three pairs of lovers with space

Return to the beginning of the thesis

 

SHAKESPEARE’S BOY ACTORS AND FORBIDDEN DISCOURSE, continued:

 

Chapter Five.  A Midsummer Night’s Dream

A Midsummer Night’s Dream is the most complex, the most thematically, rhetorically, intricate structure among Shakespeare’s plays.  Foremost among the complexities are those afforded by the cross-dressed male actors in their widely-varying parts, these adding greatly to the richness of the play’s themes.  The characters& names alone help to create several different spheres of social existence within the play&s structure.  On the notionally highest level, there is the ducal court.  Within this sphere, Theseus and Hippolyta take their names from characters in Greek myth.  Demetrius and Helena, Lysander and Hermia act as a lower level in social position and relative power, but their names are obviously from the same mythology and just as obviously, their names act as value-indicators of their characters in a finite hierarchy.  The third human level is composed of the artisans, whose names, Quince, Snout, Flute, Starveling and Bottom, seem highly appropriate to their stations in life.  The names also act as heralds of their comedic function.  A fourth level, one which transcends any possible human power hierarchy, involves Puck, Oberon, Titania and the fairies.  The lower three levels are sometimes made to fuse and swirl about and cause confusion in the woodland spaces.  Magical acts of those in the spirit world combine with human foolishness, with spite and jealousy, and finally, with much laughter.  As always, there is a play-within-the play.  Pyramus and Thisbe is intended by its artisan-players to be nobly tragic, but it becomes a delightful farce instead.  The "mechanicals", with their rough speech and unschooled manners, would have seemed like happy familiars for many in the audiences of Shakespeare&s time.  In fact, they echoed the existence of the artisan-players who had formed the entire casts of the much earlier religious-cycle and mystery-plays which themselves had always been performed by the all-male members of the trade-guilds.  It is certainly not too great a leap to theorize that the mechanicals would have stirred memories of a sadly-lost tradition for many of the older play-goers at that sixteenth century's end.  Much recent scholarship has revealed that the mystery plays achieved a high standard of sophistication, year-by-year.  Yet this tradition was placed in the hands of relatively uneducated men and their trade-apprentices.  Even so, it must be said that in A Midsummer Night&s Dream, the artisans stand, in a very important sense, as a radical foil for the grace and sophistication of the court, and in so doing displayed the sheer range of the company&s players for the crowd to enjoy.  It must not be forgotten, though, that a link is created by the fact that many of the best and most committed of the guild-men had turned professional during the birth of the permanent theatres.  A further influence upon this transference occurred during the period when the mystery-play tradition was being suppressed as heretical during the growth of the new religion — that which we now know as The Church of England.  Though some of these actors had become strolling players, many had settled down in companies such as Shakespeare&s.

In the beginning of the play a grim court scene forms similarities with the beginning of As You Like It, and in a similar vein, Much Ado About Nothing.[1]   In the beginning of Dream, unquestioned male-power threatens the very life of a young female character.  Clearly available for the audience to see in this is the interpretation that a male character, played by a man, is able lethally to threaten a female character, played by a boy.  In this sense, Shakespeare interrogates the implacable power of men, both as parents and as law-makers, and as those who stand above women and boys-as-women.

In terms of the narrative, the opening scene demonstrates the sheer lack of choice that Hermia is to be allowed in her marriage partner.  She will meet death within four days should she fail to marry Demetrius, or she will be confined for the rest of her life in a nunnery, despite the fact that she has openly and bravely avowed her love for Lysander.  A clear concept of the patriarchal absolute exists in the grim threat made by Egeus on hearing this avowal:

        As she is mine, I may dispose of her;
        Which shall be either to this gentleman
        Or to her death, according to our law
        Immediately provided in that case.
                            (1.1.42-45)[2]

The title page of Midsummer Night's Dream from the first quarto, 1600

Whatever he might be thought privately to feel, Duke Theseus may only confirm what Egeus so cruelly demands.  He says: “To you your father should be as a god”.  Since Egeus had “created” Hermia, his choice of Demetrius over Lysander “must be held the worthier”.  This brick-wall logic insists that Hermia’s eyes must with her father’s “judgement look”, and, as a properly faithful and obedient daughter, she must choose Demetrius (1.1.47, 55).  The specific consequence of her failure in obedience: “Either to die the death, or to abjure/ Forever the society of men” (1.1.65-66), goes on to use a curious mixture of images in a figurative metonymy that forms strong associations between “cloister” and “sister” as indicators of her only permissible fate.  This, by the way, forms a strong ideational cohesion with Olivia’s fate in the opening of Twelfth Night.[3]  Specifically, though, the duke describes her second choice as being “in shady cloister mewed,/ To live a barren sister all your life”.  There, she will sing praise of “the cold fruitless moon” (1.1.71-73).  These images form cultural signifiers from ancient Greece in allusion to the cult of, as R.A. Foakes points out: “Diana, goddess of chastity, represented by the moon”.  These elements are all mixed up with “an anachronistic Christian image of the cloistered nun”.[4] 

For Egeus and Theseus, Hermia’s first passionate choice is made clear enough in its undesirability, yet, strangely, the almost elegiac tone of Theseus’s speech appears almost as a longing for such a state for a young woman who refuses her father’s patriarchal demands, and who, rightly, will join widows, women-bereaved, and penitents in a life in which:

                        Thrice blesse'd they that master so their blood
                        To undergo such maiden pilgrimage;
                        But earthlier happy is the rose distilled
                        Than that which, withering on the virgin thorn,
                        Grows, lives, and dies in single blessedness.
                                                                                                (1.1.74-78)

The fragment’s last line, where the maiden “Grows, lives”, then “dies in single blessedness”, leaves not a great deal more to be said about the grimness of Hermia’s choices in which the physical ownership of daughters by fathers had been made chillingly clear.  Yet this also acts as a cultural signifier of an earlier age that both writer and audience well-remember in its provision for an escape from the world into a relatively peaceful, monastic isolation.  Earlier, the half-line: “I may dispose of her” rates Hermia’s existence on the level of a household dog which had become too old to bark at strangers.  On the other hand, there are ancient echoes in the linking of “they that master so their blood” who undertake “such maiden pilgrimage”.  These instantiate a turning away from the duotypic world of man and woman to a “single blessedness” that hives away both the pleasures and the torments of the flesh in equal measure.  A scent of Neoplatonism drifts through this scene and many others. 

These elements provide dark thematic backgrounds which stand in stark contrast to the comedic action that follows.  A third element stands clear in the formation of the idea of the “unruly woman” whom Valerie Traub so cogently defines.[5]  Traub argues that women in Shakespeare who reject a man, or all men; or those who cross-dress to escape the power of men—as demonstrated in the characters, Hermia, Olivia and Rosalind, respectively—form a principle of the marginalization of women who dare to disobey men in the Renaissance cultural ethos.

Lastly, the belittling of Hermia, that in which Egeus states that she had been merely the passive object of Lysander’s seduction in 1.1.27-38, further humiliates the young female character.  Being merely a “child”, it is implied she could not possibly have withstood Lysander’s “feigning voice”, or “feigning love”, which will steal “the impression of her fantasy”, entering her mind as he later—it is also implied—intends to enter her body.  Ultimately, this “strong prevailment” upon “unhardened youth”—a common parental objection to this day.

The fact that Hermia very definitely has a mind of her own; this demonstrated in her brave, obdurate refusal to bow to Egeus’s demands, is ignored by Egeus in his overbearingly rhetorical rush to force her obedience.  She is a child in his eyes, but more importantly, she is his property.  The play then, forms a window into an escape from the grey reality of, ultimately, eternal parental power-structures.  Of course we suspect that the ponderous, crushing power of parents will return when the lovers’ children are growing up and wanting to love and marry whom they please.  Safe in the green wilderness, though, this weary weight will be put aside in the next act, but just for now.  In the meantime, Egeus not only betrays his own rhetoric, but also demonstrates that he is a stupid man; vicious when thwarted.

Hermia is not only the eternal female chattel, but here she represents all young people who suffer under parental force.  In the above there is no trace of double-meaning ambiguity.  Played with simple power and directness, the young female Hermia entirely obscures the stripling youth who played her part.  That is to say, unless a particular viewer is looking hard to find any hidden meaning, and apart from that possibility, it is the straightness of this particular moment that adds great power to the author’s own ultimate rejection of patriarchal power in this play.

The rest of Act 1, Scene 1, contains the famous meditation: “The course of true love never did run smooth”, from Lysander, and “O hell, to choose love by another’s eyes!” from Hermia (1.1.134 and 140).[6]  The lovers, obviously, must flee Athenian law.  They are planning this when Helena appears, mourning her own plight in loving Demetrius, who in turn, loves only Hermia.  The narrative-level of the story thus hints the serpentine convolutions to come.  The audience smiles and settles more comfortably as the earlier, darker moments fade into the lighter moments which it knows will follow.  An element that I have several times mentioned before, the idea of jesting seriousness may very well run through much of the grimness that went before  I certainly cannot imagine the younger actors of Elizabeth’s age not nodding and winking at least once while Egeus rages!

For the moment, though, a very important element within Helena’s plight lies in her complaint: “Through Athens I am thought as fair as she” (1.1.227).  In this passage she grumbles that though she is as beautiful as Hermia it is not doing her any good in achieving her desire.  In a world where beauty normally holds great power, yet her beauty is powerless.  The sad result of this powerlessness contains a hopelessly solitary argument.  Helena is in fact speaking, if not directly to the audience, then certainly for the audience’s benefit.  She creates a sounding-board for her thoughts, holds the crowd’s total attention in a treatment of the eternal conundrum of common experience of unrequited love in general, and, more particularly, in love’s frequent misdirections in Shakespeare’s hands.  The audience is present, but appears to be completely passive in the enactment of this theatrical convention of the soliloquy.  In fact, Shakespeare knew from long experience that no audience of his day was either completely passive, or silent.  Everything from ironic laughter at one end of the scale, to rueful smiles at the other, would be heard and seen during Helena’s outpouring of discontent.  To begin with, Helena seems to be suggesting that her beauty alone should inspire love in Demetrius, but it then appears as a situation that is much more complex than such a relatively superficial idea, which itself is utterly negated in her later words:

                        Love looks not with the eyes, but with the mind,
                        And therefore is winge'd Cupid painted blind.
                        Nor hath Love’s mind of any judgement taste;
                        Wings, and no eyes, figure unheedy haste;
                        And therefore is love said to be a child
                        Because in choice he is so oft beguiled.
                        As waggish boys in game themselves forswear,
                        So the boy Love is perjured everywhere;
                        For, ere Demetrius looked on Hermia’s eyne,
                        He hailed down oaths that he was only mine,
                        And when this hail some heat from Hermia felt,
                        So he dissolved, and showers of oaths did melt.
                                                                                    (1.1.234-245) 

On the one hand, as R.A. Foakes reminds us, love was then always thought to be “aroused through the eyes”, but in this case Helena reasons that “the lover sees beauty where others do not, and so looks with the mind, or fancy, in line 155, above, but not with judgement”.[7]  The haphazard quality of Cupid’s arrows form another level upon the much simpler idea that “The course of true love never did run smooth”, in 1.1.134.  Presaged, here, is what Foakes defines as “the power of love to transform” and, conversely, “the lack of connection between seeing and judgement”.[8]  This latter category is made clear in Act 3 in the magical thraldom of Titania and Bottom and the various similar mismatches in the quartet of young lovers in the Athenian wood.  Shakespeare, in this early exposition of blind and “unreasonable” love, maintains that this happens in the mortal and in the fairy world as well—which confirms what has earlier been remarked—that the lower three levels of the characters mix and move at times throughout the play.  This particular element, though, acts in a vertical sense and wafts through the various levels of mortal and spiritual existence.

Those familiar with Shakespeare’s comedies, both then and now, will already know that the playwright must explore the penumbra between illusion and reality in the form of dreams.  It will thus be seen a paradigm of the entire art of the theatre, yet, as a vehicle for artifice and its close sibling, deception, A Midsummer Night’s Dream is quite different from either of the plays that have already been discussed in this thesis.  Without the complexities of the double-shifted gender-characterizations, or the half-revelations of identity and textual double-meanings that exist in either As You Like It or Twelfth Night, it is a rich field within which to see several more sides to female representation.

The next scene is, quite deliberately, a radical contrast to the court of Duke Theseus.  In the court itself,  people express themselves in dramatic blank-verse as indicators of their status.  Yet also here, the artisans Quince, Snug, Bottom, Flute, Snout and Starveling gather to rehearse a performance of Pyramus and Thisbe.[9]  In the most natural way, they speak in prose-form.  As Quince tells us, their intention is “to play in our interlude before the Duke and Duchess on his wedding day at night” (1.2.5-6).  The slightly jumbled quality of the statement draws a smile from those who relish the type of humour which accesses the notional quaintness of the speech of working-people as it has been mentioned before in this work.[10]

In the play, I see this as by no means a denigration of a notionally lower social order by a playwright who aspired to gentility.  Rather, this is a device formed within the knowledge and first-hand experience of an author whose own beginning was in the family of a glover, in an age long before any semblance of Standard Received English had begun to be an indicator of either social class, or of a high standard of education.  The poet’s straightforward love of such people shines through the prose-lines which millions of others have loved since they were written, both in this play and in the others of Shakespeare’s plays where such scenes were devised.[11]  Clearly discernible is a juxtaposition of a different kind to that of size and power; the sometimes faulty syntax in the mechanicals’ speech is contrasted with flashes of keen observation about life, love and philosophy: adding immensely to the charm of the characters themselves, and to the overall colour of the scenes in which they appear.  Yes, they are meant primarily to amuse, but they are most definitely not proposed as figures for us to despise in any sense.

