The One Hour Midsummer Night’s Dream:
As well as publishing the Modern First Folio Edition (MFFE) of Shakespeare’s plays, we also publish One Hour versions of the plays.
These One Hour versions aim to provide an overview of the plot of a Shakespeare play and tell the main story. We hope that the ‘One Hour’ edition will be complementary to the MFFE version of the play.
The aim is to make Shakespeare’s plays more accessible. For people unfamiliar with the plays (school pupils, drama students, drama groups, U3A), the overview of the plot that the One Hour versions provides allows the group to get to grips with the plot and it then becomes easier to explore the MFFE version of the play.
Both MFFE and One Hour versions of the plays have the same features (cue scripts, cast lists, highlight text, etc) so that the two versions can be explored in the same way, through play-reading.
The One Hour Romeo and Juliet is particularly suited to play-reading by 8 players. We provide cast lists for 6 to 8 people so that, if even a couple of players don’t show up, the group can still run a play-reading. A smaller number of players (2 – 5) can still read the play, using our round-robin casting. So groups from 2 to 8 can play-read One Hour Midsummer Night’s Dream.
The One Hour version of the play can also be performed. Many of the One Hour scripts we plan to publish were originally adapted by Aileen Gonsalves to provide a script for “Lunch-time Shakespeare in a pub in London” productions.
We hope that a group may start to explore the One Hour version, become familiar with the plot, find some scenes particularly interesting, and then explore those scenes in the MFFE edition. Of course the hope is that the group will go on to play-read the whole play. The MFFE edition provides “Let’s Explore”; “Let’s Play”; articles; reviews of productions; etc which can be used to deepen and enrich the group’s experience of the play.
Cutting a 3-hour play to 1-hour version means that a lot has to go. Aileeen Gonsalves, the RSC director who developed this version of A Midsummer Night’s Dream, has focused on preserving the core story of ‘The Dream’. But much has to be cut to get a 3-hour play down to 1 hour. Consider for yourself what you feel has gone in these cut versions and what you would want to keep in and why. The full Modern First Folio version is just a click away, once the group has got a clear view of the plot of the play.
What we hope to do is bring a new audience to the richness of Shakespeare’s plays by providing them with an easy entry-point which then provides an Overview of the play and the audience can then go on to explore the richness of the full version of the play.
Now follows an introduction to the full version of the play.
The Play and its Context:
A Midsummer Night’s Dream was probably composed after August 1594, when, at the baptismal feast of Prince Henry, in Scotland, a chariot was drawn by a blackamoor, rather than a lion, for fear the audience might find it too frightening, or the lion might lose its tameness. The parallels with the Mechanicals’ fear of what a lion among ladies might cause, seem hard to ignore. The academic consensus appears to be that it was published by early 1596, at the latest.
Shakespeare had become a member of The Lord Chamberlain’s Men in the summer of 1594, and so had become much more involved with playing and writing for the group, as evidenced by the sub-plot of the Mechanicals’ Interlude for Theseus and his guests.
Some have suggested that the play might have been written for an aristocratic wedding (for example that of Elizabeth Carey, Lady Berkele. No concrete evidence exists to support this attractive theory. Others suggest that it was written for to celebrate the feast day of St. John.
Shakespeare had completed Venus and Adonis (1593) and The Rape of Lucrece (1594) . Perhaps the poetry of A Midsummer Night’s Dream owes some of its quality to his work on those poems, and to the set of lyrical plays he produced around this time, including Richard II, Romeo and Juliet,and Love’s Labour’s Lost.
For once, the plot is mainly Shakespeare’s. Of course he uses sources: Chaucer’s The Knight’s Tale; North’s translation of Plutarch’s Life of Theseus; Golding’s translation of Ovid’s Metamorpheses provides him with the story of Pyramus and Thisbe; and of course Apuleius’ The Golden Ass for the story of the man transformed into an ass.
But this is really Shakespeare’s story and, as a celebration of young love consecrated in marriage, it seems very likely to be a ‘wedding play’, composed for some wedding. The most likely occasion seems to be the marriage of Elizabeth Carey and Thomas, son of Henry, Lord Berkeley, on 19th February 1596. It is likely that Queen Elizabeth was there – Elizabeth Carey was her god-daughter.
The play is a farce – a farce with fairies. Two sets of lovers run away from parental and civic rule and get lost in the forest, and confused in their love by ill-placed love potions applied by Puck.
The mechanicals have also gone to the forest to rehearse a play for Theseus’ forthcoming marriage to Titania. Their leading man gets transformed into an ass, with whom the Queen of the Fairies falls in love.
The fairies (Oberon and Puck) work hard to make things right. Theseus mollifies the angry father, and the three couples celebrate their marriages together by watching the mechanicals’ ‘Interlude’.
As the couples retire to bed, the fairies return to bless the house, the couples, and their future offspring.
It is all the most sublime nonsense, brought off by the most extraordinary lyric verse. Perhaps the best word to describe the play’s power and popularity is ‘enchantment’.
Needless to say, it is one of the best-loved of Shakespeare’s plays.
C21 performance considerations:
I have been lucky enough to see three enchanting performances of A Midsummer Night’s Dream. I am too young to have seen Peter Brooks’ famous production, but lucky enough to have seen the Lindsay Kemp production (in the Theatre Royal, Brighton) where Titania and Oberon were on stilts, and Puck, if I remember rightly, spent most of his time on a swing. More recently, Propeller’s production in the King’s Theatre, Edinburgh and elsewhere (see review at http://players-shakespeare.com/review-propellers-a-midsummer-nights-dream-and-the-comedy-of-errors/) was equally enchanting. And finally, the recent Globe production, directed by Dominic Drumgoole, with Michelle Terry (now their artistic director), had the required level of enchantment.
The trick for anyone trying to put on this play is to maximise the enchantment. How you do that? I don’t know – I’ve never directed the play – but if you succeed, you will create a magical night of theatre. There are some thoughts in other sections of our edition (see our index) which give some suggestions about how to play some scenes of the play.