This is my final post on A Midsummer Night’s Dream under the Shakespeare Project, a series in which I am reading Shakespeare’s plays, act by act, and writing out a summary and some thoughts on this blog. More about the Shakespeare Project here. My Posts on Act I, II, and III of the play are here, here, and here. I chose to cover Acts IV and V together in this post mostly because Act IV is a rather short one, and so it made more sense to do the two together. The usual spoiler warning once more–unlike my other posts and reviews on this blog, the ones under the Shakespeare Project are not spoiler free so read on only if this doesn’t bother you or you are familiar with the play.

Act IV opens with a rather well-known scene from the play, one that’s been a subject of plenty of art, and one that I always think back to when someone mentions the play. And that is of Titania sitting with Nick Bottom, still with his ass’s head, and being waited upon by Titania’s fairies.

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Landseer’s Titania and Bottom (1848-51)

Source: Edwin Henry Landseer [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

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Arthur Rackam’s version, though you can hardly see Titania unless you really stare.

Source: Edwin Henry Landseer [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

 

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And this one by Eleanor Fortesque Brickdale

Source: Eleanor Fortescue-Brickdale [Public domain or No restrictions], via Wikimedia Commons

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By Joseph Anster Fitzgerald

Source: By John Anster Fitzgerald (Titania and Bottom, John Anster Fitzgerald) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

But anyway, Titania, Bottom, and her fairies are in a part of the wood where our two Athenian couples are fast asleep still under the fairies’ spell, with Bottom making small demands on his attendants, calling for his head to be scratched (not still having realised what has happened to his head) and a honey-bag for himself and oats to much on, and such. Oderon and Puck watch on but then almost suddenly, Oberon tells Puck that he has already confronted and taunted Titania for her folly, and claimed the little changeling, which she simply handed over, and that he is now going to take off the spell. He proceeds to do this, also commanding Puck to release Nick Bottom from the magic. Titania awakes believing that she has been in some awful visions where she was ‘enamour’d of an ass’. They leave with plans to attend and bless the weddings that are to come, and with Titania asking Oberon to tell her all of what occurred in the wood.

Oberon and Titania Act IV

Oberon and Titania (Act IV) by Thomas Stothard (1806)

Source: Yale Center for British Art [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

 

As they leave, Theseus enters that same part of the wood with Egeus, to hunt, only to discover the four young people lying asleep there. The wonder how this has come to be. Theseus also recalls that this is the day Hermia is to give her answer as to whether she will marry Demetrius or give up her life or take the veil, as per the old Athenian law. On waking up, Lysander tells Theseus and Egeus, of his and Hermia’s plans and about not knowing how the they came to be there at which Egeus is expectedly furious. But Demetrius soon confesses that while he came to the wood, Helena in tow, in pursuit of Lysander and Hermia, he knows not by what magic, his affections for Helena are once again restored and for Hermia, ‘melted as the snow’. Theseus then informs Egeus that he overrides the latter’s will and decrees that the two couples will be married alongside himself and Hippolyta later in the day.

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Theseus and Egeus Find the Young People (Frank Howard 1827)

Source:  via Wikimedia Commons

Short though this Act is, there is plenty happening. As our young Athenians leave the wood, still unsure what happened the preceding night, Nick Bottom comes to as well, the spell on him also broken. The scene shifts to Quince’s house in Athens.

Here Quince the carpenter, Starveling the tailor, and Flute the bellows-mender are wondering where Bottom has disappeared to, and that he is the only person in Athens, among the handicraftsmen who can play Pyramus. In the meantime, Snug the joiner enters to inform the others that the weddings have taken place. And suddenly, Bottom too arrives, refusing to tell the others what befell him in the wood (though in scene one he has decided to get Quince to write a play of it, called Bottom’s Dream),  but asking them to get ready, for their play ‘is preferr’d‘.

