A Midsummer Night’s Dream: Shakespeare’s theatre of the absurd
A Midsummer Night’s Dream: Shakespeare’s theatre of the absurd
“The spirit will search high and low for all the answers to its woesSerge Benhayon The Way of Initiation, ed 1, p 10
But never does it seek to expose itself as it being the cause of them.”
A Midsummer Night’s Dream (1595-96) is one of the most popular and loved of all Shakespeare’s comedies.
Productions of the play have ranged from an early ‘illegal’ staging in 1631 in Huntingdonshire which ended up afterwards with the actor who played ‘Bottom’ cast into the village stocks still wearing his ass’s head; right through to those ‘happily ever after’ Victorian musical spectaculars populated by a myriad tutu-clad fairies and the antics of quarrelling lovers roaming through forests of real trees, with any ‘offending’ scenes involving the ‘rude mechanicals’ cut out from the play; culminating with the much starker more recent productions where near-feral spirits aggressively prowl the invisible mazes of faery-realm, or orchestrate the lovers’ midsummer nightmare from flying trapezes. As The Globe Guide to Shakespeare observes, this play ‘has only recently been acknowledged as the dangerous high-wire piece of theatre it really is’. That is an understatement.
This is Shakespeare’s first play about the unseen world of spirits and invisible forces – those largely unacknowledged and pernicious ‘energies’ operating and manipulating human life from beyond the usual parameters of mundane discernment . . . and the utter absurdity of the way we operate under the influence of these forces and substances, without for a moment questioning their source.
The play also explores the interrelated and unseen world of imposed consciousnesses. Consciousness is an energy which propels our thought and activity – it is not our innate God-given all-encompassing awareness, but the use to which we put that awareness. The quality of the particular consciousness will depend upon which one of the two energies available in the world we will align to – that which is true or that which is a lie; that of the Soul or that of the spirit realm.
The prevailing destructive consciousnesses that incessantly patrol and control the imprisoned psyche of human existence are invisible to the eye, though nevertheless keenly felt by us all as the pain and suffering of life as we currently live it – and is the reason we all seek medication of one form or another – whether obvious (drugs and alcohol) or sophisticated and ultra-deceptive (high culture – looking ‘good’).
A Midsummer Night’s Dream is no cosy fairy-tale or fluffy entertainment pill to distract the night away – no, it is rather an unsettling, powerful and iconoclastic exposé of the ridiculousness and folly of the notion that we ‘think’ we ‘think’, or can ‘choose’ to ‘run’ our lives independently of the consciousnesses and forces at play around us . . . unless we vigilantly use discernment.
Athens and the architecture of Patriarchy
Act one of the play opens in Athens with the impending nuptials of Theseus, Duke of Athens, and Hippolyta, Queen of the Amazons – a powerful woman who has been roundly conquered by Theseus, both in love and in war.
Celebration is in the air, but is all well? Only a brief way into the play we learn that the mindscape of the city-state is overshadowed by harsh Athenian law and an oppressive patriarchal framework – a controlling consciousness deliberately employed to oppress the sacred feminine and so delay humanity’s evolution back to the harmony and truth of who we really are. This powerful and exquisite essence of the feminine (held deep within the being of both women and men alike) was, and still is, greatly feared by the dominating mental force whose single raison d’être is the annihilation of the expression of true divinity through humanity.
In this play Athens represents the familiar, day-time, temporal world of human interaction – a place where the controlling forces at play can be fairly obvious to see and feel: enter Egeus (a courtier), his daughter Hermia, Lysander, the man she loves, and Demetrius whom she does not love but whom her father demands she marry – all four have come to petition Theseus to sanction their own personal desires. It should not be omitted here that Helena, Hermia’s closest and dearest childhood friend, loves Demetrius, who doesn’t love her, but instead loves Hermia... just to complicate matters.
