A Midsummer Night’s Dream, one of Shakespeare’s most popular plays, endures due to its timeless themes of love, magic, and transformation, as well as its universal appeal to audiences of all ages and cultures. The play’s cleverly woven plot, richly drawn characters, and poetic language continue to captivate audiences and inspire countless adaptations, interpretations, and productions around the world. Additionally, the play’s exploration of the power of imagination and the blurred lines between reality and fantasy resonates with audiences, making it a beloved classic that continues to be celebrated and enjoyed over 400 years after its creation.
Be me, on a typical school day, bustling around getting the kids breakfast as they get ready for school. My middle announces, “Did I tell you my Shakespeare story?”
Everything stops, of course. Well, more to the point everything I’m doing stops, while my wife kind of gives me the, “Seriously?” look since stuff’s still got to get done.
“Do tell,” I reply. “The very fact that you brought it up means this is going to be a blog post.”
“Ok,” she says, putting down her spoon. “Well, my friends and I the other day are talking, and somehow Shakespeare comes up, you know.”
“Sure, sure. I know the feeling.”
“And then my friend is all,” cue dripping fawning voice, “Oh, I *love* Shakespeare, I just *love* Romeo and Juliet and Midsummer’s Night’s Dream!” At this point she switches to brainy smirk, rolls up her sleeves, and begins. “Well, I said to her, do you know Othello? Hmm? How about Winter’s Tale? Or Titus Androkinus?”
My oldest and I exchange a glance and a laugh at that one. Middle continues, “Have *you* ever read the one where the husband bakes his wife into a pie? Hmmm???”
“Wait, what?” I ask.
“That’s Cleopatra,” says my oldest.
“Wait, WHAT?” I ask.
“Isn’t there one about Cleopatra and her husband?”
“Antony and Cleopatra, yes?”
“Isn’t that the one she’s talking about?”
It’s funny how sometimes the facts get garbled. I explain that Titus baked the sons of his enemy into a pie. I still have no idea where they got baking his wife – nor the connection with Antony and Cleopatra.
My daughter turned on the television this weekend and asked me, “What’s Sixteen Candles about?” because that’s what happened to be on. That particular movie’s gotten a lot of hate lately as being out of touch with that whole thing called “consent,” but I wasn’t prepared to start that conversation spontaneously on a Sunday afternoon.
“That’s an old comedy from the 80’s that didn’t age very well, people don’t like it very much anymore,” I said.
“But what’s it *about*?”
“Well, there’s this girl who is having a very tough day because her parents are so off in their own world doing their own thing that they forget her sixteenth birthday.”
“That’s not good.”
“Exactly. And of course she’s in love with the most handsome guy in school, but he doesn’t care, because he’s dating the most popular girl in school. Meanwhile, the nerd of the school is totally in love with her and following her around all over the place.”
“Oh!” she said, “Like Midsummer Night’s Dream!”
“…” I replied. “Not really like Midsummer Night’s Dream, no. But I’m probably going to get a blog post out of the fact that you said that.”
“Is it weird that the first thing I thought of was Midsummer Night’s Dream?”
“I love that that’s the first thing you thought of. That makes me very happy.”
The more I think about it I’m guessing she put Molly Ringwald into the Helena role? Wants the one guy, but he’s got no interest because he’s already got a girlfriend, meanwhile this other creep is stalking her? It’s not a bad match. I just never put Lysander and Demetrius into the “jock” and “nerd” categories before. I love that my kids see Shakespeare even in places where I don’t.
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Yesterday I told you about the joys of the Shakespeare beer known as ShakesBeer and how I came to discover it. I’ve already discussed their New England IPA known as “Act One”.
Today let’s talk about their “Imperial IPA”, The Tempest. It would have been awesome if they’d kept the “Act” thing going but there’s an obvious hard limit there so I can see why they couldn’t do that.
I love the branding on this one. It’s no secret that The Tempest is my favorite play, and I’m happy to see its image on the shelf. If I could get my hands on the cans themselves (without the contents) I’d add them to my collection of Shakespeare stuff. I suppose I could just wash out an empty but I’d feel like I’m back in college building a tower of empties if I did that.
This one is noticeably darker than the Act One, but I suppose maybe not so noticeably because my wife claimed she could not see the difference until I put the two side by side.
A juicy New England Style IPA featuring six different hop varieties and a more robust 7.7% ABV.
I could definitely see and taste a big difference. The flavor is much stronger and richer here, and that 7.7% ABV is nothing to slouch at. Let’s put it this way, I had the Act One at a leisurely pace on a Sunday afternoon while I watched football. I had The Tempest after dinner on a weekday when I had to go pick up my kid from dance in an hour. Totally felt it, could not have had two.
I think both of these are going to make nice fall selections. As I’ve gotten older I still enjoy a beer, but I’m not the type to just keep pounding them back. So flavor is a big deal, but so is not getting buzzed – I’m getting too old for that nonsense, the kids need homework help. For both of these I’m happy to have one, maybe two, depending, and that’s just right for me.
It looks like they have a third option, A Midsummer Night’s Ale, but since it’s listed as a summer brew I’m going to assume that I missed the seasonal window and will have to wait until next year.