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Pyramus and Thisby (Frank Howard, 1927)

Source: See page for author [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

And so begins the final Act of the play. The only scene in this Act unfolds in Theseus’ palace. Our three couples, Theseus and Hippolyta, Lysander and Hermia, and Demetrius and Helena are married, and looking forward to the entertainments planned for them. From the list given him by Philostrate, master of the revels, Theseus picks the Athenians’ play, despite Philostrate’s attempts to discourage him. Our players then put on their performance, the speaker of the prologue, in particular bungling his lines, and the others, Pyramus and Thisby among them, with much much melodrama in their final scenes. Their clumsy performances are the source of much humour (again something that would have better effect seen than read, except the prologue perhaps which is as much fun to read), and lead to some sarcastic comments from Theseus, Lysander, and Demetrius. While Hippolyta finds their performance silly, and is a tad bored, Theseus seems willing to give them the benefit of the doubt, and to allow his imagination to see them as they see themselves. The performance ends with a rendering of the Bergomask dance, for the nobles refuse to view the epilogue. And our own play closes with the fairies coming in to bless the house, and children to come, and Puck addressing the audience asking them to think of it all as but a dream, if it should have offended.

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The fairies showering their blessings

Source: By Internet Archive Book Images [No restrictions], via Wikimedia Commons

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And another of the fairies blessing the house by Arthur Rackam (1908)

Source: Arthur Rackham [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

In these final Acts of the play, of course, almost all the players, Titania,  Lysander, and Nick Bottom have the spells on them taken off, and things are put to rights again. Titania and Oberon are reconciled, out two couples are in a situation that works out best for them, and our Athenians are able to finally perform the play that they have been working hard on.

I must say, while I enjoyed the play overall, this last part, particularly the resolution of all their problems felt like it fell a little flat. Oberon has got his wish of having the changeling in his entourage but we aren’t really shown how this was brought about, merely being told about it. And when Titania is brought out from the magic of the potion, she is simply reconciled to Oberon, and doesn’t bring up the subject of the child at all. That part felt a bit unsatisfying. Particularly since it feels as if the whole point of Titania taking on a strong stand against her husband at the beginning (an opposite to Helena, who is so self-deprecating), fizzled out at the end. When we came to the two pairs of lovers, things come across as somewhat better, a more satisfactory resolution of their troubles, though in their case too, I though Egeus’ reaction not strong enough. He has to of course, accept his sovereign’s command, but he doesn’t seem terribly affected by the fact that Demetrius’ feelings have so magically changed.

prologue

The Prologue (1914)

Source: By Internet Archive Book Images [No restrictions], via Wikimedia Commons

The last act was of course, a great deal of fun, though as I said, the humour, more of it dependent on the the actual performance–the exaggerated gestures, clumsiness, and the wrong pauses when delivering the dialogues–would be far funnier performed than read. (Incidentally, I only noticed on this reading, that the lines they deliver in the final performance are different from what they practiced, at least don’t include the former, so  no flowers of ‘odious savours sweet‘ here). Still I enjoyed the prologue, the mix ups in the names (Pyramus and Thisby agreeing to meet in ‘Ninny’s’ tomb, instead of Ninus’, for instance), the actors stopping amidst their lines (Bottom, really) to explain to the audience, that such and such is in fact a cue, and of course, Theseus, Demetrius, and Lysander’s observations while the play is acted out. Like this little part of the scene

Moonshine: This lantern doth the horned moon present;

Demetrius: He should have worn the horns on his head.

Theseus: He is no crescent, and his horns are invisible within the circumference.

Moonshine: This lantern doth the horned moon present; Myself the man-i-the’-moon do seem to be.

Theseus: This is the greatest error of all the rest: the man should be put into the lantern. How it it else the man-i’-th’-moon?

So all in all this was a fun read, plenty of humour and light-heartedness throughout but with a few more serious themes touched upon, like love and jealousy, self-respect, ‘obedience’/subservience and strength (from women’s pov), despite the slight bit of dissatisfaction I felt at the end.

If you read this one, and/or have been following all of the posts on this play, do let me know how you’re liking these posts, and any thoughts on the play, on the characters, on any of the themes that I’ve picked up on, or missed.

I’m also in the process of picking which play to read next–Macbeth may be, or the Two Gentlemen of Verona, or perhaps Pericles. Let me know which one you have like to see posts on next!

 

 

 

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3 thoughts on “The Shakespeare Project: A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Acts IV and V

  1. So, you’ve reached the end, satisfying or not quite so, it is a lovely, light-hearted piece. Thanks for the stunning illustrations. I especially like the ones by Landseer, and by Brickdale. Would love to see your reaction to Macbeth. Do take it up next.

    Liked by 1 person

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