An Examination Of Two Modern Interpretations Of Shakespeare's `a Midsummer Night's Dream.'

1970 words - 8 pages

Modern theatres and audience expectations are very different to the expectations of Shakespeare's time. Shakespeare's Globe Theatre was rediscovered on the South Bank in 1989 which, at the time, was an entirely different experience of any theatre we know today. There was no roof, no cushioned seats, and most of the audience would be standing in a circular space on the floor, whilst cheering on the actors, like fans at a football match. Modern theatre audiences watch the play silently in respect to others and sit comfortably, admiring a radiant stage with professional actors dressed up to scratch and realistic props which take the audience into another world. Whereas, at The Globe, theatre expeactations were very different. The audience depended upon good weather and sunlight to enhance the enjoyment of watchting the play. Only the affordable would sit in the tiers surrounding the edge of The Globe, onlooking the stage with very few props basic costumes and no background. However, the audience were still taken away, but by the visualative words which created a sense of escapism.In Shakespeare's Globe, the audience expectation was very different from todays. The audience did not expect realism from the props and believed anything. For example when Oberon states, `I am invisible,' which is how Shakespeare painted the scenery with his words without the use of camouflaged costumes or blending backdrops. These days, the audience expect much more than just words.Other detail such as stage directions also affect the audience expectations of today. A modern playwright brings much more detail compared to Shakespeare's stage directions. This can be seen from the play `Death of a Salesman,' written by Arther Miller. The first page of the play is filled with stage directions. For example, `the flute plays on. He hears it but is not aware of it,' shows some extent of the detailed instructions a modern playwright uses compared to Shakespeare who used simplicity in his stage directions. Instead of details, he used straight forward instructions such as, `Enter Puck.' Detailed stage directions were not necessary because Shakespeare would have been there at the time telling the actors what to do, and how to do it.Due to the lack of stage directions telling us exactly how Shakespeare imagined his play, modern playwrights must draw up their own interpretations of the play. They can do this through their own choice of actors, lighting, music, effects and direction. As a result of the lack of detail from the original text and wide choice of variations, interpretations can be very different.Shakespeare's `A Midsummer Night's Dream,' is a comedy which shares many similarities to another famous Shakespeare play, `Romeo and Juliet.' They both begin the same with `two star crossed lovers' who were fated in the stars to be together and whose parents disapproved of them being together. In `A Midsummer Night's Dream,' the moon is frequently mentioned by the characters, `Methinks how slow this old moon wanes; she lingers my desires,' the moon being associated with madness throughout the play. In `Romeo and Juliet,' the stars are regularly referred to in a similar manner.The play `A Midsummer Night's Dream' has been interpreted in many different ways. In two of these interpretations, there are very many similarities projected in very different ways. One interpretation is the BBC version directed by Jonathan Miller. The second is the 1998, Twentieth Century Fox version, directed by Michael Hoffman.In the BBC version, the play starts off with Theseus and Hippolyta, who look quite old for a married couple. Hippolyta's tan and hair style suggests that she does look foreign. Theseus and Hippolyta did not seem to be in love and she looked disgusted. Egeus, Hermia, Demetrius, and Lysander are all discussing Egeus's disapproval of his daughter's lover. Helena, who is supposed to be blond and fair, is actually ginger, ugly and has glasses! There is hardly any movement which suggests nobility. There is also hardly any lighting and the atmosphere is dull and dark. The scene did not contain any special effects. In the scene, they were sitting in English Castle- like setting. Although the play was intended to be situated in Athens, Shakespeare would not have been there so he would not have any idea of what it looked like, so he may have intended the play to be in this setting. The room was a library or a study and looked very formal. Theseus was seated for this scene and he was an educated, rich learned man. The room was very dark, with little natural light coming from the windows. The use of the darkened set added prominence to the actors, because the rest of the set was dull. Despite the fact that the play was situated in Athens, the dull coloured costumes were from the Elizabethan period. They were probably modern dressed for Shakespeare's time.The Twentieth Century Fox Version was situated in Italy at the turn of the 19th century. This version of act 1 scene 1, was very different to the BBC version. In the background, there is classical joyous music being played, and lit up fairies fly about which are seen in the film later on. The scene started off with a lot more movement. There was preparation for the Duke's wedding who looked in his forties or fifties. Hippolyta, who looked in her thirties, and Theseus were very much in love compared to the other version. Hermia was pretty, as intended and so was Helena, who had long blond hair and was `fair'. The