The group of courtiers present their case to Theseus, and this unleashes a torrent of patriarchal abuse against Hermia – abuse wielded directly through Theseus, and through her father Egeus who utterly opposes the marriage to Lysander. Theseus advises Hermia: ‘Be advised fair maid./ To you your father should be as a god,/ one that composed your beauties; yea, and one/ To whom you are but as a form in wax,/ By him imprinted’ [1.1.46]. Woman here is reduced to a tabula rasa, an un-informed blob of wax to be shaped, formed and impressed by the human male ‘god’ whose whims and edicts she must obey. To this insult is added Egeus’s injurious comparison of Hermia to a piece of property that he owns, a piece of real estate to be settled as an inheritance upon Demetrius: ‘ . . . she is mine, and all my right of her/ I do estate unto Demetrius’ [1.1.102]. Such controlling pronouncements are in total denial of the natural equality and joy of the relations between the sexes, and between the generations. The women of course have had their role to play in this sado-masochistic drama, as enacted with the love-sick Helena giving her delicate yet stupendous power away to demeaning and subjecting herself before Demetrius, following him around like a dog: ‘I am your spaniel, and Demetrius, /The more you beat me, I will fawn on you./ Use me but as your spaniel: spurn me, strike me,/ Neglect me, lose me; only give me leave, Unworthy as I am, to follow you.’[2.1. 203-7] It is enough at this point, however, to say that the force coming through Theseus and Egeus have made their words weapons of abuse rather than a means of expressing and communicating love and truth – the original purpose of language.
Theseus may joke in the opening lines of the play that, in having to wait for four long days to consummate his wedding to Hippolyta, he, poor male, is under the dominion of the feminine sway – the waning moon, who delays their union, ‘like to a stepdame or a dowager/ Long withering out a young man’s revenue’ (the still-living widow is using up the income of the young male heir who gets poorer and poorer with every passing moment). But this joke is simply a flirtation which can be safely tossed off in a context in which the masculine holds the control card and lays down the law – very soon revealed to the audience through the ‘life sentence’ with which Theseus condemns Hermia, energetically sourced direct from the supremacy of the Dark Ages: he warns Hermia that she must fit ‘her fancies’ to her ‘father’s will’ and, under threat of death, he offers her two choices, both of which are aimed at disabling her power and thwarting her marriage to Lysander: she can either surrender to the dreaded Demetrius’ wedding altar, or submit to ‘Diana’s altar’ to spend her days chanting, ‘faint hymns to the cold fruitless moon’[1.1.73] – in other words she must either become a nun or give her body to someone she does not love! If she chooses neither of these she faces the penalty of death. No choice at all. The restraints and controls of such a diktat are sadistic to say the least – though, in this context, the whole scene is so ludicrous that it is in fact comical, further emphasizing the absurdity of the way human beings have abandoned even basic respect and common decency in their relationship with each other . . . all the while under the illusion that they are independently thinking their own thoughts and acting on them – and specifically in the case here, the men are ‘run’ by a supremacist patriarchal consciousness which is ‘thinking’ for them. In his use of comedy to expose this deluded quality of thought and action Shakespeare might well be called the father of the true ‘theatre of the absurd’.
Left alone together, Lysander and Hermia make a plan to elope to Lysander’s dowager widow aunt’s place near the wood, outside the pursuit of ‘sharp Athenian law’ – but not before they offer the audience, in brilliant duet, a list of the ways that love has historically been, and continues to be, thwarted by the prevailing controlling forces. As Lysander observes: ‘The course of true love never did run smooth’. Lovers cannot wed because: they come from the wrong bloodline or family, either too upper class or too lower class; they are ill-matched because of their age, too young or too old; or the marriage is arranged by kinsfolk for their own convenience, against the choice of the lovers; further, even if they do get to wed the one they love, ‘war, death or sickness did lay siege to it,/ making it momentary as a sound, swift as a shadow, short as any dream,/ Brief as the lightning in the collied night/ That in a spleen, unfolds both heaven and earth,/ And ere a man hath power to say “Behold”,/ The jaws of darkness so devour it up: /So quick bright things come to confusion’
Lysander is putting forward here that the possibility of love flourishing in the darkness of the current world we have created is very small – describing love’s brief flash as being like a ‘shadow’ and a ‘dream’ (two of the most significant words in this play).