Inevitably, one of these comical players must represent a female in the character, Thisbe.  He must therefore be disguised in both dress and voice.  The aptronymic Flute “has a piping voice” as Foakes asserts, but whether this was the case in the first performances, or whether some smaller-than-average adult player spoke in falsetto, is open broadly to question.  But whatever, this was a separate form of representation to that of the boy playing a girl.  Most often, here, grown men played these grotesque parts and it was travesty which caused the laughter.[12]

Whether, as a secondary possibility, the doubling of parts allowed four adult players to play the “four fairies” as well as “Flute, Starveling, Snug and Snout” — as grotesques — or whether several supernumerary boys would be brought in to the company for the occasion of the play for the former task, is also undecidable.[13]  The character-morph, Flute/Thisbe is therefore likely to have varied widely between the different theatre-companies and individual performances of those times.  This might have been simply due to the availability of a suitable player for that role at any one time, or the choice of approaches by the director.[14]

As far as this thesis is concerned, with female representation as the main point in this conundrum, the point textually is made in the scene in which Peter Quince hands out the parts.  He says, “Flute, you must take Thisbe on you”, in 1.2.36.  What follows is metatheatrical comment of the most interesting kind.  Flute replies, “What is Thisbe?  A wandering knight?”, in 1.2.37.  Foakes has it that this refers to an earlier tradition of a piping delivery appropriate for such plays as “Sir Clyomon and Clamydes (c. 1570)”.[15]  It seems likely that the audiences of then would have responded with sympathetic laughter at this deliberate evasion—posed as ignorance in Flute’s words—which allows the next joke to be set up nicely.  Which is, of course, Flute’s reluctance to play the part of “the lady that Pyramus must love”.  Flute manfully protests: “Nay, faith, let not me play a woman; I have a beard coming” which would most like have had the crowd in stitches if he were to be an obviously adult male.[16]  Yet the converse of this confining logistic might very well have seen the part taken by a young person in that ambiguous, changeling state of maturity, which in Twelfth Night Malvolio had described Viola to represent as: “in standing water, between boy and man” (1.5.132).  Such a youth would fit the bill, but the whole episode could also be made even funnier if either a boy, or fully-grown man had taken the part of Flute.  It certainly can be imagined that there would be a howl of laughter in the crowd if a very small, very young actor with a completely natural soprano voice were to insist that he had whiskers appearing.  Conversely, if a visibly much more mature actor playing Flute were to whine: “I have a beard coming” and Quince had then retorted: “That’s all one; you shall play it in a mask, and you may speak as small as you will” (1.2.39-41), the audience would have found this equally irresistible, this, perhaps especially if the actor playing Flute were to be presented as a very large and an already-bearded person.  Whichever way this was done, or whichever type of actor were to be available, the rendering will end up as a shouting lampoon of a love-situation.  Most importantly, though, it is still female representation, therefore the discourse of the element of grotesque inherent in the all-boy companies, is also apposite, here.  In those choir-troupes, very small people achieved comedic effects by strutting about in oversized costumes.  Peter Thomson has pointedly raised this concept above mere speculation upon the possible physical presence of boys to the possible dramatic capability of those same boys who then consciously ranted “in oversize parts” for a particular kind of comedic effect.[17]  Lists of props and clothing, eye-witness accounts, establish this humorous element beyond historical doubt.  Even though, here, we are not dealing with a boy-troupe, there is no reason on earth why Shakespeare, in the first place, and his successors-as-directors, later, would not have taken up the chance to bring a truly outrageous Thisbe to life.

In the end, though, someone must play the woman’s part in Peter Quince’s play, and he the actor, inevitably, would object to such a personation as being an attack on his manly pride.  A wonderful opportunity for humour would be missed if this were not to happen.  This situation strikes a universal chord as the joke is then immediately stretched out when Bottom crows:

And I may hide my face, let me play Thisbe too. I’ll speak in a monstrous little voice: ‘Thisne, Thisne!’ — ‘Ah, Pyramus, my lover dear; thy Thisbe dear, and lady dear.’
                                                                                    (1.2.42-44)

This lisping of “Thisne” in the falsetto “monstrous little voice” would have jerked laughter, then, as it does now, but the overall importance of the episode is that of metatheatrical comment that addresses both the mockery of the men who played the women, and the consequent mockery of the women whom they played, and this alone establishes an absolutely central element to this interchange.  The word, “monstrous”, particularly, may be seen as a metatheatrical reference, both to those radical protestants whose conviction that cross-dressing in drama not only created monsters in the physical presence of the actors upon the stage; but also portrayed monstrous acts in the actors’ deliberate flouting of God’s edict in Deuteronomy Chapter 22, verse 5.  Here, there is no trace of that version of androgyny that is the transcendence of the human condition in the creation of the almost ethereal androgyne.  Here, Phyllis Rackin’s second category of androgyne is adumbrated as the social-monster that Tiffany’s “Other” could be, in other circumstances.  The “rough mechanical” in his homespun clothes, the crude humour, and the fact that a lowly person such as Bottom was the momentary vehicle of androgyny, would be enough to create the monstrous image in all of the observers, but with a greater or lesser knowledge of the ramifications of either androgyny or the discourse of monsters, depending upon the individual.  More simply as a consequence, this representation would have compounded the overall sin of cross-dressing in the eyes of the protestant-polemics, even though Bottom, jokingly, has only offered to “ape” the part of Thisbe.[18]

The beginning of Act Two is the completion of the first part of a linguistic journey.  Starting in the ducal-court where blank-verse exclusively is spoken, the audience is then transported to a place where artisans speak in prose, then the action now moves to the wood where fairies speak in patterned verse, then in rhyming couplets, then in iambic tetrameter, then in iambic pentameter![19]  These distinct verse-structures then distil into two main changes of delivery-style for two different spheres of existence: that for humans and that for a world of fairies where poetry may break all human bounds.  No character has yet crossed from one world to the other, but we feel that they may do so, quite soon.

The meeting of Oberon and Titania in the forest is extremely unfriendly.  The dramatic effect could have been heightened in proud, defiant stances and cutting tones.  A sudden—as Foakes expresses it—“change from rhyming-couplets to blank-verse” also more clearly separates the inimical mood in this moment from the exposition of the woodland-scene that the unnamed fairy and Puck had just completed.[20]  The beginning of Act 2, scene 1 performs the task of explaining the powers and the intentions of the spirit-people and creating the sometimes rather frightening, mischief-filled space in which they exist.  When the king and the queen of that world actually meet, it is a highly-dramatic confrontation:

            Oberon:         Ill met by moonlight, proud Titania!
            Titania:                      What, jealous Oberon?  Fairies skip hence.
                                    I have forsworn his bed and company.
                                                                                                (2.1.60-62)

In three lines Shakespeare achieves a reference to action that had already occurred beyond the audience’s sight and hearing, but which had been intimated by Puck in the previous scene.  The triplet also achieves a completely clear portrayal of anger resulting from that action, and the attitudes of consequent enmity.  Fairies rush to a safe distance and peer fearfully back at the flying sparks as Titania shifts to a curiously contemptuous third-person address in “I have forsworn his bed and company”.  It may be taken that she is still talking to the fairies, but it is still a wonderfully cutting jibe at the powerful person away from whom she turns.   His “proud Titania!” had been both an acknowledgment of Titania’s queenly status yet is also a reference to her prideful rejection of his expected power over her, stated in the following line as “Tarry, rash wanton!  Am I not thy lord?” (2.1.63), but this acts as a challenge as much as a patriarchal insult to Titania.  It has the effect of making her turn back to face him and catalogue his unfaithful pursuit of the “amorous Phillida” and “the bouncing Amazon” (2.1.68 and 70).  Consistently, she has used the familiar pronoun of address until the line in which she chides him for “Your buskined mistress and your warrior love” in 2.1.71.  This abrupt change to the formal mode and an obvious sneer that it represents would have brought great power to these specific words as heard by Elizabethan people in its clearly sarcastic usage.

That attack inspires Oberon to a catalogue of Titania’s wickedness as a reply, but in the following furious exchanges one sees a single-shifted female character stand toe-to-toe with a male character.   It is the eternal argument between married people in which point-scoring takes a central part, but it is also in this moment that the first cross-over between spheres of existence occurs.  Both the king and the queen of the fairy-world refer to Theseus and Hippolyta as characters in Greek mythology, and as characters in the cast.  In the above, though, the word “wanton” translates as rebellious, sportive, unrestrained woman; a spoiled and pampered child, in fact.  As such it acts as a jibe that invokes a sense of childish unruliness in the queen; a quality far more insulting than the sexual inference that may also be taken from it.  That is to say, if one chooses to do so.[21]

A kind of crux is reached as Titania describes the consequences of “our debate ... our dissension”, specifically, in the radical events of a badly disturbed natural order since their quarrel had begun.  One major facet of this had been: “the moon, the governess of floods,/ Pale in her anger, washes all the air” in 2.1.103.  This is a straightforward allusion to the unbridled sexual license to which both had referred to as belonging to the other, now brought together in the fairness of Titania’s now balanced statement of the chaos.  Literally and figuratively, semen had flown everywhere in that disjointed time.  As Grace Tiffany argues, the allusion to the moon’s milky light and its associated fluid properties: “preside over the play’s erotic action” in a “symbolism of fluid interchange” in the “continual trading of the roles of pursuer and pursued”.[22]  Yet responsibility is acknowledged—again, with fairness and balance—in Titania’s words: “We are their parents” specifically, of these chaotic events, “and their original” in 2.1.116 and 117.  These lines refers both to the quarrels and the evil events that the “debate” has caused.[23]  Oberon spits: “Do you amend it, then; it lies in you” (2.1.118).  Stubborn bias and petulant selfishness to the fore, he has borrowed Titania’s trick of switching to an ironically formal tone in this.  Then there is an abrupt change to a placatory, softer tone in:

                        Why should Titania cross her Oberon?
                        I do but beg a little changeling boy
                        To be my henchman.
                                                                                    (2.1.119-121)

This pathetic wheedling elicits an adamant, immediate reply: “The fairy land buys not the child of me./ His mother was a votress of my order” (2.1.122-123).  She then adds a list of reasons why she feels honour-bound to protect the boy, her fondness for his mother being main among them.  A strong sense of the affectionate sisterhood of all women and the particular kind of strong, dutiful friendship that is inspired by both affection and common interests, is ascendant, here.  A similar kind of friendship is often, in Shakespeare, portrayed as belonging to men, but the thing that makes the female version separate is that there is an embattled quality in its struggle to exist in a man’s world.  This seems to add a subtle strength to the mixture.  Titania had only spoken of her reasons for keeping the boy in defence of her reasons for doing so, and this acts as an overall defence for all women in their relatively weaker positions in all societies; both of the mortal, earthly world, and in that of the spirits.  Titania ends with:

                        And for her sake do I rear up her boy;
                        And for her sake I will not part with him.
                                                                                    (2.1.136-137)

Clearly, this is meant to be spoken in a calm but totally determined tone and the repeated beginning of both of the couplet’s lines: “And for her sake” adds the power the statement’s absolute finality.

A consideration of this entire passage as an example of narrative is useful in establishing one major aspect of female representation in this play.  In the long interchange between fairy king and queen, the narrative is Titania’s alone.[24]  It is she who so clearly explains the unnatural disasters and the reasons for them.  It is also Titania who most strongly and bravely lays down the law about her desire to protect the boy against her powerful husband.  The fact that Titania is the fairy-queen matters very little in this context.  That she is a woman—without the faintest trace of sexual equivocation—matters vastly more, but the mechanism of the narrative is hers alone and she uses it to her utmost powers of clear-sighted reason, eloquent persuasion and determined resistance to Oberon’s selfishness and lust.

Further, to this stage in the play it is possible to see that the Hermia and Titania characters have carried the main part of the narrative-structure.  Firstly, the threat of Hermia’s forced marriage forces the lovers to flee.  Secondly, Titania’s protection of the boy and her involved explanation of the former anomalous events in nature keep the focus on the above radical moves in the action of the play.  At the beginning, the lovers fly from stifling order of the court towards the relative freedom and potential disorder of the woodland.  Secondly, and in the opposite direction, Titania’s striving towards a human-like order in her own household constitutes a move away from an essentially chaotic Nature and the disordered events caused by the quarrel.  She wishes to be the peace-maker with Oberon, but his selfishness thwarts even her brave efforts.

Oberon sees that she is utterly determined in her course, so, sulkily he asks: “How long in this wood intend you to stay?” (2.1.138).  This is a clear mood-shift from anger to crafty enquiry.  With sly intent, he again uses the formal address.  In this case the usage counterfeits politeness but produces the desired effect.  Titania immediately switches to the polite mode herself and makes the reasonable reply:

                        Perchance till after Theseus’ wedding day.
                        If you will patiently dance in our round,
                        And see our moonlight revels, go with us:
                        If not, shun me, and I will spare your haunts.
                                                                                    (2.1.139-142)

Which angers Oberon.  Again he wheedles: “Give me that boy, and I will go with thee”, shifting to the familiar, but again he entirely misjudges Titania’s strength and determination.  “Not for thy fairy kingdom!” she snaps (2.1.142-143), then exits with her train, leaving Oberon and Puck to plot the use of magical distillations from “a little western flower”.  This will be dropped into Titania’s sleeping eyes so that she will fall in love with whosoever she sees on waking.  The philtre:

                        The juice of it on sleeping eyelids laid
                        Will make or man or woman madly dote
                        Upon the next live creature that it sees.
                                                                                    (2.1.170-172)

Interestingly, the “it” in line 172 is an indication that the philtre itself, which will see “the next live creature”, upon which it will then “madly dote”.  Overall, this will affect both men and women, both mortal and fairy, thus allowing the cross-over from world to world.  Returning to his previous obsession, Oberon grimly promises: “I’ll make her render up her page to me” in 2.1.185.[25]

Of absolutely essential interest to this study in the above confrontation, is that it is a clarion example of Shakespeare’s powerful female parts.  Played well, Titania’s performance would have left the most superior male in the original audience slightly breathless.  It seems almost certain that both wounded pride and perhaps even anger might be felt by some, while love and admiration might be felt by others.  What is ultimately inescapable is that the actor who was then a boy or youth and is now a young woman, in everyone’s full knowledge.  This defines, as few other examples will, the radical difference in the male viewer’s position in the dramatic undertaking, between then and now.  Yes, and present changes in attitudes to women, generally, would do the rest in creating that gulf that I have striven so hard to define throughout all that has gone before.

