Shakespeare Uncovered (2012–…): Season 2, Episode 1 - A Midsummer Night's Dream with Hugh Bonneville - full transcript

Hugh Bonneville discusses the enduring appeal of William Shakespeare's A Midsummer Night's Dream with Ralph Fiennes, David Walliams and Sheridan Smith.

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"A Midsummer Night's Dream"

is a play full of magic...




and donkeys.

I adore "A Midsummer
Night's Dream"

for more reasons than
I can possibly tell you.

The raging rocks...

Ever since I was a
child, I've loved this play.

And shivering shocks.

If you were to ask me
what play I most wanted

to see in the theater right now,

I would always say "A
Midsummer Night's Dream."

"A Midsummer Night's Dream"

has to be the play where
you begin with Shakespeare.

It's the play that
started my career

and plenty of others, too.

The thing about this
play is how it connects

with an audience so quickly,

ah, and the
mischief in the play.

I mean, it's a hit.

It is a masterpiece.
It's a marvelous play.

One would be
happy to have written

"Midsummer Night's Dream"
and nothing else in a career.

It's a play that somehow manages

to appeal to almost everyone.

"A Midsummer Night's Dream"

is one of Shakespeare's
most extraordinary plays.


I'm here in London
at the Globe Theatre,

which is a replica
of the theater

Shakespeare's company
would have played in.

Today happens to
be Midsummer's Day,

and I'm about to watch
the Globe's new production

of "A Midsummer Night's Dream."

I want to take you under
the skin of this wonderful play,

and this seems like
just the place to start.


Technically, it's set
in the Athenian court

of ancient Greece, but really
it's a classic English comedy.

"Midsummer Night's
Dream" is a defining moment

in Shakespeare's career.

It's his first mature

In this play, Shakespeare
begins to explore

what is real and what isn't.

Well, the play's
invitation to us

is to let go and let your
imaginations be captivated

by a world in which
these things are going on.

And what is going
on in this play

gets to be quite risque.

The odd thing about
"Midsummer Night's Dream"

is that it's simultaneously one

of the most sexually explicit
and transgressive of plays

and a play of
remarkable innocence.

The sweet honeysuckle
gently entwists.

Many of Shakespeare's
comedies really aren't funny,

but if you don't
make an audience

roar with laughter at
"Midsummer Night's Dream,"

you're not doing
something right.


"A Midsummer Night's
Dream" may be a comedy,

but it's a very cleverly
constructed one.

There are a number
of plots which crisscross

throughout the play and
come together at the end.

First, we've got
the Athenian court,

where the duke Theseus
is about to marry Hippolyta,

the queen of the Amazons.

Hippolyta, I wooed
thee with my sword

and won thy love
doing thee injuries.

We've also got a
group of local workmen

who want to put on a play
to celebrate that marriage.

They're known as
the rude mechanicals,

and their play is ridiculous.

Presenteth moonshine.

Meanwhile in the
woods outside Athens,

there's the mother of all
domestic arguments going on

between a king and
queen of the fairies.

Jealous Oberon!

Elsewhere in the
wood, we'll meet

two sets of lovers,
confused and lost.

We cannot fight for
love as men may do.

We should be wooed
and were not made to woo.

Now, all these tales unfold

in a world of love
potions and spells,

a world of magic.

This may have been a
defining play for Shakespeare,

but for modern directors,
it's certainly a challenge...

and the director of The
Globe's new production

is Dominic Dromgoole.

I was always frightened
of it, to be honest,

because of the supernatural
element and the fairy element

and having to come up
with a sort of extra reality.

A lot of the plays that I've
done have been tragedies

or histories which fall into a
certain pattern of humanity

and politics and muscularity
that I feel comfortable with,

and that whole
supernatural element

has always slightly
scared me off.

So you're frightened

of your inner fairy, are you?

How did you conquer that fear?

By turning the
fairies into really sexy,

strange, earthly beasts.

No. It was about
thinking about the music,

thinking about
function, what do they do

in the course of the play,
and they are unpredictable.

They're mercurial.

They're mischievous.

They're occasionally
quite wicked,

and they're not
all sweet and fey

and lovely in a Victorian way.

So the mantra was
that if you walk on

and you just look at
people and you say,

"I'm a fairy," what of it?

However you portray the fairies,

they are crucially important.

I think key to "Midsummer
Night's Dream,"

really, is that you enter
into a supernatural world,

that you enter into
the world of the woods,

that you are in the
presence of fairies and magic

and, therefore, you know that
almost anything can happen.

And perhaps it's that
anything-can-happen element

that has made the play appeal
to filmmakers right from the start.

There's a silent movie version
made in America in 1909.

It's little more than
11 minutes long,

but somehow, it manages
to tell most of the story.