This duet between Lysander and Hermia signals to the audience that the nature of love will be questioned and under examination in the course of the drama’s events. Is love but a mere shadow, a dream? Are lovers actually lunatics and madmen – as Theseus later claims: ‘The lunatic, the lover, and the poet/ Are of imagination all compact’ [5.1.7-8], i.e. all as mad as each other. The antics of the lovers in the wood that are to follow in the play certainly confirms this observation on all counts.
The Forests of the Night
The second Act brings a decisive change of venue – the wood outside Athens where we enter the night-realm of enchantment: the dominion of the moon’s waxing and waning, of shadows and dreams – a world humming with the activity of the invisible world of spirits, fairies and screech-owls. These groves may be Theseus’s hunting ground by day, but by night they are the ‘haunting’ grove of Oberon and Titania, the King and Queen of the Fairies and their retinue of elves and sprites, as well as the spirits who at nightfall issue from their gaping graves – all ‘following darkness like a dream’ as Puck says [5.1.376]
The wood is the place where the three worlds of the play intersect: the fairy spirits and denizens of the night; the aristocratic Athenian lovers escaping Athens’ harsh law; and the ‘rude mechanicals’ (artisans from Athens) who meet there to rehearse their play, Pyramis and Thisbe for Theseus and Hippolyta’s imminent nuptial celebrations.
The wood in Midsummer Night’s Dream is not the usual ‘green’ pastoral place of nurturing and regeneration found in Renaissance literature where characters, ravaged by the discordant life in the city or at court, can heal and restore themselves. Yet the wood itself is a delightful place, full of beauty. The glories of Divine Creation are celebrated by the luscious words of the devic Oberon [2.1.249-52] who knows a place ‘where the wild thyme blows/ Where oxlips and the nodding violet grows,/ Quite over-canopied with luscious woodbine,/ With sweet Musk-roses and eglantine’; and he relates how he sports in these groves, ‘Even till the eastern gate, all fiery red, /Opening on Neptune with fair blessed beams,/ Turns into yellow gold his salt green streams’ [3.2.391-5]. However, the chaotic presences of the humans and the wayward spirits transform the wood into a thorny locale – a place of confusion and complication in which the characters are tossed around in its tangles, unable to see the wood for the trees . . . in every sense of that proverbial phrase. There is no overview for them – their held foliage of images and false idols of love creating a shadowing canopy that prevents the reception of the heaven-sent Love that is fully available to them all. This scenario in the wood is offered as a place of revelation for the audience, where the forces at play are unveiled . . . if they are willing to truly see it.
What we first encounter in the wood is the momentous and ongoing battle between the King and Queen of the Fairies – a situation not so unlike the human world of love and war in Athens. Oberon’s messenger and jester, Puck, lets us know that ‘he’ (‘jealous Oberon’), ‘is passing fell and wrath’ because ‘she’ (Titania) ‘hath a lovely boy stolen, from an Indian king’ to have for her joy and to crown with flowers, thus depriving Oberon of his overweening desire to have the child for his page and make him ‘Knight of his train, to trace the forests wild’ [2.1.20-25]. Her Majesties’ greeting acts like a clash of swords:
Oberon: ‘Ill met by moonlight, proud Titania.’
Titania: ‘What jealous Oberon? Fairies skip hence/ I have foresworn his bed and company’
They may still be talking but they are locked into an out-and-out battle, accusing each other of selfishness, jealousy, dalliance and wayward behaviour. The fairies are so fearful of the couple’s quarrel that they creep into acorn cups to hide away.
Oberon’s and Titania’s dissension is of such magnitude that even nature’s rhythms have been affected and thrown out of harmony: ‘we see/ The seasons alter: hoary-headed frosts/ Fall in the fresh lap of the crimson rose,/ And on old Hiems’ thin and icy crown/ An odorous chaplet of sweet summer buds/ Is, as in mockery set. The spring, the summer,/ The chiding autumn, angry winter change their wonted liveries; and the mazed world,/ By their increase, now knows not which is which’ [2.1.106-114].