From the representation of a pride-filled woman to a depiction of an abject one, the narrative moves to Demetrius and Helena appearing in the wood: he spurning her and asking where Hermia is; she claiming to be dog-like in her devotion to him.  Helena actually reduces her own status to “I am your spaniel” in 2.1.203:

                        Use me but as your spaniel: spurn me, strike me,
                        Neglect me, lose me; only give me leave,
                        Unworthy as I am, to follow you.
                        What worser place can I beg in your love
                        (And yet a place of high respect with me)
                        Than to be use'd as you use your dog.
                                                                                    (2.1.205-210)

Curiously, the abject nature of the words in this piece is belied by the tone of it.  Though speaking of dog-like devotion to a cruel abuser, she is, in fact, exhibiting constancy and determination.  The “spaniel” is a metaphor that defies the reality of her strength.  Even so, Demetrius is determined to throw her off:

                        You do impeach your modesty too much,
                        To leave the city and commit yourself
                        Into the hands of one that loves you not;
                        To trust the opportunity of night,
                        And the ill counsel of a desert place,
                        With the rich worth of your virginity.
                                                                                    (2.1.214-219)

The doomful threat within these lines reflects one of the most prominent of the patriarchal absolutes: that a woman deflowered is a woman destroyed as an object of high value.  Even Helena’s fair reputation is seen as compromised simply in her being alone with Demetrius in the forest.  Most importantly, though, the threat of rape lies in the lines: “commit yourself/ Into the hands of one that loves you not” in 2.1.215-216.  Strongly implied is that if he had loved her, her virginity would be safe with him.

Helena defies his threat to run away and leave her unguarded.  She says, simply, that she will follow wherever he leads.  Again, he threatens her:

                                                                        Let me go;
                        Or if thou follow me, do not believe
                        But I shall do thee mischief in the wood.
                                                                                    (2.1.235-237)

Importantly, this cruel statement elicits yet another truth in the state of women in a man’s world:

                        We cannot fight for love, as men may do;
                        We should be wooed, and were not made to woo.
                                                                                    (2.1.241-242)

Importantly, with absolute consistency he uses “thou” and “thee” when he is being most vehement in his spurning of the brave girl.  This creates the sub-text of a chillingly obvious enticement to sexual congress lying within the lines.  It is as though he is saying “Come on, let’s get down to it” in the use of the familiar pronoun as a prelude to love, yet there is no love in the actual words.

Here, I must repeat that, if a modern audience were to understand these lines fully, and in the knowledge that, back then, the adult male actor is speaking to a boy actor, this passage simply underlines the impossibility of bringing back Shakespeare’s all-male stage tradition.

This subtlety stands, though, stands in clear contrast to those moments when he is reasoning with her.  In these lines he uses the formal mode, as in “Do I entice you”  Do I speak you fair?” in 2.1.199.  A stark modal-switch and full-circle: after Helena’s apparently abject spaniel speech, his pique had emerged as “Tempt not too much the hatred of my spirit;/ For I am sick when I do look on thee” (2.1.211-212).  Full-circle again: the dire threat of rape lies in the passage, “You do impeach your modesty too much” to “the rich worth of your virginity” in 2.1.214-219.  In this final, graded statement, the heat is reduced by several hundred degrees and the formal and familiar in daily speech is revealed as creating clear modal switches in this interchange.  Finally, Helena is here played as a young woman in distress, without any bawdy inflections, or double-meanings.

Thinking that she is alone and bereft (though Oberon, invisible, is listening) she says:

                        I’ll follow thee, and make a heaven of hell,
                        To die upon the hand I loved so well.
                                                                                    (2.1.241-242)

This enacted situation gains unimaginable intensity because of, not merely the passionate words, but because of her switch to the familiar.  It is exactly the same device that Shakespeare uses when, in Twelfth Night, Antonio says goodbye to Sebastian in Act 2, scene 1:

                        The gentleness of all the gods go with thee!
                        I have many enemies in Orsino’s court,
                        Else I would very shortly see thee there.
                        But come what may, I do adore thee so
                        That danger shall seem sport, and I will go.
                                                                                    (2.1.32-36)

In studying that passage, I noted that: “The shift to the familiar” at this crucial point  “would have struck deep with Shakespeare’s audience.”  Exactly the same is true in this parting between Helena and Demetrius.  Though markedly different in the sentiment that passes between the dyads and the circumstances in which the two partings occur, of great importance is the fact that a parting between two young men, or one between a young woman and a young man, may equally engender the switch from formal to familiar in causing such an impression of intense emotion.

This is particularly defined in the clear fact that the familiar address only emerges when one half of the dyad has left the stage.  Only then may the pronoun of love and tenderness be used in its most essential meaning.  All anger and irony gone from the stage, a true, intense emotion openly is voiced.  Most importantly in this respect, men and women are equal upon Shakespeare’s stage.  They may both express the outer limit of longing for a loved-one who has just departed, allowing the passionate half of the dyad a vocal expression that would not have been possible were the other half still present.  This would have been virtually subliminal in the Elizabethan speaker or listener.  No conscious thought would have been necessary for the audience to respond to the ebb and flow of emotions in the above, intense exchange; or the signal passion in Helena’s statement after the object of her passion had departed.  What ultimately transpires from this is that the male-male actor and the male-female actor may sometimes be treated equally within a modal space that contains emotions that may be taken to be common to both real, and to assigned-gender characters, alike.

At this point, Oberon takes pity on the young woman: “the sweet Athenian lady” who is “in love/ With a disdainful youth” (2.1.260-261).  The theme of mistaken love, so common in the other two comedies which I have studied, is about to re-emerge in this play, too.  The fairy king orders Puck to use the flower-philtre on Demetrius, but with the proviso that it must be “when the next thing he espies/ May be the lady”.  He tells Puck that he will “know the man/ By the Athenian garments he hath on” (2.1.262-264) and in this instant we know that the wickedly smiling author is signalling to us that Puck will get this wrong.  Even those in the audience who had not seen A Midsummer Night’s Dream before would realize that the opportunities for comedic-confusion here exists in the false-matching of lovers.  We know that this machination will take place quite soon.  Here, though, it will not be caused by the lovers’ use of disguise, but by a magical thraldom and the crossing of boundaries between the spirit and the mortal world, yet the philtre-device is powerful and full of laughter and interest.  Certainly, Shakespeare delighted in using this process of enthralment and a great deal of the magic within the situation lies in the author’s certainty that most members of the audience had imagined such similar devices in their dreams and idle moments.  Who among us has not dreamt of enthralling this or that object of our love by such magical means?       

The next scene begins in the iambic-pentameter in which the fairies are given their orders.  Titania naturally uses this form to indicate her queenly dignity, having established her stature in the earlier exchange with Oberon.  The fairies then sing their guardian-spells in an hypnotic mixture of rhythms and rhyming-patterns varying between octosyllabic to seven beats to the line.  The small people chanting these lines would find them relatively easy to remember and interesting in both their content and in the alternating a-b-a-b rhyming scheme of the First Fairy’s quatrains, changing to the a-a-b-b scheme of the chorus’s rhyming couplets.  One can imagine this as being not only easy to achieve for children, but also exciting, and good fun for them both to perform and to watch.[26]

At the end of the scene, Oberon stealthily squeezes the magical philtre into Titania’s eyes as she sleeps.  He leaves, then Hermia and Lysander enter.  Lysander suggests “Fair love, you faint with wandering in the wood” in 2.2.41.  He is lost, he says, and simply we accept that he, being a man, had performed the role of pathfinder and the leader of the naturally weaker and less capable woman.  Gently, though, he suggests that they should rest until daylight.  Hermia readily agrees, with the proviso that Lysander will “find you out a bed/ For I upon this bank will rest my head”, as she says, in 2.2.45-46.  We smile broadly as the physical separation reflexively proposed by Hermia that is immediately rejected by Lysander in the gentle words, “One turf shall serve as pillow for us both;/ One heart, one bed, two bosoms, and one troth” (2.2.47-48).  Again, the woodland idyll is proposed.  Wolves may exist in these sylvan-spaces, but for now they are out of sight and out of mind.

Up to a point, the brief exchange between the lovers underlines one of the most basic differences between unmarried men and women throughout the patriarchal ages of humankind.  For a young man, lying on a grassy bank in a forest at night with his loved-one is an oft-returning, fondly dreamt-of vision of paradise.  For the girl he desires, it may very well also be dreamt-of and fondly desired, but the situation is full of danger for her.  She is the one who will be seen as despoiled if love should take its full course and she will—quite literally—be the one left holding the baby.  Hermia insists “Nay, good Lysander, for my sake, my dear,/ Lie further off yet; do not lie so near” in 2.2.49-50.  One can almost hear the gentle laughter in the original crowd at this sweet jostling.  Depending on how it was played, the sexual element of it could very well have been accentuated by gesture and movement, facial expression and tone.  This might have been played straight but the original tradition the young male actor performing the part of Hermia might very well have lent itself to the possibility for what M.H. Abrams calls burlesque.[27]  In this case burlesque of a pointedly sexual nature.  Similarly, this scene may also have been played with no specifically homosexual aspect intended in the style of delivery; this, even when Lysander protests that he really had not intended to despoil her:

                        O take the sense, sweet, of my innocence!
                        Love takes the meaning in love’s conference;
                        I mean that my heart unto yours is knit.
                                                                                    (2.2.51-53)

And at this moment the laughter would swell as the crowd takes leave strongly to doubt his innocent intent.  Hermia follows on in the crowd’s mood:

                        Lysander riddles very prettily.
                        Now much beshrew my manners and my pride
                        If Hermia meant to say Lysander lied.
                        But, gentle friend, for love and courtesy
                        Lie further off
                                                                                    (2.2.59-63)

The charm of this passage is virtually timeless.  Spoken in Shakespeare’s blank verse, or converted into the modern idiom, it would cause laughter in its underlining of the truth of ardent young men and wise young women.  The eternal truth is that for the young man, both the idea and the entire process of what he desires is so easy.  For the young woman it is so hard.  Most importantly, here, the author does not propose an obdurate and unfeeling girl, but one who has the strength and good sense to delay the joy of complete union with that man whom she just as strongly loves, as he loves her.

The sweet manoeuvring accomplished, another practical reason for the separate sleeping-places becomes clear when Puck appears.  For the sake of the narrative—and here, this element is ascendant—he must find them lying separately and he must think that this is because, “Pretty soul, she durst not lie/ Near this lack-love” (2.2.82-83) and this echoes back to the scene in which Demetrius had threatened Helena’s virginity on the basis that he might take it because he does not love her, rather than the reverse.  At this moment, though, Puck thinks that Lysander is Demetrius; the swain spurning Helena’s love; he whom Oberon wishes him to charm into loving her.  In understandable error—this being, after all, a night-scene—he drops the magical juice into Lysander’s eyes.  As R.A. Foakes points out, Puck was not there when Oberon was the invisible observer of “Helena being scorned by Demetrius in 2.1.188-237&&.[28]  This is itself a deliberate ploy in making the action more logical and more believable.  Only rarely is the structure of the ordering of a sequence of events in story-form so obvious as it is in this specific scene.  Much more often it passes unnoticed and is only subliminally received by the audience, or for that matter by any highly-focused analyst.

Demetrius and Helena hurry into the same scene where, now, Titania, Hermia and Lysander lie asleep.  A rapid-fire exchange between the newcomers:

            Helena                       Stay, though thou kill me, sweet Demetrius!
            Demetrius     I charge thee, hence, and do not haunt me thus.
            Helena                       O wilt thou darkling leave me? Do not so!
            Demetrius     Stay, on thy peril; I alone will go.
                                                                                                (2.2.90-93)

He departs and we are left with the cruelty and harshness of the tenor of this scene as the diametric opposite of the interlude in which Lysander and Hermia had arrived in the same place.  A perception of womanly weakness emerges as the single unifying factor as a terrified Helena begs Demetrius not to leave her alone in the dark forest.  Left weeping, Helena meditates upon how ugly she must be so to scare away the man she loves.  The eternal truth that only beauty attracts and its corollary, that the lack of beauty leaves the unfortunate among women bereft of love, emerges in this.  The action moves on, and obeying the convention which covers such situations, Helena sees only Lysander asleep and she wakes him.  The progressing structure of the narrative reappears.  Where Demetrius and Helena had used the familiar form of address to each other as a mark of contempt in the furious interchange of 2.2.90-93, above, Lysander under Oberon’s spell uses the familiar as the mark of a suddenly inflamed lover who would:

                        ... run through fire I will for thy sweet sake!
                        Transparent Helena, nature shows art
                        That through thy bosom makes me see thy heart[29]
                                                                                    (2.2.109-111)

Helena chidingly rejects him in the formal mode.  This checks Lysander into his natural courtesy: “And reason says you are the worthier maid” (2.2.122); then “Reason becomes the marshall to my will./ And leads me to your eyes”, as he further insists, in 2.2.126-127.  Of course, it is not “reason” at all, but a thraldom in which reason takes no part.  Yet, in being more reasonable, he has at least remembered his manners.  Helena, angered by Lysander’s unrestrained forwardness and by the cutting irony of now being loved by the wrong man and apparently hated by the right man, leaves the scene.  Lysander looks across to where Hermia sleeps.  Even in his new rejection of her, he uses the familiar in expressing the exhortation “Hermia sleep thou there,/ And never mayst thou come Lysander near”, (2.2.141-142), but in the final couplet of the speech:

                        And, all my powers, address your love and might
                        To honour Helen, and to be her knight.
                                                                                                (2.2.149-150)

And in the two fragments immediately above, the curious switch to the formal mode in the invocation of “all my powers” adds force to the notional status of those powers that he summons in his own personal value-system.  Oddly, this highlights his selfish lack of chivalry and generosity in stating respect for a quality so important to himself that it requires to be politely addressed, despite the fact that his “powers” constitute an abstract idea rather than a person or a thing.

