Every year, I try to pick a different Shakespeare play to read with my students, preferably one I haven’t read in a long time. This year, I have one group of tenth graders, and right now we’re reading A Midsummer Night’s Dream. As I’ve mentioned elsewhere on this blog, most of the students at my school read well below their grade level, so Shakespearean language can often be a challenge. I’ve found that Alan Durband’s Shakespeare Made Easy series does a great job at clarifying the narrative action without sacrificing too much of Shakespeare’s poetry. It presents the original text on the left side with the clarified “translation” on the right, which allows us to read and act out the play without spending too much time and effort breaking down every little (or long…) speech. Every couple of pages I’ll pick out a key passage from the original text which we’ll read and discuss. I’ve also been showing them the film adaptation that came out in the nineties (with Kevin Kline, Michelle Pfeiffer, and Christian Bale). We’re about half way through so far, and we’re enjoying the whole process.
I haven’t read this play since I was in the tenth grade, and I really didn’t think too much of it then–it certainly didn’t seem as weighty as, say, Othello, Macbeth, or Hamlet. Anyway, in re-reading it, I notice now that there’s an underlying rape motif throughout the text. For example, Theseus has captured his bride Hippolyta by seizing her in a classical rape; Demetrius threatens taking the “rich worth” of Helena’s virginity if she won’t quit stalking him in the woods; Lysander forces himself onto Hermia in the woods, and she’s barely able to keep him off. Oberon and Titania’s quarrel over the beautiful Indian boy is pretty weird, and is just one strange detail in a play full of aggressive sexuality, possibly most neatly summed up in the bestiality implicit in Titania’s affair with ass-headed Bottom. Of course, Titania doesn’t really love bottom–she’s just been dosed by her jealous hubby, who has a frat boy’s penchant for drugging people to get the love buzz going. Good stuff.