There is a direct connection drawn between Titania’s and Oberon’s destructive emotions and fights and the tumultuous disruptions that have come to pass with the weather and the seasons – a connection that we are perhaps being asked to consider with regard to our own brawling in life – with the incessant fight, not only with each other but against living the truth of our own divine nature.
Could Shakespeare be pointing to the fact that our indulgent emotional conflicts – missiles directed straight from the spirit realm as the play will show – necessitate apocalyptic weather corrections from nature?
Certainly Titania will not give up the boy, whose mother, a votaress in Titania’s order, has died in childbirth: ‘for her sake do I rear up her boy’. Oberon responds to her refusal by plunging into manipulation and revenge: ’Well go thy way. Thou shalt not from this grove/ Till I torment thee for this injury’ [2.1. 147]. Because Oberon is drunk with the spiritual power of creation and with his strong desire to have his own way to possess the boy, he will go to any lengths to reassert his power over Titania and force her to submit to his will. Titania however does not bow down. So he bids the ‘mad spirit’ Puck to go and search out ‘a little western flower,/ Before milk-white, now purple with love’s wound,/ And maidens call it love-in-idleness’. Through drugging Titania with the aptly named ‘love-in-idleness’, Oberon will ’make her render up her page to me’ [2.1.185]. The juice of this flower he will drop into the eyes of his sleeping Queen to make her fall madly in love with and dote upon the first ugly creature she sees upon waking.
That creature turns out to be a ‘homespun’ artisan, lately come to the wood from Athens to rehearse a play of ‘very tragical mirth’, Pyramis and Thisbe – one ‘Bottom the Weaver’, whose head has been transformed into an asses head by the prankster Puck. Sure enough, when Titania awakes and sees the ridiculous ass before her she exclaims, ‘What angel wakes me from my flowery bed?’ [3.1.130], and ‘Come sit thee down upon this flowery bed/ While I thy amiable [sexy!] cheeks do coy,/ And stick musk-roses in thy sleek smooth head,/ And kiss thy fair large ears, my gentle joy’ [4.1. 1-4].
The ‘love-in-idleness’ drug has certainly done its job of completely intoxicating Titania and destroying her natural ability to discern, opening her up to do and say things in the madness of infatuation that she would never ordinarily do when herself. A great deal of comedy is to be had from the outplaying of the situation, with Titania bidding her fairy servants to feed her adored Bottom ‘with apricots and dewberries,/ With purple grapes, green figs, and mulberries’ and sweet ‘honeybags’ from the ‘humble bees’, when all Bottom the ass desires is a good old ‘bottle of hay’ and ’munch of good dry oats’ [4.1.31-2]; but ultimately Titania wakes up to find that, in her madness of thinking she is in love, she has been sleeping with a donkey!
Underneath the entertaining surface of the play and the obvious question, ‘Is what we profess love to be, actually love?’, there is further reflection for the audience on offer concerning the role of the preferred drugs and ‘medications’ of our everyday life and the consequences of being run by these, including what we have let into our lives, and who and what we have actually been ‘sleeping with’. Because the law of cause and effect is exact, precise and true, there will always be real consequences in saying ‘yes’ to the ‘pleasures’ of ignorance.