All the different
elements are here,

and there are a lot of them...

It is, after all, a farce...

But even if you don't
manage to follow all of the plot

all of the time, you
know there's going to be

more than enough to
keep you entertained.

Anyone who knows
this play will remember it

for the magical
world of the fairies

and for the knockabout
humor of the rude mechanicals,

but at its core, it's
a romantic comedy,

and really, if the
lovers don't work,

then the play doesn't work.

It all begins with a father
threatening his daughter Hermia

with death if she won't marry
the man he wants her to...


I beg the ancient
privilege of Athens.

A worrying beginning
for a comedy.

Which shall be either
to this gentleman

or to her death.

I love how Shakespeare's
plays kind of bend over

on that side and lean
maybe towards comedy

and then sometimes
lean towards tragedy.

It's something that
Shakespeare likes to do,

is to set up a situation

that's kind of
ambiguous, lean one way,

and then maybe in the end,
he breaks a different way.

My noble Lord,
this man Demetrius

hath my consent to marry her.

Demetrius is a worthy gentleman.

So is Lysander.

Really striking things about
Shakespeare's comedies

is that they are, I think,
the first literary works

in modern times
to give real force,

real character to women.

Throughout the comedies, it's
the women who make the running.

So will I grow,

so live, so die, my lord.

Ere I will yield
my virgin patent

up unto his lordship...

What the play really
wants us to feel

is that women deserve
to have the guy they want

and they deserve to have the
guy they want love them back,

and if you have to go
through hell and high water

or spend a night in the woods in
order to make that happen, OK.

So let's see if we
can get this straight,

at least to begin with.

Basically, the lovers are
two girls, Hermia and Helena,

and two boys,
Lysander and Demetrius.

Presumably, Shakespeare
had a quartet of gifted actors

in his company who
could pull this off,

but in this play,

he really confuses
things for comic effect.

The first two lovers are
Hermia and Lysander.

They're in love with each other
but against her father's wishes.

Dad wants Hermia
to marry Demetrius.

Demetrius thinks that marriage
to Hermia would be a good idea

with her father's
blessing, even though he

used to be in love with
the other girl Helena.

Then it gets complicated.

For aught that
ever I could read,

could ever hear
by tale or history.

The course of true love
never did run smooth.

The course of true
love and marriage

is the subject and
possibly the reason

why Shakespeare wrote this play.

There, gentle Hermia,
may I marry thee,

and to that place the
sharp Athenian law

cannot pursue us.

One story goes that
it was commissioned

for the second wedding of the
widowed Countess of Southampton,

the mother of
Shakespeare's patron,

and that its first performance
was during the celebrations

after that marriage at
the groom's family home...

Copped Hall in Epping
Forest just outside London.

That once-great Tudor
home has long since vanished,

but a Georgian Copped
Hall stands nearby.

It stands as an
edict in destiny.

So here, the
21st-century Globe actors

are running the play not far
from where it may very well

have first been performed
more than 400 years ago.

Therefore, hear me, Hermia.

I have a widowed aunt,
a dowager of great...

Hermia and Lysander,

faced with her
father's disapproval

and his threat to her
life if she disobeys him,

are making a plan to run away
from the palace to the woods,

where they will
be able to marry.

There, gentle Hermia,
may I marry thee,

and to that place the
sharp Athenian law

cannot pursue us.

In that same place
thou hast appointed me,

tomorrow truly will
I meet with thee.

Keep promise, love.

Look, here comes Helena.

Godspeed, fair
Helena! Whither away?

Call you me fair?
That fair again unsay.

Demetrius loves
your fair. O happy fair!

Your eyes are lodestars,
and your tongue's...

When Helena
arrives, she is jealous

of Hermia and
Lysander's happiness

and of the fact that the
man she loves, Demetrius,

is also apparently
in love with Hermia.

O teach me how you
look and with what art

you sway the motion
of Demetrius' heart.

I frown upon him,
yet he loves me still.

O that your frowns

would teach my
smiles such skill!

All of the relationships

are profoundly problematic.

There's the lovers who are
caught in that terrible moment

of youth when you're 18, 19
when everything is enormous,

as it's obvious that Helena is
just as beautiful as Hermia is,

but she's got that
terrible paranoia

and, "Everybody hates me."

You know what
it's like at that age.

Sort of suddenly, one
person is leader of the pack,

and then two weeks later,
they do something wrong

at a party and then someone else

is leader of the pack
and then someone else,

and when you're high,
you're high as can be,

and when you're low,
you're in the pit of despair.

How happy some
o'er other some can be!

Through Athens, I am
thought as fair as she.

What of that?
Demetrius thinks not so.

He will not know what
all but he doth know,

and as he errs, doting
on Hermia's eyes,

so I, admiring of his..

