubt having thoughts much like

these: "Pat, pat; and here's a marvail's convenient place for our

rehearsal. This green plot shall be our stage, this hawthorn brake our

tiring house." (Act III, Scene i, MND) Once done, like the lovers in

the scene, we return to the real world, away from the forest, back to

the realities of work and school: "When they next wake, all this

derision shall seem a dream and fruitless vision, and back to Athens

shall the lovers go." (Act III, Scene ii, MND) And so we did.

Although we for the most part succeeded in building our own version of

the play, some similarities like these could not be escaped: I could not

help but notice that the actions taken in the play were mirroring what

was going on in reality.

Through Shakespeares ability to create

a-play-within-a-play-within-a-play, I found being a rude mechanical

broadening to my overall impressions of the play-buildi!ng experience.

Seeing our forest performance on film gave an entirely different

perspective still. Some members of the faculty, some friends, and some

strangers came to our screening to see the fruit of our creative weekend

in Swanton Ranch. We put a lot of time and practice into our scene,

making sure that we had our lines, that they flowed right, that we

looked right. We brought the scenes from just a text, clear through to

performance, and were now able to look back over the whole creative

process. In the theatre, however, just before our showing, our

"performance" somehow seemed less serious to me. I was so afraid that

we were all going to embarrass ourselves! The lines I said when I was

Philostrate suddenly came back to me. No, my noble lord, it is not for

you. I have heard it over, and it is nothing, nothing in the world;

unless you can find sport in their intents, extremely stretched and

conned with cruel pain, to do you service. (Act V, Scene i, MND) Much

like Bottom's company, we were good not because of any phenomenal

talent, but because we tried, because we were simple people trying to do

Shakespeare. Like them, we were not actors, but were still able to

experience the fullness of the creative process, bringing to fruition

our own comedic rendition of A Midsummer Night's Dream.


I believe that it is not by accident that our play turned out as

it did. It could not be but that Shakepeare intended for us, the

actors, to relate to Bottoms company, to everyone who ever put on A

Midsummer Nights Dream or any other production. This is part of

Shakepeares genius: to be able to write into the play a reflection of

ourselves, to see our own creative processes being mirrored by those of

the characters we coarsely attempt to play. Even now, when the actual

performance of our scene is over, I look back through the t!ext and

still see my group in it: when I read the word, Demetrius, I no

longer picture the old Demetrius I first imagined, or even those I saw

in film. Now I see Tricia in her funny pseudo-masculine hat. The play

has somehow become ours. Even if we hadnt put on the play, though, and

felt none of it for ourselves, reading about the rude mechanicals and

their creative process gives a reader valuable insight. Shakespeare did

not just hand down to us a script, expecting the layman to figure out

how to make it happen. Instead, it is as if he included his own little

instruction manual in the play, teaching all who will learn to bring it

from the mere green text to the ripe fruit of performance.

Personal Notes

The class in retrospect was a very good experience. Before the

quarter began, when I first learned that our class would be taking a

field trip together, I was hesitant. I wasn't sure that I wanted to

spend a weekend away from home, in !a cabin in the hills with my

Shakespeare class. I was not convinced that it would be more than an

uncomfortable experience. I didn't at all expect what actually came out

of it, something that I praise God so much for, which had virtually

nothing to do with Shakespeare at all. The contact that I had with my

group has become invaluable to me this quarter. I got to know people

that weekend that I otherwise would hardly have talked to had I not been

required to spend so much time outside of class with them. Tricia,

Giselle, Matt and I are good friends; how could we be otherwise when we

rehearsed together so often, rode 8 hours in the car together, left

Matt's clothes behind, shopped the sales together at Macy's, ate meals,

and hiked 20 minutes into the forest together? I learned about three

people who share my faith, shared a candy bar with Joel, and did my

classmates' dishes. I saw them from morning to evening in lights and

places so different from the norm. They seem to me pe!ople now, and

friends, not just bodies with mouths in chairs.par Besides being

purely social, going to Swanton Ranch really opened up my educational

experience. Although our actual film isn't going to win any Academy

Awards, it felt like we were doing something real, and not just

commenting on everyone else's work. The air was great, the change was

great, and bringing a play from text to performance gave me a whole new

attitude towards theatrics in general. I learned how much work goes

into doing even just a scene, how many elements there are to look after,

and how much effort it takes to make everything look somewhat believable

and real. Being at the end of the process now, being able to see where

we started from clear through to the finish, I feel like my

understanding of Shakespeare has really broadened. Not so much

Shakespeare himself, of course, but rather what he did, what he tried to

accomplish; I have a much greater sense of what all actors and crew go

through to put a play together, text to performance, start to !finish.

There is a small part of me that wants to keep doing Shakespeare, to do

all of the play, or at least do it again. Another part of me, the more

persuasive and logical part, wants to just keep it all right where it is

in my mind, remembering it fondly, as A Dream.

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