The Shakespeare Project: A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Acts IV and V

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.

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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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Shelf Control #10

Shelf Control

This is a feature I borrowed  from Lisa at Bookshelf Fantasies, and is all about celebrating the books already on your TBR. To participate, all you do is pick one of the books on your TBR every Wednesday, and write a post about it (usually what it’s all about, what makes you want to read it, where you got it, and such).

For this, my tenth week participating, I picked a relatively new entrant on my TBR pile

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Scythe is the first of a trilogy, Arc of a Scythe, by Neal Shusterman.

What it’s all about: Scythe is set in a world free of hunger, disease, war, and misery, and in this world, it only Scythes who can end life. In fact, they must do so, to keep the population under control. In this world, two teens Citra and Rowan, have been chosen as apprentices to a Scythe. In this role, they must learn to master the art of taking lives, or end up losing their own.

Edition details: I got the Kindle edition.

Where and When I got the book: A couple of weeks ago, a kindle ed, so online, of course.

A little about the author: Neal Shusterman is a writer of YA fiction and winner of the National Book Award for Young People’s Literature. He has written several series, novels, and short story collections, besides non-fiction, and has even developed various games. He’s also written for the Goosebumps series on TV.

Why I want to read the book:  The plot sounds fairly interesting–something that could well turn into reality some day, so it would be interesting to see how the author develops it, and how things play out in this ‘ideal’ world, for one knows there really can’t ever be any such thing. I’ve been reading very good things about the book (though there are also those who didn’t really care for it). And of course, look at that cover. Definitely makes me want to pick it up.

Have you read this book? What did you think of it? Wanted to move on to the sequel straight way or didn’t want to look at the book ever again?

 

Review: Tokyo Tarareba Girls, Vol. 1

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My thanks to NetGalley for a review copy of this one.

 

This was my very first manga read. I have watched some of the animated versions of course, Fushigi Yuugi (Curious Play), Nodame Cantabile, Emma, and Yatitake Japan, among them but had never really read any. So when I saw this on NetGalley, and the cover looked like fun, with a theme/plot something that could be interesting, I decided to give it a shot.

 

This is the first volume of the Manga, and the author is known for her other series, Princess Jellyfish (which makes an ‘appearance’ in the book as well–something I thought cute). The title roughly translates to the Tokyo ‘What-if’ Girls’. This one features three girls/women—Rinko (who is our ‘heroine’) and her friends Kaori and Koyuki who she has known from high school. Rinko is a reasonably successful screen writer for web series and has set up her own office, but remains single at 33 as do her two friends, and the three often spend their evenings getting very drunk, gorging on snacks (their favourites being milt with ponzu sauce and liver), and discussing ‘What-if’ we had done this or that scenarios. A young man who observes them at the bar quite often, tries to talk some sense into them but to no avail. Then Rinko’s career begins to take a downward turn as well. The book also has two interesting ‘food’ characters, the Codfish milt (tara) and Liver (reba) who appear to speak to Rinko, when she is under the influence, always raising the what-if, what-if, what-if…

 

So as I said, this was my first time actually reading manga, and when I started reading, for about 16–17 pages I read the… er… normal way, and wondered why things were not quite sitting right, why Rinko would graduate after she had become a successful writer, and only then remember that Manga was supposed to be read the other way (right–left), and then went straight back to the start and things began to finally make some sense 🙂

 

But anyway, as for the book itself, I liked the idea of the story, of characters who realise that a large part of their life seems to have passed them by, without quite realising where it all went, and the things you had thought you would do by now, haven’t really happened at all, and there seems no likelihood of them happening either. One can understand Rinko’s frustration, her need to vent (but then you also realise that only doing this is going to get you nowhere), but what I couldn’t connect with was her need to get herself so drunk every day that she ends up literally walking into things and hurting herself—and doesn’t seem to even stop to question this. Perhaps partly because of this, and also because of her near obsessive focus of needing to ‘find a husband’, I didn’t really take to Rinko or her friends very much. But I did enjoy the two ‘food’ characters and thought they were good fun. The explanations of local and cultural references at the end I also found really helpful. While this wasn’t a book I can say I loved or even liked very much, it was still an ok read, and I wouldn’t mind reading the next instalment to see how things pan out for them.

