Review: A Midsummer Night’s Dream, (2021)

Trailer for Globe Theater’s 2021 production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream

What do you think of when you think of “Shakespeare?” What do you think of when you think of “A Midsummer Night’s Dream?” 

    Ruffs and Tights?

    Mostly white dudes?

    Elizabethan music?

    Dark night and moon?

This production, directed by Michelle Terry, is gleefully throwing out every preconceived notion of what A Midsummer Night’s Dream can or should be. In terms of design, casting, music, and interpretation, it breaks all the rules, while still remaining true to the text. This allows the production to appeal to not only hard-core Shakespeare fans, but first time audiences and children too!

I got to see this production thanks to the Globe’s online streaming library. My mother kindly shared me a link to this recording from the summer of 2021. You can watch it yourself on: https://www.shakespearesglobe.com/watch/#full-length-productions

I would describe the concept behind the show as “Suggestive,” that is, it doesn’t belong to a literal time and place. Even though the play is set in Ancient Greece, the play refuses to be constrained by historical accuracy, which arguably, fits nicely with Shakespeare in particular, and the Globe itself; a modern building in a modern city, based on a 400-year-old building.

The music and costumes evoke a New Orleans Mardis Gras, a Pride parade, or a Spanish pinata with its bright colors, heavy use of fringes, and bright, energetic jazz music. The only people who don’t wear bright colors are the four lovers, which reflects their continuous frustration with being unable to marry the person they really want.

The show is also Color blind and gender blind, with women playing men’s parts and a cast with black, white, and mixed race actors. Terry’s direction also calls attention to the patriarchial, racist, and sexist elements of Athens which are often overlooked in other interpretations of Dream that I’ve seen or read about. Rather than being a hero, Theseus is a horny old man in a ludicrous pink uniform, looking like a cross between M. Bison and a Christmas nutcracker. To reinforce this point, the actor chose to perform one of Theseus’ most patriarchial speeches as a joke:

Theseus. What say you, Hermia? be advised fair maid:50
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 and within his power
To leave the figure or disfigure it. -Midsummer Night's Dream, Act I, Scene i.

I’ve seen this speech heavily cut and played seriously, but never till now did I see it played to ridicule the ludicrous notion that women are in any way bound to worship their fathers.

In another nod to contemporary gender politics, the actress who plays Hippolyta and Titania chose to perform her role on crutches. As far as I can tell, this was a deliberate choice and not a result of real injury. There is a precedent for this: In 1984, Sir Antony Sher performed Richard iii on crutches because it highlighted the cruelty people with disabilities often suffer.

I could be wrong, but I think that the reason the actress was on crutches was a symbolic way of confronting the way gender politics can cripple women.

Many scholars have pointed out how Hippolyta rarely speaks despite the fact that she is supposed to be the powerful Queen of the Amazons, and Theseus’ fiance besides. Shakespeare makes it clear that their marriage was arranged as a political alliance after the Amazons lost to Athens in a war:

Hippolyta, I woo'd thee with my sword,
And won thy love, doing thee injuries;20
But I will wed thee in another key,
With pomp, with triumph and with revelling.

With this in mind, it makes sense to have Hippolyta on crutches as a result of her injuries. Those injuries might also explain her silence; she has lost her agency now that she is essentially Theseus’ prisoner. One might think of any number of war atrocious where women have been sold to powerful men over the centuries. In short, by putting Hippolyta on crutches, we see a glimpse into her tragic story that most productions just gloss over- that she has lost a war, been separated from her people, and is now her enemies’ prisoner through marriage.

I’ve come to expect high quality acting from The Globe Theater Company and this cast did not disappoint. As we watched it together, my family concluded that this was one of the best acted productions of Dream that we’ve ever seen, which between us has to be over 30 plus productions.

The delivery is crisp and fast paced. Every actor has taken these words and made them their own. They speak them as if they were written yesterday. One thing I love about the Globe is that the directors encourage this kind of fast paced delivery; with no distracting special effects or sets, the actors have to captivate the audience with their delivery of Shakespeare’s text, without being melodramatic or self-indulgent. I’m pleased to say that this cast does a fantastic job of telling this magical story in a compelling and very modern way.

