‘Shakespeare in Ideology’, James H Kavanagh, in Alternative Shakespeares, (ed. John Drakasis), (Methuen: London, 1985)
A part of me is looking forward to moving onto ‘the Dream’ in my Pony Tail Shakespeare read-through more than I thought I would.
Like many people, it was my introduction to Shakespeare. I can’t say exactly when, being old now, but I reckon I was still in single digits – as a result, naturally, I remember little except that it was an open-air production (possibly kicking off a life-long affection for outdoor productions), that and of course the spectacle. With its faerie folk. Puck, and of course ‘sweet Bully Bottom’, its outdoor setting and the play-within-the-play, there’s plenty for youngsters to enjoy. A few years back, shooting production photography for the Cambridge Shakespeare Festival, it was the only play they staged every year (‘because the punters expected it’) and the only one with noticeable amounts of children attending. Some, charmingly, used to come dressed as faeries themselves …
The play passed me by at school, but was one we studied at University. With more adult eyes, I remember, this time, being particularly affected by the harshness of the opening, Helena’s betrayal of Hermia compounding the autocratic ultimatum of her father and the Duke. One of the things I’m half-looking forward to, half-wincing in advance of, are my annotations from back then …
That too was some time ago, and I’ve neither read nor taught the play since. I do have the opportunity to teach it, and my buddy does, but I go for Much Ado. Partly that’s because of the glorious Kenneth Branagh version. It’s prompted, more than once, rounds of applause by classes.
So this re-read is a chance to measure not just the play, reappraising it with over eyes, but to measure myself and how I’ve changed. Since I last looked at the play, I’ve read a lot more contextual material, and am familiar with far more of the plays than last time round. Whilst I know I’ll enjoy the rude mechanicals, I’ll also have ideas bubbling away which are more akin to the point James H Kavanagh makes:
A Midsummer Night’s Dream sets up a familiar, even typical, Shakespearean theatrical landscape: desire – feminine, rebellious, deserving sympathy – challenges authority – patriarchal, hierarchical, somewhat too obsessive, but demanding and deserving of respect. At stake are the analogous orders – political and ontological – of the microcosm (family, father) and the macrocosm (state, sovereign, nature, reason).
What’s going to catch my eye this time?