Hermia and Lysander
now set off to the woods,

and soon after,
Demetrius will follow

with Helena not far behind him.

I will go tell him of
fair Hermia's flight.

Then to the wood will he
tomorrow night pursue her.

The play's first performance

may have been at Copped
Hall, but these days,

you're more likely to see it

at the Open Air
Theatre in Regents Park,

and I have a particular
fondness for this place.

This is where I began my
career as an actor in 1986

in a production of "A
Midsummer Night's Dream."

Here, on my professional debut,

I understudied the
role of Lysander,

a part I went on to play when
we took the show on tour.

So "Midsummer Night's Dream"

has always been an
important play for me.

Of course, this is the
perfect setting for this play.

You can hear the fairies
whispering in the trees,

even above the noise
of the occasional jet.

In fact, in the 81 seasons
of this summer theater,

the "Dream" has been
produced 44 times.

As it happens, someone
else who started their career

at this theater is the
actor I understudied

in "A Midsummer Night's Dream."

He's done all right, I suppose.

Here we are. Hi.

Nice to see you. Are you well?

Good, good, good.

So I've dragged
you back here to talk

to you about our relationship

with this play because
I think both of us

started our careers doing

"Midsummer Night's Dream."

Yeah. Well, it was
my first job ever,

and I was cast as acting ASM,

acting stage manager,

and then we met
the following year.

I was playing Lysander...


And you understudied me,

and were, apparently,
much better.

Oh, well, obviously.

The thing about this play,

how it connects with
an audience so quickly,

how the spirit of the play
and the humor in the play,

how accessible it is, and
the mischief in the play.

I mean, it's a hit.

Is there a distinct
character difference,

would you say, between
Lysander and Demetrius

from what you remember?

I mean it's along time.

It's over 20 years ago. I know.

I think there is,
but it's very fine.

I think that Demetrius is
slightly more opportunist,

slightly more
predatory, slightly more...

Lysander has
been the loyal lover,

wooing... Hermia.

Is that right?

Yeah. That's right.
That's right. Yeah.

You feel Lysander has
been there every night

quasi Romeo-like
outside her window,

and I feel Demetrius
is slightly more...

A bit more swagger. Yeah, yeah.

There you are with
your hair extensions.


Our production was
nearly 30 years ago...

but if we go back 80 years,

we can find the very first
sound movie version of the play.

What's particularly
interesting about this version

is that the biggest star
in the film isn't playing

one of the lovers
or Duke Theseus

or the king of the fairies.

James Cagney, probably
the greatest gangster actor

who ever lived, is playing
one of Shakespeare's

most loved comic
creations... Bottom.

Nick Bottom the weaver.


Name what part I
am for and proceed.

Nick Bottom, you are
set down for Pyramus.

Ha ha ha! I play Pyramus.

I play Pyramus. Ha ha ha!

I play Pyramus.

Ha ha ha!

What is Pyramus?

Bottom is one of a
group of working men,

amateur players who are hoping
that the play they're rehearsing

will be picked to
provide entertainment

on the duke's wedding night.

Now, Shakespeare clearly
had some gifted comedic actors

in his theater company,
and he often wrote

fine cameo roles for them,

but in this play,
they're not just cameos.

They're comic characters
essential to the story.

Nick Bottom the weaver.

Ready. Name what
part I am for and proceed.

You, Nick Bottom, are
set down for Pyramus.

What is Pyramus,
a lover or a tyrant?

A lover

that kills himself
most gallant for love.

The wonderful thing is
that what Shakespeare does

is to give a total comic version
of what it is to put on a play,

especially if you don't
know what you're doing.

You've got this great playwright

and his company of professionals

showing the whole process

from handing out the parts,
setting up rehearsal time,

rehearsing, complaining
about the parts.

Shakespeare is
having so much fun

with the whole idea of
what it is to be an actor.

Here, Peter Quince.

Flute, you must
take Thisbe on you.

What is Thisbe, A
wandering knight?

It is the lady that
Pyramus must love.

Nay, faith, let me
not play a woman.

I have a beard coming.

There's this extremely strong
element in the mechanicals

of Shakespeare making
fun of nonprofessional actors,

of the people from whom
he might once have come

or with whom he might
once have been associated,

but is certainly not
associated now.

Adieu. Right.

It requires a good deal of skill

to play bumbling, inept
characters like them,

and the game is that
we know that these

are extremely skilled
actors playing bumblers.

Speak, Pyramus.

Thisbe, stand forth.

Because Shakespeare
is a generous soul,

it's not only making
fun of inept amateurs.

It's also loving them.

Oh, Thisbe, the flowers
of odious savors sweet.




Odors savor sweet,

so hath thy breath, my...