Book Review: My Real Name is Hanna

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My thanks to NetGalley for a review copy of this book.

 

This is a story told by Hanna Slivka to her daughter, about a part of her life that she has so far kept hidden from her—when at fourteen, she was living with her family in Russian occupied Ukraine. Life had become hard, their possessions reduced because of the strict rules the communists went by, and religion, also taboo to the communists, was something that couldn’t be practised as openly as when they were ‘free’. But these hardships seem nothing compared to what lay ahead for the Jewish family (and others in their village) when Hitler invades. Initially, the impact on them is in terms of helping persecuted people from other villages and towns to escape, more restrictions on food and resources, and having to face taunts and insults from some members of the community they have been part of. But before long, despite many friendly and kind (and indeed brave) neighbours’ help in keeping them safe in their own house, they soon have to leave and go into hiding for safety. For a period of over two years they must live, first in an isolated forest cabin, and then in an underground cave with others of their community, with precious little to eat, fearing for their lives every minute, not only from the Germans but also from many in their own village/surroundings who are willing to turn against them as easily. Thankfully for them, not all are like that and they do manage to get help from various friends, particularly their neighbour Alla Petrovich, and friend, farmer Yuri Janowski.

 

While this story is a piece of fiction, the author has based it on a true incident of the Stermer family who survived the war living in such caves for over 500 days, a family who survived intact in a country where only 5 per cent and region where only 2 per cent of Jews survived. This is a very hard book to read and yet such an important one, for it brings us face to face with perhaps the ugliest side of humanity, as well as I guess, the best side. While the Slivkas do not see the worst of the Nazi atrocities, what little they see or hear of is also something that words can’t really describe. (I couldn’t help but wonder, one would dub Hitler as ‘mad’ at the least for the way his warped mind worked, but what about those hundreds of thousands who followed in his footsteps and perpetuated unspeakable atrocities? What is worse, as the author too writes in her note at the end, is human beings don’t seem to have learnt from this and continue to persecute on the basis of religion, of skin colour, of race.) The hardships (too mild a word, really) the family and their friends face in having to live with so little, in circumstances that we would wish on no living creature, and always having to look over their shoulder, perpetually being in fear of their lives is something that one can’t even imagine.  What immense courage it must have taken to have the will to fight on, to live on, when literally everything seems against you, the invaders but also people that were of their own place, and the very the circumstances in which you are forced to live—disease, sickness, and malnutrition posing equally serious threats of their own. Each page one reads, each day that one reads of is heart-breaking. But there is hope in that for all of those who were cruel, who turned against their own, there were as well a few, who stood by them, facing as much danger of being caught and punished. They at least show that there is some ‘human’ left in human beings.

 

But amidst all of this suffering and pain and heartbreak, there was something that kept the families’ lives somewhat normal, and brought a ray of pleasantness into the reader’s experience and this was how rich in culture this book was. The festivals that the Slivkas observed (now so much more familiar to me since I read All-of-a-Kind Family), the birthdays, were something, that even if could not be observed openly or fully as they were before, gave them something to hold on to, something that made life more liveable perhaps, though later, when food and resources becoms more and more scarce, these too are no longer there. But I loved the descriptions of these in the initial parts of the book as I did those of the local culture, Alla Petrovich’s egg-painting (pysanky), the local parades and festivals, and daily life.

 

I haven’t read many books with a holocaust theme (only Anne Frank’s Diary, really), mostly because I know how heart-rending they will be (and how hard to handle), but I realise, it is also so very important to read them, to face how low human being can fall, how little they deserve the superiority they assume, though there are those in every circumstance, who certainly do deserve every accolade, who are really ‘human’. This is certainly one such books, and I can’t recommend it highly enough.

