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cheryl_shell
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Act I: The Court

A Midsummer Night's Dream takes place in two locales: the court of Theseus and the woods outside Athens. Act I opens in the Theseus' court, but quickly moves to the woods where overnight the main action of the play takes place. When the morning comes, the play moves back to the court, where, in Act V, the requisite happy ending (in the form of multiple nuptials) takes place.

The two locales are very different, not only in terms of what takes place, but in what each represents. The court is the place of law, stability and reason; the woods, on the other hand, is the place of magic, metamorphosis and madness.

What is the purpose of making this contrast so evident, do you think? What might Shakespeare have been trying to show us?

Because the play begins and ends there, the court can be seen as a kind of framing device, presenting (but also limiting) the action of the woods. But it is also a kind of catalyst: every conflict (among mortals, at least) that finds its resolution in the woods, begins in the court.

Take a look at the opening scene. How many different conflicts are presented in that short time and space?

And what about the second scene, with Bottom and company? What conflict drives them to the woods?
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two locales



cheryl_shell wrote:The two locales are very different, not only in terms of what takes place, but in what each represents. The court is the place of law, stability and reason; the woods, on the other hand, is the place of magic, metamorphosis and madness.

What is the purpose of making this contrast so evident, do you think? What might Shakespeare have been trying to show us?



I am just dipping my toe into the pool here. I think that the art is always to hold both opposites and exist in the tension between them.a difficult task that C.G.Jung spoke about. But I will need to read the play first. :-)

CU soon
ziki
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alfprof212
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Re: Act I: The Court

Hello Cheryl and other Bard enthusiasts! As I am a high school English teacher who loves venturing to teach Shakespeare, "Midsummer" is one of my favorites to teach. I have had a few discussions with some of my classes, and in one discussion we decided on a difference/significance between the court and the forest. To me, the court represents "reality" and the forest represents "fantasy/idealism." The fact that the play begins and ends in the court, seems to be Shakespeare's way of showing us that we can live in fantasy, but all comes back to reality and truth. This reminds me a little of "Don Quixote" and how Don Quixote is the "idealistic/fantastic" character, while Sancho Panza is the "realistic" character. The purpose, it would seem in DQ, would be to show the benefits and consequences of each style of life...living realistically without dreams and living in fantasy without reality. However, this comparison is not as straight forward in "Midsummer." My classes have also discussed the difference as being court = oppression/strict rules, and forest = freedom/without boundaries. I tend to like this explanation, as it also fits in with some of the other themes that come up throughout the play.
I think I've rambled enough, so I'll step back and let others respond.
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knickknack
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Re: Act I: The Court

[ Edited ]
Hello everyone! This is definitely an exciting opportunity to get to know others' views about Shakespeare's works. I am a Literature instructor, who loves teaching Shakespeare the most!
With regard to the question, one could interpret the court and the woods as a juxtaposition between reality and fantasy (as alfprof212 has also told us). This is actually done by many authors in order to communicate that his/her story will be a fantasy (or in this case, a "dream" ), but will actually speak of very human values and issues. Fantasy, after all, is a creative depiction of reality.
Is fantasy, fiction or art the "farthest removed from the truth," as Plato discussed in his Republic, Book X? Obviously not. There are other classics out there (including "A Midsummer Night's Dream," and a lot of Shakespeare's other plays) that prove Plato wrong. Which classics? I leave that to everyone else to think of, perhaps in another thread.
The exciting part now is discovering which human values in particular the Bard has weaved into this fantasy play of his. :smileyhappy:
In response to ziki, what I know from Jung's archetypal theory is that there are always opposing archetyes, so two opposing archetypal settings (the court and the woods) can be applied to his theory.

Message Edited by knickknack on 01-27-200710:54 AM

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Carmenere_lady
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Re: Act I: The Court



cheryl_shell wrote:
Take a look at the opening scene. How many different conflicts are presented in that short time and space?

And what about the second scene, with Bottom and company? What conflict drives them to the woods?




Cheryl, Thanks for reminding me, early in the game, that I must remember to look beyond the words, to step back and consider all the parts of the whole.

I admire the way Skspr says so much in so few lines.
Lynda

"I think of literature.....as a vast country to the far borders of which I am journeying but will never reach."
The Uncommon Reader


"You've been running around naked in the stacks again, haven't you?"
"Um, maybe."
The Time Traveler's Wife

It is with books as with men; a very small number play a great part.
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Carmenere_lady
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Re: Act I: The Court



cheryl_shell wroteAnd what about the second scene, with Bottom and company? What conflict drives them to the woods?