He leaves the scene and Hermia wakes in a nightmare of struggling with a serpent, which may or may not have sexual connotations.  She finds that Lysander has deserted her.  Again, the relative weakness in the fear of women alone in a midnight-forest is apparent.  The simple assumption of this as a fact of life still exists.  In many modern plays, films, television productions and books, women are still constructed as the weaker and the more fearful sex.  Then, as now, if Shakespeare were to have rejected this fact of womanly weakness he would have been kicking over the traces of cultural expectations to a radical degree.[30]   In fact, the entire power of the scene lies in the assumption of womanly weakness itself.  Whether consciously or not he set out to create powerful women as his main female characters, he could scarcely have rejected the chance to portray a female character’s terror in creating this particular scene, and it would, in any event, have sent shivers down many male spines, too.  Simply, there would be no point in portraying Hermia’s awakening as a calm event, so, in this scene and others, above, women are by definition denigrated as being both frail in body and spirit, and fearful of the dark and of snakes.  Yet having said all of that, the scene could scarcely have been made to work in any other way in the heightening of the young woman’s sense of being deserted and terrified.

The point must be made that this frightening scene does not vary in power if either male or female actors take the women’s parts.  Assumed gender is the defining factor in the assumption of traditionally-accepted weakness.  True gender and true sexuality do not intrude in either their notional similarities, or in their radical differences in the greater world outside the theatre, or in the liminal spaces of the stage.  Simply, women are assumed to be the weaker sex, despite much evidence to the contrary.

In the beginning of Act 3, the First Folio announces: “Enter the Clowns”.  With Titania still asleep on the stage, the mechanicals set about discussing the forthcoming play.  Straight away, Bottom insists:

There are things in this comedy of Pyramus that will never please. First, Pyramus must draw a sword to kill himself, which the ladies cannot abide.
                                                                                                (3.1.8-10)

Bottom separates the ladies in the audience from the men.  For Bottom, women are gentle creatures who will hate to see an enactment of such a bloody suicide.  This puts a subtly different view on the immediately above scene where Hermia was so terrified.  Here, a gentle character gently assumes that women will shrink from violence even when it is known to be make-believe, rather than a “real” event.  Snout agrees and Starveling chimes in with the suggestion that “we must leave the killing out, when all is done” (3.1.12).  Even if it is hard to guess exactly what gestures; or what expressions or tones the artisans used, it is easy to imagine the laughter as Bottom suggests that a prologue should be written which will put the audience’s fears at rest.  Specifically:

let the prologue seem to say we will do no harm with our swords, and that Pyramus is not killed indeed; and for the more better assurance, tell them that I, Pyramus, am not Pyramus, but Bottom the weaver: this will put them out of fear.
                                     (3.1.14-17)

Quince agrees and there is a comical set of interchanges about the meter in which the prologue will be written.

This is metatheatrical comment at its richest.  Associated with the play-within-the-play, it also obeys the convention that things may be stated in the play-within-the-play that may not be stated in the play itself.  The action is couched in prose and is full of gentle fears about distressing the women.   And this from the notionally roughest of the characters.  Echoes reverberate from this episode in A Midsummer Night’s Dream to Jaques’s “All the world’s a stage” speech from Act 2, scene 7, in the later play, As You Like It.  The whole piece is about the representation of both men and women upon the stage, yet it speaks about the separation of a play from real life in a way that would not normally be possible in the main text.  The completeness of this statement as metatheatre is underlined by the fact that it represents the men and women in the audience as well.  It varies from Jaques’s outpouring, though, in not being a sweeping commentary upon the human condition, but a highly personal one that addresses the gentle clowns’ fears about distressing people who are, as they see it, even more emotionally vulnerable than themselves.  Particularly, Snout worries about letting a “lion” loose among the ladies.[31]  Bottom, as usual, takes the lead in deciding that half of Snug’s face must be seen through a gap in the lion’s neck, and that it is through this gap that he must proclaim “I would entreat you not to fear, not to tremble ... I am a man, as other men are” (3.1.31-32, 33-34).  Inescapable in this is a statement about the truth of what stage drama actually is, and, despite being couched in language that might be regarded as “metacomedy”, it creates a smile also because, despite everything, it is a profound statement about the human condition: one placed in the mouth of a lowly person to make it both true and funny at the same time.  The separation of the play from the play-within-the-play as a work in its own right, is extremely interesting, here.[32]

Further, those tales which people in nostalgic affection may carry with them from their youth to their dotage often relate to a yearning for that notionally more innocent, less troubled age than that in which they are remembered.[33]  The Welsh term, hiraeth, seems most capably to capture our sense of nostalgia tinged sometimes with sadness in this context, even when the comical actors present the concept in these wonderfully funny scenes.  We, the audience, we the readers, feel this sadly-smiling hiraeth, and think back to our childhood readings, and the stories that our parents told us.[34]

At this moment, Puck—invisible—enters: “What Hempen homespuns have we swaggering here/ So near the cradle of the Fairy Queen?” (3.1.60-61).  The juxtaposition of the ideas of large-yet-powerless with small-yet-powerful again emerges.  As well, the idea of the mechanicals being very much within the lowest social class and presenting large, clumsy figures who are, in Puck’s view, rather too near the physical smallness and fragility of the fairy queen in her “cradle”, runs parallel in this.[35]  Puck is the servant of a notional higher being and is disparaging in his view of people whom he sees as below himself to start with, so age-old social-stratifications here cross the boundary between the fairy and the human world.  Puck sees an  opportunity for devilry when Bottom leaves to investigate a voice off-stage, so Puck leaves, too, and when Bottom re-appears, he is wearing the head of an ass.[36]  The necessity for the ass’s head to be placed in position upon a human actor’s head out of sight of the audience is here treated as a source of even more laughter because of its simple and obvious practicality.  The grotesque transformation acts to round off an episode that had, meanwhile, seen the stage-directions point out that the reluctant female-impersonator, Thisbe, must pipe his lines in falsetto.  Later, he forgets to do this and starts a line in his own voice, providing the actor with a golden opportunity to rumble, then squeak:

FLUTE  O —
                        (as Thisbe)
                                    As true as truest horse, that yet would never tire.
                                                                                                            (3.1.84)

While the crowd is laughing about this, Bottom appears in his ass’s head with Puck (invisible) dancing around and chanting self-imprecations and delighting in his wickedness; his power to be a chimera; his power to create chimeras.  The artisans scatter in fright at the grotesquely transformed Bottom.

Titania awakes and falls instantly in love with Bottom as he sings a childhood song to check his own fear in the totally confusing moment of his friends’ unexplained terror.  Though this episode is proposed as comedy, it is also essentially a study of confusion that is caused by appearance and of fear caused by superstition.  What Titania then says illuminates the other side of the sudden strangeness that Bottom experiences.  Not only because of the spell, but also because of not knowing Bottom as himself, Titania has no fear or prejudice about his appearance, and:

                        I pray thee, gentle mortal, sing again;
                        Mine ear is much enamoured of thy note.
                        So is mine eye enthralle'd to thy shape,
                        And thy fair virtue’s force perforce doth move me
                        On the first view to say, to swear, I love thee.
                                                                                                (3.1.114-118)

A character reacts and speaks in the opposite way that—in the real world—she would be expected to.  Anything may happen upon a stage, but importantly, Titania is not portrayed as the “weak vessel” who too easily falls in love.  Before and after she was put under the flower-spell, it may be seen that she is being humiliated by Oberon, her queenly dignity completely trampled, but here and now, straightforwardly, she is seen as enthralled by the medium of the love-philtre in her eyes.  None of the old rules that insisted on her queenly dignity now apply.  Titania positively clings to the mortal man with his ass’s head.  She does nothing by halves, and, retaining at least her regal instinct for leadership: she leads still.

Bottom, on the other hand, is not outwardly “enthralle'd” but politely replies in his plain-prose style with some philosophical good-sense.  From the first sight of him, though, and maintaining her blank-verse delivery, the queen of fairies gracefully sets out to woo the awkward mortal.  Vitally, when she promises: “And I will purge thy mortal grossness so/ That thou shalt like an airy spirit go”, in 3.1.134-135, she is not speaking of Bottom’s chimerical grossness that has caused in his friends so much fear and confusion.  Here, she means his earthbound mortal self, the implied heaviness of which prevents such things as the ability to fly where, quite simply, one desires.

Straightforwardly, here—as Alexander Leggatt notes—though Titania moves to “gratify her love at once” and Bottom accepts “his new role with equanimity” the “keynote ... is innocence”.[37]  Again, we must acknowledge that the rules have changed.  Though utterly direct, Titania’s leading role is a dream-situation and is also the enactment of a fantastic contiguity between spirit beings and mortal beings.  Importantly still, she leads: he follows.  For the Elizabethan this coupling would be a process far harder to accept if it were to be staged as two mortals in the leaf-mould of a forest-floor together with that essential factor: the woman leading the man.  Dreams are seen to dislocate the real, though, and this dream is no exception.  At this moment in the play, Titania is not a queen and Bottom not an artisan.  They are simply man and woman under the influence of the fairy-magical flower-philtre, respectively.  Here, as with many of the other representations of women in this play, there is no hinted, shaded boy-in-female-disguise to create a frisson for the susceptible.  This philtre-enthralled, dream-sequence plays the woman straight.[38]        

Together with the blandishments of Titania and with Peaseblossom, Cobweb, Moth and Mustardseed in support, Bottom’s diffidence fades away and a gently comical scene sees him relax and make friends with the fairy queen and the little people.  They leave the stage as Oberon enters, full of curiosity to know how his spell has worked upon Titania.  Puck, his “mad spirit”, in 3.2.4, enters and informs him of the devilry already achieved, and in the most contemptuous way, speaks of the artisans in general as “A crew of patches, rude mechanicals”.  Bottom, in particular, is described as the “The shallowest thick-skin of that barren sort”, in 3.2.9 and 13.  Oberon is delighted when he is told that Titania now loves an ass, but is not pleased when later told of the mistake that Puck has made in charming Demetrius, rather than Lysander.

Demetrius and Hermia appear, quarrelling bitterly.  In the first couplet of the argument, as Foakes astutely points out, Demetrius is unnaturally formal:

                        O, why rebuke you him that loves you so?
                        Lay breath so bitter on your bitter foe,
                                                                                    (3.2.43-44)  

Foakes relays Furness’s conclusion that this apparently anomalous usage indicates irony and contempt.  The fact is, this use of the opposite-to-the-expected pronoun often achieves this, but Foakes sees this as signalling Demetrius’s adoration of Hermia, and that her relative contempt of him is conveyed in replying in the familiar.  In fact, the previous occasions in the play where these two individuals of equal social rank had so stormily argued, their personal-pronoun usage had been consistently maintained as a modal device to indicate irony, or veiled contempt, or, conversely, self-subjugation.  In Helena’s “spaniel” speech in 2.1.205-210, where desperately she had entreated Demetrius’s love, the formal had been correctly used, without inflection, to show her metaphorical falling-at-his-feet.  The above usage, on the other hand is a simple expression of the beginning of a kind of fugal descent from desperation at that beginning of the interchange, through talk of murder, death and cruelty, then grading down through “You spend your passion on a misprised mood” in 3.2.74, to Demetrius’s final, utter resignation after Hermia had left the stage:

                        There is no following her in this fierce vein;
                        Here therefore for a while I will remain.
                        So sorrow’s heaviness doth heavier grow
                        For debt that bankrupt sleep doth sorrow owe,
                        Which now in some slight measure it will pay,
                        If for his tender here I make some stay.
                                                                                                (3.2.82-87)

If love may sometimes be seen as an unequal contest in which one half of the dyad may be seen as vanquished, this is perhaps one of the best examples in Shakespeare, or in all drama.  Demetrius is beaten, deeply-saddened and utterly exhausted.  The normal power-trend between genders has been reversed and a direct relationship between the sadness and the tiredness that it causes is presented like a balance-sheet from the Renaissance changing-house, heavy with the metaphor of venture and loss.

The victorious Hermia rushes off to find her beloved Lysander, leaving the broken Demetrius behind.  The theme of the large, light-filled space that Shakespeare creates for his women returns.  It is as though the moment closes like a curtain as Hermia departs, leaving the ‘invisible’ schemers, Oberon and Puck, behind.

Strongly corrected for his mistake with the love-philtre, Puck speeds away to make amends as Oberon squeezes some of the same juice into Demetrius’s eyes.  There are smiles in the crowd as they begin to anticipate the possibility of yet another mismatch that this will be sure later to cause.

