Essay, Research Paper: Midsummer Night's Dream

Shakespeare

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As with every play we read this quarter, we started A Midsummer Night s Dream
with only a text. Reading the script is the foundation of Shakespeare, and the
least evolved of the ways that one can experience it. There is no one to
interpret the words, no body movement or voice inflection to indicate meaning or
intention. All meaning that a reader understands comes from the words alone. The
simplicity of text provides a broad ground for imagination, in that every reader
can come away from the text with a different conception of what went on. The
words are merely the puzzle pieces individuals put together to bring coherence
and logic to the play. Although we all read generally the same words, we can see
that vastly different plays arise depending on who interprets them. By
interpreting the word-clues that Shakespeare wrote into the script to direct the
performance of the play, we were able to imagine gestures, expressions, and
movements appropriate to the intention of the playwright. An example of this can
be seen in the different Romeo and Juliets: Luhrman clearly had a more modern
vision after reading the script than did Zeffirelli did only 18 years before.
The live performance at the CalPoly theatre also carried !with it a very
different feel less intense, more child-like and sweet with nearly the same
words. Reading also affects our experience in that without the text, we would
most likely not be able to enjoy Shakespeare at all; having the text makes
Shakespeare widely accessible (available for free on the web) to all that desire
it. Once the script is obtained, anyone can perform Shakespeare even everyday,
non-actor citizens put on Shakespeare whether it be in parks, at school, or in a
forest. My experience reading Shakepearean plays has shown me that reading is
necessary and fundamental part of grasping the fullness of the works. I had
wanted to read A Midsummer Night's Dream for quite some time. Besides being a
play by Shakespeare, I believe my desire to do so came from seeing bits and
pieces of it done in Hollywood movies like Dead Poet's Society. I didn't realize
how much small exposures like! those could cause me to prejudge the actual text;
after I had read the play for myself I was surprised at how much the text
differed from my expectations. Not knowing the whole of the plot, but rather
only bits and pieces, I expected a play filled with fairy dust and pixy-women
toe-dancing, laughing, with flowers everywhere, or something like Hylas and the
nymphs. What I did not expect was a group of rag-tag laborers putting on a play,
young females cat fighting over their men, or Titania being "enamored of an
ass." (Act IV, Scene i, MND) Even with surprises, though, the text by
itself held little detail and richness in my mind. I thought it a decent play,
but certainly nothing like I had hoped, and I didn't feel involved in it or
connected to it in any way. One of the things that did impressed me, though, was
finding out for myself how accessible Shakespeare actually is. When it came time
for me to learn my lines for Philostrate (MND), I copied them from a site on the
internet which posted the text in its entirety. I realized the!n how lucky we
are that plays like these survived through the ages, sometimes probably making
it from one hand to the next in a form no better than the paperback I carried in
my bag. Through my reading, the importance of the text was impressed upon me,
and I feel that I have gained a new appreciation for the lasting and
foundational qualities of pure script. Viewing Viewing a play adds a kind of
second dimension to a textual reading. While our primary impressions of a
Shakespearean play are established with the initial reading, those impressions
are challenged when we come into contact with a play performed. At this point we
have a first hand contrast between how we felt and how someone else felt about
the same play. Once we have sampled another's interpretations we necessarily
question ourselves on what we would have done differently, had we directed the
play. Perhaps something we expected to see on stage was omitted; perhaps!
something unusual was added. We might even sample the same play dozens of times,
all performed by different companies; it is common, it is even expected, that
none of the twelve interpretations will be much the same. Unlike with reading,
with viewing we are not allowed to sample the play in whatever manner we want.