The play they're rehearsing

is a "Romeo and
Juliet" - style tragedy

in which the lovers, called
Pyramus and Thisbe, die.

By and by I will to thee appear.

The idea that in a play

that may have been commissioned
to be performed at a wedding,

he would write a scene about
actors preparing to put on,

for a wedding, a parody of
one of his own greatest hits,

must have been for Shakespeare
completely irresistible.

Oh, most radiant Pyramus.

The dynamic of
the scenes is purely

about a director and
a problematic actor,


That never happens.

And it's a massive ego thing,

and it's about
Quince versus Bottom

and everybody else
getting caught in between

and Quince desperately
trying to take control

but needing to have Bottom there

because Bottom is the money

and he's the local star

and he's got a
collection of moves

that the others haven't got,

and so they're always fighting,

and they've always got
this sort of one-upmanship,

but it ends up as
the most gorgeous

sort of celebration
of amateurism

and some spirit of theater
that's totally English.

Let me play Thisbe, too!

I'll speak in a
monstrous little voice.

Thisbe, Thisbe.

Ah, Pyramus, my lover dear.

Thy Thisbe dear and lady dear.

No, no. You must play Pyramus.

The rude mechanicals are
a running story throughout.

Great actors have
always been keen

to take on the part of Bottom,

who plays a pivotal
role in the action.

Yep. Uh, yeah.


A friend of mine
is in rehearsals

for another London
production of the play.

How are you, mate?
Good to see you.

David Walliams is the latest
in a long line of comic actors

who have been invited
to show us their Bottom.

David, why do you think Bottom

is such a gorgeous part,
and why has it attracted

so many people to
queue up to play it?

Because I think
you can still really

relate to it because
it's about an actor

who's full of himself,
who wants to play...

No stretch.

Looking at you, Bonneville,

but, as I say, who wants to play

every part in the play,

and also it's Shakespeare
spoofing am-dram,

which is still something
that can be spoofed

in, say, Alan Ayckbourn plays.

So I think it still feels...

It's one of those comic roles
that doesn't seem remote.

It's one of those
Shakespearean comedy roles

that doesn't seem like
it's hard to understand

what it means to us today.

It still means
something to us today,

and there's been a long history

of comedians who've played it,

I mean, out and
out comics, as well.

We were discussing, I
met Judi Dench, and she

was saying, "Oh, I did
it with Frankie Howerd.

He made it all up,"

and I said to Michael, "Oh,
we ought to make it up."

Did I look a fright?

You did look a bit...

There was a slight
bit of terror in his eyes.

Michael, what has
surprised you most

in the first week
of rehearsals that's

just made you shift your focus

or change any thoughts you had?

Well, the bit that can
shift in the first week

of rehearsals is what
the actors bring to it.

The good news
about a play like this,

as you probably
know, is that it's done

so often and so many times,
I bet as we're speaking now

there's probably...
I don't know...

Let's even guess
hundreds of productions

probably going on
around the country.

As a result, that kind of

takes the pressure off, I think.

There are so many
"Midsummer Night's Dream,"

it's not like doing a
"Lear" or a "Hamlet"

when you have to think,
"What are we going to do

"with this big play

that is absolutely
set in stone forever?"

You don't think in those terms

with "Midsummer Night's Dream,"

You can come to it in
a very open, free way.

Come, every mother's
son, and rehearse your parts.

Pyramus, you begin.

When you have
spoken your speech,

enter into that brake.

Thisbe, the flowers of
odious savors sweet.

"Odors," "odors"!


These days, we're
probably less aware

of what Shakespeare's audience
would certainly have known,

that the woods in which the
mechanicals are rehearsing

and to which the
lovers are escaping

is a place where
strange things happen,

for this is where
the fairies live,

and this is where I met fairy
expert, Dr. Diane Purkiss.

We all carry in
our minds this idea

of candy floss
fairies, as I call them,

little, pretty fairies
that are forces of good.

That's not what
Shakespeare thought of.

What Shakespeare thought
of was altogether darker

and an awful lot
nastier and riskier

but, therefore,

much more
interesting and exciting.

So where had that
tradition come from,

the spirits of the woods,

that fairies were
actually dark forces?

I think the basic thing
that Shakespeare

is working with is folklore.

The fairies are
allowed to do all kinds

of things, terrible things

from a human point of view,

adulterous things,

tricksy things, risky things.

So it's as if the fairies are

what our desires
would be if they were

to run riot in the
open in the woods

without the constraints
of civilization,

and that's a terrific
risk for an author

to take, a really
interesting risk.

So that would have really clear

to an Elizabethan audience?

Absolutely, because fairies

were their desires, too.

Everyone wanted to meet a fairy,

but they were terrified
of meeting a fairy,

both things at once.

In "A Midsummer Night's Dream,"

all is not well in
Shakespeare's fairy land.

