I have had a most rare vision. I have had a dream, past the
wit of man to say what dream it was. Man is but an ass, if
he go about to expound this dream. Methought I was—
there is no man can tell what. Methought I was—and
methought I had—but man is but a patch’d fool, if he
will offer to say what methought I had. The eye of man
hath not heard, the ear of man hath not seen, man’s hand
is not able to taste, his tongue to conceive, nor his heart
to report, what my dream was.
(My own paraphrase: I had the strangest dream. It is outside of the abilities of mankind to explain it: a man is as foolish as a donkey if he tries to about to expound this dream. Methought I was—there explain the dream of mine. I thought I was – well no one can really say what exactly. I thought I was – and I methought I had, -- but man is but a patched fool, if thought I had – but someone would be an idiot to say what I thought I had).
I remember watching the play for the first time in Quinta da Regaleira, Sintra in 2002 (staged by Rui Mário). Shakespeare has always been an overriding need for me. I don't have the ability to act, though I do write betimes, but there's nothing like the thrill of a life performance, like the one I watched in 2002.
Shakespeare seems to be everywhere in my life lately, and the more I experience his work, the more he amazes me. I am someone who thinks that his genius is absolutely unearthly and beyond explanation. The more I look, the more I find Shakespeare everywhere (I don't mean geographically, but in my heart, soul, mind; those of the people in your life; those of the powerful strangers who affect you whether or not they know or care). And, as one of my English Teachers once said, the Shakespeare I see now is so different from the one I experienced many years ago as a student. I imagine that a decade from now I will see him differently yet again.
Re-reading this play after all these years I still would have had trouble tackling without the notes. This play is all about Elizabethan context and speech. It’s almost impossible to read (aka “understand) it without appropriate “context”, i.e., I need the full explanation of words that have over the years shifted in meaning, and also usages that have been altered. To fully appreciate this play I had to overcome the language barrier first and foremost. As opposed to other plays that I “know” almost by heart, this is not one of those cases. Maybe because it never was one of my personal favourites.
Even when Astronomy says it does not make sense, one of my favourite scenes takes place when the Hermia decides to tell Helena of the plan of flight, in order to reassure her that the obstacle to her love of Demitrius will be removed. Lysander says their flight will take place:
"Tomorrow night, when phoebe doth behold
Her silver visage in the wat'ry glass"
(Act I, scene i)
Phoebe is a way of referring to the moon, making use of the oldest moon goddess in classical myth.
I always found odd, though, that Lysander should refer to the moon as lighting up the night, for at the very beginning of the play, Theseus has specifically stated that it is only four nights to the next moon. This means that the old moon is now a crescent which appears only in the hours immediately preceding the moon. Yet it is to be understood that the entire magic night that is soon to follow is moonlit. In a way it is essential. The soft moonlight will be just enough to make things seem not quite what they are. Who would argue with it? Let there be a full moon throughout the night even if physics says it is impossible...Poetic license at work here.
In essence this is the effect Shakespeare has on me, which I like to name as “The Physics of the Impossible”, i.e., our thoughts are linked to an invisible energy and electromagnetic force field and it determines what the energy forms, and the mirror is thus able to reflect. My thoughts literally shift the universe on a particle-by-particle basis to create my physical life and mental perceptions. When I read Shakespeare the universe changes. Look all around you. Everything I see starts as an idea, an idea that grows as it's shared and expressed. I literally become what I think about. My life becomes what I've imagined and believed in most. My world is literally my mirror, enabling me to experience in the physical plane what I hold as my truth … until I change it again... Physics and Shakespeare show us that the world is not the hard and unchangeable thing it may appear to be. It's a very fluid place continuously built up using energy field forces...
I’m necessarily older and wiser (sic) than the last time I read it. Another aspect that this time around I want to emphasize is the concept of storge love which is the love of a parent for a child: not as unselfish and unconditional as agape love, but definitely bent toward the good and benefit of the child. Egeus seems to have this love for his daughter Hermia, but his fatherly love for his daughter is distorted by his selfish love of complete compliance and obedience to his will.
On first read, Egeus seems merely harsh, unbending, and unloving, but I seem to see glimpses of true caring for his daughter and a desire to shield her from harm:
“With feigning voice verses of feigning love
And stol’n the impression of her fantasy
With bracelets of thy hair, rings, gauds, conceits,
Knacks, trifles, nosegays, sweetmeats—messengers
Of strong prevailment in unhardened youth.
