Shakespeare's A Midsummer Night's Dream (The Connell Guide To ...) (Paperback)

By Tom Bishop

Connell Publishing, 9781907776182, 128pp.

Publication Date: September 1, 2018

List Price: 12.99*
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Description

What explains the special quality of A Midsummer Night’s Dream? Samuel Johnson called the play “wild and fantastical”, noting how “all the parts in their various modes are well written and give the kind of pleasure which the author designed”. The 19th-century critic William Hazlitt wrote, in the play’s own imagery, of his “wandering in a grove by moonlight” through “a sweetness like odours thrown from beds of flowers”. For these critics, the variety of language, character and incident on offer in the Dream was particularly pleasant and happy, and suited what they saw as the overall bent of the play towards happiness. G. K. Chesterton responded to “a spirit that unites mankind” in “the mysticism of happiness” and of the play’s “pure poetry and intoxication of words”, “the amazing artistic and moral beauty” of its design. As Tom Bishop says in this thoughtful guide to the play, one can acknowledge all this, and yet also note how the brightness of that design is full of shadow. Indeed, “shadow” is an important word in the play; the very actors who present it are finally called “shadows”. If the play celebrates happiness, it also knows something sadder, not only that unhappiness is possible but that happiness itself may be maintained only by a fragile resolution, perhaps by mere good fortune. Happiness is a kind of gift, perhaps even a kind of grace. In this play, the gift is not withheld, but the play remains very much aware of how it might be, of what slight turn would produce a very different outcome, one not less true to its picture of human life, if less lucky. 


About the Author

Tom Bishop is Professor of English at the University of Auckland, New Zealand. He is the author of Shakespeare and the Theatre of Wonder (Cambridge, 1996), translator of Ovid's Amores (Carcanet, 2003), and co-editor of The Shakespearean International Yearbook, an annual collection of essays on Shakespeare. He has published articles on Elizabethan music, Shakespeare, Jonson, Australian literature and other topics, and is currently working on Shakespeare's Theatre Games.