School’s over now, so my kids are decompressing by starting to have friends over just to hang out, not to study. Today my daughter’s friend arrived and headed straight for me.
“I had to tell you,” she began excitedly, “For my Latin final, I wrote about the Shakespeare question. And my teacher said it was the best answer he’d ever seen!”
“Great!” I replied, thrown by the leap from Latin to Shakespeare. She’s also probably talking about an AP (Advanced Placement) course so I think that maybe this was one of those situations where they gave the kids multiple prompts and they had to pick one, and one was about Shakespeare. “Exactly which Shakespeare question are we talking about?” I finally asked.
“About authorship, how people think he didn’t write the plays.”
“Oh,” I said, rolling my eyes, “that question. I hope you are on the side of the man from Stratford?”
“Of course,” she replied, “I’m definitely a Stratfordian.”
“Good girl,” I told her. “I don’t think I would have let you into the house otherwise.”
I did not remember calling it a “train wreck” that had not yet been “put out of its misery” :). Man, I was tough in those days! The very premise of Rosaline is that she still loves Romeo, and it’s Juliet that came into town and caused their breakup. So, you know … it has literally nothing to do with the original story other than the setting and slightly disguised character names? No wonder I didn’t have much hope for it.
Jump forward ten years, because apparently it’s still coming! Now we have a real cast – it will star Kaitlyn Dever, best known for Booksmart (which I have not seen).
I gave Ophelia the benefit of the doubt at the time, because as a general rule I think that almost all Shakespeare content, even the fictionalized stuff around the edges, has some inherent value. If it revitalizes people’s interest in the source material, I support it.
Having said that, please oh please be better than Ophelia was. I literally couldn’t finish that one, and I don’t say that about many Shakespeare-ish movies. There’s nothing new about the actual content of this movie, just a bunch of name dropping about the previous credits of the writers and director, so I can’t tell if it’s just going to be a straight teen romantic comedy? I suppose She’s The Man did ok. But wouldn’t it be great to have another 10 Things I Hate About You?
I realize that’s an awkward title, but there’s a lot of relevant information to impart and I wanted to hit the important bits. A Midsummer Night’s Dream is a very long play title. This is the second review of books I received from David Zwirner. For the first, Othello, see here.
A Midsummer Night’s Dream is an interesting play to me, the casual fan. Often thought of simply as “the one with the fairies”, the one that’s safe (and adorable!) to have five year olds perform, running around in their sparkly wings, reciting famous lines they don’t understand. But it’s got that darker side, too. It’s also the story of a husband whose wife is not sufficiently obedient, so he drugs her and takes what he wants. But then there’s also the overarching theme of dreams and reality and telling the difference between them, of putting on masks and presenting yourself to the world as someone or something that you’re not, voluntarily or not.
I guess what I’m trying to say is that there’s a whole lot of room when it comes to interpreting A Midsummer Night’s Dream.
Which brings me to our review. I gave the back story in the previous Othello blog post, but David Zwirner is an art gallery. These books are not new academic treatments of Shakespeare. The text, though well laid out and visually appealing, is the same text we’ve all seen before – line numbers, glossary terms, and so on. No extra commentary.
These books are about the art. It’s like walking through a museum, where Dream is the theme. You turn a corner and you see a painting, and next to it, the relevant scene from the play. (That’s not an entirely accurate analogy as this is the full text of the play, not just excerpts). And you admire the portrait and you examine the text and you discuss and interpret their connection. What is the artist trying to say here?
I feel a little bad, because I’m not completely sure how to usefully review a book like this where it’s all about the art. Art is something you want to see and experience for yourself. I run a blog specifically, and about Shakespeare specifically, because that universe is almost entirely about the words. I can copy and paste and type new words all day long. But I don’t have the experience or education in art to adequately describe this book. Hence, the best I can do is present my own opinion and maybe some badly framed images.
For my birthday, I made my family sit and watch the NTL production of Romeo and Juliet that was on tv last week 🙂 (Review to follow at some point.) I’ll just say that before the first scene was over, I was alone in the room.
But! They did eventually come back to watch, because after all it was my birthday, and they do know how much I love this stuff. So much so that they have learned to be patient with my liberal use of the pause button while I explain interesting(?) things to them at random moments.