I’ve shown my recording to kids, teens, adults, and my family, and everyone has a different reaction to the show. Maybe this isn’t quite your cup of tea, but the concept is sound, the acting is high caliber, and it utilizes the Globe’s unique qualities extremely well. 




I personally didn’t care for Bottom just because I felt the actress was playing a very energetic part with too much sarcasm and tongue in cheek, but that’s mostly personal preference. I did however love Peter Quince, Snout, Snug, and the rest of the Mechanicals. Peter Quince is a rather thankless part but it’s great to see someone balance being a straight man trying to reign in Bottom’s antics. and an idiot who has no idea how to direct a company of actors, which the actress playing Quince did very well.

How to Throw a Fairies Themed Midsummer Night Dream Party (Quarantine Safe Edition)

Happy Midsummer everyone! Wednesday June 24rth is the Midsummer festival, which means as you go to sleep that night, I wish you all Midsummer Night Dreams! Before that though, I welcome you to party like it’s the court of King Oberon, and here are some ideas:

Background: What Are Fairies?

The story of Fairies has many authors that come from multiple folkloric traditions. The Greeks had nymphs, the Romans had cupid, and the English and Germans had…



1.  According to Paracelsus, fairies are elemental spirits that help control the Earth’s four elements: Silfs (air), gnomes (Earth), Salamanders (fire), and  Undines (water).
2. In some versions, they are household creatures that interact with humans
3. Some cultures call them demoted Angels, not good enough for Heaven, but not bad enough for Hell.

So you can see there are lots of traditions that contribute to our modern concept of the fairy, and plenty of ideas to adapt into your party!

Part One: The Invitation:

There’s a ton of free fairy clip art and fairy designs online. Below is an invitation I created for free with an app called Canva and a parchment background picture I found online.

1. Pixie invitations
2. Immortal Longings

Second card design I created on Canva.

You probably also know that I am a huge fan of the website Immortal Longings because of their excellent Shakespearean art and they sell cards too. You can buy the cards or download the pictures on their website.

Shakespearean Greeting Cards from Immortal Longings.com


Part Two: Decorations
Fairy

Fairy Dens Right now the Royal Shakespeare Company is making DIY Fairy decorations including a Fairy Den that you can share with your family and friends:

What is a Fairy Den? Fairies in folklore are closely tied to the Ancient Celts and Druids, who believed that Fairies live in hollow places underground. A fairy den is a homemade den that imitates the ancient fairy hollows.

Workshop on Fairy Dens and Fairy Lanterns: https://youtu.be/KC7CbPPIrjs

Fairy lights from IKEA

In addition to fairy dens, there are tons of fairy lights, fairy coloring books, and other fairy crafts you can find. Here is a fairy lantern my wife made using pickle jars!

First paint the jars with white paint and cut out paper fairies to paste around the inside of the jar (we used tackey glue). You can also stick star stickers on the inside of the jars.
For added realism, you can glue fake moss to the bottom of the jar. We got this from our local dollar store.
Put a small battery powered LED light inside.
Turn on the LED lights and take the lanterns somewhere dark.
Detail of the fairy lights.



Part ThreeThe Feast

Since the Fairies in Midsummer are woodland spirits, almost any forest or camping themed recipes can be adapted. Here are some ideas that my wife and I made for our own fairy themed party.

Snail sandwiches

Hedgehog cheese ball.


Hedgehog cheese ball:

Fruit wands with yogurt dip


Dessert

Chocolate GardenCake from How to Cook That: https://youtu.be/JidhdxiSsnQ

Fairy bread: For those of you who don’t live in Australia or New Zealand, Fairy bread is white bread covered in

https://www.allrecipes.com/recipe/80934/fairy-bread/

Homemade Fairy bread

 

Music

  • Dance of the Sugarplum Fairies

Games

1.  Pin the tail on the Bottom.

2. Love potion: Similar to follow the leader or musical chairs. A group of people lie down and pretend to sleep. Then someone plays Puck by putting a real or pretend flower in one of the player’s hands. The Puck then yells “Awake,” and sets a timer or plays some music. The object of the game is for everyone to chase after the flower and get it before time runs out.

