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A Midsummer Night's Dream : synopsis photo

Act I

Scene 1

Theseus and Hippolyta look ahead to their wedding day, in four days’ time. Hermia plans to defy her father and elope with Lysander, but Helena reveals their plan to Lysander’s rival, Demetrius.

The scene takes place in Athens. The characters are :

  • Duke Theseus
  • Hippolyta, Queen of the Amazons. 
  • Egeus and his daughter Hermia
  • Two suitors : Lysander and Demetrius

Hermia is in love with Lysander. Egeus wants her to marry Demetrius or die. Helena loves Demetrius.

Scene 2

A group of craftsmen from Athens have decided to stage a play, « Pyramus and Thisbe », to celebrate the marriage of Theseus and Hippolyta. They cast the play and plan the rehearsal.

Peter Quince is a carpenter. He wrote the play and organized the rehearsal. Nick Bottom is a weaver. He wants to play every part of the play.

The secret rehearsal takes place in the wood.

Act II

Scene 1

The King and Queen of the Fairies, Oberon and Titania, quarrel in the wood over possession of a human boy. In revenge, Oberon sends his helper Robin for magic juice to put on Titania’s eyes, which will make her fall in love with the first creature she sees. When Oberon observes Demetrius spurning Helena, he decides that the magic juice should be applied to Demetrius’ eyes too, so that he would fall in love with her.

Scene 2

Oberon anoints the eyes of the sleeping Titania. Robin, however, mistakenly applies the juice to Lysander, who suddenly falls in love with Helena and abandons Hermia.

Act III

Scene 1

The craftsmen arrive in the wood to rehearse their play but their performance is disrupted by the mischievous Robin who uses magic to give Bottom the head of an ass. After the others have fled from him in terror, Titania awakens and, under the spell of the magic juice, falls in love with the transformed Bottom.

Scene 2

Demetrius has met with Hermia, who continues to reject his love. Oberon observes them quarreling and realizes that Robin’s intervention has misfired. Trying to put the situation right, he applies the juice to Demetrius’ eyes when Helena is nearby : as a consequence, Demetrius and Lysander become rivals for Helena’s love.

Helena believes both of them are tormenting her, with the connivence of Hermia. To prevent violence, Oberon orders Robin to intervene, drawing the lovers apart. Once they have grown weary and fallen asleep, Robin puts an antidote juice on Lysander’s eyes to take away his love for Helena. There is no fear of tragic ending.

Act IV

Scene 1

Oberon and Robin remove the magic spells from Titania and Bottom, and the King and Queen of Fairies are reunited. Theseus and his companions, out early in the morning, discover the four lovers, who explain their changed feelings. Theseus overrules Egeus’ objections and declares that the two young couples shall be married alongside Hippolyta and him. When everyone has left, Bottom awakens and reflects on his strange « dream ».

Scene 2

The other craftsmen are lamenting Bottom’s loss and the consequent cancellation of their play, when he arrives to announce that all is well and their play may be staged after all.

Act V

Scene 1

On the evening of the three marriages, Theseus agrees to the staging of « Pyramus and Thisbe ». The play is badly written and acted but this increases people’s entertainment.

When all the humans have gone to bed, the fairies enter the house and bless those who reside there and their children to come.

Robin stays behind to deliver an epilogue. The play concludes where it started, in Athens.

Quatre ans après la première saison, The Hollow Crown est de retour sur BBC2.

The Hollow Crown saison 2 photo

Cette seconde saison est sous-titrée « The Wars of the Roses » (les Guerres des Roses) en référence à la période de l’histoire qui correspond aux événements des épisodes.

Cette saison se base sur la première tétralogie de Shakespeare : Henry VI, Part I; Henry VI, Part II et Henry VI, Part III sont condensés en seul film; et Richard III, dont le personnage est joué par Benedict Cumberbatch.

Les nobles anglais se querellent au sujet des guerres avec la France. Les nouvelles de la défaite des Anglais à Orléans parvient jusqu’au Duc de Gloucester et des autres nobles. Après les funérailles d’Henry V, c’est son fils, le dauphin Henry VI, qui est proclamé roi.

Dix-sept ans plus tard, Henry est sur le trône alors que les rivalités à la cour continuent et la défaite des Anglais à Rouen par Jeanne d’Arc met le feu aux poudres entre les deux maisons : les York et les Lancaster, qui se retrouvent en opposition.

