Customer Review

5.0 out of 5 stars "Lord, what fools these mortals be!", 23 Oct 2013
This review is from: A Midsummer Night's Dream: The Oxford Shakespeare (Oxford World's Classics) (Paperback)
These Oxford editions of Shakespeare's plays in my opinion have one good point and one bad point. On the positive side, the explanatory notes are very good, and they are placed at the foot of each page for easy reference. On the negative side, I find the introductions to be over-academic for the general reader. For example, I'm not convinced that we need to know what Freud, Jung and Wittgenstein said about dreams in order to enjoy, appreciate and understand this play. The five stars I am giving are for Shakespeare: I would give Oxford four.

As for this wonderful play itself, I obviously cannot come up with anything new to say that has not already been said. But I can summarise what I think are the main points that have been made by various commentators.

Shakespeare cleverly weaves together three separate sets of characters whose paths cross: the aristocrats, the workers and the fairies. He also shows us two distinct but overlapping worlds: the normal world of the city and the magical world represented by the fairies, the wood, the moon, dreams, confusion, and reality turned upside-down. (Apparently in Shakespeare's time "wood" could also mean "mad".)

A central theme of the play is summed up in the famous line: "The course of true love never did run smooth." There is the conflict between marriage for love and marriage according to the wishes of parents. But there is also the fickleness of lovers themselves.

Another theme involves the conflict and confusion, including the disruption of nature, which arises from the quarrels of both the fairy king and queen and of the humans. These conflicts and confusions are resolved in the end, with harmony being achieved:

"Jack shall have Jill,
Naught shall go ill,
The man shall have his mare again,
And all shall be well."

For me, the only problem with the play is that the "mechanicals" (workers), although funny, are treated as simple folk in a rather patronising and condescending way. Similarly, in "Julius Caesar", Shakespeare portrays the Roman masses as a fickle mob, easily swayed by demagogues.

But overall this is a marvellous play which takes us into a magical world, and which contains some memorable lines and some beautiful poetry.

Phil Webster.
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