Costumes:

Make some printable donkey masks for Bottom, flower crowns for the fairies, and don’t forget your wings!

Well, that’s my advice, happy  Midsummer everyone!

Sources:
Tolkein, JRR. On Fairy Stories

Teaching Titus through creepy cooking

Titus Andronicus is one of the most bloody, disgusting plays in Shakespeare. As this infographic from the Royal Shakespeare Company shows, there are tons of deaths and some of them are even the result of cannibalism!

One way to capture the macabre nature of this play in the classroom, (which some scholars see as a horror comedy), is to characterize it through cooking, after all, revenge is a dish best served cold.

Me in costume as Titus Androgynous, a crazy cooking show host who butchers two people in the same manner as Titus

So here are some ghoulish gourmet dishes and revolting recipes that you can share with your students to help them get into this tragic tale of violence, revenge, and cooking:

Idea 1: recipe cards

Design a recipe card like the ones in cooking magazines based on Titus speech where he murders Chiron and Demetrius

Idea 2: Create a menu that summarizes the play:

Act I:

Starter: Caesar Salad, toad in the hole

As the play begins, Caesar has died and Saturnine wants to devour his father’s empire. Enjoy this light salad in anticipation of far more bloody feasts to come.https://youtu.be/UxZ5NOkRwj0

Act II Scene 3: Breakfast:

Lamb Benedict

Lamb Benedict recipe I found on Reddit

While on an early morning hunting trip, Bassianus is slaughtered like a lamb by his own nephews. Enjoy this sweet treachery with a golden egg in the hole.

Act II, Scene 4: Main course:

Roast venison with all the trimmings

“As the deer that hath some unrecuring wound.”

“She was washed and cut and trimmed.”

Titus compares his daughter to a deer or welkin, and in the play’s most barbaric scene, the emperor’s sons ravish her and cut out her tongue. They enjoy the cruel rape and mutilation just like two starving lions enjoying their prey.

Act V:

Just desserts: people pot pie.

“More stern and bloody than the centaur’s feast,” A truly unforgettable dessert for this feast of carnage. The cook, Titus, reinvents the term rich food by cooking two emperor’s sons into pies.

Served cold, like revenge!

“Set him breast deep in Earth and famish him.”

Idea 3: Real Titus foods inspired by my favorite Halloween diy recipes

1. Lavinia’s tongue and hands

• horrific Halloween punch with ice cold hand cubes: https://youtu.be/XLYwcX7Ud-E

• Bloody lady fingers https://pin.it/xbnfxcs4bxbhsq

2. Titus hand: Hot dog fingers for Titus’ hand.

https://pin.it/ofn6cotybnvn4n

Or this grisly appetizer: cheese hand in prosciutto

3.

People Pies:

There are many horrific pie recipes on the internet, but for a busy teacher on a budget, I’m adapting this one from the YouTube channel Threadbanger: https://youtu.be/E6U6xUl3A5M. Don’t show this video to your students because there’s far too much cursing. That said this recipe is very cheap and it’s easy. He used only store bought items and no fancy cooking techniques, which means if you choose to bake it as a classroom activity, even your students can help make it. Here are some tips from the video to get the most horrible ppeople pie you can make:

• Use red filling like cherry or strawberry for filling.

• Use excess dough for a nose.

• Cut out little pieces of apple to make teeth

• Cut holes for the eyes and mouth

• The bloodier, the better!

Bone appetit!

How President Trump Is Like Richard III

  • Happy President’s Day Everyone!
  • Since it’s now two years into the Trump presidency I thought I would follow up on my post I wrote when he was a candidate, and focus instead on his actions as president. Shakespeare’s Richard changes almost immediately once the crown is set on his head in the middle of the play, and the rest of his short reign is plagued with the exhaustive process of keeping it on his head, (and by extension, keeping his head on his shoulders). My main argument is that Trump’s presidency has steadily skirted more and more towards authoritarianism through his actions and his rhetoric, much the same way Richard became more like a dictator as soon as he became king. Moreover, Trump, Shakespeare’s Richard and even the historical king Richard have been distorted beyond recognition because of fake news, but not the kind you might expect.
  • Part I Before the Throne