Des archéologues affirment que les restes du corps qui ont été excavés en dessous d’un parking à Leicester le 4 février 2013 appartiennent au roi anglais Richard III.

King_Richard_III

Le squelette, retrouvé en septembre 2012, présente au niveau de la colonne vertébrale des signes de scoliose, que Richard III avait certainement, et des blessures de guerre qui correspondent aux récits de la mort de Richard III au cours de la Guerre des Deux-Roses. C’est ce qui a poussé les archéologues à demander des tests plus poussés afin de vérifier son identité.

Les chercheurs de l’Université de Leicester ont donc conduit une série de tests, dont un test de l’ADN extrait d’une dent et d’un os de Michael Ibsen, un descendant actuel de la soeur de Richard III, Anne of York. Ce test a confirmé la relation génétique entre l’ADN d’Ibsen et celui du squelette. Ces restes sont donc bien ceux de Richard III.

Richard III et la Guerre des Deux-Roses

Richard III est né en 1452 et a gouverné l’Angleterre de 1483 à 1485. Son règne se termina par sa mort à la bataille de Bosworth Field, la bataille finale dans la guerre civile anglaise que l’on connait sous le nom de Guerre des Deux-Roses, opposant la maison royale de Lancastre à la maison royale d’York.

La guerre prend fin en 1485, quand le dernier des rois Plantagenêt Richard III d’Angleterre meurt au champ d’honneur, et qu’Henri VII devient roi. La maison de Lancastre descendait de Jean de Gand, duc de Lancastre et 3e fils du roi Édouard III. Celle d’York descendait de son frère Edmond de Langley (1341-1402), 4e fils du roi Édouard III, devenu duc d’York en 1385.

L’emblème de la maison de Lancastre était la rose rouge, tandis que celui des York était la rose blanche, ce qui est à l’origine du nom donné a posteriori à ce conflit.

Voici The Hollow Crown, une série historique produite par Sam Mendes pour BBC 2. Elle adapte les quatre pièces de la seconde tetralogie historique de William Shakespeare, « the Henriad » : Richard II, Henry IV parts 1 et 2, et Henry V.

Richard II

King Richard finds himself having to try and settle a dispute between his cousin Henry Bolingbroke and Thomas Mowbray. He decides that a duel should be held but then stops it just before swords clash. Both men are then banished from the realm. Richard goes to see John of Gaunt, Bolingbroke’s father, who reprimands the King. After seizing Gaunt’s money and lands following his death, Richard leaves for wars against the rebels in Ireland. Bolingbroke returns to try and claim back his inheritance.

Henry IV Part 1

Prince Hal defies his father when he spends time with his time at Mistress Quickly’s tavern in the company of the Falstaff and his companions. The King is threatened by a rebellion led by Hal’s rival Hotspur, his father and his uncle. Prince Hal joins his father at the Battle of Shrewsbury killing Hotspur in single combat.

Michto (aka Agatzeblues) vient de me tagguer dans une chaîne de bloggeurs :

Le principe est d’attraper son livre en cours de lecture, d’en recopier la cinquième phrase de la page 123, ainsi que les trois suivantes, puis de tagger quatre autres blogueurs.

Je crois que c’est la première fois que je me fais tagguer ainsi ! Bon, c’est vraiment dommage parce que l’extrait qui suit ne fait pas partie du livre que je suis en train de lire mais de celui que je vais lire ensuite – parce que j’ai oublié mon bouquin chez moi au moment de partir en vacances… enfin bref, voici un extrait d’Antony and Cleopatra de William Shakespeare :

Antony

Caesar sits down in Alexandria, where
I will oppose his fate. Our force by land
Hath nobly held; our severed navy too
Have knit again, and fleet, threatening most sea-like.
Where hast thou been, my heart ? Dost thou hear, lady ?

Je joue le jeu et taggue Ben, Claude, Julia et Fanette.

Et voici notre dernier jour en Angleterre… nous disons au revoir à David et Phyllis et sommes sur le parking à 7h du matin. Fini le beau temps, nous sommes tous en pull et coupe-vent. On aura eu un temps magnifique tout le long du voyage. Une bonne demi-heure plus tard, tout le monde est là. La dernière famille amène nos élèves : lorsqu’elle descend de voiture, la dame est en pyjama bleu à carreaux ! Le car est secoué par les rires des élèves. Priceless.