Which brings us to Queen Mab. I’ll admit freely that I’ve never fully understood Queen Mab’s importance. From the perspective of your typical high school student, it doesn’t advance the plot in any way, it’s just a bunch of illustrative language that they’re going to be told to memorize.
At one point I recalled hearing that Queen Mab is basically a Shakespeare invention (not entirely accurate – more on this in a moment). So I thought, from the perspective of the play, well, that’s kind of cool, and I told the kids as much. “What’s cool,” told them with my finger on the pause button, “is that Queen Mab doesn’t exist before this. Mercutio’s the kind of guy that’s literally making this stuff up on the spot. The man’s freestyling that whole thing.” I may have actually used the term “spitting bars”, because I be hip like that, yo. 🙂
I’m not sure I ever really gave much thought to this context before. I kind of want to make the comparison to the modern concept (not the Neil Gaiman concept) of the Sandman? As if somebody said to you, “Awww, did somebody get a visit from the Sandman last night?” Not for the complexity of the image, but from the point of common knowledge – if you said that, we’d all generally know what you meant. So I always kind of assumed that Romeo and Benvolio know what Mercutio is talking about when he talks of Queen Mab.
But that’s my question for discussion now. Do they? In the universe of the play, would they have learned about Queen Mab presumably from wherever and however Mercutio learned it, so he’s just reciting to them something they’ve heard before? Or is it, as I told my kids, something that’s entirely new to them, a proceeding from Mercutio’s dream-obsessed brain?
I’m led to believe that Queen Mab is based on Celtic folklore’s Queen Maeve, but two things with that. One, other than the name similarity, I see no comparison. There’s nothing in the Celtic version of the story about the “fairy’s midwife”. On the contrary, she’s apparently a warrior. Second, it still doesn’t answer my question. Shakespeare appears to be the one that brought the idea to English literature either way, fine, so there’s that. But it doesn’t answer my question about the context inside the play.
So I’ll ask it again. Was the story of Queen Mab something that Romeo and the others all already knew, or did Mercutio make it up?
So I proposed a question on Twitter the other day:
Which Shakespearean character is most associated with tremendous wealth? Nothing symbolic or metaphorical, I’m talking about good old-fashioned net worth. Shylock’s not really what I’m looking for.
I don’t particularly think of Shylock as wealthy, but I do think of him as being “all about the ducats.” In theory, somebody who’s very … careful? … with their money is a potential candidate for someone who is very wealthy. But I wasn’t looking for technicalities, I was looking for a character that just screamed, “Look how rich I am.”
The responses on Twitter were intriguing, and much more varied than I would have expected! There was one in particular I assumed would win (do you have the same one in mind?) so I was pleasantly surprised to see the other contenders…
Each Receiving One Vote
Orsino and Olivia from Twelfth Night each got a vote (in two separate responses from two separate people).
Lord Capulet from Romeo and Juliet and Baptista from Taming of the Shrew each got a vote, because if you’re going to woo a young Shakespearean lady, make sure she’s got a rich dad.
Speaking of Shylock, Antonio from Merchant of Venice got a vote, with the caveat that he basically lost it all.
Julius Caesar was emperor of Rome, and you have to figure that’s a pretty wealthy position to be in, even if it’s not explicitly discussed in the play.
Tamora (Titus Andronicus) made the list as well, though I don’t know enough about the play to speak to why.
How about Falstaff (Henry IV)? Anybody ever think of him as wealthy? He got a vote.
Receiving Two Votes
Portia, from Merchant of Venice, gets more votes than Antonio for being in the “super-rich tier” where suitors are bankrupting themselves wooing her.
“Any of the English kings” was mentioned, though Richard II specifically was called out twice.
Speaking of kings, King Lear got three votes. At the beginning, maybe, sure.
The Runner Up with Five Votes
Guesses? Anybody? Cleopatra (Antony and Cleopatra) garnered much praise, what with her “poop of beaten gold” and everything.
And the Winner is …
With a whopping ELEVEN votes, more than double any other contender, our winner for “Shakespearean character most associated with tremendous wealth” is …
Timon of Athens! Exactly who we thought it would be when we asked the question :). “Easy,” said one response. “Definitely the most obvious,” said another.
But there was a reason why I asked in the first place, too. People also commented “at least on paper” and “maybe in principle”, too. “At least in the beginning,” several responses noted. I was curious whether he’s generally regarded as wealthy, or as someone who lost it all. Now I guess we know the answer!