1. thirdwind
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    thirdwind Contributing Member Contest Administrator Reviewer Contributor

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    WF Book Club April Selection: A Midsummer Night's Dream

    Discussion in 'Book Discussion' started by thirdwind, Apr 1, 2011.

    This month we'll be reading A Midsummer Night's Dream by William Shakespeare. As usual, please get a copy and begin reading ASAP so that we can have enough time to discuss it.
     
  2. Elgaisma
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    Elgaisma Contributing Member Contributor

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    I am really excited about this you can get Midsummer Nights Dream on the web as well. Hope the link to the play is OK.
     
  3. hiddennovelist
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    hiddennovelist Contributing Member Contributor

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    Yay, I'm so excited! I've got a copy at home, so I'll start reading as soon as we get back from AZ!
     
  4. Gannon
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    Gannon Contributing Member Contributor

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    As this one has been so widely studied, and probably already read by a few members - myself included - do you think we could post a few essay-type (but NOT essay length!) questions up so as to allow for more pointed discussion?
     
  5. thirdwind
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    thirdwind Contributing Member Contest Administrator Reviewer Contributor

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    Sure, you can post them if you have any. I think this will help in getting a good discussion started.
     
  6. Gannon
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    Gannon Contributing Member Contributor

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    Okay a couple I've gleaned from the web to kickstart the discussion:

    (1) What does having such a varied character base (the lovers, the nobles, the fairies and the actors) achieve?

    (2) Why is dream so important in this play?

    (3) What can we make of the play within a play?

    (4) What do the various transformations that occur (literal - Bottom, figurative - day and night, discord and harmony, reality and dream) have to offer the reader?

    (5) Are Bottom and company there only for comic relief, or do they convey a more serious message?
     
  7. thirdwind
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    thirdwind Contributing Member Contest Administrator Reviewer Contributor

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    I haven't finished the play yet, but I'll answer this question based on what I have read.

    There are two types of transformations present: the first type is based on magical elements, while the second type is a "real" transformation (i.e. no magic is involved.) I am of the opinion that the real transformations are more important than the magical ones for two reasons. The first reason is that it seems to me that the transformations based on magic are there for comic relief (take Bottom's case as an example [though Gannon's fifth question has me rethinking this]). The second reason is that the transformations based on magic eventually lead to something bigger, which I know has to do with love (since I've read the play before).
     
  8. JSchwartzkopf
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    JSchwartzkopf New Member

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    Reading Shakespeare by yourself I think defeats the purpose. You need a group to read it aloud to get the full impact. Nevertheless, it is a wonderful story with brilliant characters.
     
  9. Gannon
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    Gannon Contributing Member Contributor

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    That would very much depend on the group. A listless group of highschoolers would probably render its reading insufferable, an impassioned group of amateur thespians probably less so. Nevertheless, I don't feel reading the play - or indeed any play - is a pointless exercise. It allows for personal study, private reflection and for a pacing suitable to the reader in question. These are lost when tackling the play in its "live" form - but equally are there obvious benefits to that method of production.

    There's a fine balance in this play, which sort of links all the questions I posed. In this case, Bottom and company are without doubt used for comic relief, but could well be argued to have a greater purpose too, as true comic relief is not required in this otherwise seemingly light play, not required in the same way that the scene with a playful dog is required in Macbeth to lessen dramatic tension.

    Following the order of the questions posted, these "rude mechanicals" offer real world, real people touchstones for the audience to identify with. That they are also actors starts to blend these lines of reality however and starts to lap the feel of the play into the dream realm.

    Dream is an important mechanism for Shakespeare (see Prospero in The Tempest: "we are such stuff as dreams are made on" and its ramifications). Too early to be taking Surrealist interpretation - that of ultimate freedom - dream sets up for Shakespeare a series of dichotomies, most notably that of the theatre - an environment in which everything is literally staged - and that of actual reality. And its one of a series of important distinctions.

    Having Bottom transform in the woodland realm also sets it apart from reality. It's important that this transformation happens to an "outsider", to a common man. It's comedy would not be as great otherwise, nor would its impact. Occuring in the fanciful realm, one could question whether this transformation is literal, or whether in that realm anything can happen as it can in dream.