Review: Isabella of Angoulême, Part II by Erica Lane

My thanks to NetGalley, BooksGoSocial, and Silverwood Books for a review copy of this book.

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This is the second in a series of three books centred around Isabella of Angoulême, the ‘tangled queen’. I chose to read this one despite not having read the first as this was about a character and a period of English history that I didn’t know too much about. Isabella of Angoulême was betrothed to Hugh IX of Lusignan but more or less abducted by her father from his custody, and married to King John II (he of the Magna Carta, and Robin Hood stories). Isabella becomes John’s Queen consort but denied many of the privileges she should have as Queen. This book begins in 1217 and covers events up to 1225. John II is dead, and his and Isabella’s son Henry III is on the throne, crowned at only nine, England being ruled effectively by the council of trustworthy people that John had appointed for the purpose. Isabella has returned to Angoulême, bearer  of the seal of Queen of England, determined to establish her own power, regain control over the lands that rightfully belonged to her family, the Taillefers, and be a true Queen rather than one in name alone. Her second marriage, happier in a sense than the first, is a step that takes her further in that direction and we see how she and her new husband consolidate their lands and power, adding to them and strengthening their influence with time.

Isabella and John II

Source: By UAltmann [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons/ By HISTORY OF ENGLAND by SAMUEL R. GARDINER [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

But this is not the story only of Isabella—we also see how the boy King Henry (who we follow from age 11 to about 18) and his little brothers and sisters fare back in England. At this time, England is not financially well off, in fact is rather badly off with the extravagances of John II, and struggling to hold on to its territories and the loyalties of its Knights. While political alliances (marriages mostly, for treaties and truces don’t always have the intended outcome) and support from Rome play their part, money is what is needed most, and money is what is extremely hard for them to find. And if that were not enough, power structures are beginning to change in France too, which have their own implications, not necessarily positive for England.

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Henry III’s Coronation

Source:By Anonymous (Cotton Vitellius A. XIII) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

This was an easy and well-paced read, and as I already mentioned about a time in history that I didn’t know all that much of. I really enjoyed all the various details—of daily life (hunts, feasts, festivals, marriages), of how the exchequer worked, of how the Kings Bench, Chancery, and Common Pleas courts functioned in Westminster, among others. Of course, thirteenth century or any other time, politics itself played out in much the same way–alliances to strengthen power, machinations within court to gain influence (and of course, wealth), and loyalties invariable bending towards those who had the wealth and hence, the power, and mostly likely, as ready to switch back, if and when things change again.

 

Isabella herself was an interesting character to ‘watch’—she isn’t necessarily unscrupulous, but definitely acts in accordance with self-interest (though she does see her and her second husband’s interests as one), and doesn’t hesitate to act to that end. That it may ‘hurt’ someone (not physically, but emotionally) doesn’t seem to count too much with her, even if her own children are involved. While I didn’t think badly of her (except may be on one or two counts), it wasn’t easy to like her very much either for those reasons, even if to an extent, one could understand her need for power and position of her own. For young Henry, on the other hand, I felt a lot of sympathy. In the period that we see him, initially he is much too young to really take any decisions but it is nice seeing him growing older and beginning to act for himself. But the state in which the Kingdom has been left to him, from taking over the reins of power (which we don’t see in this book, though we know Isabella played a role in seeing this through) to holding on to it, even the need for pomp and ceremony despite scarcely having the means, besides the political games between his courtiers—it is so much for quite literally a child to deal with.

 

Overall this was a read I liked very much but there were a couple of issues I had with the book. The later part of the book for one I thought began to focus far more on England’s troubles and Louis the VII’s actions in France (at least these aspects stood out more). Not that I didn’t enjoy reading them but since the book is about Isabella, I would have expected things to stand out more from her perspective. Also, I felt the ending came across as a little abrupt. I know the story will continue in the next part, but still I wish it had felt a little more ‘complete’ if that makes sense.