The action moves smoothly on as Lysander and Helena appear.  They speak formally, creating distance in their emotions as if they are going, yet again, through the logical process of some old argument.  Helena, particularly, creates a picture of the reasoning part of the mind and the parlance of the changing-house returns in her asking Lysander to:

                        Weigh oath with oath, and you will nothing weigh;
                        Your vows to her and me, put in two scales,
                        Will even weigh, and both as light as tales.
                                                                                    (3.2.131-133)

Having also said, with finality: “Demetrius loves her, and he loves not you”, in 3.2.136, she implies that all of this talk is pointless, but Demetrius, lying as yet unseen upon the stage, awakes and of course the first person whom he sees is Helena.  Delight surges in the crowd as he cries:

                        O Helen, goddess, nymph, perfect divine!
                        To what, my love, shall I compare thine eyne?
                                                                                    (3.2.137-138)

The paean of praise is the opposite of that which is felt by the subject, who declaims:

                        O spite! O Hell! I see you are all bent
                        To set against me for your merriment.
                                                                                    (3.2.145-146)

The sense of Helena’s shock at what she sees as Demetrius’s cruel mockery would have been strikingly dramatic in good actors.  He is lovingly familiar, she is angrily formal in reply, damning first Demetrius, then both men, from line 149 down, because they have seemed to act in teasing concert.  This is an impassioned representation of a women deeply wronged in the first place, then mocked in the second.  Cunningly, Helena then uses every feminine wile as, sarcastically, she says:

                        A trim exploit, a manly enterprise,
                        To conjure tears in a poor maid’s eyes
                        With your derision! None of noble sort
                        Would so offend a virgin, and extort
                        A poor soul’s patience, all to make you sport.
                                                                                    (3.2.157-161)

She impugns their manhood and their gentility in her anger and she does not hesitate to use the telling image of feminine fragility to create the pathos in the statement in support of the patriarchal assumption that gentility requires that men treat virgins with gentleness, leaving the clear implication that those women not virginal may not aspire to any such treatment.  She has, in fact, attacked the very basis of the mens’ gentility and this has the desired effect of setting Lysander against Demetrius.  Each, comically blames the other and the confusion fairly boils as Hermia appears and Lysander rejects her in favour of Helena.  The latter rages now at Hermia, too—a life-long friend—who now seems to be part of a plot in which all three of the other antagonists now mock her, alone.  It is the men, though, who bring the scene to a dangerous frenzy of avowed, then apparently betrayed love.  They prepare to fight at what each sees as the other’s cruelty to just the thing that Helena had detailed in 3.2.157-161, above.  That is to say, that they as gentlemen should have cared for and defended virginal ladies, in any circumstance.  Lysander shouts “If thou say so, withdraw, and prove it too”.  Demetrius replies “Quick come”.  In lines 3.2.255 and 256, they draw swords.[39]

The women at first intercede, but then they go for each other’s throats in rapid word-exchanges, the four mingle again, quarrel, and the young men threaten each other with their swords, and are unforgivably rude to the women as well.  At one point, epithets such as “Away, you Ethiop!” and “Hang off, thou cat, thou burr!  Vile thing, let loose” (3.2.257 and 260).  These insults are flung around, and in the latter, the use of the familiar mode makes the insults many degrees hotter in a perceived measure of contempt.  Hermia and Helena insult each other in no less a severe way, Helena calling her former friend “you canker-blossom,/ You thief of love!” in 3.2.283-283, and, as well, damns her for being short in stature.  Hermia replies with “thou painted maypole” and “I am not yet so low/ But that my nails can reach unto your eyes”, she spits in 3.2.296-298.  The discourse returns to the historical reality of the available apprentices in Shakespeare’s company, at that time, now with a high level of immediacy.[40]

The entire episode could be performed as a dazzling display of anger and quick action.  A degree of over-acting could have caused a great deal of fun for the audience, as well as for the players.  Finally, the young people successively leave the stage to the observers, the ‘invisible’ Oberon and Puck, who had been watching throughout the entire scene of high confusion that their pranks had caused.  In all of the above, in no way have the women been less upon the stage than the men.  On the contrary, they have matched passion with passion, have been as blazingly angry and their darting repartée has been as pointed and quick-witted as the mens’ rapiers.

Oberon blames Puck, of course, but resolves to continue until he gains the “Indian boy” from Titania, after which he “will her charme'd eye release/ From monster’s view, and all things shall be peace”, as he says in 3.2.375-376.  Yet the resolution lies far beyond another hill as in the following scene Puck crosses the boundary of the spirit-world in using his voice to mystify both Lysander and Demetrius.  The sense of people waking from, then falling back into a kind of omnibus, yet episodic sleep—that in which the dream of the play’s title exists—is continued as both men, exhausted, fall asleep, again, and both Helena and Hermia follow suit.  Lysander receives the love-philtre from Puck and the quartet are left alone at the end of Act 3.

Not for long.  Titania, Bottom and the fairies resume the stage.  Titania has her “gentle joy” sit on “this flowery bed” where she will kiss his “fair large ears” in 4.1.1 and 4.  Bottom asks: “Where’s Peaseblossom?”.  The sprightly small person replies “Ready”.  Bottom orders “Scratch my head, Peaseblossom.  Where’s Monsieur Cobweb?”.  “Ready”, the equally willing boy replies.  Each of the fairies in turn is given a task or sent off on errands, and is invariably addressed as in the formal mode.[41]  This gives a gently teasing touch and a smiling, dream-like quality to what, if it were done really well, would ensure that the performance was utterly memorable as the little people darted about at the behest of the outwardly rough and crude, yet inwardly gentle man (4.1.5-24).

This accesses the sphere of what Shakespeare would have anticipated as his audience’s reaction.  He moves directly into their dream-world, knowing that those in the crowd who had every day to work very hard with their hands, and who often had dreamt of being rich and having servants to send off on a multitude of whims, will be caught up in this fantasy with a sense of mingled laughter and sweet longing.  Hiraeth returns.  Shakespeare had no choice about using young apprentices of his company to represent women but despite this stricture, he made the very best use of them that he could.  He also made the very best use of the “supernumary boys” whom Foakes believes took the parts of the fairies.[42]  Rounded off, this vision cuts like a diamond in its access to the dreams that fill our leisure moments, both those in our sleeping, and those in our waking existence.

The fairies leave the stage, and King Oberon, who had been standing aside, unseen, meets the emerging Puck and tells him that he now regrets the devilry and has already begun to put things right.  In an unseen preceding action, he describes how:

                                    I had at my pleasure taunted her,
                        And she in mild terms begged my patience,
                        I then did ask of her changeling child,
                        Which straight she gave me, and her fairy sent
                        To bear him to my bower in Fairyland.
                        And now I have the boy, I will undo
                        This hateful imperfection of her eyes.
                        And, gentle Puck, take this transforme'd scalp
                        From off the head of this Athenian swain,
                        That, he awakening when the others do,
                        May all to Athens back again repair,
                        And think no more of this night’s accidents
                        But as the fierce vexations of a dream.
                                                                                    (4.1.54-66)

The theme of reconciliation and redemption emerges, as we had always known that it would.  The very structure of the dreams that we know has been stripped bare in a marvellous construction that is by definition also a deconstruction of the border-lands between what we strive to see as reality and that mysterious fiefdom where imagination reigns.  Titania starts up: “My Oberon, what visions I have seen!”.  This single line may be seen as an encapsulation of the experience of anyone who has at any time had a strange dream and then is suddenly awake with the memory of that dream still strong.  In fact, it begins to summarize the entire play’s dream.  Later, Bottom will continue the summary.

Soon, Titania and Oberon are “new in amity” and dancing together.  In the remainder of Act 4 the threads of the dreams that most of the main characters have experienced are pulled aside and found to be caught up—as they always seem to be—in skeins of reality.  Slowly, as the quartet of lovers awake, they find their feet and their bearings and give accounts of themselves and their confused experiences.

Theseus makes a judgment after hearing their stories.  He frees Hermia from her father’s wrath and Athenian law.  Bottom wakes up to find that his friends and fellows are not around him.  He calls out to them, then muses strongly in cohesion with the previously proposed discourse upon the nature of dreams: “I have had a dream, past the wit of man to say what dream it was”.  Man, he says, “is but a patche'd fool if he will offer to say what methought I had” (4.1.200-201, 204-205).  Though couched in Bottom’s tangled style, these words might well act as a post-script for the entire play, yet clearly he feels possessive of its singularity.  The dream, he decides, in 4.1.208-209: “shall be called ‘Bottom’s Dream’, because it hath no bottom”.  Grace Tiffany argues that the allusion, here, is to a body of liquid being bottomless, rather than the dream being fathomless in meaning.  The openly erotic emerges in this also, and Tiffany points out a connection, here, with “Rosalind’s bottomless affection for Orlando”.  Further, she says: “Since androgyny is essentially connective—literally a “medium”—androgyny and androgynizing water are frequently linked to some form of in-betweenness”.  Further still:

Transvestite characters imagine themselves as half female and half male, as when Rosalind vows to encase her inner “woman’s fear” in a “swashing”, “mannish” exterior (As You Like It 1.3.119-12).  Others see them as half boys, half men: Viola seems to be “in standing water, between boy and man” (Twelfth Night 1.5.159).[43]

The pragmatism of Tiffany’s view begins to draw together the threads of a main argument that has raged throughout this work.  It ably confirms one of the original, firm ideas for this undertaking: that the basic truth of varying levels and types of androgyny lay in the viewers’ highly individual eyes.  Before that it was in the actors’ varying understandings and in their individual skill in performance.  Before that, the author dreamt, then shaped, then strove to get his vision clear upon the paper and then upon the stage.  Tiffany’s view of this complexity might well be too analytical in a narrow sense for many of those in Shakespeare’s audience to comprehend..  Yet it is a bold, and justifiable attempt to project thought back in time as this thesis constantly must attempt to do.  The thought remains that those not trained in philosophy or versed in neoplatonist imagery might very well have missed most of these sexual implications.  Simply, there must have been several different levels of understanding in any single audience.  Just as there are, now: though we miss far, far more of these sometimes obscure allusions today.

A rapid linking scene explains that the lovers are now married and that the artisans desperately miss Bottom, not only as a friend but also because, as Peter Quince declaims, “you have not a man in all Athens able to discharge Pyramus but he” (4.2.5-6).  Bottom appears and they are overjoyed.  All hasten away to present their play at the courtly wedding.

As if to tie the drama down to a notionally earthly reality after these meditations upon the world of dreams, Theseus speaks of the need  for “masques” and “dances” to fill “this long age of three hours/ Between our after-supper and bedtime” (5.1.32-35).  One can imagine the smiles and the faintly uneasy laughter that inevitably occur when someone speaks of the process of the newly-married as they go to bed on their first night.  Much humour precedes the longed-for moment in married life where the ideal of marriage—in all virtue, and within the sanctity of the church—exists inseparably parallel to the sexual act in which the woman presents herself as a virgin to her husband.  Theseus might very well grin rather wickedly as he declaims “Is there no play/ To ease the anguish of a torturing hour?”.  Standing aside from the play for a moment, we see that the whole episode is meant to prolong the pleasure of our own, also parallel, imaginings of the now, and our “remembrance of things past”—though without the sweet melancholy of Sonnet 30—in which we also remember our dreams of enjoying these now legal and virtuous couplings.

After all, the lovers simply could have hopped straight into bed as soon as they were united?  But that would sacrifice these vibrantly funny moments which so strongly echo the modern wedding-reception where, in the best-man’s speech, sexually-loaded humour is almost expected in its fuelling of the excitement of the occasion, where most of the men present imagine themselves with the bride, and the women imagine themselves with the groom.  Inescapably, here, we see the young male actor playing the part of a woman in an uninflected way. There are no apparent double-meanings in the text at this point, as constantly there were in As You Like It and Twelfth Night.  Here at least, the female side of heterosexual love and marriage is created by the poet and represented by the tools at hand, the apprentices, but without the double-meaning bawdry of the other plays.

Reality again intrudes, when Philostrate take up his role as Master of the Revels.  Acting as the censor that the real Elizabethan official often was, Philostrate tries to steer Theseus away from Pyramus and Thisbe.  He denigrates both the play and the players, but fails to convince Theseus and with a flourish, the mechanicals appear.  Roughly comical, the opening earns the players humorously disparaging comments from their noble audience.  The inspiration to have the human Starveling act as Wall bears out the classical allusions in the foregoing study of poets and the divine-frenzies that they are subject to.[44]   The power of the poetic inspiration is here born out in adding an extra dimension to the humour.  Yet if the action is to be truly funny, bawdry is virtually required at this point.  Shakespeare does not disappoint us.  In Bottom’s speech as Pyramus, it would have been very difficult for anyone in the audience to avoid seeing the point in: “O lovely wall ... show me your chink, to blink through with mine eyne”, upon which Snout, as Wall, parts his fingers.  After calling down Jove’s blessings for this accommodation, and when Pyramus cannot see the expected Thisbe, he cries out “Cursed be thy stones for thus deceiving me!” in 5.1.172, 174 and 178.  In these lines a straightforwardly comical situation takes on an extra edge of laughter in the clear reference to male sexual parts.  One can even imagine Bottom blinking in a faintly distasteful way, and, with an apprehensive glance at the crowd, turning his head to peer through the aperture.  The possibilities for the use of glances as visual-asides is made perfectly clear and open within the text, and given the context, it seems certain that the players of the poet’s own time would not have failed to take every opportunity to raise laughter in the crowd.

Apertures and appendages live on from that age in our sexual discourse as features with which to make fun, but when Theseus is heard to say, “The wall, methinks, being sensible, should curse again” (5.1.179), the comedy enters another dimension.  This is again a space in which metatheatrical comment is made.  The humour is heightened to a truly irresistible level when Bottom, hearing the duke’s comment, jumps out of his part as Pyramus and in his simple and direct way, speaks directly to the noble listener as though the required gap between the players and their audience suddenly had vanished.  Politely, he explains that in fact, Thisbe has missed her cue, but that she will appear.

Before moving on, it cannot be seen this episode is anything but yet another manifestation of Shakespeare’s love of the notionally common level of humankind.  Though these figures that he creates are clear representations of the unschooled buffoon, there is love in every line that he gives them to speak.  Representation, in this, is another level of artifice in which laughter is ascendant in the love that he felt for the people among whom he was born and grew up.  He may laugh at them, but he never shows either dislike or real contempt for his clowns, but in the above episode, crude male humour is separated from any association with the unspoken female humour.

The raving bawdry continues as Flute—not being really a woman—is permitted to pipe, in a gross falsetto:

                        O wall, full often hast thou heard my moans,
                           For parting my fair Pyramus and me.
                        My cherry lips have often kissed thy stones,
                           Thy stones with lime and hair knit up in thee.
                                                                                    (5.1.183-186)

Perhaps even funnier is Pyramus’s outrageously jumbled reply where he purports to “see a voice” and “hear my Thisbe’s face” in 5.1.187-188.  Later, they round off a stiff and comically artificial set of classical allusions as measures of high-flown love combined with low-bawdry in “O, kiss me through the hole of this vile wall!” to which Flute pipes back, I kiss the wall’s hole, not your lips at all” in 5.1.195-196.  It does not require much imagination to visualise the expressions that might flit across Wall’s face as this exchange proceeds.  Wall had earlier been told by the duke that he is “sensible”, in 5.1.179, therefore animate, and earlier still, Snout-as-Wall had explained his existence and his function in 5.2.153-162.  A good actor would have taken full advantage of this valorization to squeeze the last drops of humour from the scene, though, when the lovers rush off in different directions to meet at “Ninny’s tomb” it is hard to say which of these outrageous things would have been the funniest.[45]

The fact that they could easily have met at the tomb in the first place and therefore had no need to speak through Wall’s chink echoes the need for Duke Theseus’s to fill three hours with merriment before climbing into bed with his beloved Hippolyta.  The fact that the structure of the play requires these prolongations of the action to give the crowd their money’s worth in enjoying the “diversion” of Pyramus and Thisbe and the highly comical episode in which Wall plays his part, would not have escaped the observant and the play-wise of Shakespeare’s audience.  The essential element of female representation is uninflected here: simply, woman is the object of a man’s desire.   Love, in this play, is therefore seen to be represented in its most ethereal, and, paradoxically, in its earthiest form.  Finally, the above piece of metatheatrical awareness would itself have caused a smile in those who had set out from their homes and trudged through the dark and dirty street of London and Southwark, determined to be amused for as long as their hard-earned pennies could justify.