Re: the two locals - Bottoms group takes their foolishness into the woods to mix with the seriosness of the love triangle which happens to be a matter of life and death. This IMO is where the comedy and silliness of it all comes to light.
Lynda

"I think of literature.....as a vast country to the far borders of which I am journeying but will never reach."
The Uncommon Reader


"You've been running around naked in the stacks again, haven't you?"
"Um, maybe."
The Time Traveler's Wife

It is with books as with men; a very small number play a great part.
Voltaire
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to alf

Alf, I will very much enjoy your rambles so please carry on anytime :-)

ziki
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knicknack

I am in a great company! Please start a thread on a particular topic of interest if you find it appropriate.

ziki
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LizzieAnn
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Re: Act I: The Court

As others have said, I think the court is the reality - being grounded & earthbound. The woods represent the unreality - the magical, the fantasy, the dream. I think Shakespeare is probably trying to strongly accentuate the difference between reality and fantasy. Perhaps, even to make us wonder if what happened in the woods really happened?

We see several that there are several conflicts among the charactres in the first scene at Theseus' palace:

    • Between Egeus and his daughter Hermia

    • Between Hermia and Demetrius

    • Between Egeus and Lysander

    • Between Lysander and Demetrius

    • Between Helena and Demetrius

    • Between Helena and both Hermia & Lysander


There are also conflicts at Quince's house in scene 2:

    • Between Quince and Flute - who does not want to play a female

    • Between Quince and Bottom - who wants to play all the parts


Quince wants to move the rehearsal to the woods to avoid crowds gathering at their rehearsal. Then people would learn the content of the play (and it would no longer be a great surprise) as well as bothering the rehearsal (perhaps by giving advice and critiques).
Liz ♥ ♥


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LibbyLane
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Reality & Fiction: Classic Views



knickknack wrote:
Is fantasy, fiction or art the "farthest removed from the truth," as Plato discussed in his Republic, Book X? Obviously not. There are other classics out there (including "A Midsummer Night's Dream," and a lot of Shakespeare's other plays) that prove Plato wrong. Which classics? I leave that to everyone else to think of, perhaps in another thread.

Message Edited by knickknack on 01-27-200710:54 AM






Since this isn't directly related to Midsummer, and since nobody else has responded yet, I'm going to rise to the bait. :-) I just studied Book X of the Republic in my Lit Theory class and I had to struggle to keep from bouncing in my seat and singing, "I know! I know!"

Immediately after Plato, we moved on to Aristotle's "Ars Poetica," which refutes the notion that literature is twice removed from reality (and thus no good). Aristotle says that "poetry is a more philosophical and more serious thing than history; poetry tends to speak of universals, history of particulars."

I have pages and pages of notes on this if anyone wants to be bored with more detail. I won't go into it now. :-)
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samantilles
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Court versus the Woods

In addition to the comparision of Theseus's Court to the Forest as reality vs fantasy, I also see a direct comparision to the Laws of Man versus the Laws of Nature. Demitrius claims his right to Hermia based on his rank in society, a man-made and respected rank. Lysander claims his rank is just as good as Demitrius, and to top it off, he actually is in love with Hermia. But natural attraction has no worth in the law of man, only that of the rights of the patriarch, Hermia's father, Egeus. The Law of Man is determined to overrule the natrual attraction between Lysander and Hermia in the Court, and so the lovers must leave the court of man to pursue their love. The forest does not fall under the jurisdiction of man, and so the forces of love are the only law required. In the forest, a man is not determined by his rank in the city, nor a daughter required to adhere to the wishes of her father. All artificial worthiness is shed from the men. When the four enter the forests, which will reign supreme: the natural attractions of the lovers or the law of man?

Those who dream by day are cognizant of many things which escape those who dream only by night. ~ Edgar Allen Poe

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samantilles
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The forest a perfect place for a lovers' tryst?

I also find it interesting that the play the masters are to put on, the story of Pyramus and Thisbe, is also about a couple forced to leave the city because their love is forbidden and flee to the forest to meet up once again, only this time tragically as their spilled blood (their deaths not unlike Romeo and Juliet) seeps into a mulberry bush. Shakespeare is hinting at the idea that the forest, nature, is inherently romantic, more romantic than perhaps the stone of the city?

(going off on a tangent here...) Could it also be compared perhaps if blood was spilt on the stone of the court that it runs and spoils the stone, stains it, and physical labor must wash it away, whereas the mulberry bush incorporates it into its living force. Love changed it, but still it thrives. The stone gains nothing from blood being spilt on it...