 

But these were minor complaints, really, and I certainly would like to read more of Isabella’s story so looking forward to Part III to see what lies ahead for her (and indeed for Henry) as well as to reading Part I (on her marriage to John II).  Four stars.

Shelf Control #9

Shelf Control

I borrowed the feature Shelf  Control from Lisa at Bookshelf Fantasies, and this is my ninth post under this. This feature is all about celebrating the books already on your TBR. To participate, you simply pick one of the books on your TBR each Wednesday and write a post about it (usually what it’s all about, what makes you want to read it, where you got it, etc.).

The book I chose to feature this time is Death of a Snob by M.C. Beaton.

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Cover, 2008 ed., Constable and Robin

 

 

Death of a Snob is the sixth of thirty-three titles in the Hamish Macbeth series by M.C. Beaton, featuring the local ‘bobby’ Hamish Macbeth, and set in the fictional Scottish town of Lochdubh.

A little about the author: M.C. Beaton is a pseudonym of author Marion Chesney, who is known for her two mystery series–Agatha Raisin, featuring a middle-aged public relations agent who has moved to the Cotswolds, where she solves various murders and eventually ends up setting up her own detective agency; and Hamish Macbeth, the PC, who is a man content with his position in life, a little lazy, lacking ambition, and often resisting any advance in life. He uses his local knowledge and Highland curiosity to solve mysteries. Besides these, she has written a few standalone mysteries as well as a large number of romance novels and other fiction (standalone and series) under her own name and other pseudonyms.

What the book is all about: Hamish Macbeth is offered a holiday on the Happy Wanderer health farm on the isle of Eileencraig, and accepts since he can’t go home for Christmas as a relative who dislikes him will be there. The invitation has come as a result of owner Jane Wetherby’s fears following an astrologer’s prediction of her death. But when he arrives he finds instead of a pampering experience, a host of hostile islanders, and not very much more welcoming company at the health farm either. When one of the guests at the farm, Morag Todd, a snob who criticises everything and everyone, is found dead, it falls to Macbeth to investigate.

My Edition: The book was first published in 1988, and what I have is a 2004 paperback, Constable and Robinson (same as the cover above).

Where and when I got it: About seven or so months ago online from a second-hand shop.

Why I want to read it: Because I’ve heard a lot about this series and what fun it is. I have read one of the author’s Agatha Raisin books which was nice enough though not one I absolutely loved though I liked that the detective was not a ‘Charlie’s Angel’ but a ‘normal’ (well, may be not quite) middle-aged person. I like the idea of the Scottish setting, and of a detective story which is also humorous and having heard good things about this specific book, I thought it a good place to start.

Have you read any Hamish Macbeth or anything by M.C. Beaton before? How do you like it? I’ve also been hearing from some friends that fans of Hamish Macbeth don’t much care for Agatha Raisin and vice versa. Was this the case with you or did you like (or dislike) both? Looking forward to hearing your thoughts!

Bookquotes: Quotes from Books (13)

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‘Grown-ups love figures. When you talk to them about a new friend, they never ask questions about essential matters. They never say to you: “What does his voice sound like?” “What games does he prefer?” “Does he collect butterflies?”. They ask you: “How old is he?” “How many brothers does he have?” “How much does he weigh?” “How much money does his father earn?” It is only then that they feel they know him.’

–Antoine de Saint-Exupery, The Little Prince (1943) (trans, Irene Testot-Ferry)

The Shakespeare Project: A Midsummer Night’s Dream Act III

This is the third of my posts on A Midsummer Nights Dream and indeed under my Shakespeare Project on this blog. Find out what the Shakespeare Project is all about here. Unlike the other posts on this blog, this and others under the Shakespeare Project are not spoiler-free. These posts are not reviews but brief summaries with a few thoughts.  Act I and Act II are here and here. So read on, if you are familiar with the play or don’t mind spoilers, and do leave feedback on the post itself and/or on the play.