An interesting comment upon the process of all drama follows when Hippolyta begins: “This is the silliest stuff that ever I heard” in 5.1.204.  A sense of his duty to defend those who often lack the power to defend themselves exists in Theseus’s immediate reply in defence of the clowns.  Actually, Shakespeare speaks, but for the moment his name is Theseus.  He says “The best of this kind are but shadows; and the worst are no worse, if imagination amend them.” (5.1.205-205).  Hippolyta hedges: “It must be your imagination then, and not theirs”.  Theseus then further explains what he sees that Hippolyta had not instantly understood a vital part of his speech, above.  Patiently, he says: “If we imagine no worse of them than they of themselves, they may pass for excellent men”.  Come down off your high-horse, he is saying: they, the rough and ready players, are also—and justifiably so—a part of both the dream and the reality of life.  Generosity about the clowns’ social-status, their hoydenish manners, their lack of education, is not simply to be hoped-for, but it is required in grasping the truth of the representation that they make.  They must, and they will do their best in setting out to amuse their notional betters.  Ultimately, the act is seen as a gift by both Theseus and Shakespeare.

In due course, the lion frightens Thisbe away from the meeting-place at  “Ninny’s tomb” in 5.1.247.  She drops her cloak, which has a blood-stain upon it.  Pyramus finds it, and thinking that his love is dead, he stabs himself in a grotesque echo of the tomb scene in Romeo and Juliet.  Thisbe returns and finds Pyramus dead, then stabs herself, leaving, as Theseus comments, only “Moonshine and Lion ... to bury the dead” in 5.1.330.  The point is that even though this version of the “love-death” scene may be performed in the most clownish way, it still constitutes an enacted ritual of tragic love.

Demetrius remembers that Wall is left alive, too, and hearing this comment both Flute and Bottom jump up.  Bottom offers the duke a choice between a “Bergomask dance” in 5.1.334, and the play’s epilogue.  Theseus hastily chooses the dance and again demonstrates his generosity towards those whom Philostrate had described as those “Hard-handed men that work in Athens” in 5.1.72.  “No epilogue I pray you; for your play needs no excuse. Never excuse”.  Though gently he teases them about the plot, he tells them that their play was “very notably discharged” (5.1.335 and 339).  In fact, he is right.  Though there is much scope for grotesquery and the extremes of burlesque style in this little play-within-the-play, the clowns had answered the call of so many people—in that historical envelope, and in this—specifically, that mysterious need to perform a part: to walk about in someone else’s shoes, to speak of the extremes of human experience before an audience.  We must laugh, but we must also love.  Why not be Thisbe or her Pyramus for just a while?  Though intentionally performed as the height, or the notional depth of parody, Flute’s Thisbe acts as a bright foil for the other female parts in A Midsummer Night’s Dream.

As Katherine Kelly observes, the breeches parts in Shakespeare may be seen as “a microcosm of the actor’s art”.  Also, they are “gendered subjects acting out a drama of sexual difference”.[46]  We have both a notionally high representation of women in Hippolyta, and to a lesser extent, Hermia and Helena.  Between such characters and the notional low of parodic Thisbe, we also have the sometimes ethereal and sometimes earthy Titania.  The notionally high characters are single-shifted and mostly uninflected in the episodes of double-meaning bawdry that is so often found in As You Like It and Twelfth Night, but the principle of what the author and the actors are capable of reproducing in their very wide range of acting styles emerges again in this argument.  Kelly picks out what Marianne Novy had earlier seen as a colloquy in the performance of such breeches parts as: “Anne Page in The Merry Wives of Windsor, the Page in The Taming of the Shrew”, together with Flute in A Midsummer Night’s Dream.  These are, Novy argues, parts which clearly demonstrate a heightened awareness of, specifically, “ ‘different social ideals’ ” among the characters.  In Kelly’s own words they demonstrate the enactment of “gender as one of the chief components of social negotiation”.  For Kelly, gender in the above parts is closely examined in a way that requires “a relaxing of the constraints on gender definition”.  This performs the much more important task of enacting the “distancing of sex from gender”[47]  Even the bufoonish Flute may perform this curiously physical/emotional equivocation/definition, and in the process, act as a stark contrast to the “ladies” of a much higher social position than his own.  According to Kelly, these ideas are closely related to Linda Bamber’s sentiment—in paraphrase, here—that the “freedom to play at change through disguise, reversal, and the various forms of social transgression” are openly subversive of the patriarchal order.  They require a “high and complex order of audience involvement” and generally “conclude with the resumption of order (associated with patriarchal control)”.[48]  Finally, Kelly sees Shakespeare as warring against the:

mimetic representation of female characters as diminutive men and substituting for that representation a self-mimetic and ironically complex dramatic fiction of gender as a part to be learned, played, and applauded.[49]

We have seen this in the double-shifted characters of As You Like It and Twelfth Night and now in its single-shifted form in A Midsummer Night’s Dream.  Whether double or single-shifted, whether in the laughter caused by the episodes of open bawdry, or in the audience’s absorption of the episodes of high-flown love, Kelly’s clear principles, above, may be seen as strikingly true.  Yet some surprising facts have emerged.  Grace Tiffany, citing Jan Kott, concludes that A Midsummer Night’s Dream is “ ‘the most erotic of Shakespeare’s plays’ ”.[50]  This strong opinion is justified by comparisons with another play with forest-scenes—notably The Merry Wives of Windsor—and the treatment of the concepts of reality and fantasy; of waking-states and of dreams.  Cutting through complexity to some central simplicity, it is the role of dreams and the imagination, of text and situation, to create the contrast between the ethereal beings and the earthly “beasts”, with the proviso that mythic-beasts and beast-androgynes may exist in the same envelope, a factor that so focuses the final truth that when we dream, anything may happen.  In the eyes and ears of the viewer, extremes between the ethereal love-object who is purely female, and the sometimes grubby-humoured cross-dressed boy; may clearly be seen and heard.  Or not, if the viewer/hearer either does wish to see the distinction, or is too obtuse in the first place.  Textually, the possibilities expand even further, yet this expansion requires that we acknowledge that the simple act of reading is itself an act of interpretation.

In the end, the audience sighs and goes home; the players retire to slough off the layers of artifice: the paint, the clothes, the sentiments, all.  Just before that, the final cross-over between the real and the spirit world is announced as:

                        The iron tongue of midnight hath told twelve.
                        Lovers, to bed; ‘tis almost fairy time.
                                                                                    (5.1.341-342)

The court leaves the stage and immediately Puck returns and tells the mellowed crowd that now is the time in which the bad things happen: which in their turn cause the bad dreams in humankind.  Oberon, Titania and all of the fairies sweep out onto the stage.  This scotches the wicked imp that Puck wishes to be and says that, really, the life of dreams is not like that at all.[51]  Puck’s darker urges countered, he returns to speak the epilogue.  Chastened, the actor speaks the lines that gracefully dismiss the darkness.  He is smilingly off-hand about the theatre-poet’s work and finally includes the audience in the entire endeavour:

                                    If we shadows have offended,
                                    Think but this and all is mended:
                                    That you have but slumbered here
                                    While these visions did appear;
                                    And this weak and idle theme,
                                    No more yielding than a dream,
                                    Gentles, do not reprehend;
                                    If you pardon, we will mend.
                                    And, as I am an honest Puck,
                                    If we have unearne'd luck
                                    Now to ‘scape the serpent’s tongue
                                    We will make amends ere long.
                                    Else the Puck a liar call.
                                    So, good night unto you all.
                                    Give me your hands if we be friends,
                                    And Robin shall restore amends.[52]
                                                                                    (5.1.401-416)

A Midsummer Night’s Dream dazzles us with the poet’s virtuosity in accessing and mixing several distinctly different social spheres as well as creating the vehicle in which we may cross the ultimate chasm: the divide between the world of the spirit and that of our own earthly, mortal bodies.  Simply, we are transported.  Not in a cloud of exhaust fumes, but by the willingness of our collective imaginations to escape the world that we know, for a world where the woodland fantasy, the eclogue and the fabled idyll hold sway.  Human foolishness is lampooned; reversals of sexual appearance and expected role take place; the pursuer is pursued in the magical madness of flower-dosed thraldom; but the human capacity for love, above all else, is glorified, as so it should be.  Ultimately, the very nature of the play-within-the-play, Pyramus and Thisbe, high-lights aspects of the social-awareness of the author and draws from all of his viewers the enjoyment of people as people: from whatever social-level they arise.  Perhaps most importantly of all, Pyramus and Thisbe creates a demonstration of the sheer dramatic range of what Shakespeare’s actors needed in creating the contrast between the court-scene and rough-handed artisans.  The conclusion must be drawn that the writer would not have set out to achieve these widely disparate characters in their radically contrasting worlds if he had not been supremely confident that he could achieve the display at a very high standard—though boys would have to take their load in the drama, along with the adult men.

The earthly effect of love lies behind all of the dreams and the what-should-be.  As Grace Tiffany succinctly expresses it, A Midsummer Night’s Dream is mostly concerned, ultimately, “with marriage and sexual gratification”.[53]  This idea certainly gives strength to Stephen Greenblatt’s central concept that:

erotic chafing is the central means by which characters in plays like The Taming of the ShrewA Midsummer Night’s Dream, Much Ado About Nothing, and Twelfth Night realise their identities and form loving unions.[54]

Greenblatt also notes that he had previously detected “the erotic energy of chafing in the wooing scene in Richard III.”  He argues that Shakespeare went on to conceive this process “with violence and aggression in The Rape of Lucrece and The Taming of the Shrew”, but that “the aggression is itself tamed in A Midsummer Night’s Dream and Much Ado About Nothing.”[55]  The central use of this idea is that not all things may be achieved in dreams is an idea to maintain a strong hold on.  The body, after all, both generates and owns the dreams.

The last word in this last chapter must go to Carolyn Heilbrun.  Her calm and logical thinking expresses what this undertaking has struggled so hard to describe as a process of deciphering codes that the lexical, syntactic, semantic, philosophical and social gulfs between ourselves and Renaissance people have created.  In the greatest clarity, Heilbrun offers:

The nineteenth and twentieth centuries superseded all others in finding confusion between the sexes terrifying, or indicative of some nameless and horrible threat.[56]

Further, and because of this, we do not see that the young androgyne creation who appeared upon the stage was often Shakespeare’s idea of a “ ‘redeeming power’ ”.[57]  Heilbrun argues that “masculine and feminine qualities, in proper balance, are essential to the expression of humanity”.  Strongly, Heilbrun also claims that Shakespeare himself “was the most androgynous of men”, not expressed in the sense that made him stand out from the Renaissance crowd, but rather in the sense that he represented the spirit of his age in that vital aspect.  Despite the fact that many critics, over many years have remarked that Shakespeare’s women, as Ann Blake expresses it: “almost always have the edge, certainly in moral awareness if not in courage and humanity”; they have failed, Blake also argues, accurately to explain why this is so.[58]  On the one hand, knowledge then existed, as Ann Blake points out, of “Renaissance medical accounts” which describe the “female genitalia as being an inverted hidden version of the male”.  This also expresses the equivocation in purely anatomical terms of that which is normally hidden, or at least not commonly seen, yet was never far from the consciousness of humankind.  On the other hand, even the outer, more obvious, characteristics of gender were not taken to be definitive in that age.  In the Elizabethan sphere, sex was not:

absolute but determined by degrees of heat at conception.  Greenblatt proposes an Elizabethan subsuming of the category female within the male, an understanding of gender that finds “its supreme literary expression in a transvestite theatre”.[59]

Saved for this discussion so near to the end of this thesis, Nicholas Radel’s rather testy observation on “Jonathan Goldberg’s recent attack” on the concept that deliberate “homoeroticism is figured in the cross-dressing conventions” of Renaissance drama.  Radel separates Goldberg’s view on this from “earlier feminist discussions of gender and sexuality in Shakespeare’s comedies.  He argues that Goldberg insists that, because Renaissance people “did not effect a divide between sexualities (or even genders, he implies)”, then it is true to say that when “characters seem to change gender in these plays, they do not therefore change sexualities”.[60]  In fact, I believe Radel is being too didactic.

It has been demonstrated in this work, and recorded in the work of many other established scholars, that Renaissance people did not have either the desire, nor did they perceive the need, closely to cleave to one outward gender or sexuality to display; either in their lives, or in their drama.[61]  They could tease, they could hoot with laughter or simply giggle about the clever display or the rapid-fire wit and bawdry; but the sexuality or gender of the player and his part was left entirely negotiable in the viewer’s eyes and ears alone.

Where gender and sexuality perceptions existed then, or now exist in their different forms, the question as to whether “undecidability is liberating” now seems almost irrelevant.[62]   Rather, it is a question as to whether decidability is even attainable in such a vast field where ancient and modern mysteries are so individually created, enacted, and received.[63]  Ultimately, what you see and hear upon the stage is surely different to what I will see and hear?

Continue to Conclusion

 

[1]See Hero’s wedding-day in Much Ado About Nothing.  The name of the target of such power being Hero seems strongly to propose a Marlowe-like ambiguity.