The Lunatic Lovers, the ‘mad spirit’, and the Dark Rule
Meanwhile the Athenian lovers Hermia and Lysander have fled to the wood to marry, pursued by Demetrius (in love with Hermia) and Helena (hopelessly in love with Demetrius). Oberon, viewing the discord between Demetrius and Helena from his invisible bower above, decides to interfere with their lives to ‘help them out’, ‘to make things better’, saying to Puck: ‘A sweet Athenian lady is in love with a disdainful youth. Anoint his eyes [with love-in-idleness], /But do it when the next thing he espies/ May be the lady. Thou shalt know the man/ By the Athenian garments he hath on.’[2.1.261] Puck does indeed find the man in the ‘Athenian garments’ but, oops, it is Lysander and not the intended target, Demetrius, who gets his eyes ‘anointed’ with love juice. When Lysander awakes it is Helena that he sees, and so falls madly in love with her, now feeling utterly repelled by his former love Hermia. In horror at what is happening Helena says, no, no you love Hermia! but Lysander replies soundly: ‘Content with Hermia? No I do repent/ The tedious minutes I with her have spent./ Not Hermia, but Helena I love. Who would not change a raven for a dove?’[2.2.112] What has happened to love? And what is speaking through Lysander?
Oberon, invisibly watching the drama, realises Puck’s mistake and tries to remedy it by squeezing the juice of the flower on Demetrius’s eyes that he may now fall in love with Helena which will make everybody happy (except perhaps Egeus!) Demetrius awakes and, upon seeing Helena, does indeed fall in love with her, spouting reams of ridiculous love-sick poetry: ‘O Helen, goddess, nymph, perfect, divine,/ To what, my love, shall I compare thine eyne?/ Crystal is muddy. O, how ripe in show/ Thy lips, those kissing cherries, tempting grow! That pure congealed white, high Taurus’ snow, Fanned with the eastern wind, turns to a crow/ When thou hold’st up thy hand’[3.2.137-143]. Here Theseus’ statement that the lunatic lover and the poet are ‘of imagination all compact’ is clearly evident.
It is interesting to note that this ‘poetic’ outpouring by Demetrius is no less ridiculous than the poetry of the ‘hempen-homespun’ script for the artisan’s play Pyramis and Thisbe, where Thisbe hilariously laments Pyramis’ suicide: ‘These thy lily lips/ This cherry nose,/ These yellow cowslip cheeks/ Are gone, are gone . . . His eyes were green as leeks’ [5.1.323]. The script of Pyramis and Thisbe, written by the ’hard-handed men that work in Athens’ [5.1. 72], is a script that the sophisticates of the Athenian court later snigger over at the wedding celebration, yet those among their own company (the lovers under the influence of the Oberon’s ‘love-juice’) have spouted poetry in exactly the same vein.
The invisible forces do not care who they come through nor what class those people come from – they find an opening and enter.
‘I will lead them up and down’ (Puck)
Hermia and Lysander have imagined that by running away into the night to the woods they have escaped the tyranny of Athenian patriarchal law. Yet their lives become even more complicated as they retreat from the world and are taken by the even trickier forces of the realm of spirit in the wood. Could this be Shakespeare’s symbolical warning to us of the consequences of withdrawing and retreating from the world – things actually get more complicated? The lovers’ retreat from the world allows the interference of Oberon, King of the Fairies’ apparently ‘good-intentioned’ effort to ‘make things better’ and fix the Athenians’ love-triangle with his ‘love-juice’, and Puck’s blunder in anointing the slumbering Lysander’s eyes instead of those of Demetrius. The lovers all rapidly turn against each other – reacting, abusing, insulting, rejecting, attacking, escaping, wooing, falling into streams, coming up covered in mud. A midsummer night’s dream? A midsummer nightmare more likely. This mischief Puck thoroughly revels in – all for his, the ‘mad spirit’s’ gratification.
Many productions, seeing the play-out in the wood through Puck’s eyes, stage these scenes as hilarious comedy, which they are. Yet there are significant philosophical questions being raised here: we could ask, ’Can it be called “love” if one day you are harming, hurting and insulting your lover and the next day you are saying “I love you”?’ The absurdity of this accepted everyday behaviour is paraded on stage before our eyes.
With our deliberately chosen ignorance regarding the truth of our divinity and the layers of emotional reactivity that we besmirch ourselves with, we end up with a version of love that is not love, a very poor love indeed. Surely this love we ‘think’ is love is a bastardization of something originally powerful, beautiful, joyful and universal – something too amazing for the errant spirit to be able to countenance because it will mean the end of its dominion and rule.
