The 2009 Actors’ Renaissance Season begins with Shakespeare’s most popular comedy, A Midsummer Night’s Dream. We have produced Dream many times in the “normal” way with a director and designers, and we are excited to see how our actors do it with just two full days of rehearsal (as some scholars think would have been the maximum rehearsal time for Shakespeare’s company).
- When was the play first performed?
1595 or 1596.
- Where was the play first performed?
Some internal evidence suggests that the Shakespeare and his company first performed the play for a nobleman’s estate on the occasion of a wedding. Otherwise, his company, then the Lord Chamberlain’s Men, would have performed it at the Theatre (the outdoor playhouse that predated the Globe).
- How does this play fit into Shakespeare’s career?
Dream is at the beginning of what scholars call Shakespeare’s “mature” period. The way the play seems to parody his own Romeo and Juliet shows that Shakespeare is now supremely confident. The darker notes that we will begin to hear in Merchant of Venice, Much Ado, and Twelfth Night are almost wholly absent, and despite its title Dream is one of Shakespeare’s sunnier plays.
- How is this play like Shakespeare’s other plays?
Like Love’s Labour’s Lost, this play is full of a variety of verse forms and, like that earlier play, Dream has a group of lower class characters putting on a play for the gentry. Like The Tempest it has magical beings. Like As You Like It, it goes into the woods, and like all of the comedies except for Love’s Labour’s Lost, it ends with multiple marriages.
- How is this play unlike other Shakespeare plays?
No other play of Shakespeare’s has so rich a variety of worlds – stately royalty, romantic comedy, English farce, and a fairy world.
- What do scholars think about this play?
They think it’s pretty close to perfect.
- Is there any controversy surrounding the work?
Only the question of whether or not it was written for an occasion.
- What characters should I especially look for?
Two characters stand out: Puck, the hyperactive assistant to Oberon, King of the Fairies, and Nick Bottom, a weaver who wants to play all the parts. I believe that Bottom is the embodiment of imagination and Shakespeare’s proof that that faculty is not limited education or occupation. Shakespeare gives Bottom the message of the play: “Reason and love keep little company together now-a-days.”
- What scene should I especially look for?
The scene when Puck puts an ass’s head on Bottom’s shoulders and Bottom subsequently becomes the lover of Titania, the Fairy Queen, is worth looking for.
- What is the language like?
Sublime and sublimely easy.
Dr. Ralph Alan Cohen, ASC Director of Mission