[2]Egeus, in Shakespeare’s words, seems to have accessed the Roman law of patria potestas.  This gave the overall patriarch of a family the right of summary execution over any child who failed in obedience to him.  The general tendency in Roman society towards infanticide for, either, punishment, convenience or political expedience, was only repealed in response to a rapidly falling citizen-population in AD 374.  See Vincent van Hasselt and others, A Handbook of Family Violence (New York> Plenum Press, 1988), p. 120. 

[3]This darkness in the situational openings of these plays brings to fore again the idea that this is the special world of comedy.  Special kinds of comedic rules apply.  ‘Jesting seriousness’ raises its ambiguous head again?

[4]R.A. Foakes, ed., The New Cambridge Shakespeare: A Midsummer Night’s Dream (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1995 [1984]), p. 50.  Also, see Louis Adrian Montrose, “ ‘Shaping Fantasies’: Figurations of Gender and Power in Elizabethan Culture” in Stephen Greenblatt, ed., Representing the English Renaissance (Berkeley: The University of California Press, 1988).  This author, for a penetrating view of the influences upon the play.  The entire substance of the beginning of A Midsummer Night’s Dream—as Montrose clearly states—is couched in a tincture of the Amazon myth.  In it, the “fairy plot” runs in tandem with the “Athenian plot ... made possible by the magical powers of Oberon and made lawful by the political authority of Theseus”.  Yet these twin-streams are grounded in the eventual return to “The diachronic structure of A Midsummer Night’s Dream” as the true base in which the “inverted Amazonian system of gender and nurture” are firmly re-inverted to the “patriarchal norm”, and, it might be added, produce a happy ending to smooth away the hectic terrors of sexual heresy for those individuals of the Elizabethan age to whom such things felt uncomfortable.

[5]An element of unruliness is strongly delineated in Hermia’s brave stand.  See Valerie Traub, Desire and Anxiety: Circulations of Sexuality in Shakespearian Drama (London and New York: Routledge, 1992), p. 92-93.  Apart from Traub’s own ideas on this, she cites Jean Howard, “Crossdressing, the Theatre, and Gender Struggle in Early Modern England” in Shakespeare Quarterly 39, 1988, p. 432.

[6]This forms a colloquy with the observation already made, that people of then thought that love entered by the eyes.  See Elizabeth Story Donno ed., The New Cambridge Shakespeare: Twelfth Night or What You Will (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1985), p. 68, n. 253.  Donno points to “The standard doctrine was that love entered through the eyes.  Prospero comments on the instant enamourment of Miranda and Ferdinand: ‘At the first sight/ They have chang’d eyes’ (Temp. 1.2.441-2)”.

[7]Foakes, p. 56.  Also see Donno, n. 18, above.

[8]Foakes, p. 56.

[9]Foakes, pp. 45, 57, gives an excellent break-down of the mixture of aptronymics and trade-names that exist among the mechanicals.  Of special interest in this thesis is that “Flute” is seen as referring to a person whose voice most capably will represent Thisbe’s voice: a fluting falsetto if it is to be truly funny, yet his name is also linked to his occupation being that of “bellows-mender”.

[10]This passage translates well across four centuries, since such mannerisms of speech are often used to raise laughter, particularly in modern British comedies, to this day.  The descendants of Shakespeare’s artisans still exhibit this notional quaintness-of-speech and it is often quite deliberately assumed and even exaggerated in dialect-groups when strangers are present.  This, in the private systems of communication in concrete groups within disparate social-strata to this day.  A sense of identity—severally and diversely—binds people with a fellow-feeling in the form of a colloquy that transcends the need for the understanding, merely, of that which is uttered.  This custom is omni-sexual, and, it is here offered, universal among language-groups throughout the world in providing signifiers—both for the group concretely and discretely for those outside it—in a process which also provides cohesive dialect-groups with a strong sense of identity and pride.

[11]Foakes, p. 57, is clear that “the workmen, as is usual in Elizabethan plays, speak in prose”.

[12]Foakes, p. 58.

[13]There would have been an abundance of boys in the St Paul’s, the Chapel Royal and the Blackfriars troupes to choose from in those years.

[14]Foakes, pp. 4, 58, enlarges upon this vital question.

[15]Foakes, p. 58, claims that such plays were popular enough for “Beaumont to burlesque [them] in The Knight of the Burning Pestle (1608)” and the audience would have responded in a knowing way to this signal.

[16]Foakes, pp. 4, 58.  Please also see Katherine Kelly, “The Queen’s Two Bodies: Shakespeare’s Boy Actress in Breeches” in Theatre Journal 42, 1990, p. 92.  Kelly expounds the overall view that comedy, particularly, was the ideal vehicle for the breeches parts—even in such relatively brief episodes as Flute’s Thisbe.  Also see Bruce Smith, Homosexual Desire in Shakespeare’s England: A Cultural Poetics (Chicago and London: The University of Chicago Press, 1991), p. 124.  Smith sees Flute’s episode as relating to the Maid Marion figure who appeared in sixteenth century morris dances: he whose beard was often masked with a cloth.  He believes, however, that in Flute’s case, a truly beardless boy with a naturally high voice would best have fitted the bill.  It is here maintained that either extreme would do as well in being very funny and well in keeping with the Elizabethan sense of hard-edged, ironic humour.

[17]Peter Thomson, Shakespeare’s Theatre, 2nd edn. (London and New York: Routledge, 1992 [Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1983]), p. 118.  Thomson quotes R.A. Foakes, “Tragedy at the Children’s Theatres after 1600” in David Galloway, ed., The Elizabethan Theatre II, 1970, p. 45.

[18]Please see Grace Tiffany, Erotic Beasts and Social Monsters: Shakespeare, Jonson and Comic Androgyny (London and Toronto: Associated Universities Press, 1995), p. 11.  She cites Phyllis Rackin from the book-version of “Androgyny, Mimesis, and the Marriage of the Boy Heroine on the Renaissance Stage” in Elaine Showalter, ed., Speaking Gender (New York: Routledge, 1989), p. 113.  Grace Tiffany does not claim in any way to simplify the understanding of a play such as A Midsummer Night’s Dream when its androgyne element alone is closely studied.  In an intertextual view, she observes that:

the baffling power of the androgynous characters who control Shakespeare’s comic plots, also begin to define the larger, older, multivisaged mythic “character” who was a central inspiration for Portia, Rosalind, and Viola, as well as for Bottom, Benedick, Petruchio, and many other Shakespearian comic figures who in some sense defy conventional gender distinctions.

Tiffany’s drive was to separate her perceptions, drawing partly on Robert Kimbrough’s scholarship, of an “ancient mythic androgyne” from a “newer satiric androgyne” which had begun to appear in this period.  Bottom appears to fall into the second category, as does Flute/Thisbe.  Few things in Shakespeare are that simple, though.  He creates both monsters and near-ethereal figures with equal ease, as we shall see.

[19]Foakes, p. 3-5, 61.  This editor is highly persuasive in stating that John Lyly’s Galathea was of the signal influences on Shakespeare in general, and on this play in particular.  The relative, overall simplicity of “Lyly’s balanced prose, written for his schoolboy actors” is imitated in the speech of Shakespeare’s fairies and elves, but Foakes argues that Shakespeare then made significant improvements in providing a “variety of textures” in the speech of the little people in Dream which made Lyly’s verse seem “stylised, monotonous and thin” by comparison.  The opening speech of the unnamed fairy definitely bears this out.  Anthony Burgess, Shakespeare (London: Jonathan Cape, 1970), p. 138, argues that “Since Sir James Barrie and Enid Blyton, fairies have become debased and whimsical” and quite unlike the “tough and dangerous” sprites that the Elizabethans perceived.  Essentially, though they were not necessarily “malevolent”.  They were avatars: “the pre-Christian gods reduced to wood-spirits.  Finally, there is no whimsy in the language that Shakespeare gives them”.

[20]Foakes, p. 64.

[21]Foakes, p. 64; Onions, p. 311; Partridge, p. 214.

[22]Tiffany, p. 73.  This also relates strongly to Tiffany, p. 150, and her citation of William Carroll’s idea that A Midsummer Night’s Dream is “the most explicitly metamorphic of Shakespeare’s comedies”, and this works for role, form, character and sexuality.  See Carroll’s The Metamorphoses of Shakespearian Comedy (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1985), pp. 142, 147.  Specifically, the way to “eros”, and therefore, inevitably, marriage, was through the thraldom, the beastliness, the monstrousness of transformed characters.  This, either in their transformed state, as with Bottom and Titania, or after the veil is torn away, as with the quartet of lovers.

[23]Anthony Burgess, p. 149, relates the terrible events of the 1595 as a contextual parallel-in-life for Titania’s account of the upheavals in nature.  During that summer, rioting apprentices had caused the closure of the theatres and the astrological portents for the Queen’s life were not good.  Grain was in scant supply in England and the colonists of New England were suffering crop-failures and cattle-sicknesses.  Burgess reports that the consequences for the apprentices was far beyond what most modern people may imagine as fit punishment for civil disobedience.  Some were “hanged, drawn and quartered on Tower Hill”.  This, because they had broken up stalls and destroyed produce in response to the “egg-vendors and butter-women”, who had doubled their prices.  It would be good to think that such a waste of young life would deeply have upset Shakespeare, but it must be admitted that this possibility must be viewed within the historical context of the recorded street-events of every-day London, those in which what we would regard as acts of sheer savagery must then rather have been dulled in the eyes of the citizens by the frequency with which such dreadful things occurred. 

[24]See Rawdon Wilson, Shakespearian Narrative (London: Associated University Press, 1995), pp. 31-32.  Wilson persuasively argues that narrative is no more obviously present than “in Shakespeare, the ever-present mindprint of the Renaissance”.  This, in ascribing “...a cause or chain of causes” that “harken back to previous times and forgotten circumstances to provide etiologies that explain current conditions”.  Wilson links Ovid with Spenser and Shakespeare in constructing narrative in this way.

[25]Montrose, p. 37 pointedly comments upon the restoration of the “ ‘little changeling boy’ ... from the world of the mother into the world of the father”.  This, on the one level, stands as much more interesting when we see that, later in the play, it is only after “proud Titania” has been taunted, humiliated and degraded by “jealous Oberon” (2.1.60, 61) that she yields the boy to him.  This, so that they may be “new in amity” (4.1.86).  Montrose does not comment upon the sexual connotations in the text, but here it is offered that the ancient Germanic legend of the Erlkönig may very well be seen to emerge in this ambiguous study of absolute possession in the legend, and in the following:

                              And she in mild terms begg’d my patience,
                              I then did ask of her her changeling child;
                              Which straight she gave me, and her fairy sent
                              To bear him to my bower in fairy land.
                              And now I have the boy, I will undo
                              This hateful imperfection of her eyes.
                                                                                          (4.1.57-62)

Bruce Smith on the other hand, pp. 199-200, gives a strongly-worded opinion that this episode ties A Midsummer Night’s Dream more closely to “Ovid’s tale of Jupiter and Ganymede”.  In fact, “Oberon has a sexual appetite to rival Jupiter”.  This, in wanting the “ ‘Indian boy’ ” as his page.  Broaching the utterly bizarre, Murray Levith reports that a 1986 version of A Midsummer Night’s Dream by the China Coal Miners’ Troupe staged “electronic music, green lights for forest effects, and a Bottom ‘transformed’ with Peking Opera mask.  Oberon and Titania’s quarrel was over an eight-function digital watch, not a changeling boy!”.  This was done, presumably, to overcome any possible chance of being seen to purvey Western decadence in the form of child-abuse.  See Murray Levith’s “The Bard and the Dragon: Shakespeare in China” in R.S. White, Charles Edelman and Christopher Wortham, eds., Shakespeare: Readers, Audiences, Players (Nedlands, Western Australia: The University of Western Australia Press, 1998), p. 71.

[26]It is almost as though the episode where Titania settles down to sleep is introduced as an antidote to the sometimes stressful darkness of the earlier scenes.  This interlude opens a vista upon a sweeter, kindlier aspect of Renaissance drama in which a notionally gentle woodland constitutes the opposite of the angularity and hardness of order in the normal human abode.  The possible terrors of such wild places are held distant, if only for this moment.  The magical element is very strongly present and the status of the text within its context has no greater power than that which comes from the theatre scribes in the age of the first performances of these Renaissance plays.  A wonderful example of this lies in Demetrius and Enanthe, 4.3.  As F.P. Wilson writes, the scrivener’s directions create a magical scene in the form of stage-directions to the play:

Enter a Magitian wth a Bowle in his hand. He seems to Coniure: sweete Musique is heard, and an Antick of litle Fayeries enter, & dance about ye Bowle, and fling in things, & Ext.

See Wilson’s, “Ralph Crane, Scrivener to the King’s Players” in Gerald Eades Bentley, ed. The Seventeenth-Century Stage: A Collection of Critical Essays (Chicago & London: The University of Chicago Press, 1968), p. 153.  The 1619 play—a collaboration between John Fletcher and Francis Beaumont—is more usually known as The Humorous Lieutenant.  The sense of this kind of scene-making belonging to the spirit of the times, yet being inspired by much more ancient tales is very much strengthened in Foakes’s opinions about the juxtaposition of relative character-sizes in A Midsummer Night’s Dream.  He says that “Puck was probably played by an adult actor” while the “fairies in the play are, by contrast, imagined as tiny ... innocuous, and associated with flowers”.  Refer to Foakes, pp. 10-11, 57.  Felix Mendelssohn most emphatically picks up on the changing rhythms in Ein Mittsommernachtstraum.  Finally, See William Ringler, “The Number of Actors in Shakespeare’s Early Plays” in Bentley, ed., pp. 130-134.  Of all things, perhaps, this use of a large number of very small people would be the easiest to achieve for modern film or television-versions of A Midsummer Night’s Dream to reproduce.  Productions such as the contemporary musical-drama Les Misérables, employ two entirely separate shifts of three children each of which are required by this current adaptation of Victor Hugo’s 1862 novel of the same name.  This, at the Perth Entertainment Centre, Western Australia, April 1999.  The modern stage must deal with laws that aim to curb the notional depredations of child-labour in the traditional six stage performances in each week, hence the two shifts.

