My rating: 5 of 5 stars
One of my goals for my summer reading was to reread the complete works of Shakespeare. Well, the summer has flown by and the only progress I made toward my goal was to read a few of the sonnets. Now that fall has arrived, I decided to finally make a serious start on the project.
What better place to start than perhaps my favorite of the comedies, A Midsummer Night's Dream? I have fond memories of a PBS production of the play when I was growing up. It made a lasting impression on me and helped to give me at least a glimmer of appreciation for good literature. The twists and turns of the romance between the star-crossed lovers, Lysander and Hermia, were funny and sometimes poignant. The interference in human lives by the king of the fairies, Oberon, the bumbling of his servant, Puck, and, finally, the act of Oberon that puts everything right again make up the core of the plot.
"The course of true love never did run smooth," says Lysander in act 1. That was never more true than in this play, but, in fact, it could be said of all Shakespeare's comedies, as well as some of the tragedies. It's a favorite device of his to cause misunderstandings between lovers and would-be lovers which then become the running theme of the play that is finally resolved in the final act. And so it is with A Midsummer Night's Dream.
The scene is Athens. Lysander loves Hermia and Hermia loves Lysander. But Demetrius also loves Hermia and Hemia's father favors him as a husband for his daughter. Helena, Hermia's best friend, loves Demetrius but he won't give her a second look.
Lysander and Hermia plan to run away together. They meet in a wood outside Athens, but instead of running away, they fall asleep. Helena, hoping to curry favor with Demetrius, tells him about the plot and he goes to the same wood seeking the lovers, but there he, too, falls asleep.
On (mangled) instructions from Oberon, Puck goes to the wood and sprinkles the eyelids of the sleepers with a potion which causes both Demetrius and Lysander to wake up in love with Helena and hating Hermia. Both Helena and Hermia are very confused. Demetrius and Lysander are ready to fight over Helena.
Oh, what hilarity ensues! Finally, Oberon intervenes once again, sets everything right, and Lysander remembers that he loves Hermia, and, suddenly, Demetrius finds that he loves Helena. They all live happily ever after, each with the one he/she loves. The end.
This, of course, is the selfsame plot we have seen reenacted in virtually every romantic comedy since Shakespeare. In plays and on the screen or in literature, it is always the same and we know how it is going to end, but we love it anyway.
It is not a fluke that Shakespeare is called the greatest writer in English. For one thing, we can hardly get through a day without quoting him. For another, he prefigured practically every plot of every book and short story that came after him and his sonnets are truly timeless. In fact, his writing seems fresh to me still, almost five hundred years later.
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