Puck, enjoying all the chaos and idiocy of the lovers as a great sport, and furthermore claiming himself ‘blameless’ of the created mayhem, though he is in fact instrumental in causing the drama, says to Oberon, ‘Shall we their fond [infatuated] pageant see?/ Lord, what fools these mortals be!’ [3.2.113-115] He thoroughly enjoys the preposterous ‘sport’ of toying with the lives of the humans, which he calls a ‘pageant’ – with the two men now, in violent competition, wooing the previously ignored Helena, and with Hermia left out and in shock. As Puck says: ‘Then will two at once woo one:/ That must needs be sport alone./ And those things do best please me/ That befall preposterously’. (3.2.118-21] The more preposterous the situation, the more havoc it creates, all the better for Puck. The lovers fight with each other, not realising that they are being manipulated like puppets.
Puck deliberately leads Demetrius and Lysander astray at every level: by making them lose their way in the tangle-wood and, to also lose themselves by inciting them to fight, disparage and insult one another so that their friendship is shattered; ‘Up and down, up and down,/ I will lead them up and down’ [3.2.396-7]. He is the master of creating the destabilisation of the lovers away from the truth of loving relationship by feeding them the peaks and troughs of drama, the ‘ups and downs’. Audiences ’love’ Puck and his irresponsibility; need we ask ‘why?’
Puck is the wayward, wandering etheric ‘spirit’ of all time, brilliantly embodied by Shakespeare on stage: ‘I am the merry wanderer of the night’ [2.1.44] he says. The wanderer spirit is the architect of our current form of ‘reality’, which disregards and abuses the physical body. And in Midsummer Night’s Dream Puck’s manipulation of the lovers is a vivid dramatization of the immortal spirit’s destructive relationship to the human physical body.
The spirit likes to show off its etheric force over what it deems to be a ‘lesser’ form of life – the mere mortal – and it cares not what it does to the body.
This is to delay as much as possible our evolution back to where we originally come from. The spirit treats the body as its toy and plaything to gratify its whims and desires: keeping the body up all night, drugging it, intoxicating it, dropping it in the mud, quarrelling, and falling in and out of love – rather than taking care of this precious vehicle, the body, and imbuing it with the truth, love and multi-dimensional intelligence of our divine origin.
All the world’s a stage
The events in the wood reveal the behind-the-scenes shenanigans of the invisible realm. In a trice the forces pick out a role for you to play if you are not discerning and vigilant, e.g. the ‘rejected one‘ (Helena, and later Hermia), the ‘supremacist abuser’ (Lysander, Demetrius), the ‘paranoid doubter and abuser’ (Helena), the ‘masochist’ (Helena), the ‘shocked and puzzled victim’ (Hermia), and, if for a moment you withdraw or retreat from the body, in comes the force with a role to identify with – quicker than Puck girdling the world – utterly thwarting one’s power as life’s observer, and thus the ability to be a true lover.
Under the influence of the mischievous spirit, all communication becomes personalized rather than observed so that, in our imagining that what is being said is coming from the person and not from something channelled through that person, agony inevitably follows. Helena, for example, with an extreme lack of self-worth as her basis, accuses Demetrius, Lysander and her beloved childhood friend Hermia of colluding together to make a mockery of her, blaming them all for the incomprehensible turn of events where she is now the one wooed and adored, and seeing this instead as herself being scorned – not realising that it is the ‘false sport’ of the spirit world coming through both her companions and herself that is creating the havoc. For Helena, Puck’s manipulation is not seen, so she projects the lie upon her companions. Her friends are the perpetrators, she ‘thinks’.