As the audience, our experiences are directed. We must resign ourselves to be
the two-hour subject of another's whims and methods. This kind of challenge is
usually very enlightening, bringing new thoughts and perspectives where we would
otherwise have only our own. These new thoughts and perspectives often
materialize in the form of visual and auditory details, mostly because the
script stays generally the same. Viewing an actual performance adds depth and
detail to what was before only words. We are given scenery, costumes, voices,
faces, body movements, and other forms of physical (rather than verbal)
expression that contribute to a particular feel. These types of details are in
reality just instances of the direct!or s influence, interpretations and
preferences that cause us to challenge our initial ideas, and accept us a
possibly richer taste of the play. Because I was involved in two scenes of A
Midsummer Night's Dream, viewing this play on film held particular interest for
me. I often found myself looking to the films for ideas on how to play a
character, or a scene. Unfortunately (or perhaps fortunately, for originality's
sake), neither of the films we reviewed portrayed A Midsummer Night's Dream in a
way that particularly struck me. The 1935 Reinhardt edition seemed to me
overdone in nearly every respect. The characters were much too Roman, the
actresses quite over-dramatic, the fairies and black-winged bats far too many in
number, and the movie, in general, way too long. The author of "Max
Reinhardt and William Dieterle's A Midsummer Night s Dream" described it
well as, "a vast! balletic-operatic extravaganza with huge casts, elaborate
scenery, and lavish costumes." (37, Jorgens) Overall it was a very large
film. The BBC version, on the other hand, erred in the opposite. It was slow,
relatively unemotional, and somewhat difficult to watch. After viewing both
these versions, I realized that my perceptions of the text were much different
than either of the films. I wanted something more normal, less mystical, more
possible however, the time for me to voice those desires had not yet come.
Performing This third dimension of experiencing Shakespeare comes only when a
reader-turned-viewer decides to become the actor. This aspect of the
Shakespearean experience is nearly the only of the three mentioned that supports
and encourages open creativity and self-expression. Now our questions of,
"what would I have done differently" have a chance to be answered. It
is in the acting that the text becomes less detached from us, becoming more our
own. We are no longer in !the passive mode, but the active. Now, we wait for no
one, cut lines if we like, say it fast, draw it out. There are few, if any,
limits to how a play can be done. Performing brings one's original, textual
conceptions in synergy with those viewed of others, creating a play that is both
wholly collage, and wholly new. The play begins to conform to what we, as
individuals, perceive to be the best or most right interpretation of the text.
After viewing the two film versions of A Midsummer Night's Dream, I envisioned
something much more casual and lighthearted, even funny, for our own performance
of Act III, Scene ii. Because of this, and probably because of the nature of the
cast in general, our group took on a more youthful, somewhat ridiculous approach
to the play. Demetrius was played by a woman, Lysander dressed in ruffles and
knickers, Helena victimized and "shrewish" to the extreme, and Hermia
was more often than not stepping into violen!ce. Nevertheless, in some ways we
found ourselves doing exactly the things that we saw in the films. For example,
once performing, it was not difficult to see elements of the characters we play
in us; specifically, we more often than not felt and appeared like the
"Rude Mechanicals." We were not unlike them, coming together with
nothing but a script, none of us actors. (Heather the Grant Writer, Tricia the
Administrator, Giselle the Grader, Matt the Director, all of us students.)
Beginning with nothing but bare Shakepearean text, we assigned roles, gave out
scripts, rehearsed, and performed. At Swanton Ranch, "The Dream Team"
stood in a forest to practice our play, hearing Puck recite, "A crew of
patches, rude mechanicals, that work for bread upon Athenian stalls, were met
together to rehearse a play." (Act III, Scene ii, MND) We were much the
same. We even had some hard-hat rude mechanicals accidentally appear in the
background as we spoke! Even before we arrived, though, a place was sought out
f!or us, our director no doubt having thoughts much like these: "Pat, pat;
and here's a marvail's convenient place for our rehearsal. This green plot shall
be our stage, this hawthorn brake our tiring house." (Act III, Scene i, MND)
Once done, like the lovers in the scene, we return to the real world, away from
the forest, back to the realities of work and school: "When they next wake,
all this derision shall seem a dream and fruitless vision, and back to Athens
shall the lovers go." (Act III, Scene ii, MND) And so we did. Although we
for the most part succeeded in building our own version of the play, some
similarities like these could not be escaped: I could not help but notice that
the actions taken in the play were mirroring what was going on in reality.