Nous arrivons à Stratford-upon-Avon, la ville de Shakespeare, avec une heure d’avance, merci Darryl ! Du coup, nous avons le temps de prendre un café. Les élèves dévalisent le stand de donuts. La caissière hallucine littéralement – cela ne doit pas lui arriver tout les jours !

Notre petite troupe se met en marche.

ShakespeareCette année, j’étrenne une nouvelle méthode avec mes cinquièmes qui s’appelle Join the Team. Ce n’est jamais que la troisième méthode en 3 ans… qui a dit que les professeurs étaient de simples répétiteurs ? On ne fait jamais deux fois la même chose dans ce boulot. Bref, après quelques semaines de révisions pour les mettre en confiance, j’entame la première unité dont le sujet est Hamlet. Première impression : ils attaquent très fort dans cette méthode ! Les élèves ont déjà du mal à mettre tous les mots dans le bon ordre alors aborder Shakespeare directement…

Je prends donc les devants et leur parle un peu de théâtre, en faisant un rapprochement avec le français : une quinzaine de mains se lèvent pour me parler de Romeo and Juliet, et accessoirement de Molière. C’est bien, apparemment ils ont des choses à dire. Je rembraye sur Hamlet lorsque tout à coup :

– M’sieur ? Hamlet, c’est pas des oeufs ?
M : ???
Une demi-seconde plus tard, je fais le rapprochement avec « omelette ».
M : Non, ce n’est pas des oeufs…

Narratives

Lord Jim by Joseph Conrad

Macbeth by Shakespeare

A Midsummer Night’s Dream by Shakespeare

Richard III by Shakespeare

World War One Poetry

Regeneration by Pat Barker

I. The Vice

Was the favourite character in medieval morality plays. He is both an intriguer and a deceiver. He
creates laughter and engages the audience’s sympathy in a conspirational relationship. Richard generates a special relation between word and deed. He tells the audience what he is going to do, then does it and finally recalls what he did: his soliloquies and asides create a feeling of conspiracy.

The Vice was also a figure of carnival, who fights the established authority and embodies the audience’s anti-authoritarian impulses. He is an outlet for the people’s frustration.

II. A Monster

Shakespeare has added a physical deformity to the character of Richard because Richard was not a hunchback. In fact, at that time, deformed people were said to be willing to take revenge against Nature: because they cannot change their lot, they want to bring people down. Another reason is that showing fairground attractions on stage was a trick often used by Shakespeare to incite people to see his plays. A both deformed and mobile character was a very scary monster.

III. The Machiavel

In the Elizabethan times, the Machiavel became a character but its initial status was absolute evil. In Christopher Marlowe’s Jew of Malta, there is a prologue entitled « The Prologue: Machiavel ». Richard is also considered as a reincarnation of Machiavel. In Henry VI, Richard already says:

« I have sent Machiavel to school ».

Machiavel’s vice is characterized by ambition and power. Vice’s vice is lust. Machiavel is morally deprived, at the point of boasting his own depravity. He is also more severe than Vice, very gifted with words and rhetorics and efficient in convincing people. He is very good at reaching his aims: he divides and then conquer (by opposing one side to the other).

For the Elizabethans, Machiavel was utter evil. In the Renaissance, he was more considered as an individualist. Individualism was strongly opposed to Augustine and Aquinas, for who history was providential and ruled by God. For Machiavel, on the contrary, everyone should play his own part in life.

In the play, the victory of the Machiavel is present from the beginning till the middle. The second part shows history as still providential: Richmond the God-Sent becomes King. Richard is an hypocrite too: as to become king, you must be religious, Richard appears between two bishops, « two props of virtue ».

The War of the Roses and the usurpation of the The War of the Roses and the York’s usurpation was still fresh in people’s minds. It had been a was still fresh in people’s minds. It had been a period of disorder and chaos: people still remembered the civil and the divisions within the State: there was a need for exorcism. Shakespeare’s plays had a cathartic function.

According to Aristotle, the function of tragedy is catharsis: the audience will go through very powerful emotions but they will be protected by their status of audience. There is a play between participation (sympathy) and non-participation. The catharsis will allow an internal problem to be solved or externalized.

