Shakespeare on the Common debuted A Midsummer Night’s Dream when I was in Boston last summer. After walking across the Charles to see the performance, I had some difficulty finding seating. It was at this point that a friend called, and we veered into non-Shakespearean topics for over an hour. By the time the conversation ended, I was at a loss to follow the play and left.
My last successful Shakespeare experience was an Othello production at CalShakes a few summers ago. The lines were Shakespeare’s, but the costumes consisted of modern military fatigues. If the directors were intending some type of political statement with these costumes, it escaped me; I was distracted by their Iago’s enunciation. Shout at the top of your lungs when you read the italics in quotes: “It is thought abroad that ‘twixt my sheets/ He has done my office.”
I had seen another production of Othello in high school; we read the play just after finishing Hamlet. Othello, our teacher told us, is a play told from a director’s (Iago’s) perspective while Hamlet is one told from an actor’s (Hamlet’s) perspective. Indeed, one of the soliloquies we memorized in Hamlet was the following:
Now I am alone.
O, what a rogue and peasant slave am I!
Is it not monstrous that this player here,
But in a fiction, in a dream of passion,
Could force his soul so to his own conceit
That from her working all his visage wann’d,
Tears in his eyes, distraction in’s aspect,
A broken voice, and his whole function suiting
With forms to his conceit? and all for nothing!
What’s Hecuba to him, or he to Hecuba,
That he should weep for her? What would he do,
Had he the motive and the cue for passion
That I have?
While attempting to recall this soliloquy today and subsequently bungling it, I remembered a recent rebroadcast of Act V, an episode from the radio program This American Life. The episode describes a Hamlet production staged by inmates at the Missouri Eastern Correctional Center.
A bit closer to home, inmates at San Quentin State Prison recently performed Much Ado About Nothing. While it has since completed its run, I’ve heard their next production might be A Midsummer Night’s Dream.