III met by moonlight,
proud Titania.

What, jealous Oberon!

The king and
queen of the fairies,

Oberon and Titania,

are having a custody battle
over an orphaned child.

Why should Titania
cross her Oberon?

I do but beg a
little changeling boy

to be my henchman.

Set your heart at rest.

The fairyland buys
not the child of me.

To embarrass
Titania into submission

and to win the custody battle,

Oberon hatches a plan
involving a love potion.

So he sends his fairy assistant
Puck on an errand to find one.

Come hither.

Thou rememberest
since once I sat

upon a promontory
and heard a mermaid

on a dolphin's back
uttering such dulcet...

Now, when Oberon
talks about a mermaid

on a dolphin's back, it's a
line we hardly notice today.

For Shakespeare's audience,
it would have rung a loud bell.

Since once I sat
upon a promontory

and heard a mermaid
on a dolphin's back

uttering such dulcet...

That image conjured by Oberon

in the woods outside
Athens of hearing a mermaid

on a dolphin's back brings
us not to the sea coast,

but here to Kenilworth
Castle in Warwickshire

and one of the greatest love
stories of the Elizabethan age.

Queen Elizabeth was just 25
when she came to the throne.

Everyone expected
her at some point

to make a great royal marriage

and to give birth to an
heir, but she never did.

One reason, many believe,
was because the only man

she ever really
loved was not a king.

He was just the fifth
son of a disgraced duke,

her childhood friend,

an Englishman
called Robert Dudley,

but she didn't
marry him, either.

Kenilworth had
been a royal castle,

and Elizabeth gave
it to Robert Dudley.

She came here on
several occasions,

the last time
being in July 1575.

It was part of what was
called, a royal progress,

an occasion for the queen and
her court to get out of London

and see the country and for
the country to see their queen.

William Shakespeare
was only 11 in 1575,

and his father was mayor
of Stratford-upon-Avon,

some 12 miles away.

Now, it's just possible
that that summer,

along with hundreds of others,
they came here to Kenilworth

to witness the
arrival of their queen.

She stayed here for 19 days.

It was said that this was
Dudley's final attempt

to seduce the queen
into a marriage.

There's so much speculation
about Shakespeare the man.

In fact, very little
is known about him,

but even if he didn't come to
Kenilworth to see the queen,

he certainly would have heard
about everything that happened

during those
extraordinary 19 days.

It was the talk of the country.

That whole area
there was flooded,

creating an artificial lake,
and one of the entertainments

laid on for the monarch
involved a huge model dolphin

apparently swimming
across the lake

with a singer on its back.

Once I sat upon a promontory

and heard a mermaid
on a dolphin's back.

That very time, I
saw Cupid all armed.

A certain aim he took at a
fair vestal throned by the west

and loosed his love shaft
smartly from his bow...

Shakespeare's audience
would immediately

have recognized this reference
to the rather scandalous story.

The "fair vestal
throned by the west"

was obviously their queen.

The "love shaft" was Dudley's.

Supposedly, Cupid's arrow,
having missed the fair vestal,

fell upon a flower...

and thereby created a potion,
a potion that will make you

fall in love with the
next person you see.

This Oberon can use
to embarrass his queen.

Oberon's plot against
Titania is the point in the play

where the magic really begins,

and how to realize the fairy
kingdom was a challenge felt

by Dominic Dromgoole
at The Globe

and also for Julie Taymor.

She directed the play as
the premiere production

for Theatre for a New
Audience in Brooklyn.

"A Midsummer
Night's Dream" is a play

that, for many years,
people said I should direct

and probably
because they said it,

I didn't want to do it.

Honestly, the fairy
world was the thing

that kept stopping me,
absolutely stopped me.

So Taymor took inspiration

from the raw natural
energy of the elements.

I felt that if the fairy
world was created

by prepubescent children,
they're not called fairies.

They're called the
rude elementals.

We have the rude mechanicals
and the rude elementals.

Children are at that
incredible moment

in their lives
where they are raw.

So we have in our
production 18 or 19 kids.

They become the
breathing of the forest.

They're shadows.

And Julie Taymor also
brought the character

of Puck onto the stage at
the very beginning of the play.

I did a prologue, and
perhaps my visual prologue

allowed for you to go,
"This is not just a tragedy.

This is not a comedy.
This is a dream."

I think some people
interpreted it as,

"Oh, it's all Puck's dream,"

and I don't know
if in myself it was

more a sense of Puck
starts the dreaming.

It's an invitation to
the dream, as it were,

rather than it being his dream.

It's sort of like,
"Come dream with me."

How now, Spirit!

The play moves back and
forth between concrete reality

and ephemeral
surreality, and what I love

is how Puck straddles
those two worlds.

