MEMETERIA by Thomas May

Music & the Arts

Shakespeare’s Ruthless Dream

Midsummer

Reviewing Julie Taymor’s highly touted new production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Kate Havard floats some
provocative ideas about “the more unpleasant aspects at work” in a play that’s all too often taken for pretty fantasy and screwball identity mix-up.

Dream, writes Havard, “is actually a ruthless play: all four couplings marred with traces of compulsion, faithlessness, pettiness, and cruelty.”

According to Havard — a recent graduate of St. John’s College in Annapolis and a Tikvah fellow — Taymor emphasizes the forest “as a staging ground for the parts of the soul where reason rules not.”

The forest in “Midsummer” is not only the backdrop for chaos, it is full of spirits who egg on the passions, which helps to make us more aware of what must be tamed within us.

It is false to say that what the forest reveals in these Athenians is the true human nature, because reason is what makes us humans. But the unreasoning parts also tell us a lot.

To put it modernly, the forest is to Shakespeare what dreams are to Freud.

Havard draws out the implications of that analogy:

The symbolism isn’t subtle. Taymor’s taking the Frank Underwood approach to psychology: Everything is about sex except for sex, which is about power.

What Freud told us about our desires, the Greeks already knew: Dionysus and Aphrodite can only be contained and educated, not eradicated. They will always be there, just outside the city gates. And if you try and ignore them, it is at your peril.

In a recent interview in Smithsonian Magazine, Taymor describes what she thinks happens when Shakespeare shows these emotions getting “unleashed”:

I think that Shakespeare’s saying that’s how easily we can switch our passions. A little thing can do it. Whether it’s love juice, a psychedelic drug or somebody swishes by in a different way—that love is extremely fickle. I think a lot of this is about all different levels of love, just like “Titus [Andronicus]” is about every single aspect of violence.”

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