Always a ritual quality in Shakespeare’s historical plays: the lamentation scenes (like in Act IV, scene 4 with Margaret). These scenes are very rhetorical but in a conventional manner (by use of anaphors), as opposed to Richard’s puns and inventive style.

IV. The Scourge of God

The evil ruler is sent by God to punish a sinful people, like Nero for the Romans. It is part of the retributive justice: we get what we deserve. In Richard III, it is very cruel for it introduces the notion of collective responsibility for England. The citizens (III, 2) and the crowd (III,7) are the representatives of the English people.

This guilt of England must be purged by a series of crimes, culminating in the scourge of Richard III. Richard is a sacrifice to redeem England from all her sins. He kills them all and then die: purgative and cleaning act for the whole nation. There are no innocents in Richard III, all are guilty.

  • Clarence : for killing the Young Prince Lancaster.
  • Edward : for killing the Young Lancaster too.
  • Buckingham : for helping Richard.
  • Anne : for letting Richard woo her.
  • Elizabeth : for letting Richard woo her daughter.

War brought about treason and corruption. Margaret seems to be a victim but she killed Rutland: she is also a child-murderer (this will later be used by Richard against her). She’s the only character that feel satisfied with the children’s death :

  • she is as bitter as Richard.
  • she wants the same evils inflicted on others as she has been inflicted, especially towards Elizabeth.
  • logic of retaliation (an eye for an eye).

She is a prophetess but her main goal is guided by revenge. Shakespeare makes her leave the play as soon as she has her revenge. She leaves and Richmond appears, bringing some more positive notes.

Richmond is sent by God: he is the savior figure who brings the Golden Age. On the contrary, Richard is the anti-Christ figure who inverts all Christian values. Richard is utterly evil. He is a figure of exorcism because he is so evil that he absorbs all the sins. His sins are not contagious: all the people influenced by him (Buckingham – Anne) will come to regret. Richard wants to personify evil on his own: he is a satanic figure and he is very proud of it :  » I am determined to be a villain » (I,1). Richard is a parodist and a role-player :

  • 1st role: with Clarence: the sympathizing brother
  • 2nd role: with Anne: the passionate lover asking for charity
  • 3rd role: with the two bishops: the devout
  • 4th role: with the two princes: the devoted uncle
  • 5th role: with Hastings: the victim

NB: « hypocrite » in Greek means actor. Richard can pretend to be everything to get what he wants. He does not have the value of truth. He has a gift with rhetorics and is at his best when wooing Anne: he replaces her lamentations with Courtly Love. [Stichomythia: in a dialogue, re-use of something said by the other protagonist]. He manages to upset the linguistic foundations of her discourse. Language is an efficient tool but also a shaper of reality. At the end, we do not know where reality is for Richard also manages to woo the audience: it is disturbing. The character of Richard makes the success of the play, because of :

  • skills
  • resources
  • wit and « alacrity of spirit »
  • discernment
  • courage
  • thinking on his feet

Richard is not likeable but the audience enjoys seeing him on stage. The spectator is ambivalent.

« Titania with Ass-headed Bottom » by Johann Heinrich Füssli (1793/4)

Introduction

Shakespeare has used many genres to convey his stories, especially comedies, tragedies and historical plays.

A Midsummer Night’s Dream is a comedy.

A comedy is a kind of drama which is intended primarily to entertain the audience and which usually ends unhappily for the characters. There are:

  • romantic comedies: revolving around love (As you like it).
  • satiric comedies: see French playwright Molière.

I – A Midsummer Night’s Dream and the convention of comedy

Shakespeare was influenced by the concept of intertextuality and there are literary interferences all the time in his plays. Shakespeare inherited a tradition derived from Antiquity with Greek and Latin authors such as Aristophanes, Plautus or Terence. It is indulging in a literary exercise:

  • indulge in a game in which high spirits prevail (at least for comedy).
  • celebrate life renewal.

In Molière, you can single out his intention of copying life, distorting it, making fun of it. The social dimension is essential and the satire is intended to bring out a moral lesson at the end. (L’AvareLe Malade Imaginaire).

In Shakespeare’s comedies, there is no satiric excess. They are light-hearted comedies of errors, whose main theme is usually marriage or a celebration of marriage. The spring of comedy is a stratagem of exchanging partners. Lysander and Demetrius suddenly fall in love: beginning of a long qui-pro quo. Helena and Hermia are unaware of what is going on and think they are made fun of.

