Saturday, February 19, 2011

A Midsummer Night's Dream

William Blake, an illustration of a scene from Shakespeare's A Midsummer Night's Dream.

A reading of Shakespeare gives the clear impression that he had realised the Self very deeply. Many of his works explore the theme of Selfhood, identity, and the ultimately tragic nature of ego. 
In A Midsummer Night's Dream he suggests that the true nature of selfhood lies in a collective self (not in a Stalinist, statist sense, but as a natural consequence of the unity of being - Advaita).

As a playwright working with a troupe of actors, Shakespeare would have experienced this collective selfhood in which each member has a unique role but depends on the others. The play is much more important than individual egos.

The play within a play is a device Shakespeare loved to use. The play within A Midsummer Night's Dream is performed by a group of labourers, called 'mechanicals' by the character Puck.

"Identities in the play are not so much lost as they are blended together to create a type of haze through which distinction becomes nearly impossible. It is driven by a desire for new and more practical ties between characters as a means of coping with the strange world within the forest."

"David Marshall, an aesthetics scholar and English Professor at the University of California – Santa Barbara, takes this theme to an even further conclusion, pointing out that the loss of identity is especially played out in the description of the mechanicals their assumption of other identities. In describing the occupations of the acting troupe, he writes 'Two construct or put together, two mend and repair, one weaves and one sews. All join together what is apart or mend what has been rent, broken, or sundered'. In Marshall's opinion, this loss of individual identity not only blurs specificities, it creates new identities found in community, which Marshall points out may lead to some understanding of Shakespeare's opinions on love and marriage. Further, the mechanicals understand this theme as they take on their individual parts for a corporate performance of Pyramus and Thisbe. Marshall remarks that 'To be an actor is to double and divide oneself, to discover oneself in two parts: both oneself and not oneself, both the part and not the part'. He claims that the mechanicals understand this and that each character, particularly among the lovers, has a sense of laying down individual identity for the greater benefit of the group or pairing. It seems that a desire to lose one's individuality and find identity in the love of another is what quietly moves the events of A Midsummer Night's Dream. It is the primary sense of motivation and is even reflected in the scenery and mood of the story."

It's a little past midsummer here in Australia, but feels hot enough to be.

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