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Cover of the 1908 Doubleday ed.

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

Act III sees the third set of our central players–the amateur actors from Athens–enter the woods to begin rehearsing Pyramus and Thisby (which story (from Ovid) incidentally inspired  Romeo and Juliet). Scene I of this Act, which shows us their rehearsal, is as a consequence a source of much humour. The players first debate whether the sword with which the lovers ultimately kill themselves might frighten the ladies in the audience, and then on the same possible impact of the ‘lion’, deciding to make the actors open with a ‘prologue’ informing the audience that Pyramus is not really Pyramus, but Nick Bottom, and the lion not a real lion 🙂 After resolving other problems that they have of how they would bring in the wall through a chink in which Pyramus and Thisby communicate and the moonlight under which they communicate into the palace, they finally begin to rehearse their lines bungling them up a bit, with Pyramus declaring

‘the flowers of odious savour sweet’

to which an exasperated Quince prompts ‘Odours, odours’, and Thisby promising to meet Pyramus at “Ninny’s (rather than Ninus’) Tomb’, and saying ‘her’ lines all at once, with no pause at the cues to allow Pyramus to reenter the scene.

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The Athenians Rehearsing (while still in their house though)

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

Unknown to them, their antics have a spectator, and that is none other than Puck or Robin Goodfellow, Oberon’s jester. As Nick Bottom exists the ‘stage’ awaiting his cue to reenter, Puck has found an ideal candidate for Titania to ‘fall in love with’, and affixes (though out of the audience’s and thus the reader’s sight) an ass’s head on Bottom’s. This has the effect of scaring away the rest of Bottom’s troop, who suspect something evil at play. Puck is adding to this by frightening them some more, leading them ‘through bog, through bush, through brake, through brier‘ , and assuming different forms (from hog to headless bear) and producing different sounds to make sure they are scared away from the wood. Bottom, however, thinks that this is all knavery on part of his friends and they are attempting to scare him, and make an ass of him, little realising that he has indeed been turned into an ass of sorts. He begins sing on top of his voice to prove that he isn’t in the least afraid.

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Bottom sings (Alfred Fredericks, 1874)

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

Titania is awakened by this song, and immediately falls in love with Bottom. She directs her fairies to serve him–to ‘feed him with apricoks and dewberries, With purple grapes, green figs, and mulberries‘, to ‘fan the moonbeams from his sleeping eyes‘ while he sleeps, and to fetch honey and make candles from beeswax so that he has light. Bottom on his part, makes the acquaintance of the fairies, leading to a few more smiles with him telling Cobweb, ‘if I cut my finger, I shall make bold with you‘ and Mustard Seed, ‘I promise you your kindred hath made my eyes water ere now‘. Titania claims to be enamoured of Bottom’s voice but all the same wants her fairies to silence him as they proceed to their sleeping place.

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Titania orders her fairies to serve Nick Bottom

Source: By Daderot [Public domain or CC0], from Wikimedia Commons

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Bottom and the Fairies (Joseph Noel Patton)

Source: Joseph Noel Paton [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Meanwhile, Oberon is wondering how his plans re Titania are playing out, and Puck comes in to tell him just how well he has fared, pleasing Oberon. But the second task assigned to him, of putting the juice of the purple flower in the eyes of Athenian youth, Puck hasn’t got right, ‘And laid the love-juice on some true love’s eyes‘. But Puck isn’t displeased by his mistake, though it was a genuine one, and is all set to enjoy the effects, after Oberon puts some of the flower juice into Demetrius’ eyes, while directing Puck/Robin to bring Helena to the place where he lies by illusion or charm

‘Then will two at once woo one.

 That must needs be sport alone.

And those things do best please me

That befall preposterously’.