Through Shakespeare s ability to create a-play-within-a-play-within-a-play, I
found being a rude mechanical broadening to my overall impressions of the play-buildi!ng
experience. Seeing our forest performance on film gave an entirely different
perspective still. Some members of the faculty, some friends, and some strangers
came to our screening to see the fruit of our creative weekend in Swanton Ranch.
We put a lot of time and practice into our scene, making sure that we had our
lines, that they flowed right, that we looked right. We brought the scenes from
just a text, clear through to performance, and were now able to look back over
the whole creative process. In the theatre, however, just before our showing,
our "performance" somehow seemed less serious to me. I was so afraid
that we were all going to embarrass ourselves! The lines I said when I was
Philostrate suddenly came back to me. No, my noble lord, it is not for you. I
have heard it over, and it is nothing, nothing in the world; unless you can find
sport in their intents, extremely stretched and conned with cruel pain, to do
you service. (Act V, Scene i, MND) Much like Bottom's company, we were good not
because of any phenomenal talent, but because we tried, because we were simple
people trying to do Shakespeare. Like them, we were not actors, but were still
able to experience the fullness of the creative process, bringing to fruition
our own comedic rendition of A Midsummer Night's Dream. Shakespeare I believe
that it is not by accident that our play turned out as it did. It could not be
but that Shakepeare intended for us, the actors, to relate to Bottom s company,
to everyone who ever put on A Midsummer Night s Dream or any other production.
This is part of Shakepeare s genius: to be able to write into the play a
reflection of ourselves, to see our own creative processes being mirrored by
those of the characters we coarsely attempt to play. Even now, when the actual
performance of our scene is over, I look back through the t!ext and still see my
group in it: when I read the word, Demetrius, I no longer picture the old
Demetrius I first imagined, or even those I saw in film. Now I see Tricia in her
funny pseudo-masculine hat. The play has somehow become ours. Even if we hadn t
put on the play, though, and felt none of it for ourselves, reading about the
rude mechanicals and their creative process gives a reader valuable insight.
Shakespeare did not just hand down to us a script, expecting the layman to
figure out how to make it happen. Instead, it is as if he included his own
little instruction manual in the play, teaching all who will learn to bring it
from the mere green text to the ripe fruit of performance. Personal Notes The
class in retrospect was a very good experience. Before the quarter began, when I
first learned that our class would be taking a field trip together, I was
hesitant. I wasn't sure that I wanted to spend a weekend away from home, in !a
cabin in the hills with my Shakespeare class. I was not convinced that it would
be more than an uncomfortable experience. I didn't at all expect what actually
came out of it, something that I praise God so much for, which had virtually
nothing to do with Shakespeare at all. The contact that I had with my group has
become invaluable to me this quarter. I got to know people that weekend that I
otherwise would hardly have talked to had I not been required to spend so much
time outside of class with them. Tricia, Giselle, Matt and I are good friends;
how could we be otherwise when we rehearsed together so often, rode 8 hours in
the car together, left Matt's clothes behind, shopped the sales together at
Macy's, ate meals, and hiked 20 minutes into the forest together? I learned
about three people who share my faith, shared a candy bar with Joel, and did my
classmates' dishes. I saw them from morning to evening in lights and places so
different from the norm. They seem to me pe!ople now, and friends, not just
bodies with mouths in chairs.par Besides being purely social, going to Swanton
Ranch really opened up my educational experience. Although our actual film isn't
going to win any Academy Awards, it felt like we were doing something real, and
not just commenting on everyone else's work. The air was great, the change was
great, and bringing a play from text to performance gave me a whole new attitude
towards theatrics in general. I learned how much work goes into doing even just
a scene, how many elements there are to look after, and how much effort it takes
to make everything look somewhat believable and real. Being at the end of the
process now, being able to see where we started from clear through to the
finish, I feel like my understanding of Shakespeare has really broadened. Not so
much Shakespeare himself, of course, but rather what he did, what he tried to
accomplish; I have a much greater sense of what all actors and crew go through
to put a play together, text to performance, start to !finish. There is a small
part of me that wants to keep doing Shakespeare, to do all of the play, or at
least do it again. Another part of me, the more persuasive and logical part,
wants to just keep it all right where it is in my mind, remembering it fondly,
as A Dream.
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