This type of situation is also drawn from Italian comedy: la « comedia del arte », based on qui-pro quo, mistakes, mistaken identities and the sudden reversal of relationships. A young woman who is in love with another woman dressed as a man (Twelfth NightAs you like it).

Here, the stratagem is based on the love juice. The comedy implies the participation of the audience on characters. We are aware of the love juice, we know the reason of the misunderstanding and the presence of the fairies. The Duke and Duchess are in the same position as we are, watching A Midsummer Night’s Dream. The superiority is shown by the audience. This is not found in tragedy: you tend to identify with the characters to the past in their own misery.

It is different from Molière: the comedy has a moral message. The epilogue is an appeal to balance and understanding: « if you pardon we will pardon« : triumph of common sense.

G. Meredith, in The Spirit of Comedy, said: « the comic spirit is the fountain of common sense ». In other words, the aim of the comedy is to re-introduce a balance in the end.

II – Shakespeare’s festive comedy

His comedies are celebrations and the mood is of holidays and festivals, making the whole experience of the play like that of a revel. Seasonal connotation: return of summer, victory of summer over winter.

Spring is the natural renewal. The play is about a midsummer festival and the aim is to celebrate a forthcoming marriage. The whole plot is entertained by music, dancing and disguise. The festival implies an escape to the woods, to a place out of the limits of ordinary society. It is a world set apart, which marks a break in ordinary life because it implies in the remote past: anything can happen. The wood becomes a place of celebration, leading to imagination, freedom, away from the context of social norms and order. Aberrations are things that are not normally tolerated but that are accepted within the norms of the play: we know that in the end, everything goes back to normal. Aberrations are tolerable as long as they do not last.

Because it is a festive comedy, no single characters control comedy, it is always as if it were a group. We have several groups of characters enjoying their own fun and they sometimes meet. Because it is a comedy, it also ends with a reconciliation, a promise of bliss. All negative features have been pushed aside and it brings back the characters to the beginning of the play but not exactly: something has happened in between.

The characters have been through a lot of tension and they have all been affected. Those tensions have been necessary to improve and society is indeed reinforced because the tensions have been solved.

III – A low comedy

The second layer of comedy (Puck, Bottom…) has very little in common with the first one. The people, very ordinary, are better suited for this low comedy. It relies on an absurd situation: the Queen of Fairies falls in love with an ass. The discrepancies appear in the gap between the register, between the message (Titania, declaring her love to Bottom) and the object (an ass): lots of ridiculous situations. There is even a third layer of comedy with Pyramus and Thisbe.

It is a farce: the subject of the play is inappropriate for the circumstances, a tragedy for a marriage celebration. The mechanicals are inappropriate as actors, unfit for the role they have. The play within the play gives way to satire. This other type of comedy is based on exaggeration (Pyramus’ death: « I die I die I die »). Presence of semantic mistakes (‘I’ll aggravate thy voice »): linguistic fun, use of alliterations. If too much, it becomes grotesque. Bottom is also the jester, typical of Elizabethan comedy. He is the fool, a naive instinctive character, an outsider to the main plot and in a good position to express the truth.

Conclusion

A Midsummer Night’s Dream is one of Shakespeare’s greatest comedies. It is not limited to one single comedy and mixes several dimensions: that is what makes it interesting. It is also more than a comedy in the sense that it could have become a tragedy.

I – Characters and structure

Multiplicity of lines. A Midsummer Night’s Dream is remarkable for the many levels of its text. The play is different from Romeo and Juliet or the Taming of the Shrew (which have one main plot) because of the various levels of plots and characters. There are 4 levels: Theseus and Hippolyta, the young lovers, the mechanicals, and the fairies.

There are connections between:

  • Theseus & Hippolyta and the young lovers: made by Theseus, member of court.
  • The young lovers: connection through marriage.
  • The mechanicals: difference in substance, in social background. Bottom does represent the bottom in many ways, carpenter, weaver, taller…

It is not so much similarity as contrast. It is more from one social circle to the opposite. Shakespeare often involves the lower order of society. The justification is not simply methodological but also social. In the end, the play is a picture of the society (with top and lower orders). There is a gradation in that social order: from the Duke to the normal people. This enable Shakespeare to make philosophical and social comments on the way society works ( harmony, balance, social order). High society does not necessarily embodies perfection.