With cunning hast thou filched my daughter’s heart”,
He seems to think that Lysander has used cruel tricks and unscrupulous cunning to trick Hermia. In this way Egeus can be seen to want the best for his daughter, not wanting her to make a mistake that will affect her entire life. Based on his list of ways that Lysander has shown his affection, this father seems to have good reason to be suspicious: Lysander seems like an immature boy trying to get the attention of his first crush. Egeus may be trying to protect his daughter from heartache if she attaches herself to a young man who is flighty and might change the object of his lightly-held affection later on.
Whatever good intentions we may endow on this father, however, are soon given check. Immediately after this, his speech takes an ugly turn.
“As she is mine, I may dispose of her,
Which shall be either to this gentleman
Or to her death, according to our law”
How could a truly loving father so easily bandy around the threat of death to his daughter? Maybe he is just trying to frighten her into obedience, but if she calls his bluff, then what? His pride in demanding obedience will deprive him of his daughter; if this gives him pause, I don’t see it. Any fatherly affection is apparently overridden by Egeus’ desire to have his will and his way, since his daughter belongs to him.
The sense of ownership he feels is evidenced in the line, “As she is mine, I may dispose of her.” C.S. Lewis describes this exact attitude of ownership in “The Screwtape Letters”, that a person may view “’my boots’ … ‘my dog,’ ‘my servant,’ ‘my wife,’ ‘my father,’” all with the same definition of “mine,” the “mine” of mere ownership. Even in the nursery a child can be taught to mean by ‘my teddy bear’ not the old imagined recipient of affection to whom it stands in a special relation … but ‘the bear I can pull to pieces if I like.’ (*)
This feeling of possession is purely selfish and self-serving, and in Egeus it negates the sense of fatherly, storge love that may have been evident in a desire to shield his daughter from hurt earlier in Egeus’ monologue. Egeus seems to have the attitude of “My daughter,” not in terms of “My daughter, who has been entrusted to me and for whom I feel a deep sense of responsibility to raise properly and show love and affection,” but “My daughter, with whom I may do as I wish, and no one will tell me otherwise.” The power of possession he feels distorts their relationship.
Any storge love he may have for his daughter, love that is driven by parental affection and a desire to do what’s best for the child, is completely overridden by his own desire to have his will obeyed and his wishes preferred, no matter what his daughter may personally feel. This storge love he has for his daughter is weak, too weak to overcome the self-love that seems to drive this father’s decisions and desires.
Speaking of Physics (in “The Physics of the Impossible” above), here it’s my juxtaposition/contribution to my SFional universe of “A Midsummer Night’s Dream”:
Neo puts a hand to his head and touches his hair. This....this isn't real?
No, it is the mental projection...of your digital self. Lovers and
Madmen have such seething Brains, such shaping Phantasies, that
apprehend More than cool Reason ever comprehends.
This is the world that you know. The world as it was at the end
of the twentieth century. It exists now only as part of a neural-interactive
simulation, that we call the Matrix. You've been living in a dream world, Neo.
This...is the world as it exists today. Are you sure that we are awake?
It seems to me that yet we sleep, we dream.
What _is_ real? How do you _define_ real? If you're
talking about what you can feel, what you can smell, what you can taste
and see, then real is simply electrical signals interpreted by your brain.
Tell them that I, Pyramus am not Pyramus, but Bottom the Weaver,
this will put them out of fear.
The earth, scorched . . .the desert of the real...We have only
bits and pieces of information, but what we know for certain
is that some point in the early twenty-first century
all of mankind was united in celebration. We marveled at our own
Magnificence.... the poet’s eye turns them to shapes and gives to airy nothing
a local habitation and a Name. . .
A singular consciousness that spawned an entire race -then you will see, it is
not the spoon that bends, it is only yourself. If we Shadows have offended
think but this, and all is mended: that you have slumbered here while these
Visions did appear and this weak and idle Theme, no more yielding but a Dream.
(As “homework”, can you pin-point Shakespeare’s bits...?)
NB: (*) Lewis, C. S. The Screwtape Letters. New York: Harper One, 1996. 114. Print