Helena allows herself to be so manipulated that she insanely considers the possibility of suicide: ‘death or absence soon shall remedy’ her present agony [3.2.24]. Likewise, Demetrius is manipulated to think that ‘Lysander’ (impersonated by Puck) is actually his friend. He commands ‘Lysander’ to stop and face him, crying out, ‘thou run’st before me, shifting every place,/ And dar’st not stand or look me in the face’. In reality he is of course addressing the elusive spirit Puck, not the real Lysander. This sequence of events, painful for the lovers, comic for the audience, demonstrably exposes how foolish the lovers are thinking that they ‘think’ and ‘run’ their lives independently of the consciousnesses and forces at play around them.
Shakespeare here clearly reveals that human beings are frequently the ‘puppets’ of meddling forces which, against the universal law of co-creation, create an alternative, counterfeit reality, a perversion of our original, true way of being and living. Helena calls Hermia ‘you puppet, you’ [3.2.288]. The allusion to puppet here works not only as Helena’s insult to Hermia concerning her diminutive height, but is also pointedly a declaration that Hermia has allowed her body to be a mere puppet whose strings are pulled by a wayward ‘something’ other than herself.
The ‘puppet’ is an apt theatrical metaphor for the state of affairs of our mostly unacknowledged relationship with the realm of spirit. Here Shakespeare is not just referring to the mad midsummer frolic on stage but is offering the chance for us to consider how this is playing out in our own lives and relationships. Little have we realised that we are but vehicles of expression, either for truth or for the lie that the created world of the spirit is.
All the world’s a stage, as we know so well, and any reactive, havoc-causing role proffered by the spirit plane of life stops dead any true loving relationship and thus any movement towards the authentic evolution of our race. We instead indulge in the pastime of brawling which takes up all the space and becomes our accepted way of life.
Back to Athens – the play-within-the-play
When daylight dawns, the lovers awaken from their troubled ‘dream’ in the wood, unsure whether they are awake or dreaming, and all are gathered in Athens again. The nuptials of the three couples are celebrated at court – Theseus with Hippolyta, Hermia with Lysander, and Helena with Demetrius. The evening of rejoicing includes the performance of the play Pyramis and Thisbe staged by the ‘mechanicals’ of Athens, yet once again communicating to the audience that the way we love madly and emotionally, and, like Pyramis and Thisbe, stab ourselves over a mis-communication instead of truly understanding and loving each other, is a disaster for us all . . . which of course nobody registers or takes any notice of, so busy are the sophisticates at court sniggering at the touching, ‘homespun’ performance by the workmen that they miss their opportunity to become more aware of their own madness through the play-within-the-play’s reflection. Yes Shakespeare, we are beginning to get it at long last.
Happily ever after?
When the revels are ended and all have gone to bed, the fairy sprites are instructed by Oberon and Titania to bless the wedding house and its slumbering couples, while they go to ‘the best bride-bed’ of Theseus and Hippolyta to cast their happily-ever-after ‘blessing’ with more of their enchanted juices (‘field-dew’), to make sure that the couples’ issue, i.e. their incoming children, will have not a flaw, not a blot, nor a scar nor disability upon them: ‘And the issue there create/ Ever shall be fortunate . . . And the blots of nature’s hand/ Shall not in their issue stand./ Never mole, hare-lip, nor scar /Nor mark prodigious, such as are/ Despised in nativity,/ Shall upon their children be./ With this field-dew consecrate . . . And the owner of it blest/ Ever shall in safety rest’ [5.1.396-405].
Never has the controlling consciousness of ‘happily-ever-after’ been so chillingly exposed.
There is something that is unsettlingly unsatisfactory and powerless for the audience about this fairy-tale – this very comfortable ending of the play with its sleeping lovers, this contentment which is no contentment at all but a cocoon of illusion cast over their sleeping lives. They are indeed ‘sleeping’, unawakened to their true potential. ‘Happily ever After’ is just that – a ‘fairy’ tale fed from the realm of fairy sprites – and we have bought into it.