My gentle Puck, come hither.

I think the main thing
about Puck, it's multileveled.

There's a very simple level.
There's the servant of Oberon.

He upends the situations.
He's the instigator of chaos.

He turns things upside
down so that eventually

people are shaken up
and can see more clearly.

It fell upon a little
western flower.

Before milk-white, now purple.

But before the
characters can see

anything more clearly, the
magic of Puck and Oberon

is going to distort everything.

Fetch me that flower.

The herb I showed thee once.

Before using the love potion

to take revenge on his queen,

Oberon can also use
the potion to resolve

the Athenian lovers'
problems, as well,

but, of course, he's not in
possession of all the facts.

He has overheard Helena
being cruelly treated by Demetrius.

So he sends Puck to put
the potion in Demetrius' eyes

so that he will love Helena.

Unfortunately, neither
Oberon nor Puck realize

that there are, in fact, two
pairs of lovers in the forest,

and Puck inevitably doses
the wrong man—Lysander.

Lysander is then
awoken by Helena.

Oh, dear.

Lysander, if you
live, good sir, awake.

And run through fire I
will for thy sweet sake.

First thing that
happens, of course,

is that it goes wrong.

So all of a sudden,
instead of love

coming out quickly correctly,

in fact, you have this tangle

of everybody in love
with the wrong person.

The smitten Lysander now
pursues the reluctant Helena

through the forest and
completely rejects poor Hermia.

Hermia. Sleep thou there.

What hast thou done?

Thou hast mistaken
quite and laid the love juice

on some true love's sight.

Once Puck's mistake is realized,

Oberon attempts to correct
it by dosing Demetrius,

but this is going to get
worse before it gets better.

Why should you think
that I should woo in scom?

One evening in the
woods around Copped Hall,

the cast of The
Globe's production

play out the classic
chaos that results.

In me seem scom to you.

Lysander, having
abandoned Hermia

somewhere or other in the
woods, is now under the influence

of the love potion and
is pursuing Helena.

These vows are Hermia's.

Will you give her o'er?

Weigh oath with oath,
and you will nothing weigh.

Your vows to her and
me put in two scales

will even weigh and
both as light as tales.

This scene contains, I think,

some of the most
brilliant comic writing

you're ever likely to hear.

In an attempt to solve the
problem that Puck has created,

Oberon has now dosed
Demetrius while he sleeps,

and the next person he sees
when he wakes will be Helena.

Demetrius loves her,
and he loves not you.

Oh, Helena,



perfect, divine.

To what, my love, shall
I compare thine eyne?

Crystal is muddy.

Oh, how ripe in show thy lips,

those kissing cherries.

So, because Puck
has botched the magic,

the two boys who
were in love with Hermia

are now besotted with
Helena, and she thinks

she must be the victim of
some sort of practical joke.

Oh, hell, I see you
all are bent to set

against me for your merriment.

If you were civil
and knew courtesy,

you would not do
me thus much injury.

Can you not hate
me, as I know you do.

My favorite scene is
actually what I call the quartet.

My favorite—it's the longest
scene in the entire play...

Is the scene where
Demetrius is chasing Hermia

and then Lysander
is chasing Helena

and then they all get together
and it goes on and on and on

into an incredible row,

and it's violent,
nasty, heartbreaking.


Look, where thy love comes.

Yonder is thy dear.

It is this comedic
tour de force.

The thing that gets you

is that Helena breaks
your heart completely.

Lo, she is one of
this confederacy!

Now I perceive they
have conjoined all three...

And yet you've just been
through this incredible comedy.

I think that Shakespeare
has been able

to really get at the
truth of love hurts,

seriously hurts, and
young love in particular.

Fir, fie!

You counterfeit, you puppet you!


It's quite a trick
to write a scene

that will make you laugh
and break your heart,

but what I find particularly
interesting is how Shakespeare

uses poetic form and
language to instruct the actor,

even some 400 years
after he wrote the lines,

in how to play the scene.

First of all, the scene
is written in verse.

The dialogue is in the form
of poetry rather than prose,

and it's not just blank verse.

It's all in rhyming couplets.


"do"/"too," "show"/"so."

I see you all are bent

to set against me
for your merriment.

If you were civil
and knew courtesy,

you would not do
me thus much injury.

Can you not hate
me, as I know you do,

but you must join in
souls to mock me, too.

But when Helena thinks
she's being betrayed

by her best friend, as well,
the rhyming suddenly stops.

It's still verse but
blank verse, no rhymes.

"derision," "shared,"

"spent," "time," "forgot."

Have you with these contrived
to bait me with this foul derision?

Is all the counsel that
we two have shared,

the sister's vows,

the hours that we have
spent when we have chid

the hasty-footed
time for parting us,

oh, is it all forgot?

