Hello again! Here is part two of my post on Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream. If you haven’t already, please check out the first part of this little adventure on my blog here.
Been wondering about the Rude Mechanicals? Well, wonder no further, here they are:
Staging, Dressing and Playing A Midsummer Night’s Dream
The Rude Mechanicals:
Bottom’s ass-head is made of bark and sticks, rather like the fairies’ hair. They are dressed roughly–cargo pants/shorts, etc, messy, dirty, etc. Starveling has a more important role than usual in this adaptation–he is, in fact, present the whole time once night falls–he sits in the exact middle of the stage atop a column resembling the trunk of a tree (the sheer curtains hang from this on either end across the stage). He sits there with his lantern and thorns (the lantern is a sort of white sphere with the top cut off that hangs from a curved pole wrapped with thorns). He is accompanied by a fairy on all fours on a leash (tail especially visible) as the dog. He seems to be unaware of his role or of the fairy beside him, and does not interfere with the actions–he only represents the moon. He comes in the same fashion to the play with the fairy again as the dog, and no one, including himself, seems to notice anything strange about this.
(Titania Asleep in her Bower)
Articles of the Set and the Set Itself:
Titania’s bower is as follows: she sleeps on a thick woven blanket/rug with fringe on the edges in the forest, it reaches the floor with a stairway of books and there are many flowers sticking out from underneath the fringe of the blanket, as if it is set on top of them (because it is). Although the bower itself seems rather made of manmade objects, it is nestled in the wild forest. The fairies accompany themselves with a xylophone as they sing Titania to sleep.
The fairies also possess copious amounts of iced tea in large, glass jars and it seems to be the only form of sustenance around them (it is midsummer, after all). It should appear being carried by fairies in Titania’s procession, sitting on skiffs in Oberon’s.
The stage possesses a river cut into it (a channel of water on stage right sufficient for the lovers to get wet in and Oberon to arrive in), and there is a sheer curtain draped across the stage, with Starveling’s pillar set in the middle. This curtain is to be used when the fairies are watching the humans invisibly–they are on one side, the humans another, to continue the sort of illusionary idea.
The set is rather large and rotating. On one side we have the fairy forest, the other the civilized world of the Duke Theseus. The stage can be rotated in several ways: a. we are faced with Athens, b. we are faced with the wild fairy forest, c. we get a sideways view, half Athens and half fairy-forest. The sheer dividing curtain mentioned above is hung between these two realms, but as has been mentioned it is a sheer curtain, and so they are not really so divided after all. When Theseus and his early morning hunting party come upon the four lovers near the end of the play, he notices
them and lifts the curtain they are just behind (or perhaps half of them is behind it) to get a better look.
As for the set of Athens: there are some outside areas on the right side of the curtain (important for the Lysander/Hermia cloud-watching scene described below). It is mostly dominated by the main building–the smaller room within which is Theseus’ bedroom, which we get a view of from the side-view. It has a bed, a window to escape from, etc. The main feature is tables and shelves full of books, books spread messily all over the place. The main room of this place called “Athens” is a sort of coffee-house setting–there’s a counter with beverage-making appliances etc., and tables with people reading, sipping–which are pushed back against the counter to view the play.
Philostrate (loose jeans, apron, ponytail) works behind the counter making beverages, and delivers his lines from there. When it is facing the viewer full-on we have a main room wherein the first scene with Hermia and her father will take place, and the lovely play by the Rude Mechanicals, as well as a door to a room that is supposedly Theseus’ bedroom (this is also, at the end of the play, the bridal chamber they shall disappear into). When we have the sideways view (that also includes the fairy forest), we can see into this bedroom, and as night falls and the main focus of the scene is Hermia and Lysander escaping into the woods on stage right, one can also notice Theseus retiring to bed. There isn’t anything interesting going on over here on stage left, but the audience will likely notice him–they will also likely notice a Puck slipping into his bedchamber, and taking his hand and leading him away, out the window off backstage in the direction of stage left as the main focus is Lysander and Hermia slipping beyond the curtain, Demetrius and Helena close behind. This makes more sense with the whole idea of Theseus’ dream, and when the audience notices him reappear as Oberon, it makes everything tie in a little more. This silent and short little scene will be placed between acts one and two–the Rude Mechanicals have left after their first meeting outside Athens (note that whenever they pass through the sheer curtain they tangle themselves in it, like spiderwebs, find it rather irritating but don’t seem to think anything of it), and before the fairies make their grand entrance–this is as night has fallen, the moon (Starveling) comes out and the stage darkens a reasonable amount.