Titania and Oberon bestow upon the slumbering couples the spiritual enchantment of the ’good life’, the cosy life of comfort even to the point of controlling the DNA of the couples’ unborn children so that they will be ‘perfect’. This is an action which is deliberately flaunted by the wayward power that ignores the universal law of ‘cause and effect’, the loving law that to every action there is a consequence. Unless we undo the threads of all falsity that we have stitched up into our lives we are caught, not free to grow and advance. Oberon’s ‘fixing’ is a wanton act, an interference, that may stitch up the holes to make life seemingly ‘good’ for the couples’ offspring, but in fact this act only creates further imbalance and embeds them deeper in the web of creation. We have already seen the insane consequences of Oberon’s earlier attempt in the wood to ‘fix’ the couples’ dilemma to make them ‘happy’ – openly professed by Oberon to be made happen ‘by some illusion’[3.2.08] as he instructs Puck to make things ‘better’. Yes it is all illusion – thanks for admitting it Oberon.
And now he bestows the ultimate illusion of the better, safe, happy life, one of the ‘highest’ forms of the counterfeit creation which looks good but never delivers the real, stupendous truth we all seek and long for. The spirit cries out in pain and anguish about the harshness, struggle and injustices of life but all it wants is a better version of the same – the perfect marriage, the perfect children, the paradise on earth. But this ‘good life’ becomes ‘hoisted by its own petard’ – its own false ‘images’ and ‘idols’ – which it then must live up to; in reality making people miserable and effectively sabotaging the possibility of the human being dispelling the illusion and freeing themselves. Oberon’s ‘solution’ to the lovers’ dilemma looks so good, so happy, so harmless . . . and yet he has nevertheless woven a spell that, if not seen through by the couples, utterly deprives them of their birth-right and freedom to grow, deprives them of the possibility of ongoing evolution which is facilitated by the loving law of karma.
In other words, not only does this desired ‘dream life’ completely thwart our advance of living true love (imperfect as we are), but it spawns untold misery, keeping us forever stuck, unable to evolve back to a life that is gloriously true.
Puck has the last word or does he?
‘If we shadows have offended/ Think but this, and all is mended:/ That you have but slumbered here/ While these visions did appear. And this weak and idle theme,/ No more yielding but a dream.’[5.1. 413-418] In other words, if you have found this play offensive just pretend that it’s been a dream and you have slept through it. But here Puck is pretending that the whole thing isn't a dream! Yet another trick of the shadows. If he admits to the fact that the created life is a dream then his ephemeral existence will be sprung, undone! The whole play is a dream, as its name signifies – a dream inhabited by Puck who is himself a spirit, a shadow – meaning both a spirit companion to Oberon, the ‘king of shadows’, and also as an actor who plays Puck (Theseus refers to actors in Pyramis and Thisbe as shadows: ‘the best in this kind [actors] are but shadows’[5.1.210]).
Through staging the ‘dream’ with its patriarchal society, its conflicted mad lovers, and its ‘happily ever after’ ending, the nature and detail of the ‘dream’ that the audience themselves currently call their ‘life’ is exposed and reflected directly back to them – a world of shadows and illusion controlled by unseen forces, sprinkled with love drugs, bewitchment juices, and comfort ‘dew’. Sound familiar?
In this play Shakespeare has powerfully thrown the spotlight on the illusion that we think this world is it, that the emotional love we think is love is true, that the comfortable life is the ‘highest good’ we can attain to, and that in this created life we ‘think’ we ‘think’ independently of the forces at play around us.
How we mighty ones have fallen for this absurd dream, a dream that looks so good, but is strangely and unsettlingly unsatisfactory, always leaving us wanting. We have, for so long, consented to live out the empty little life rounded in a sleep, but Shakespeare would not condone that lie.
And so we have A Midsummer Night’s Dream – the manipulation of the unseen forces outed and exposed.
"And thus, not acknowledging its own form of etheric misery, a feeling the etheric wanderer cannot stop feeling, it uses or abuses its human form by filling our human bodies with its subjugating skills. Feed the human being with enough distraction – and it will not feel the ceaseless pull to return to Soul, to God."Serge Benhayon Time, Space and all of us, Book 1 – Time, p 362
Inspired by and based on the Ageless Wisdom as presented by Serge Benhayon.