It's as if the row has
now become so personal

and so intense and desperate,

that any sense of formality
of structure, like rhyming,

goes out of the window.

The gloves are off.


I pray you, though you mock me,

gentlemen, let her not hurt me.

Good Hermia, do not
be so bitter with me.

I think this scene

really reveals
Shakespeare as a director.

His audience would
have noticed the difference

in rhythm and style,
albeit unconsciously,

and I think modern
audiences do, too,

because it's as if, by
using these subtle shifts

in form and language,
Shakespeare is writing

his own background music.

Let me come to her.

Get you gone, you dwarf.

But at the same time
as the lovers' problems

are getting worse, for
Titania, the queen of the fairies,

the problems are
just about to begin.

While she sleeps, Oberon
lays the potion on her eyes

so that she will fall in love
with the first live creature

she sees when she wakes...

and by virtue of the most famous
and most popular magic trick

in all of Shakespeare,
that creature will be Bottom.

I see their knavery. Hmph.

This is to make an ass of me.

Bottom, as a result
of a spell cast by Puck,

now appears with
the head of an ass.

When Titania wakes,
she will fall in love

with this half man, half beast.

I love thee.

Methinks, mistress, you should

have little reason for that.

Bottom and Titania
now retire to her bower,

or bedroom.

Quite how bestial this gets will
depend upon each production.

The summer still doth
tend upon my state,

and I do love thee.

How dark and deeply
sort of screwed up

do you think the Bottom

and Titania thing can get?

I love that you all look at me?

Well, because we don't
know what to say. No.

Well, I think it can
be dark because

from where I'm coming
from, my character is Bottom,

and he becomes a donkey,
and he becomes kind of bestial,

and then he becomes
really attractive

to the queen of the fairies,
and there's definitely a sense

of the sort of dark underbelly
of sexuality, isn't there,

that she could find
somebody, a donkey, attractive.

Yeah, and everything about it...

The long ears and...

That is. It's very...
Yeah. Ours is sexual.

To have my love
to bed and to arise...


And pluck the wings
from painted butterflies

to fan the moonbeams
from his sleeping eyes.

Not do him, elves, and do him...

On one level, this is
just a good bawdy joke,

but on another, Shakespeare
was sailing quite close to the wind.

Titania is an amazingly
risky character.

She is explicitly called
the queen of the fairies.

A few years before the play
was written, Edmund Spencer...

Who was the kind of almost
the unofficial poet laureate,

the court poet of
Queen Elizabeth...

Wrote a huge epic poem in
celebration of Queen Elizabeth

and of English history
called "The Fairy Queen."

So at some level,

Titania the fairy queen
is Queen Elizabeth,

but she makes love to a donkey.

Certainly in the reign

of the second Queen Elizabeth,

this play has proved to
be immensely popular,

but for more than 200 years,

it was never performed
on the British stage.

I've come to the Shakespeare
Institute in Stratford-upon-Avon

to ask Michael Dobson why
this play was ignored for so long.

Why do you think that was?

Party because
people didn't believe

in fairies anymore,
or if they were gonna

have fairies on stage,
they were going to

make them into an opera
rather than have them

with ordinary spoken dialogue,

and so you get Purcell's
version where you've got

a kind of shell of the play,

but the mechanicals are cut.

Pyramus and Thisbe are cut.

You couldn't seem
to have all of the play

at once in the 17th-,
18th-century theater.

You could either
have the fairies

and the mechanicals,
but not the lovers,

or you could have the lovers

and the mechanicals,
but not the fairies,

or you could have the fairies

and the lovers, but
not the mechanicals,

but you couldn't seem to have

the whole thing together.

Oh, I find that so
interesting because

I think it's one of the most
perfectly constructed plays

and that I can't imagine one
element being chopped out

without it making
any difference.

Exactly. Its struc...

But that visible
structure that does

all the work you, the
thing that makes it

practically actor
proof, which is one

of the reasons amateurs
can get away with it,

the fact that you're watching

a very carefully patterned story

working itself out regardless

of what the individuals
think they're doing.

Actually, the very
first time I saw the play

was Peter Brooks'
1970 production

for the Royal
Shakespeare Company.

It turned out to be a
game-changing interpretation

of the play.


Why was this considered
such a departure?

Because the play
previously had seemed

such an invitation to
designers to produce

something pretty and
woody with wild flowers

and fancy costumes
and gauzy fairy wings.

This says, "No.

"You're gonna have
to imagine all that.

"We're not gonna pander
to your eyesight at all

"except in showing circus tricks

"as the equivalent of magic,

actors juggling
plates on sticks,"

yet it's consciously modernist.

Where oxlips and the
nodding violet grows.

Whether modernist
or traditional,

ever since Peter Brooks'
production, the "Dream"

has become one of the
most often performed

of all of Shakespeare's plays.

