I will heare that play

Published  by us  in time for the longest day, we’re delighted to be announcing the publication of A Midsummer Night’s Dream from the Bodleian First Folio on 24 June, the traditional quarter day midsummer. However you celebrate the longest days of the year, we wish you happy revels. May none of you wake with a donkey’s head!

MIDSOMMER Nights Dreame

(AS THE FIRST FOLIO TITLES IT)

One of the most enduringly popular of Shakespeare’s plays, A Midsummer Night’s Dream is taught in many schools and  on one website at least  makes it into fourth place on a list of Shakespeare’s “top ten greatest” plays.

Colman's mustard advertisement from: http://johnjohnson.chadwyck.co.uk/

A Midsummer Night’s Dream wide reach, in a Colman’s mustard advertisement from 1900: http://johnjohnson.chadwyck.co.uk/

The charm of its fairies, its quarelling lovers who pair up in the final act, and the enduring comedy of its rude “Mcehanicals”* make it a particular favourite for school and outdoor productions. Yet this is not a play of caprice and harmless make-believe: there is deliberate cruelty, manipulation, a custody battle, and a forced marriage. As Emma Smith points out in a podcast, the cross lovers explore sex and sexuality rather than celebrate marriage, sometimes to the shock of an audience expecting woodland wit and whimsy.

Theatre programme for A Midsummer Night's Dream, 1900, from: http://johnjohnson.chadwyck.co.uk/

A whimsical theatre programme for A Midsummer Night’s Dream, 1900, from: http://johnjohnson.chadwyck.co.uk/

First performed in the mid 1590s, this play was published in quarto versions in 1600 and 1619. You can read and compare them on the British Library’s excellent Shakespeare in Quarto website.

The version in the Bodleian First Folio has been well read. One page (folio O2) has a damaged corner. Two tears have been patched with heavy paper, probably in the early eighteenth century, in an attempt to repair the damage. Actually, though a careful repair by someone who cared for the book (possibly a member of the Turbutt family), the heavy paper risked causing further damage by putting a greater strain on the paper supporting it. This repair, and others like it, were stabilized by colleagues in Conservation and Collection Care.

Find out more

Emma Smith’s podcast on the play from her Approaching Shakespeare series uses modern and early modern understandings of dreams to uncover less expected themes of the play.

Dorothea Kehler’s 2012 book, A Midsummer Night’s DreamCritical Essays, looks at the play’s critical and performance history, and is available online through Google Books.

Our colleagues at the Folger Shakespeare Library have created excellent teaching resources on the play.

Notable film adaptations of A Midsummer Night’s Dream include those directed by:

Musical works inspired by the play include:

Wikipedia has a list of ballet and works of fine art inspired by the play.

If you are in Oxford this July, you can watch Tomahawk Theatre‘s production of the play at Oxford Castle.

* A typographic error in the First Folio renders “Mechanicals” like this (Comedies, p. 153).

“furnish and instruct great Teachers”

(Henry VIII, I, ii)

Emma SmithAfter a successful public fund-raising campaign to digitise the Bodleian’s copy of Shakespeare’s First Folio, the next stage of the project is to involve different groups of readers and help them to enjoy this great free resource.

On 22 June a workshop for teachers at KS5 on ‘Teaching with the First Folio’ took place at Hertford College. After introductions to the project and to the book from Pip Willcox and Emma Smith, colleagues worked on lesson plans showing how they might use the digitised folio in different teaching contexts.

We had contributions on a wonderful range of topics, from using stage directions to understand the power relations of a scene in A Midsummer Night’s Dream, to the toggling between ‘thee’ and ‘you’ in speeches in The Tempest. We discussed ways that the marriage of Rosalind and Orlando at the end of As You Like It isn’t as straight as we might assume if we look at the Folio texts, and the ways that editors make decisions to clarify, but also to disambiguate, possible readings.

Post-its
 26 colleagues attended: all said that they could see ways of using the resource in their teaching, and were excited and motivated to do so.