    As I have written before, Richard claims the throne by manipulating everyone in the British political machine- stoking hatred among the nobles, while trying to appear as a pious, humble man to the common people. Because of his years on reality television and experience as a businessman, even I must admit Trump has a gift at manipulating people’s perceptions and playing the part of a man of the people:

    • https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=cpxCl8ylJgE
      If you watch Trump in interviews, he often closes his remarks with “believe me,” Richard also understands the power of oaths and pretends to speak like a plain blunt man, claiming that the British nobles hate him because he ‘tells it like it is’:
  • Cannot a plain man live and think no harm? But his simple truth must be abused by silken, sly, insinuating jacks!- Richard III, Act I, Scene iii

    As for Trump, even though he is a privileged billionaire with inherited wealth, he pretends to be an unpretentious, unapologetic common man, abused by the ‘mainstream media’ and his political opponents.

    Richard is also a fan of the moral equivalence argument, (also known as whataboutism). He tries to offset his own murders by mentioning other people and their misdeeds during the Wars Of The Roses, making them seem as bad or worse than Richard:

    https://youtu.be/c0gGWAo0JIU

  • Let me put in your mind if you forget what you have been ere this and what you are, withal what I have been and what I am. RIII Act I, Scene iii.
  • Many have pointed out that both Trump and Fox News frequently use Whatsboutism to discredit their opponents and to shrug off their own guilt. It is also a tactic frequently used in former Soviet Union propaganda: https://youtu.be/PpVzHpgYuSc
  • My final comparison of the rhetoric between Trump and Shakespeare’s Richard is that both men are actors, players, or if you like, hypocrites. Trump actually tweeted how he sees each speech he makes as a tailor-made performance, while Richard praises his own ability to dissemble and equivocate to the skies: https://youtu.be/v6ji07tsI2M
  • Part II: The descent

  • Richard the third starts out the play as a evil underdog. Yes he kills people to gain the throne, but his deformity makes him seem sympathetic, and the fact that his victims have already killed plenty of people in the Wars of the Roses, gets him on our side. Once he’s crowned however, Richard step by step becomes more and more like an authoritarian dictator
  • Authoritarianism https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=5YU9djt_CQM
  • https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=mQP5FHq7hqs

    What is an authoritarian? Basically an authoritarian regime concentrates power into the hands of one person, and tries to hold onto power by:

    1. Projecting strength.

    2. Demonizing opponents, both real and imagined.

    3. Destroying institutions.

    From the moment the crown is placed on his head, Richard starts to see threats to his power, and uses all his newfound resources to destroy every each and every threat. First he kills his nephews, (the legitimate heirs to the throne), then he kills his wife, so that he can remarry a princess to try and consolidate his power. And finally, when he faces his greatest threat the armies of Henry tutor Earl of Richmond, Richard goes full on dictator, calling himself a tower of strength, demonizing Richmond as a foreigner, and claiming that his soldiers will rape the English wives and daughters.

    Still from Ian McKellen’s film version of Richard III, 1995

    Trump is guilty of every one of these authoritarian strongman habits. He tries to convince people he is strong both physically and politically by having photo ops with doctors who claim that he is “the healthiest president ever”. He also attempted to project strength by misrepresenting the size of the crowds at his inauguration (which was a flat out lie), Furthermore, Trump demanded a military parade to emulate autocratic governments like North Korea. Then there’s his ultimate misguided show of American strength: the wall, which even Fox News has calculated will cost $25 billion dollars at least, and will do little to nothing to stop the flow of drugs and illegal immigration.

    Trump also has from the beginning waged war on the Internet against any and all who oppose him. Let us not forget that Fox News is a 24 hour a day propaganda machine that exists almost entirely to condemn anyone who opposes the president and his agendas. And in terms of destroying institutions, his constant claims of “fake news“ seeks to destabilize the Free Press. America’s finding fathers guaranteed free press with the knowledge that if the government is corrupt, the only way the public can fight back is through the knowledge provided by a free and Independent press. But if the media is the enemy, we have no one to listen to except Trump himself.