    By having a play within a play - an audience watching a play in which an audience watches a play - and by blurring the lines of real world characters and those of the oneiric realm, Shakespeare could be said to be making profound statements on the state of theatre, theatre-goers and how far their sense of disbelief can be strung (see where Bottom's company is discussing that their portrayal of a lion may be too convincing and how to ensure the audience is not tricked).

    This overall appreciation of the audience, albeit in certain cases the audience within the play rather than the actual audience, would have been completely novel in Shakespeare's time.

    Bottom is ultimately a tool in Shakespeare's arsenal, no more or less than any other character, no more or less than his choice of words. Without the "rude mechanicals" a great deal of balance would be lost, so too identifiable holds for the audience to anchor too. Without them there'd be no play within a play - and no extended allegory therefore. We'd be left with just a collection of ethereal hijinx. Midsummer Night's Dream requires a strong anchor to the real world to make it work, and its audience needs Bottom and company to be that anchor.
     
  10. Elgaisma
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    Elgaisma Contributing Member Contributor

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    There is absolutely no reason why one cannot read Shakespeare aloud, acting out the characters by oneself lol I am enjoying it but my head cold is making it heavy weather I may cheat and read my daughter's comic book I am sure it has Midsummer Night's Dream in it (otherwise Oberon wouldn't currently be one of Shakespeare's Pokemon in the i'novel' she is writing) should remind me enough to let me contribute to the thread.

    Something I have noticed is it seems to be low on the insults and banter, it doesn't have the acidic bite I associate with Shakespeare - there is still plenty but maybe it is because of the headcold and I am not sure why I think it yet but it feels to me more story and less dialogue than some of his other plays like Macbeth, Henry iV, Merchant of Venice, etc but realised I haven't read many of Shakespeare's comedies Much Ado About Nothing and As You Like It I think are the only two - it is a lot less heavy to read than any others I have read.
     
  11. Gannon
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    Gannon Contributing Member Contributor

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    This is certainly true. It's a very readable Shakespeare in that most of its language and story is largely attainable to a modern reader. Maybe it's a gateway Shakespeare? Something to get you onto the harder stuff.
     
  12. Elgaisma
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    Elgaisma Contributing Member Contributor

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    Not sure - I grew up with Shakespeare used to go a theatre in Manchester to see the plays. I remember a really great one with Julius Caser where they would stop the play and the character would sit in the mastermind chair and get quizzed. I can't remember if there was a quizmaster or the audience quizzed them. I love the Reduced Shakespeare Company (Entire works in ninety minutes). I have never found him that difficult to read.

    It maybe easier to read but oddly finding it not as acidic, humour filled, dialogue seems to be missing the bite I am used to with Shakespeare. There is wit, it is one I haven't seen done as film or play so that may effect the way I view it.

    It is about twenty four years since I last read it (that is scary lol), I think because of my cold I am not putting my finger on exactly why it feels a lot less Shakespeare than some of my favourites.
     
  13. Gannon
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    Gannon Contributing Member Contributor

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    Anyone notice / agree that the very small Act IV Scene II is there purely to bridge Act IV Scene I and Act V, i.e. give the real-life actors and stagehands time to change costume and scene before returning for the final act? Without this padding there'd be quite a pause before they'd be able to perform the final act. Shakespeare was a playwright first and foremost, sacrificing a succinct story arc for the sake of practicality, or so I think here.
     
  14. thirdwind
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    thirdwind Contributing Member Contest Administrator Reviewer Contributor

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    I believe this play was one of his earliest, which may explain the relatively straightforward story. The only other comedy I've read is The Comedy of Errors, which is also a very straightforward play. Perhaps his comedies are just easier to comprehend than his other plays.

    I'm inclined to agree with Gannon about Act IV, Scene II. I didn't catch it the first time, but now I believe that Shakespeare included that scene for practical purposes. This scene also ends the main conflict of the play, and the only remaining act serves as a happy ending of sorts.
     
  15. Elgaisma
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    Elgaisma Contributing Member Contributor

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    It is a pretty good ploy - I went to see Hairspray the musical a couple of weeks ago and I was really impressed with the seamless movement of sets arounds and the one time the curtains were needed to be closed for a set change there was a number done in front of the curtains. (ours included an interesting wardrobe malfunction lol) - it ment the whole thing could continue without a break.

    I think it shows Shakespeare's all round talent as an actor, playwright, director etc
     

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