FETCH ME TRIFLES
Like all plays, A Midsummer Night's Dream is a trifle. Even the greatest production of King Lear is no more than an entertainment - a make-believe experience that evaporates with the final bow. It may move us to pity and awe, but it does not cure the sick not shelter the poor nor feed the hungry. A Midsummer Night's Dream weighs even less than a King Lear and is more obviously a trifle.
Dream is about Shakespeare's own trivial pursuit of making plays. He puts a play within the play in other works, but Dream is the only one in which he puts the rehearsal of a play as well. At that rehearsal in the center of this play, Shakespeare brings together the supernatural and the human worlds and engineers the most unlikely romantic encounter in the history of theatre,
Hamlet explains grandly that the purpose of plays is to hold a mirror up to nature. Stupid Hamlet. Tell that to the audiences enchanted to senselessness as they watch Titania, the Queen of the Fairies, make love to an ass-headed amateur thespian named Bottom.
Plays do something other than - more and less than - mirror nature. They are the mysterious human endeavor where our imaginations strut our dreams for the delight of others. Sound and fury for an hour (or two) to be heard no more ... until of course the next play, when some other group of actors driven by the oddest of human needs reimagines another dream for another audience assembled to exercise the joy of imagination.
That joy is the subject of this play, not because Theseus gives a memorable speech about imagination, but because the play continually engages your effortless superpower to imagine.
Titania refuses to give Oberon the little changeling boy - a character that Shakespeare has us only imagine - because his mother was her human companion who would, as she explains,
... sail upon the land
To fetch me trifles, and return again
As from a voyage rich with merchandise...
Rich trifles. That's what plays are. We can live without them, but we don't want to. A Midsummer Night's Dream is Shakespeare's perfect trifle.
RALPH ALAN COHEN
Director of Mission and Co-founder