  • Another authoritarian habit shared by Trump and Richard is by firing (or murdering anyone who gets in his way. Trump’s reckless behavior appointing and then firing people to his cabinet is such a joke, that the Washington Post has compiled a list of everyone that Trump has fired, so far: https://www.google.com/amp/s/www.washingtonpost.com/amphtml/news/the-fix/wp/2017/07/25/heres-a-list-of-people-trump-has-fired-or-threatened-to-fire/
  • Richard is even more comically trigger happy than Trump. Look at this scene where in less than 10 minutes, he sends a murderer to kill his nephews, plots to murder his wife and marry his niece, and completely throws off the Duke of Buckingham, his only supporter on his way to the crown!

    https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=gD5afYxDc6g

    Richard’s authoritarian tactics actually spring from one of the best political theorists of the renaissance, unfortunately it was Machiavelli. Niccolo Machiavelli saw how the crown heads of Italy consolidated power through violence and intimidation, and he came to realize that the power behind the throne is much less to do with divine right or royal bloodline, and more with who can play the game and project power and strength. In Shakespeare’s Henry the Sixth Part III, Richard brags that in his quest to the good for the crown he will send Machiavelli to school: https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=v6ji07tsI2M

    Portrait of Machiavelli by Sandi DiTito, c. 1650

    I unfortunately don’t have enough time to get into the connections between Machiavelli, Richard, and Trump. Suffice it to say that all three advocate rule by fear and have no interest in preserving democracy. Below are some quotes and articles that I have collected about Machiavelli and his connection to Shakespeare and Trump:

    http://insights.som.yale.edu/insights/what-can-you-learn-machiavelli

    https://www.google.com/amp/s/www.theatlantic.com/amp/article/354672/

    https://www.bl.uk/shakespeare/articles/richard-iii-and-machiavelli

    https://www.google.com/amp/s/murreyandblue.wordpress.com/2015/01/31/richard-iii-the-murderous-machiavel-2/amp/

    Part III: Who Lives, Who Dies, Who Tells Your Story

    Sadly, the ultimate similarity between Shakespeare’s Richard III, the real King Richard, and Trump is that the actual human has been swallowed up by a narrative. Even though most of what Trump says is a lie, to his supporters he is the one person who ‘tells it like it is,’ not because they believe him, but because they want to believe in the narrative he constructs.

    Not only are his lies compelling, Trump himself has become a powerful symbol to the disenfranchised that the system is broken and corrupt, so why not vote for someone like him? He brands himself as a ‘plain blunt man’ who isn’t afraid to offend or criticize people in power, even though he is much worse than they are at running the government. According to the testimony of his former lawyer Michael Cohen, Trump described his own campaign as the ” The greatest infomercial in political history.” His campaign was from the start, a scam, where the ultimate con man told people he was going to fix healthcare, fix the immigrants coming into the country, and fix everything they didn’t like about America.

    Trump and Richard exploit what you and I want to believe. A New York Times article from 2016 made an interesting comparison between Trump’s odious political persona and that of one of the “heels” or bad guys in professional wrestling. These characters are unrepentantly evil, and love to stir up anger in the crowd, and everyone knows that their every word and action is fake, but they buy into the story. This kind of suspension of disbelief is of course, the central guiding principle of theater itself, and arguably Shakespeare created a villain who would make a very effective wrestling heel.

    The real Richard’s devolution from a historical king into a villainous archetype is more tragic, but just as powerful. The lies that the Tudor chronicles told about him were more compelling and politically convenient than the truth, and Shakespeare’s genius just further distanced us from caring what the real man was like. In essence, Shakespeare was inventing fake news far before Trump was railing about it. Just as we as an audience are complicit in the pretend crimes of a fake king when we watch the play, we are also complicit in perpetuating a comfortable simplistic story of the 15th century War of the Roses king Richard Plantagenet.

    Trump and Richard show that history can be distorted when we focus less on what is really happening and more on what we want to see. More people wanted to believe his lies than Hillary Clinton’s facts, the same way people were forced to believe the Tudor lies instead of the real truth of what happened from 1483-1485. Likewise Shakespeare’s Richard exploits people’s fear, greed, and gullibility to gain power for himself, but this is his only talent; eventually his supporters lose faith in him, his enemies mobilize, and he is taken from power.