The poet’s eye, in fine frenzy rolling,
Doth glance from heaven to Earth, from Earth to heaven.
And as imagination bodies forth
The forms of things unknown, the poet’s pen
Turns them to shapes and gives to airy nothing
A local habitation and a name. (V, i)
I’ve loved this line since I first heard it in high school. Giving “to airy nothing a local habitation and a name.” I felt like an “airy nothing” when I was a kid. Becoming a person is like writing a poem. It’s like being the dreamer who dreams the dream. Even if we’ve been burdened with an oppressive religious education, eventually we get to write (right) ourselves and to decide what it means to be who we are.
Having said that, I’ll move on to the strata of this play: There are the aristocrats, Theseus (who says the line I just quoted) and Hippolyta who are to be married on Midsummer’s Day. There is “Helymitria,” my term for the interchangeable bright young upper class things Hermia, Helena, Demetrius, and Lysander. Oberon and Titania are the King and Queen of an unseen (by mortals) world of fairies. Robin Goodfellow–Puck for short—is Oberon’s all-round mischief-maker and messenger, a Mercury figure.
And finally my favorites: the “Hard-handed men that work in Athens, which never labored in their minds until now.”(V, i) Anyone who performs or who works with performers will recognize this bunch. In my music studio, I organize bi-monthly recitals for my adult singing students called “Terrified Adults and Spotlight Whores Sunday Afternoon Musicales.” In the play, we’ve got Bottom, the Spotlight Whore and Snug, the Terrified Adult. The rest of their players are aspiring to either position. We’ve got the sincerely officious pedant, Peter Quince. In my analogy I guess that would be me.
The gang is rehearsing a play called “A tedious brief of young Pyramus and his love for Thisby; a very tragical mirth.” They’ve entered themselves in a competition to entertain Theseus and Hippolyta after their wedding ceremony. All of them nearly wet their pants when they learn they have been chosen to perform. What performer, amateur or professional, doesn’t recognize this?
They need a wall for their play because Pyramus and Thisby carry on their love affair through a chink in the wall that separates them:
Snout: You can never bring in a wall. What say you, Bottom?
Bottom: Some man or other must present Wall. And let him have some plaster, or some loam, or some roughcast about him to signify wall. And let him hold his fingers thus, and through that cranny shall Pyramus and Thisbe whisper.
I love this! This is what makes amateur theatricals, in many ways, so much more alive than productions with a huge budget. When you don’t have a lot of money you need a lot of imagination. As Theseus says: “The best in this kind are but shadows, and the worst are no worse if imagination amend them.” (V, i)
A Midsummer Night’s Dream continually asks the question, “Are you sure that we are awake?” (IV, i) and continually presents levels of dreaming and waking, imagination and concreteness. Here are more of its lines:
*. . . chanting faint hymns to the cold, fruitless moon (I, i)
*The course of true love never did run smooth (I, i)
*Things base and vile, holding no quantity
Love can transpose to form dignity
Love looks not with the eyes, but with the mind. (I, i)
*You may do it extempore, for it is nothing but roaring. (I, ii)
(This is Peter Quince’s reassurance to Snug that he will be ok in the part of the lion)
*Every mother’s son (I, ii)
*I must go and seek some dewdrops here,
And hang a pearl in every cowslip’s ear. (II, i)
*Lord what fools these mortals be! (IV, ii)