On a side note, I found this telling of the tale of Pyramus and Thisbe very helpful to get a deeper insight to the story... I expect the watchers of the play in Shakespeare's time would have been much more familiar with the mythologies alluded to (Theseus/Hippolyta and now Pyramus/Thisbe) then perhaps we in the modern age are.

Pyramus and Thisbe

Those who dream by day are cognizant of many things which escape those who dream only by night. ~ Edgar Allen Poe

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Choisya
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Re: (Possible Spoiler) A psychological interpretation of the themes.

Another point of view to think about (from a review in Psychology Today Nov 2005):-

'A Midsummer Night's Dream contrasts and joins two realms: the Athenian/Elizabethan world of hierarchy and sharp law vs. the Minoan/Celtic world of shapeshifting and fusion. The play represents an English state of mind in which Celtic imagery functions as a repository of occulted power and the infantile unconscious...Violent yoking goes with government in the play. Heterosexual yoking and violence represent patriarchal Athenian/Elizabethan hierarchy. The transformative fairyland, which can be read as both Celtic and Minoan, opposes and undermines the Athenian/Elizabethan hierarchy structuring the court scenes that begin and end the play..'

The play opens in a world apparently ruled by father figures and therefore an oedipalized world and we are immediately given signs of female noncooperation with male desire when Theseus complains about how slow the moon is in bringing in his nuptial hour: "This old moon [...] lingers my desires/ Like to a stepdame or a dowager, / Long withering out a young man's revenue" (I.i.4-5).

The flight to the green world of the forest brings the lovers into the domain of the Fairy, a pre-oedipal world. It is not that the real world gets invaded by the irrational, as in the apparitions of Hamlet's father's ghost or the coming of Birnam Wood to Dunsinane, but that the green world accommodates and supports female and pre-patriarchal desires thwarted by harsh Athenian realities dramatized by the opening of the play. Freud's theory of literature as a form of daydreaming or playing suggests that literature is a domain where we may make up for the limitations of reality.

Though Oberon is King of Fairyland and King of Shadows, his power doesn't extend over his wife. We see a contest between male and female power evocative of pre-oedipal conflict between matriarchal domination of the nursery and paternal jealousy of the amount and quality of attention a mother gives to her infants at the expense of her husband's claims on her. Most apparent is Oberon's attempt to assert his patriarchy by separating the Indian boy from Titania, which shifts her bond from the Indian child to the monstrously transformed Bottom, on whom she dotes and whom she feeds, pets, and protects as if he were another one of her infants...'
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Everyman
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Re: (Possible Spoiler) A psychological interpretation of the themes.

That is just the sort of psychobabble that I have come to expect from Psychology Today.

To link an "oedipalized" (a non-word, that) world with traditional marital desire is to misunderstand one (or both) concepts.

I know of no reputable Minoan scholar who posits that the Minoan culture had any concept of fairies, so what is the legitimacy of writing of "the transformative fairyland, which can be read as both Celtic and Minoan"?

And who is to say that fairy land is "pre-oedipal"? Why can't fairies, particularly Shakespearean fairies, have the same Oedipal desires that humans have?

But I appreciate the opportunity for a good belly laugh at the absurdity of some Shakespearean "analysis."
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Re: Act I: The Court



LizzieAnn wrote:
br>We see several that there are several conflicts among the charactres in the first scene at Theseus' palace:

    • Between Egeus and his daughter Hermia

    • Between Hermia and Demetrius

    • Between Egeus and Lysander

    • Between Lysander and Demetrius

    • Between Helena and Demetrius

    • Between Helena and both Hermia & Lysander


There are also conflicts at Quince's house in scene 2:

    • Between Quince and Flute - who does not want to play a female

    • Between Quince and Bottom - who wants to play all the parts


Quince wants to move the rehearsal to the woods to avoid crowds gathering at their rehearsal. Then people would learn the content of the play (and it would no longer be a great surprise) as well as bothering the rehearsal (perhaps by giving advice and critiques).