However you choose
to present the play,

by the time you get to
Act 4, everything is chaos

and confusion, and
Shakespeare has to sort things out.

Oh, oh!

Titania must be
released from her spell.


Bottom. Bottom.

Bottom must become
simple Nick Bottom

the Weaver once again.

Lysander, too, much be
released from the effects

of the love potion so that
he can love Hermia again,

while Demetrius, it seems,
will remain under the influence

so that he can take
his place beside Helena.

Only then can the
4 lovers end the play

ready to live happily ever
after and enjoy with us

the performance of
"Pyramus and Thisbe"

that the mechanicals
have been rehearsing.

And through wall's
chink, poor souls,

they are content to whisper.

This is a classic case

of deliberately inept theater.

When Nick Bottom and his
friends finally put on their play,

we discover that Shakespeare
is more than capable of writing

really badly when
he puts his mind to it.

O grim-looked night!

O night with hue so black!

O night, which ever
art when day is not!

O night, O night!

Alack, alack, alack.

It's so hilariously terrible

that you've got the world's
greatest actors at the time

doing this hilariously
bad version

of what it is to be an actor.




It's wonderful that these
mechanicals take this play

which is a riff on
"Romeo and Juliet"

and play it with
utter sincerity.

A sword.

And wound...

Believing erroneously
that Thisbe is dead,

Pyramus, just like Romeo,
tragically takes his own life.

Thus die I.

Thus, thus...


Now am I dead!

It's probably no coincidence

that "Romeo and Juliet"
is written the same year

as "Midsummer Night's Dream."

Thus die I.


Thus, thus, thus.

The "Pyramus and
Thisbe" interlude

is how the Hermia story
could have ended up

if there hadn't been a Puck or
an Oberon or a Shakespeare.

His eyes were green as leeks.

There is a point where the court

which is mocking them
and laughing get engaged,

and it is that last speech of
Thisbe that turns the page...

Tongue, not a word.

Come, trusty sword.

Come, blade,

my breast imbrue.


And finally, the court is quiet

because they have
seen a measure of truth.


That is the power
of theater right there.


Finally, the
mechanicals' play is over,

and by the end of "A
Midsummer Night's Dream,"

all the couples are married.

By the dead and drowsy fire...

In a final scene which
brings the various stories

to a neat and
satisfying conclusion,

the fairies come
into Theseus' palace

in the middle of the night
to bless the bridal beds

on their wedding night.

Now until the break of day,

through this house
each fairy stray.

To the best bride bed will we,

which by us shall blessed be.

It may have been
written for a wedding,

and it may have a happy ending,

but somehow the play
avoids simple certainties

and remains equivocal
about the course of true love

and how smooth it
is ever likely to run.

It's as if Shakespeare is saying

we don't know who
we are as physical,

erotic, loving beings.

We're all at the mercy
of this thing called desire

which can come at us, grab us,

and turn us inside out.

This is, I think, where the...

This the foundation
for the dream.

"Midsummer Night's
Dream," I think,

is about the fragility of love,

all of its frailties, all
of its weaknesses.

It just investigates how tenuous

those lines are
between individuals.

What Shakespeare is
absolutely doing is saying,

"Is it really that you see
the qualities of your beloved,

"or really is it, in fact,
that you are blinded

by your own feelings?"

and even if the play
seems to be on the side

of love is really an illusion,

then it's illusion that works.

I mean, it's illusion that is
better than the alternative.

So what is true, real,

and what is illusion?

Can you have one
without the other?

In a way, those are the very
questions the play poses.

Do you believe in magic?
Do you believe in love?

Shakespeare, in fact, gives
Puck the final words in the play.

He offers the
audience a way out.

"Don't worry.

"You don't have to take all
these questions about reality

too seriously if
you don't want to."

Puck says...

"If we shadows have offended,

"think but this,
and all is mended,

"that you have
but slumbered here

"while these visions did appear,

and this weak and idle theme
no more yielding than a dream."

So maybe it's a dream,

but maybe it's not a dream.

It's up to each of us to decide.

Whenever I think of
the themes in this play,

I can't help but
think of a mixing desk

in a sound recorder's booth
where you see all those sliders

and all these different
themes in the play,

and each production can
just bring up one element

a little more than another,

and I always find
that fascinating.

The play is so much about love

and over and above it all
the enormous compassion

that Shakespeare has
for all of these characters,

which, I think, is
summed up so wonderfully

in the end of the play,
and to think that it may

have been done first at a
wedding or in celebration

of unions of some sort
seems to make perfect sense.

The union of these
lovers at the end

and the success of the
mechanicals' play, I think,

says a lot about Shakespeare's
sense of compassion.

I love it.

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