 

Of course, Oberon has found Puck’s mistake out because Demetrius has walked into that part of the wood, followed by Hermia, who believes Lysander has been murdered by Demetrius, for why else would he leave his sleeping Hermia alone in the wood. Demetrius admits he wouldn’t mind doing away with Lysander but insists he has nothing to do with it, while Hermia, after a few more strong words chiding him for testing her patience leaves, and Demetrius settles down to rest. This is when Oberon puts some of the purple flower’s juice in his eyes.

Now Lysander and Helena appear on the scene, Lysander still wooing Helena under the juice’s spell, while Demetrius awakes and also begins to do the same. Both Helena and Hermia, who reenters the scene are confounded. Helena persists in believing that Lysander and Demetrius, with Hermia’s involvement are mocking and scorning her. Hermia, on the other hand, is first astonished by Lysander’s declaration of love for Helena, then begins to accuse her of stealing Lysander’s affections, passions running so high that Hermia is almost prepared to strike Helena, even to gouge out her eyes.

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Demetrius (Ross Alexander), Lysander (Dick Powell), Helena (Jean Muir), and Hermia (Olivia de Havilland) from the 1935 film

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

Oberon, who has been watching, chides Puck for his negligence, while Puck defends himself by claiming that he hadn’t enough of a description to know which young Athenian was being talked of. Oberon wishing to put things to rights, charges Puck with leading Lysander and Demetrius away, and putting the juice of the antidote into Lysander’s eyes, ‘To take thence all error with his might‘, while he himself goes to his queen to get the little Indian child into his possession before he supplies her with the antidote and restores peace once again.

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Oberon and Puck (from the Poetical Works of Thomas Hood, 1880)

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

Puck, assuming Demetrius’ and Lysanders’ voices in turn, lures Lysander and Demetrius, who soon tired fall asleep, as do Helena and Hermia. He then puts the antidote into Lysander’s eyes, so when they next awake, Lysander’s love for Hermia will be restored while Demetrius will continue to love Helena, and so closes this Act of the play.

This Act had both laughter and drama–the laughter of course coming from the Athenian band rehearsing their play, from and from Bottom’s song (the song itself isn’t as such funny, but one can’t but imagine Bottom’s rendition to be loud and exaggerated, making it so), and introduction to Titania’s fairies. The rehearsal brought a few smiles to my face, but I think the effect would be much more funny when acted out. Still it is fun to imagine the troop of ‘actors’ trying to anticipate any untoward impact that their performance could have on the audience, muddling up their dialogues, and being scared out of their wits by Puck’s antics (this last bit, very slapstick).

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Bottom singing  (1888): One can’t help but think this will be funny

Source: By Julius Hoeppner (1839-1893) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

With our four lovers, on the other hand, things took a much more dramatic turn. Helena feels she is being mocked, Hermia knows not what is going on, while the two men are under the power of magic professing their love for the woman who happened to be in front of them when they opened their eyes. It was interesting (yet human) that Helena brings up her childhood friendship with Hermia and the times spent together when rebuking her for what she thinks is the three playing a trick on her, scorning her, when herself she though nothing of it when she betrayed Hermia’s secret  to Demetrius. Helena does eventually confess her wrong but she isn’t above accusing Hermia of being a ‘vixen when she went to school‘, and with being fierce ‘though she be but little’. Another glimpse of human nature or perhaps of love, when it takes precedence over all else, where no other relationship seems to remain sacred and beyond attack. Hermia and Helena are not beyond attacking each other–physically or verbally–beyond accused each other of vile deeds or temperament.

Also in this segment, Hermia has found herself in the position that Helena has occupied all this time, of the one reviled by Demetrius and Lysander and not one who is in a position to scorn, Perhaps that is one reason for all her equanimity (so far) being lost, for all the negative side of her character and temperament coming to the surface.

