Saturday, June 14, 2014

Book Review - A Midsummer Night's Dream

I've enjoyed this Shakespearean comedy tremendously, which is an awkward statement from someone who has never been a great fan of Shakespeare’s! There are two things about this play that particularly pleased me. One is the comic effect rendered by the lighthearted world of sweet fairies, in particular the bumbling but innocent blunder committed by Puck, which is the pivot of the play; and the other is the sympathetic tendency shown by the author towards the plight of women in the areas of courtship and marriage in a patriarchal society.

When Puck realizes he has made a huge mistake, he just nonchalantly blurts out: "Then fate o'er-rules, that, one man holding troth, a million fail, confounding oath on oath." Then when Oberon has drugged Demetrius in an attempt to remedy Puck's mistake, Puck mischievously looks forward to watching some human drama unfold, saying: "Then will two at once woo one; That must needs be sport alone; And those things do best please me that befal preposterously."

In the happy world of dreamy fairies, nothing is serious and everything is fun. When this is juxtaposed with the sorrowful world of humans, where disobedience to the father in the matter of marriage means death or life confinement to a nunnery for the daughter, the satirical irony becomes intense. Luckily, at the end of the play, the comic world of dreams prevails.

Another important theme is inequality of the sexes which pervades throughout the play. Apart from the unfair patriarchal demand imposed on Hermia, we also see Helena as a victim of her times. The latter's bitterness about her unrequited love is obvious from this line of hers (to Demetrius): "Your wrongs do set a scandal upon my sex: we cannot fight for love, as men may do; we should be woo'd and were not made to woo." The fact that she dares to chase after Demetrius regardless must have seemed quite incredible to readers of yonder times! Nonetheless, her position still seems doomed. By contrast, in the world of fairies, Titania is at least able to hold her ground and refuse Oberon his brutish demand. So Hermia's and Helena's happy endings that are made possible with the fairies' help are particularly heart-warming. Hats off to Shakespeare for inspiring hope in mortals that dreams may come true!

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