You can see some of their reactions in the post-it notes pictured (we especially liked “Inspirational: can’t wait to get started doing it!”).

Their lesson resources will be added to the First Folio site, under the same Creative Commons license as the images (CC-BY), over the summer.

post-its 5a

 

Thanks to all who made the workshop such a success. Funding permitting, we have plans for another teachers’ day, and a day working with actors to understand the Folio’s performance possibilities.


Henry Bew, Pip Willcox, James Methven

Emma Smith

Remarkable Puck

Guest blogger, Jo Willcox, writes…

I’ll put a girdle round about the earth

In forty minutes.

A Midsummer Night’s Dream, II i

I have an unforgettable memory from my schooldays of a remarkable Puck. We had an annual Shakespeare competition in which each House had to present a scene from Shakespeare without scenery, with minimal props and in school uniform. As a 12-year-old newcomer I watched entranced an amazing Puck who in due course made a most spectacular exit. With one enormous bound she leapt from the platform out of the side door of the Hall as she set out to put a girdle round the earth.

She was later to become one of our much loved thespian Dames.

I regret to say that I cannot remember which House won the competition that year, but I like to think it was ours.

Jo Willcox

Shakespeare Abroad

We’re grateful to Peter Parkinson for our second guest blog post. He writes…

A spectacular feature on the island of Cyprus is the restored Roman amphitheatre of Curium, some dozen miles west of Limassol. Carved out of the hillside and looking outwards high above the sea, its restoration was begun little more than half a century ago. The theatre is idyllic but, of an evening when the darkness falls and there is a performance, the effect is truly magical.

Some 50 years ago, a British sergeant working in the (UK-administered) Western Sovereign Base Area, spotted the potential of a theatre in ruins. And so began the annual production of Shakespeare. The first play was A Midsummer Night’s Dream, with the cast coming mainly from amateur companies associated with the British Forces. But because the venture was intended as a joint British/Cypriot affair, locals were also drafted in, and the proceeds went to Cypriot charities.

I was fortunate to have been in five productions, from 1973 to 1977. My first appearance was in Hamlet. I was new to the island and unused to acting. The director that year was a British schoolmaster and he it was who cajoled me into the part of Fortinbras. I was later promoted to Player King and I will never forget my first entrance. Not only was I a tiro who had some pretty dramatic stuff to deliver, but it was also before an audience of 2,000. My feelings were a mix of terror and bewilderment.

My daughter, not yet four, had already announced herself and amused the audience. When the Ghost coaxed Hamlet on to the battlements, her small but clear voice rang out: “Don’t go, Hamlet! Don’t go!”

Two other memories. One involved a large beetle lurching and scratching a path towards my ear as I lay on the stone stage. Hamlet, spotting the danger, put in an unscheduled move and crushed it beneath his heel. So decisive, I thought, and so uncharacteristic of Hamlet. Then there was the incident of the snake that decided to share the stage-side bunker with the lady prompt.

I remember too we had a Cypriot Laertes who addressed his adversary as “Noble Omelette” but very dramatically, as one would expect of a Greek. Another recollection is of our script discussion as to whether we should omit the potentially controversial line: “striking short at Greeks”.

In 1974 there was the failed coup against Makarios, followed by the Turkish invasion. These dramatic events occurred a month after our production of Twelfth Night. We did wonder, in all the confusion, whether the tradition could survive the island’s partition and the mass of real life tragedies all around us. But come the summer of 1975 we were up and running again with The Merry Wives of Windsor. Audience numbers were understandably down, but Makarios’s Vice President, Glavkos Clerides, honoured us with his presence, making us feel that the decision to carry on regardless had been right.

Last summer in Paris, I met a group of Cypriot tourists and asked whether the performances still happened. They hastened to assure me they did, and I discovered this year that the production was The Merchant of Venice, billed as the 49th in the sequence.

Peter Parkinson