I also wanted to add to your fine list, Lizzie by suggesting the conflict between Theseus and Hippolyta. In 1.1 we learn that Theseus won Hippolyta by force. T."Hippolyta, I woo'd thee with my sword, And won thy love, doing thee injuries"
Lynda

"I think of literature.....as a vast country to the far borders of which I am journeying but will never reach."
The Uncommon Reader


"You've been running around naked in the stacks again, haven't you?"
"Um, maybe."
The Time Traveler's Wife

It is with books as with men; a very small number play a great part.
Voltaire
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emma_lee_
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Re: Act I: The Court



Carmenere_lady wrote:


LizzieAnn wrote:
br>We see several that there are several conflicts among the charactres in the first scene at Theseus' palace:

    • Between Egeus and his daughter Hermia

    • Between Hermia and Demetrius

    • Between Egeus and Lysander

    • Between Lysander and Demetrius

    • Between Helena and Demetrius

    • Between Helena and both Hermia & Lysander


There are also conflicts at Quince's house in scene 2:

    • Between Quince and Flute - who does not want to play a female

    • Between Quince and Bottom - who wants to play all the parts


Quince wants to move the rehearsal to the woods to avoid crowds gathering at their rehearsal. Then people would learn the content of the play (and it would no longer be a great surprise) as well as bothering the rehearsal (perhaps by giving advice and critiques).





I also wanted to add to your fine list, Lizzie by suggesting the conflict between Theseus and Hippolyta. In 1.1 we learn that Theseus won Hippolyta by force. T."Hippolyta, I woo'd thee with my sword, And won thy love, doing thee injuries"




With all these people fighting in the court, I wonder what kind of message Shakespeare is trying to send about the 'real' world. It seems like he is trying to point out how bleak real life is and that everyone needs a break from it, that break of course being the woods. Also, it is interesting to think about the statement Shakespeare makes when all their troubles magically disappear after spending just one night in the woods...
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Everyman
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Re: Act I: The Court

What I find interesting is that most of the people who go into the forest aren't going there because of anything particular about the forest other than that it isn't Athens. We can make conclusions about the difference between the forest and the city, but for completely different reasons.

Hermia and Lysander go there simply as a meeting place on their way to aunt's. Yes they are escaping the city, but they are intending to go to another residence, perhaps in some sort of town; they have no intention seeing the forest as anything other than a convenient meeting place.

Quince and friends are going to the forest to escape being overseen and overheard by groupies or paparazzi. They aren't leaving the city because of any concern with strict laws, confining circumstances, or anything of that sort; it's just a convenient private rehearsal area.

Helena and Demetrius go in pursuit of love. Demetrius would prefer that everybody stay in the city, because then he would have more of a chance of Hermia giving in and marrying him.

So it appears that whatever character we put on the forest is one that we are putting on it, not one that the human players are seeking from or in it.
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cheryl_shell
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Natural attractions?


samantilles wrote:
The Law of Man is determined to overrule the natrual attraction between Lysander and Hermia in the Court, and so the lovers must leave the court of man to pursue their love. The forest does not fall under the jurisdiction of man, and so the forces of love are the only law required. . . . When the four enter the forests, which will reign supreme: the natural attractions of the lovers or the law of man?




Hi, Samantilles,

Welcome to the group! You make a very interesting comparison. However, I'm not sure that the forces of love are in charge in the forest. It seems that the Fairy King is in charge, and that he controls love--which seems nothing more than the effects of a particular flower's nectar. What think you?
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cheryl_shell
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Re: (Possible Spoiler) A psychological interpretation of the themes.


Choisya wrote:
Though Oberon is King of Fairyland and King of Shadows, his power doesn't extend over his wife. We see a contest between male and female power evocative of pre-oedipal conflict between matriarchal domination of the nursery and paternal jealousy of the amount and quality of attention a mother gives to her infants at the expense of her husband's claims on her. Most apparent is Oberon's attempt to assert his patriarchy by separating the Indian boy from Titania, which shifts her bond from the Indian child to the monstrously transformed Bottom, on whom she dotes and whom she feeds, pets, and protects as if he were another one of her infants...'




Hi Choisya,

Glad to see you in our group! I think this is a fascinating way of looking at the contrasts between the two worlds, and very persuasive as well. Thanks for bringing it to our attention!
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cheryl_shell
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Hippolyta's cold feet?


Carmenere_lady wrote: I also wanted to add to your fine list, Lizzie by suggesting the conflict between Theseus and Hippolyta. In 1.1 we learn that Theseus won Hippolyta by force. T."Hippolyta, I woo'd thee with my sword, And won thy love, doing thee injuries"




Indeed, Carmenere! In fact, one wonders if the conflict will continue, considering Hippolyta's answer to Theseus' lament about "how slow / This old moon wanes!" (1.1.3-4): "Four days will quickly steep themselves in night; / Four nights will quickly dream away the time" (7-8). Could she be wanting time to slow down?
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