costumes were more bright and colourful. They were Italian costumes from the 1900's. Theseus and Hippolyta talk in an office or study about their wedding. Theseus talks to Hippolyta, the Queen of the Amazons, by using a lot of war like imagery when he speaks. For example, `with pomp, triumph, and revelling.' The general tone of this scene is that it has more excitement, more liveliness and brightness.Act 1, scene 2 of the BBC version is the gathering of Quince, Bottom, Snug, Flute, Snout and Starveling in a pub or café rehearsing for a play for the wedding. Quince, who is in charge of organising, is very down to earth and serious. Bottom appears to be full of himself, and is always interrupting rudely. Quince asks `Is all our company here?' and Bottom replies, `You were best to call them generally, man by man according to the script.' They are all wearing very simple clothes, putting forward the idea that they are working class men. Although there is hardly any movement in this scene compared to the film, it is the most lively scene in this version so far.In the 1998 film version, many new ideas are put forward. For example, instead of just getting on with rehearsing the play, they turn it into a competition. Bottom flirts with another woman, despite him having a wife. During his flirtatious moments, his wife sees what he does and gives him evil looks. This gives an insight of what Bottom is really like and is all cleverly acted to music being played. Also Bottom creates a scene because of his loud and vain actions. Children spill water over his head and everyone laughs at him. The director creates sympathy for the character and he makes the audience like Bottom, compared to the other version, where Bottom is seen as simply irritating, but funny. The new ideas have all been put forward without the use of adding in extra text, also his wife is not mentioned in the text. The director has deviated from what Shakespeare would have intended the play to be like, because he did not include his wife, the sympathy for the character, or the competition. We know that it has been deviated, otherwise, Shakespeare would have included it in his stage directions. However, it may be similar to what he intended because Shakespeare would have been there at the time so he could have improvised scenes during the practices. In this scene as opposed to the scene in the other version, you can actually tell that Quince is supposed to be in charge because he is louder, more enthusiastic and takes more control over Bottom. The position on the soliloquy is changed to after the rehearsals as a reminder for the viewers of the other plot. In this scene there is generally more camera movement showing people in their everyday lifestyles and exaggerated movement to make it funnier. Also the use of malapropism adds to the comedy, for example, when Bottom interrupts Quince yet again, 'I'll speak in a monstrous little voice, `Thisne, Thisne!' in line 55. The malapropism where he tells them to `rehearse more obscenely and courageously,' in line 111 shows his stupidity.Act II, scene I, of the BBC version starts off with three fairies along with Puck in the woods at night. It is dark, but the moon lights up their faces. They are going round in circles, talking amonst each other. At this point, Puck is inevitably seen as mischeivious. `Sometimes for the three- foot stool mistaketh me; Then slip I from her bum, down topples she,' says Puck to the fairy on line 52. Oberon and Titainia, King and Queen of the fairies are fighting. There is hardly any movement, however the voices and expressions liven it up. They wear creative costumes in a magical yet dull, angry atmosphere. There is no music or sounds other than howling in the background. In the Twentieth Century Fox version, Puck is much more older and the rest of the characters are very attractive. Puck and the first fairy were drunk since Theseus was getting married and wanted everyone to be happy. This added to the comedy. Oberon, played by Rupert Everett in this version, is much younger than the BBC version. Thunder bolts and lightening occur when Oberon enters, this is because they `square', then Titania played by Michelle Pfeiffer, places her finger over her lips and all goes calm. There are spectacular special effects in this scene when the thunder strikes rocks and alights them. However, this is not what Shakespeare would have intended because there were no facilities at the time and also the audience expectation came from the words.The set is illuminated by the fire. The use of SFX throughout the scene in this film shows the power of the fairies associated with nature. Titania and Oberon wear very creative costumes and are dressed like Kings and Queens. In this scene, there is much more movement and the atmosphere is less tense and more comical.As an overall view, I prefer the Hoffman version, firstly because it is more livelier together with more action, and secondly because I believe Shakespeare should be accessible for everyone and eventually original Shakespeare will die out if it is not updated to suit modern tastes. Shakespeare would have not intended his play to be like many of the modern interpretations of today, as stage directions were not given so he would have his own setting in his mind, however, the modern directors of these interpretations can come up with how the scene was supposed to look like because of the words from the original play. This is one reason to how Shakespeare may have intended the play to be like the modern film interpretation.


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