The fairies hang and stash all manner of glowing lanterns, votives, lights around the house in 5.1 at Oberon’s order, and when the couples appear after the wedding they are all crowned with flowers.
The stage doesn’t rotate while scenes are happening until 5.1–for the first part of the scene with the play and everything Athens is facing the viewers and we have a bit of an illusion that we are in fairy land no longer (Starveling and his fairy dog cue the audience in that perhaps it’s not so), but it rotates slowly as the couples disappear into their bridal chambers and we get a sideways view of the two parts of the stage again, the fairies begin to proceed from stage right into Athens, but only fairies first before the fairy king and queen, and slowly. This is important because Hippolyta and Theseus need a moment to escape underneath the stage, run backstage and take off their wedding clothes to quickly assemble themselves as fairies, before appearing stage right.
(Lysander Escaping with Hermia)
Notes on Staging Certain Scenes:
In scene 1.1, it shall be cut between Lysander’s “The course of true love never did run smooth” and his following line, “But either it was different in blood–”. The scene beginning scene set in Theseus’ palace ends with “The course of true love never did run smooth”, and it is staged that another scene immediately follows where Lysander, Hermia and soon Helena finish up 1.1 (note that there is not actual change to the words) starting with “But Either it was different in blood–”. The rest of this scene is staged outside, with Lysander and Hermia lying side by side on their backs on the grass cloud-watching, and it is important that they deliver these lines without undue passion, more like friends talking–this I believe is the way to make this scene a. most believable and b. add the most depth to their relationship. It is also how I first imagined it when I read it.
The next special staging will be in scene 2.1, when we first meet the fairies.
The part where Puck meets the unnamed fairy in the beginning should be played as if he is a mischievous friend, dancing around then hugging and rocking the fairy from behind and she pretends to mind.
The “dog” that Starveling has with him as Moonshine in the play should actually be a fairy, on all fours, tail readily visible, on a leash held by Starveling–nobody seems to notice.
Also, there should be an older woman (ostensibly Lysander’s aunt) who is there in the last scene, and it seems she’s attended his wedding–she gives him a hug of congratulations(just a little tie-in there).
When Puck seems to want to get the whole business done before morning and Oberon does not mind going on operating into the sunlit hours in 3.2, considering how the rest of this is being staged that part can be done as if Puck knows something Oberon does not–almost alluding here that Oberon doesn’t get that he is almost a dream of Theseus’ and Puck is conveying an urgency–that we need to get this done before Theseus wakes up.
When Oberon instructs Puck considering the Love-in-Idleness flower, 2.1, he is rifling through Theseus’ (unoccupied) bedroom, through the mess of tomes spread all over the place as he’s telling Puck about the flower, its origins, where the find it.
Also, note that in 1.1 Hippolyta seems a little ticked off at Theseus considering Hermia’s plight (she was, after all, queen of the Amazons). This could be played up just slightly to be the dramatic build-up for the tension between Oberon and Titania if it is a reflection of Theseus’ anxieties approaching the wedding.
Theseus and Hippolyta are sitting sipping cold drinks at a table in 1.1 when Egeus brings Hermia and Demetrius and Lysander in.
Sketches along the Way:
Haven’t read A Midsummer Night’s Dream yet? Have no fear, both the Shakespeare-initiated and non-initiated, as I would say it could very well be one of his shortest and lightest plays. It’s a good one to start with, if you’ve never read him before, and very entertaining, whether you have or not! While I always encourage the reader to support their local bookstore, if you don’t have one around or it doesn’t have this book, you can find it on my first affiliate link:
Yes, affiliate links. A flower’s gotta eat. 🙂