A Mortal World Fraught with Change and Loss

Thursday, May 22, 2008 Leave a Comment

How does this entry relate to Flux's full production of A Midsummer Night's Dream?

Things are not good in Athens.

It's important to say that, right off the bat. Theseus, after jilting the Amazon princess Antiope, abducts their Queen Hippolyta. A war ensues between Athens and the Amazons, and while Athens eventually wins, the cost is the Amazon's way of life and many lives on both sides.

"Hippolyta, I wooed thee with my sword,
And won thy love, doing thee injuries"

(Aaron Michael Zook as Theseus, Frederique Nahmani as Hippolyta. Photo: Heather Cohn.)

How can this 'happy' marriage seem anything more than a ceremonial rape? It is no wonder that Hippolyta sees the moon as a drawn bow aimed at her, and Theseus must ask "What cheer, my love?"

Then Egeus comes in, demanding his daughter marry Demetrius or die; a fate mitigated only somewhat by Theseus in his proposal she join the nunnery.

(David Douglas Smith as Egeus, Photo: Isaiah Tanenbaum)

And according to Titania, her war with Oberon has created a series of horrific natural disasters that have led to famine, fields full of flocks dead from sheep-sickness, drought and flooding, disease, and the ruin of the countryside.

War, starvation, plague, rape, and a state that will not allow the pursuit of happiness; this is how Shakespeare opens his comedy; and we do the complexity of the this play a disservice to smooth that over. Instead, we should take Lysander's rhapsody on the impossibility of love in such a world seriously:

Or if there were a sympathy in choice,
War, death, or sickness, did lay siege to it;
Making it momentary, as a sound:
Swift as a shadow, short as any dream,
Brief as the lightning in the collied night,
That (in a spleen) unfolds both heaven and earth;
And ere a man hath power to say, behold,
The jaws of darkness do devour it up:
So quick bright things come to confusion.

That such a world can be brought to harmony in the natural (fairy), domestic (lovers) and political (royals) spheres is nothing short of magic; and the darker we set the curse at the beginning of the play, the more surprising and well-earned the eventual blessing.

And the more dangerous and fraught with limits we make the human world, the more dazzling and dangerous we make the limitlessness of the fairy world; and the more sublime their union in the bower of Titania and Bottom becomes.