Waking Up From A Midsummer Night’s Dream 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 o!r 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 catfighting 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 viewi …