The introduction of Bottom has a farcical dimension, linked to the Duke and his lover. The connection between the Duke and Bottom exists because the play is put up to pay homage to the Duke and his future wife.

Fairies and friends: break in social circle but also in tone. Fairies take us into the realm of fantasy. There is a balance between couples: the Duke and the future Duchess, Theseus and Hippolyta, Oberon and Titania. The first two couples are to be connected.

Opposition between mortals and immortals. Oberon and Titania argue, they are supposed to be invisible. Theseus and Hippolyta are flesh and blood mortals. Oberon and Titania fall in love at first sight, have exaggerated demands and quarrel like any ordinary couple: they behave like old mortals.

The plot has been compared to a dance in which you exchange partners with 3 positions:

  • Hermia and Lysander.
  • Hermia rejected, Lysander and Demetrius fighting for Helena.
  • return to harmony.

It also follows the musical tone of the play.

II – Plot and structure

A – City of tension which seems to jeopardize the forthcoming activities

Conflict between father and daughter. Impact on the whole society: Elizabethan theory about balance. The rebellion by two individuals also implies a rejection of the norms of he society. The lovers rejecting the laws of Athens have to leave and go to the woods.

Rejection of authority (both the father’s and the Prince’s authority). Consequently, the woods function as a sheltering place.

B – The forest

Opposition between the town and the country: Athens~wood and culture~nature. The woods are a rich symbolic place in literature: they are a going back to nature, a return to something which is simple and unsophisticated. The wood is a place of freedom as opposed to the constraints of the law of society, where one can break the rigidity of concentration of the city life. It is a beneficent place where the spirit of rebirth and rejuvenation is to be found.

It is a place of fun (break of rigidity) but also a dangerous place because it is dark and you can face a lion (Pyramus and Thisbe). Wild animals and wild men. It is a kind of maze, a labyrinth where you are likely to lose your wy and yourself (it is nearly what happened to Titania).

The wood is the symbol of the unconscious (c.f.. E. Young). We are in the realm of fantasy and imagination. It destabilizes but at the same time, it is also the forest that enables the return to contentment and order. It is a kind of necessary passage. The disorder of the forest enables a return of the end:

  • wood v. Athens
  • rational v. irrational
  • night v. day
  • waking v. dreaming

The play is a parenthesis in everyday life, it is festive. Holiday time: allowed to break the rules (law v. transgression).

C – Return to harmony – recovery – wedding festivities

It is a comedy: all is well that ends well. It would be wrong to say that the end is a return to the beginning: you cannot forget what happened in between : they achieved serenity and acceptance of authority. The final act is often interpreted as a conclusion (postlude) to the whole play (see Act 5, scene1, l.414: Puck’s and Oberon’s comments at the end of the play.

III – A play within the play

The play has an embedded structure, with a flash of genius which contributes to the success of A Midsummer Night’s Dream. Introduction of a ridiculous character, Bottom, whom Titania must fall in love with (Oberon’s plan is to make Titania ridiculous). Pyramus and Thisbe are parallel to the main subject. The play is about going into the woods and face the danger.

The tone of the subplot turns into comedy and verges on farce. These actors are unfit to be actors: this creates a discrepancy between the main plot and the subplot, which is very funny.

The play reminds us of Romeo and Juliet: split, tension, family disunion but the most important justification is probably Shakespeare’s reflection on dramatic art: absence of women, problems of representation (moon..), and liability (the lion is not a real lion: how to persuade the public..). It is a mockery of bad drama: plenty of mispronunciations. Good example of "mock tragedy".

It is easy to consider the subplot as a parody of the main plot. The play is very complex, and parallels the complexity of themes and tones, and so many disconnected elements fit in so nicely in the end: that can account for the success of the play. The beginning and the end are set in the city, the middle is set in the woods.

Introduction

The characters are set in a given space and time. Shakespeare draws his material from a large body of social background, historical facts and myth: let us see the Greek background, the May festivities, and the fairies and spirits.

I – Greek background

The play is set in early Greece, in Athens. It is unexpected as so much of the play seems so typically England. Shakespeare was writing at the time where antiquity was the cultural reference, although the English Renaissance was more and more regarded.