The misunderstanding and drama for the four lovers at least is almost at an end, for we know that when we next see them, the spell will be broken. But will we find either of the girls sorry in the least for their conduct? Do we expect them to be so, or was it simply ‘natural’ that they’d fight ‘tooth and nail’ (quite literally, in fact) for their love, and thus against everyone else? I have’t quite made up my mind on that question. What do you think? Do leave a comment and let me know.

In my next post, I will probably cover both Act IV and V, since together, they’re just about as long as Act III.

Non-Fiction Review: The Six Wives of Henry VIII

Six wives

I started this book rather late in May as part of my ‘Kings and Queens’ theme that month but didn’t end up reading very much of it for lack of time. Despite every intention of finishing it in June, I got caught up with challenge and group reads and didn’t pick this up at all but then again at the beginning of this month finally picked up from where I’d left off and completed it. Though I would have read it anyway, this also fit into my theme of this month—doorstoppers—at 600+ pages. This book, my first by Alison Weir, as is pretty evident from the title is about the six women whom Henry VIII married. But as Katherine of Aragon, Henry’s first queen came to England much before his was crowned, and two other wives Katherine Parr and Anne of Cleves outlived him, it also is the story of Henry’s reign albeit restricted to a telling of those aspects of his life and reign that was related to his queens (among them of course, his break with Rome, and his ultimate ‘takeover’ of all power in England, something that emerged from issues relating to his marriages but went on to become and affect much more). And even though it doesn’t tell us the history of the entire Tudor dynasty, all six of its monarchs (even Lady Jane Grey) are here, and we learn something of each of them as well.

Katherine of Aragon, Anne Boleyn, Jane Seymour, Anne of Cleves, and Katherine Howard

Source: [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

This book certainly took me a while to read (the one-month ‘break’ in the middle apart), but it was very readable and interesting, keeping my attention throughout. I have read accounts and stories, and historical fiction about Henry’s wives before but never a collective biography, and didn’t know the stories of all his queens, particularly Anne of Cleves and Katherine Parr, so these parts were fairly ‘new’ to me, but I also learnt a fair bit about the stories of the wives I ‘knew’ about—things like just how long it took for both Katherine of Aragon and Anne Boleyn’s marriages to go through, just how strong of a fight Katherine of Aragon put up (and how long that lasted), and what became of Anne of Cleves after her divorce/annulment and of Katherine Parr, among other aspects. What also stands out in the book, besides the issues of succession and love/lust that surrounded Henry’s marriages is also the politics around them, and how it impacted not only how each marriage was brought about, how it ran its course, and came to an end. I also enjoyed learning about their intellectual pursuits—I knew Henry was well-educated and had composed songs but had no idea that he’d written books as well, nor that Katherine Parr was also the author of a couple of volumes.

Henry in 1531 (Van Cleve), and 1542 (Holbein)

Source:  [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

That Henry didn’t object to these pursuits in his wives (Anne Boleyn too was well read and read some fairly heretical matter openly and with Henry’s knowledge, and Katherine of Aragon in a manner of speaking was well educated), even though this may have led to some serious differences at times (particularly for Katherine Parr, who averted some serious danger very cleverly) and although his word was of course law, I thought reflected in his favour.  In the book, one also gets to see Henry’s gradual descent from jovial charming King to an ill-tempered tyrant of sorts, but also somewhat his point of view on things which makes one a little more sympathetic towards him (his health issues particularly, as well as how rarely he was really able to have a ‘family life’ (something likely common to all monarchs)) and also understand him a lot better (even if one can’t defend his actions—even by the standards of his time, perhaps).

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Katherine Parr (1545) by Holbein

Source:  [Public domain or Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

As with reading different accounts of the same time and people (and by different people)—there were things that were different from other accounts I’d read—among them the impression I’d formed of Lady Rochford and her role in Katherine Howard’s trial, of Anne Boleyn herself, and of some facts like Katherine Carey’s age when she attended Anne in the tower.

 

Interesting, informative, and enjoyable. I shall probably try some of Weir’s Tudor fiction also soon.