Hey ShakesBeer people, are you out there? I think we’d all like to see “A Winter’s Ale” as your next offering!
This morning in the car we heard an NPR story about the most popular musicals to perform in high school. My daughter found the list on her phone and asked me to guess some. I said, “Well it’s musicals so I won’t bother guessing any Shakespeare.”
“That’s the other list,” she told me. Suddenly I was interested.
Alas it’s not “Most Popular Shakespeare” but I love that some Shakespeare made it to the top overall list!
How do you think other Shakespeare plays ranked? Which play would be next on the list and just didn’t make the cut? A tragedy or a comedy? Maybe Comedy of Errors, because it’s easy to produce?
Also, I must be out of the loop because I don’t recognize several of these, at all. Almost, Maine? Though if somebody tells me that Radium Girls is about Marie Curie (and women in science in general) then I’ll be very pleased. I am assuming that somewhere along the line 12 Angry Men turned into 12 Angry Jurors so that they could more easily cast female roles?
A couple of times recently I saw people asking for advice on how to read Shakespeare. Normally this turns into people telling them that Shakespeare was meant to be performed, not read. So what they should do is to go find a live production of the play they were thinking about reading and watch it instead.
I’ve always hated that response. I don’t think that anybody in the history of that question has ever meant, “Hey, I’ve got a choice between seeing a live production of this play, or reading it, what should I do?” If somebody wants to read Shakespeare, why are we trying to stop them? Either they are a student who has to, or are trying to learn more on their own. I think we should be encouraging that, not trying to talk them out of it.
To that end, I’ve come up with a new recommendation that I’m going to start using. I call it Speed Reading Shakespeare. I can’t say I’ve taken it for a spin yet personally, but I look forward to doing so because I can’t see why it wouldn’t work.
Let’s pick a play as our example. Shall we say A Midsummer Night’s Dream?
Great. I’m going to assume that you have, or can get your hands on, a reasonably modern edition of the play. By that I mean it should have some degree of footnotes/glossary, modern spelling, and just in general be more approachable/readable than going straight to the First Folio. That can be fun, too, but it’s not for beginners.
Ok, awesome. Now go get a movie version of Dream. Preferably several. This is most likely easier than it sounds – a quick search tells me that there are two versions streaming on Amazon Prime right now (the 2016 BBC version, and the all-star 1968 Peter Hall version). But a little searching on Hulu, YouTube, and other streaming sources will no doubt reap benefits.
Is live performance better? No, not for this project. First, there’s the real world limitation that maybe Dream isn’t playing someplace convenient for you. But more importantly, you can’t pause live theatre. If you are unfamiliar with the play, then you are guaranteed at points to say, “Wait, what did he just say? I’m lost.” Sitting at home with the remote control, you’ve got that under control. 30-second rewind button to the rescue!
Here’s the fun part, though. Ready for the magic? Turn on the subtitles.
Would you look at that! Now you’ve got your own personal production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream being read to you, all while sitting comfortably in your living room with your copy of the script, a bowl of popcorn and your Snuggie.
I’d love to say, “Just have the play open and follow along with the movie.” There are a few reasons why this doesn’t work. First, you’re constantly taking your eyes off the screen to read, which breaks your ability to understand the flow of the story. Second, any production you see is going to edit. They’re going to change words, they’re going to give lines to other characters, they’re going to cut large sections. If, every time they do that, you have to spend a few seconds saying, “Wait, where are we?” you’re just going to get lost.
Watch the play this way. If you have the opportunity to see multiple productions, watch all of them. You’ll discover immediately that you can spot where the productions differ (in terms of what they cut) because sometimes you’ll be saying “Wait, the first one said X Y Z and this one didn’t” or “I don’t remember the first one saying X Y Z like this one just did.” If you get lost or confused, don’t be afraid to pause and rewind.
Now, after you’ve done this, now go read the play. Suddenly it will all start to make sense because it’s not just words on the page. You’ll have sounds and images in your head to go with the words. If you’ve watched a few different interpretations you can even start to understand the characters. Maybe you think, “The Demetrius I saw in the first one delivered this speech much funnier than in the second one, in the second one he’s really kind of mean and I hate him.”
Wait, you’re perhaps asking, how is that speed reading Shakespeare? Going through a couple of movies, reading it, then watching it again? That’ll take hours. Days.
Well, yes. Speed reading is not “Go through it once, very fast, and you’ll absorb everything.” Speed reading is about making multiple passes through the material. You then use each pass to better structure your understanding of the material. The next time through you’re “filling in the gaps” you missed the previous time. The first time you watch the play you’re trying to follow the words but you’re mostly just getting the story – who are these people, and what are they doing? Watch it again and you know the people and the story, so you pay more attention to the words.
I think, after going through this exercise, you’ll have a much better understanding of the play than if you (a) sat down and read the No Fear Shakespeare version, or (b) found a live production and suffered through that. I’ve got a version of King Lear that I have to get around to watching, and I think I’ll try my subtitles trick. I’ve read Lear and seen multiple productions, but I’m curious whether that trick gives me deeper insight into the text. I’m betting it does.