A Midsummer Night’s Dream is the first Shakespeare play that I ever read. And because of the play’s charming characters (pun intended), it was not the last! Fairies, enchantments, the complicated plot, and Puck’s sarcastic, rabble-rousing nature completely disarmed me. I thought Shakespeare dramas were supposed to be nobly tragic and righteously boring, especially concerning the “Old English” language that I assumed he wrote in.
“What fools these mortals be!”
Just when I had resigned myself to the unlucky fate of reading Shakespeare, the insufferable, I was quickly shown that Mr. William Shakespeare was not at all what he had at first appeared to be. I quickly realized that this play was going to be fun.
As the plot thickened, I delighted in the comic mistakes, the hilarious confusion, and the prominent Puck. Who else is there like Puck?
You cannot help but love him, even though he scares and annoys you at times. Second in power only to Oberon, he is loyal to something only if it proves potentially catastrophic. Maybe that is why I so enjoy him; he always adds to the general craziness of life. He possesses a certain benevolence although his specialty is wrecking havoc on the earth (the small sphere of which he is able to girdle ’round in 40 minutes). He actually restores order to the world of the woods by completely ruining that order. And his wit! Of all the characters in MND, he commands the most respect and perhaps the most goodwill, precisely because he doesn’t need it.
Then, of course there are the bumbling “rude mechanicals,” also some of the chief sources of humor in the play. Their mispronunciation, complete loss of touch with reality, and lack of self-awareness make them highly entertaining, to say the least!
The first time I read MND, I was able to laugh at their unbelievable inability to act. But it wasn’t until the third time that I read the play (and had developed a better familiarity with the story they were trying to renact) that I really understood the complete mess they made out of their misquotes and their mutilation of the story of Thisbe and Pyramus.
Then, of course, there is Titania: strong, beautiful, and brilliantly stubborn. She made the play seem like an elaborate fairy tale. Enchanted woods, fairy servants, elves, hobgoblins, all seem to be held together by her somehow. For some reason, she vividly stuck out in my mind as I read the play for the first time. Although it seems like Oberon and Puck control her, I suspect that it is really she who controls them by going along with their fun and games. Come on! She’s the Fairy Queen – can she really not be familiar with the “love potion” or ways to combat its spell?
Finally, there are the human lovers – poor, unfortunate souls! They are quite amusing also, but only once the fairies have intervened in affairs a bit. I think my favorite human aristocrat would have to be Helena. She is the only one to remain fairly constant in love. Lysander makes a good show of constancy, but what can stand in the way of fairy spells? After all, Demetrius too claims constant love, but is shown to have little constancy when the magic reaches him. Hermia too remains constant, and she is lovable, but she has never been as sympathetic to me as Helena is.
There are so many more things I could say about the characters – I would love to go more in-depth and look at their motives, actions, or qualities, but I am alas, like Helena wishing that sleep would “Steal me a while from mine own company.”
Rather like the play did. It stole me from mine own company long enough to recognize the brilliance of another’s and to desire to return once more to Will’s world, where there are always wordy enchantments and where a dream seems more like reality than reality does!