Stop All This Pucking Around

Duality, Isocolons, and a Play that Mocks Rather than Celebrates Love at First Sight.

From left, Ben Landsbert-Noon (Lysander), Laura Percival (Hermia), Colleen Cameron (Helena), Neale McDonald (Demetrius) fall foul of Puck’s trickery.

Remember my saying that I really wasn’t sure what the fuss was all about with this play? Lots of silly comedy of confusion — the Shakespearean equivalent of putting one’s foot in a bin resulting in huge laughter all round — and some pap and unconvincing pairing off at the end, as if Old Billy Boy quickly remembered that, being a comedy, he needed to end the play with marriage so that everyone could return to Cheapside with fire in their bellies and love in their hearts.

Well, I was wrong.

It’s amazing.

A. Maze. Ing.

Let’s start with the sleeping lovers in the forest outside of Athens. Though there’s nothing Machiavellian about Puck — Robin Goodfellow — and his horseplay, there is at least a comment on the absurdity of the notion of love at first sight. If lovers can fall in and out of love with each other courtesy of a simple eye-drop — best exemplified by Titania’s unquenchable passion for Bottom bearing the head of an ass — then it’s just possible that the so-called love is nothing more than sexual lust.

Consider, as Emma Smith from Oxford University does in this podcast of her magnificent lecture, that just possibly there’s nothing to differentiate Demetrius from Lysander — after all, Hermia can only offer, in response to Theseus’s claim that Demetrius is a good man, ‘So is Lysander,’ — and therefore the play is less about love and more about (whisper it loudly) sex. If people are interchangeable, then any notions of there being a ‘one true love’ out there becomes laughably absurd (handy in a comedy). And if we are interchangeable, then we are destined only to pair up, but in other ways, we are simply each other’s double: cue the use of the duality trope evident in this isocolon:

‘HERMIA: The more I hate, the more he follows me.

HELENA: The more I love, the more he hateth me.’

A Midsummer Night’s Dream employs more rhyme and, thus, less blank verse than any Shakespeare play other than Love’s Labour’s Lost. More than half of the play uses rhyming patterns. And, within this deceptively tight structure, the illusion of chaos and “Pucking” about masks a fiercely satirical eye cast inwards on the institutions of marriage, the independent female, and the very romanticised notions of love.

Three months to go. Stay tuned.

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