[27]M.H. Abrams, A Glossary of Literary Terms, 6th edn. (Fort Worth: Harcourt Brace, 1993 [1941]), pp. 17-19.

[28]Foakes, p. 75.

[29]Foakes, p. 77, offers that the relationship between Helena’s “Transparent” appearance and the statement that “nature shows art” high-lights the accepted Elizabethan notion of art being humankind’s creation, and is transparent, while nature—its binary opposite—is opaque.

[30]A significant view of Shakespeare’s purpose in creating “deliberately artificial, stylized” episodes in otherwise original plays often throws the modern critic into confusion.  This, according to A.P. Riemer’s Antic Fables: Patterns of Evasion in Shakespeare’s Comedies (Sydney: Sydney University Press, 1980), pp. 5-6.  Riemer’s thrust, taken in his own, highly original context, establishes that modern criticism too often fails to see that Shakespeare might often not have striven towards our modern notion of “high art”, or even have thought much about any such concept at all.  He needed his audience, first and foremost, to understand the action.  As well, parody may well be seen as his foremost aim in producing such stylized moments for people to see, understand and enjoy as deliberate jokes.  If Riemer’s scholarship seems sometimes to damn Shakespeare in an excessively combative manner, he will be seen to redeem himself in the final words of his conclusion in expressing:

They [the comedies] are representatives of that aspect of European culture in which the artificial, the stylized and the playful become the repositories of significant, moving and enthralling emotional and aesthetic experiences.  The amplitude of their concerns gives them that variety Johnson found so praiseworthy in Hamlet and Shakespeare in his own Cleopatra.

[31]Anthony Burgess — who taught English Lit, to this author — supplies that: “When James I was still only James VI, there had been a masque at Stirling Castle with a pride of lions in it.  The ladies had been frightened.  Shakespeare had known about this when writing A Midsummer Night’s Dream”.  Text-within-context establishes that, of course, these ladies will be frightened, too.  See Burgess’s colourful account, p. 213. 

[32]In a contingency against the possibility that the moon might not shine for them on the night, Quince decides that someone must “present the person of Moonshine”.  He adds: “we must have a wall in the great chamber; for Pyramus and Thisbe, says the story, did talk through the chink of a wall.” (3.1.47-50).  In this, again, the great discourse of presenting drama, both before the artisans’ times and in their present, is covered.  Ancient associations exist in Quince speaking of the man “with a bush of thorns and a lantern”.  That is to say, he who must come to “disfigure” (3.1.46-47) the Moon.  To represent him, in fact.  This joins with the alternative idea that this actor must come “to present the person of Moonshine”, so that, either, an allegorical figure to represent the moon, or the moon itself, alternatively, might appear to the audience.  Foakes, pp. 80-81, outlines these ancient associations and allusions and makes reference to T.W. Craik, The Tudor Interlude: Stage, Costume and Acting (Leicester, Leicester University Press, 1958), p. 18, in support of his argument.  Further, thinking literally, Snout doubts that a wall can be brought onto the stage, so Bottom suggests that:

Some man or other must present Wall; and let him have some plaster, or some loam, or some rough-cast about him to signify Wall; or let him hold his fingers thus, and through that cranny shall Pyramus and Thisbe whisper.
                                                                                                                (3.1.52-55)

In this burst of inspiration by Bottom, suddenly, “a wall” or “the wall” is promoted by the use a capital “W” to create a proper-noun status for an artefact that will be human, therefore personified.  Peter Quince may be the nominal leader of the group, but Bottom is the genius despite his bungled grammar.  Around Bottom, one see the sweat, the plaster, the paint and the dust of theatrical scene-making.

[33]In the era preceding the mechanicals play, the development from presenting a person, either real, or mythical, by an iconic figure, shifted to the notion of representation of a person, either real or mythical, by a character.  This in the developing, historical etymology of the word “representation” as we now understand it.  The ancient associations for the artisans and the more developed ideas about representation that became the style of the late Renaissance, here join in this perceived need for the wall and the spoken need for the wall itself.  Further, it acts as a thumbnail study of this aspect of the growth of drama in a marvellously fine focus.  See David Bordwell, Narration in the Fiction Film (London: Routledge, 1988), pp. 31, for a clear definition of this extremely useful idea of naturally occurring “schemata”.  Also, p. 153 for an example of its use in literary analysis.

[34]Their joy in those things is, in part at least, their inspiration for wanting to pass on that joy.  The need to represent the things of great importance in an individual’s spiritual life, though, may also be viewed as rising close to mania, at times, and this relates to a view of things that are so important that, though they pass into dramatic history, they are not forgotten by the people while they are alive.  See T.W. Craik, The Tudor Interlude: Stage, Costume and Acting (Leicester, Leicester University Press, 1958).  This, for an extremely useful view of the background to this question.  See also John Wesley Harris, Medieval Theatre in Context (London and New York: Routledge, 1992), pp. 188-195.  Harris provides a useful survey of this background in the historical memory of the people during a period of radical change in which the growth of Protestantism resulted in religious plays being seen as—broadly—standing between God and his people.  Morality-players, relics and icons suffered the same fate during the sixteenth century, but many of Shakespeare’s most ardent playgoers would have warmed to the mechanicals as figures from their extreme youth and from their earliest delights in dramatic spectacle.  It must be remembered that no clear-cut break in religious or dramatic practices had occurred by the time this play appeared.  Such things as rosaries were in common use among protestants until well into the seventeenth century.  A very useful survey of this evolution exists in Muriel Bradbrook’s “The Status Seekers: Society and the Common Player in the Reign of Elizabeth I” in Gerald Eades Bentley, ed., The Seventeenth-Century Stage: A Collection  of Critical Essays (Chicago and London: The University of Chicago Press, 1968), pp. 55-69. 

[35]Foakes, p. 81.

[36]Tiffany, p. 78, relays Jan Kott’s view that the ass’s head gained “erotic significance when we consider that from classical times the ass ... ‘was credited with the strongest sexual potency and ... the longest and hardest phallus’ ”.  See Jan Kott, Shakespeare Our Contemporary, trans. Beleslaw Taborski (Garden City, N.Y.: Doubleday, 1964), p. 212.

[37]Alexander Leggatt, Shakespeare’s Comedy of Love (London: Methuen, 1974), p. 90.

[38]Grace Tiffany offers that, along with Ariel in The Tempest, it is only the fairies in A Midsummer Night’s Dream who defy “any sexual delineation”.  Tiffany, p. 94, draws heavily on Carolyn Heilbrun, Toward a Recognition of Androgyny (New York: Alfred Knopf, 1973), p.29.

[39]The language of duelling is here quite unmistakable.  See Foakes, p. 96.  Also, there is obvious bawdry in this passage for those who wish to see it.

[40]Foakes, pp. 44-45, 93, 97.  This editor speculates at length about the youngsters who may have been in, or associated with the troupe at that time.  Significant statements in As You Like It and A Midsummer Night’s Dream refer to the relative heights and colourations of two of Shakespeare’s apprentice-actors and these are still remnant in the actual words that each speaks with the other.  In both of these cases, other characters in the plays confirm the relative smallness and youthfulness of such participants as Rosalind and Celia, Hermia and Helena as well as, especially, Maria, in the various plays in which these characters appear.  Additionally, there is overwhelming evidence that Shakespeare wrote his plays with both the acting skill and the physical characteristics of the players that he had to hand at any particular time.  Please also see other editors, such as Agnes Latham, ed., The Arden Edition of the Works of William Shakespeare: As You Like It (London and New York: Routledge, 1991), pp. xxix-xxx, 22, 28< Stanley Wells, ed., William Shakespeare: Four Comedies: A Midsummer Night’s Dream (Harmondsworth: Penguin Books, 1994), p. 212.  Also, Michael Shapiro, Children of the Revels (New York: Columbia University Press, 1977), p. 104.  Shapiro, particularly, also studies the “dual consciousness” that was necessary convincingly to convey both serious and comedic action using actors who were all of one sex, yet who must have varied radically in size.  He cites historical records of boys who gained considerable fame between the ages of ten and fifteen years, some acting in the childrens’ companies and others yet who were apprentices in the adult companies.

[41]“Cavalery” from the Italian “Cavaliere”.  See Foakes, p. 105.

[42]Foakes, pp. 4, 58.

[43]Tiffany, p. 74.  The Cambridge Edition gives 1.5.132 for the Twelfth Night citation.

[44]Anthony Burgess provides a witty account of its gracious classical origin in Ovid’s Metamorphoses.  “The story of Pyramus and Thisbe, which most of us first meet in A Midsummer Night’s Dream and can therefore never take seriously is in Book IV”.  This, along with “Perseus and Andromeda (those two wall-defying lovers, incidentally, are exotics — from Babylon, not Greece or Rome”.  See Burgess, p. 34,

[45]See the stage direction “Exeunt Bottom and Flute in different directions” in R.A. Foakes, ed., p. 125.

[46]Kelly, p. 92.

[47]Kelly, pp. 92-93, partly following Marianne Novy, Love’s Argument: Gender Relations in Shakespeare (Chapel Hill: The University of North Carolina Press, 1984), p. 8.

[48]Kelly, p. 93, paraphrasing some ideas of Linda Bamber, Comic Women, Tragic Men: A Study of Gender and Genre (Stanford: The Stanford University Press, 1982).  This certainly reverberates with my comments on various feminist scholars and their concerns about the Renaissance perception of the unruly woman.  Also, see Valerie Traub, 1992, pp. 92-93 for a fine focus on this aspect.

[49]Kelly, p. 92.

[50]Tiffany, p. 150, after Jan Kott, p. 212.

[51]For me, Puck personifies the wishful-wickedness element of this discourse: the desire to be the observer and the provocateur upon the curly margins of all existence.  The Devil in us all.

[52]Burgess, p. 150,  has it that this is a naked reference to “Will’s patron hero, the Earl of Essex, Robert Devereux, once the Queen’s bonny sweet Robin, now not Robin Bedfellow, but Robin Badfellow”.  This, after “the [highly topical] Lopez affair”.  Though Burgess aims to amuse, he provides important intertextuality with the earlier theme of the Queen’s probably deliberate enthrallment of her subjects, both high and low.

[53]Happily, Tiffany cites “The Taming of the Shrew, A Midsummer Night’s Dream, As You Like It and Twelfth Night” as her central exemplars in this discourse, thus shoring up the idea of a colloquy of androgyny across the span of plays analysed in this thesis.  See Tiffany, p. 151.  Also p. 23, where she cites Robert Kimbrough, “Androgyny Seen through Shakespeare’s Disguise” in Shakespeare Quarterly 33, 1982, p. 20.

[54]Stephen Greenblatt, “Fiction and Friction” in R.S. White, ed., Twelfth Night (Basingstoke: Macmillan, 1996), p. 113.

[55]Greenblatt, p. 113, n. 37.

[56]Heilbrun, p. 29.

[57]Heilbrun, p. 29, after Wilson Knight, The Christian Renaissance: With Interpretations of Dante, Shakespeare and Goethe (London: Methuen, 1962), p. 283.

[58]Heilbrun, pp. 29-30.

[59]Ann Blake, “Boy Actors in Women’s Roles” in R.S. White, Charles Edelman and Christopher Wortham, eds. Shakespeare: Readers, Audiences, Players (Nedlands, Western Australia: The University of Western Australia Press, 1998 [A paper presented at the ANZSA Conference, February, 1994]), p. 125.  Blake cites Stephen Greenblatt, Shakespearian Negotiations (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1988), p. 88.  See also Stephen Orgel, “Nobody’s Perfect: Or why did the English Stage take boys for women?” in South Atlantic Quarterly 88, 1988, p. 8.

[60]Nicholas Radel, “Fletcherian Tragicomedy, Cross-dressing, and the Construction of Homoerotic Desire in Early Modern England” in Renaissance Drama XXVI, 1995, p. 53.

[61]That is to say, all people except for the radical protestants.

[62]See Dympna Callaghan, “ ‘And all is semblative a woman’s part’: body politics and Twelfth Night” in R.S. White, ed. Twelfth Night (Basingstoke: Macmillan, 1996a [Textual Practice 7, 1993: 428-452]), p. 133,  Callaghan follows Sheila Fisher and Janet Halley, eds., Seeking Women in Late Medieval and Renaissance Writings (Knoxville: University of Tennessee Press, 1989).  Thus, Flute’s unwillingness to take on the role of Thisbe may be seen as more of an obvious joke than a real reluctance for the actor who is to play the woman’s part.  This type of clear joke, as Ann Blake supplies, focuses on the principle of “metadrama”.  This, in obvious references to the gender of the woman whom the male person plays, and the self-perceived gender, or the sexuality, of that person himself.  In so doing, and in the manner in which it is done, the author-through-the-speaker is reminding his audience to “abide by the rules of pantomime”.  In A Midsummer Night's Dream, particularly, there are many additional factors.  As A.P. Riemer expresses it:

A Midsummer Night’s Dream relies for much of its effect from the mingling within the one play of an amazing variety of comic motifs and characters—the fairy play, the comedy of frustrated love, bucolic farce, a parody of high tragedy, and, a form at least cognate with comedies, the marriage-triumph of mythological creatures.

[63]Blake, p. 126, partly in citing Michael Shapiro, “Framing the Taming: Metatheatrical awareness of female impersonation” in The Yearbook of English Studies 23, 1993. pp. 143-166.  Blake points to the obviousness of the rents in the kirtle as having a deliberately “ ‘deconstructive’ ” effect that is significantly heightened by the frequency with which such glimpses occur in the compass of the-play-within-the-play.  Signal examples exist in the episode within which the page is disguised as Sly’s lady in The Taming of the Shrew; and in Hamlet’s reference to the boy’s boyish voice and stature as being essential for his role as Player Queen when the travelling-players arrive at Elsinore.  Several others instances have been cited in this thesis and it is strongly suggested that notionally special things are saved to be enacted in the play-within-the-play, in each example.  Ultimately, the best possible example—that which has been described at some length in Chapter One—is the interchange between Puppet Dionysius and Busy in Ben Jonson&s Bartholomew Fair.

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