But outside inspiration from Italy and Greece, Ovid, Aristofane, Plato, Aristotle were the early writers who set the norms of literature. Many of Shakespeare’s plays are set in these settings (Romeo and Juliet, Merchant of Venice, The Twelfth Night..).

The Greek setting is a serious frame of reference, which the educated audience would immediately recognize. It also provides a warranty of seriousness and sets a distance from 16th century England: it enables Shakespeare to contemplate his society while distancing it in the past, which was important because playwrights were very dependent on sponsors and political power.

This athenian background represents order and reason, all the more appropriate as it serves to emphasize the fantastic aspect of the forest.The story of Theseus and Hippolyta refers to Plutarch and Ovid. Theseus was famous for his adventures and exploits. He got lost in the labyrinth and was saved by Ariane. He killed the Minotaur, kidnapped Hippolyta and tried to marry her before he eventually married Phaedra.

Considering Shakespeare’s views of the myth, the reader is not sure who Hippolyta was. In theory, she represents female power, independence. Amazons were rebels and did not accept male supremacy. Males were considered as procreation objects and the male child was usually got ridden of. The Amazons have usurped masculine power and authority. Hippolyta is a concrete woman, she looks passive: the contrary of an Amazon. She is an example of a dominated woman (dominated by her future husband).

Although admired for his courage, Theseus was known for his betrayal of women (not an example of fidelity). The play is about fidelity and betrayal (the disorder of love): Theseus could not be faithful to one woman.

Two fathers: Egeus and Neptune. Association between a mortal and a god. It is said that his birth was the result of a female trick: dangers and complexity of love relationship.

It would be possible to interpret the forest as a labyrinth, it is a place where you can easily get lost.

II – May festivities

Feast days: Christmas, Mayday, Midsummer, harvest time. Some ambiguity about "May": month but also the hawthorn bush (may pole) which blossoms in May. The golden bough: in May, there was a custom to go out to the wood to cut the maypole and bring the spirits of the tree home. For Shakespeare, there is a tradition of going to the woods and bring back flowers as a sign of fertility, luck, hope and protection. Sexual dimension in this game: "the green gown".

Shakespeare was elaborating on a very famous theme: a night out with a ritual about vegetation, return to nature and celebration of luck.The Queen or King of May are covered with flowers. In the play, Oberon is covered with leaves. The Lord of Misrule, Pluck, upsets the order of the ceremony and plays tricks on participants. His confusion of identity can be seen as a way of upsetting order.

This rite does not necessarily takes place in May: it is also on Midsummer night & day. Shakespeare mixes the rite of May and of Midsummer (although similar). Midsummer eve: 23rd of June. It symbolizes the triumph of light over darkness, the beginning of summer, bonfires. The fire is a protection against witchcraft, cattle diseases, all sort of evil. There are no bonfires in the play.

Notion of turning point: end of spring, beginning of summer, longest day and beginning of shorter days. Midsummer is also associated with magic, spirits would be in the air during that night.

III – Fairies and spirits

The Fairies are part of the Elizabethan folk culture. Most people believed that they did exist (especially lower classes). As for their size, we tend to imagine small spirits; the problem is Titania’s size: she is large enough to be able to hold Bottom in her arms. They have the power of curing most diseases using plants but occasionally they could also do harm.

"They step out of a tradition of infernal connections and dark deeds".Oberon has been taken out of a Huon de Bordeaux, Titania from Ovid’s Metamorphoses (derived from Diana, connected with the moon).Robin Goodfellow (Puck): in fact Pouke, meaning devil or demon. Puck belongs to a different background from Oberon and Titania: p.37, we learn that he is half animal and half human, with hoofs and arms like the devil, pointed ears and a mischievous look. Yet, he has a neat beard and a benevolent face (opp. to devil). Creatures resembling witches are dancing around him. He has got a huge penis: connection with life. He holds a broom in his left hand: Puck was known to do housework at night.

l.378: "Not a mouse
Shall disturb this hollowed house
I am sent with broom before
To sweep the dust behind the door
".

Puck is half devil, famous for his tricks and pranks. Act II, sc.1: mischievous but at the same time: "they shall have good luck".

Puck’s ambiguity is remarkable, he has a power of transformation.

Very rich background of myth and folklore that Shakespeare borrowed and re-arranged in the play. It is not gratuitous for it adds up depth in the text. It also adds the fairy dimension, the mystery of a transcendent reality.

Rapport de faute d’orthographe

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