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Intertextuality in the Midsummer Night’s Dream
It is important to recognize the history of theater to realize the status of theater during the Renaissance. Traditionally, theater had been an entity of the church, which supplied miracle and mystery plays on holy days as a way of educating the public in the history and teachings of the church, rather than as entertainment. As theater became a lot more public, and subjects other than church history started to seem, the church and the state each objected sternly and attempted to handle the theater, enacting laws to preserve control of performers and playwrights. Queen Elizabeth (1558-1603) was a supporter of drama and attempted to pave the way for its growth, each by getting a patron to the art in London, and in 1559, by entreating mayors in her realm to license plays (Kid N. Pag.). It is, in truth, widely accepted that Shakespeare wrote A Midsummer Night’s Dream expressly to be performed at a wedding attended by Queen Elizabeth (Smith N. Pag.). In 1572 companies of actors that had been not attached to noblemen’s houses were declared “rogues and vagabonds” (Wilson N. Pag.). The Protestant reformation was below way, and with the beginnings of Puritanical leanings, drama was deemed unethical and immoral.
A Midsummer Night’s Dream, extensively held to have been written in the mid 1590’s, offered Shakespeare a venue for stating to the public that drama by its extremely nature was not genuine, that it was entertainment, which coincidentally addressed issues of ethics and morality. In his play, Shakespeare utilised each audience and actors of Pyramus and Thisbe to comment on drama.
Shakespeare introduces the actors of Pyramus and Thisbe early in A Midsummer Night’s Dream, and makes use of their dialogue to demonstrate the importance of drama to the widespread man, as properly as their fear of censorship. In the 1st Act, Scene Two, a group of tradesmen are introduced. These fellows are very excited to have the opportunity to execute an interlude at the wedding of Theseus, a duke of Athens, to Hippolyta, the queen of the Amazons. Shakespeare has taken care in this scene to show by the earnestness of these tradesmen that they take this performance seriously, but also uses their conversation concerning the assignment of roles to point out the consequences of censorship. Bottom, the weaver, and by far the most outgoing of the troupe, delivers to play the lion. He will, he states, “roar so that it will do any man’s heart good” (Durband Act I, Scene two), to which the carpenter Quince, as director, replies that if Bottom were to play the lion also realistically, frightening the ladies present, it would “have us all hanged” (Durband Act I, Scene two). Even even though the presentation here is humorous, Shakespeare is commenting on the reality of censorship by the government, and the seriousness of the repercussions of such censorship.
The following evening the troupe meets in the woods to rehearse their overall performance, and again Shakespeare satirizes the censorship prevalent at the time. The actors make a decision they should incorporate prologues in their performance that clarify to the audience in plain language that this is fiction, that they are play-acting, and that there is no actual violence or bloodshed. At the performance of Pyramus and Thisbe, Shakespeare shares comments from the audience, Theseus and members of his entourage, about these prologues. He makes use of these conversations to point out the humor of the situation in which the actors discover it necessary to explain each and every step of the play so that the audience understands that the goal of their performance, and by association of the complete genre of drama, is to entertain, not to frighten or offend. Shakespeare’s sarcasm rings clearly throughout the performance of Pyramus and Thisbe in Act 5, Scene 1 of A Midsummer Night’s Dream, with comments such as made by Demetrius to Theseus, “A lion can speak if so a lot of asses can” (Durband Act 5, Scene I.),” expressing Shakespeare’s opinion of the standing of church and government on the theater.
Shakespeare closes A Midsummer Night’s Dream with only Puck on stage, and a soliloquy that reinforces the satirical comments about theater produced throughout the play by encouraging the audience, if offended, to consider of the efficiency as “….absolutely nothing much better than a dream…” (Durband Act five, Scene I.). This comment is telling in and of itself, in that it seems that Shakespeare feels a need to have to apologize to his audience for his sarcasm, but finds it required to comment on the political pressures prevalent at the time to do away with theater as an art.
Though the obvious general theme of A Midsummer Night’s Dream is adore, and conflict amongst the sexes, Shakespeare cleverly intertwined a effective statement about the genre he loved and its fragile standing in English society. Persecution of the theater and actors continued all through Shakespeare’s lifetime, and even though he was blessed to have had the assistance of both Queen Elizabeth and her successor, King James (Youngster N. Pag.), he was a member of a very tiny minority. Shakespeare presented an astute foresight in his comments presented in the functionality of Pyramus and Thisbe within A Midsummer Night’s Dream, as shortly following his death the theater in London as he knew it was certainly closed down.
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Phillips, Brian. SparkNote on A Midsummer Night’s Dream. 2003. Sparknotes.com 17 November 2003. <http://www.sparknotes.com/shakespeare/msnd>.
Durband, Alan. Ed. Shakespeare Created Easy: A Midsummer Night’s Dream. New York:Barron’s Educational Series. 1985.Smith, J. N. Classic Note on A Midsummer Night’s Dream. 1 January 2000.
Gradesaver.com. 17 November 2003. <http://Gradesaver.com/ClassicNotes/Titles/midsummernight/complete summary>.
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