A Midsummer Night's Dream


Spring is over!  Happy Summer!  I hate summer, but I love festivals, so a very happy Midsummer to you. The girls and I are headed to Lindsborg for Midsummer's Fest, but I wanted to leave you with an ode to my favorite of William Shakespeare's comedies, A Midsummer Night's Dream.  As a theatre person, I find that I am in the minority on this one.  It's much hipper to love Much Ado About Nothing.  However, I love whimsy and fairies and silliness, so Midsummer is my personal love.  I've only done the play once (Helena), and it was a high school production, but I love to watch other people perform it..  It's a great choice for introducing children to Shakespeare, too.

Have you read or seen A Midsummer Night's Dream?  I was going to give you a short breakdown, but my short breakdown became a very long breakdown, and I just deleted the whole thing.  Instead, may I direct you to the Wikipedia page?  Or you can find the full text at multiple websites - here, for example.  I'll just say there are three major plotlines (and one smaller but important plotline), involving several sets of characters:  the Lovers (Hermia, Lysander, Helena, Demetrius), the Mechanicals (Nick Bottom, Peter Quince, Francis Flute, etc.), and the Fairies (Oberon, Titania, Puck, etc.).  All of these folk wind up in the woods one night, where all sorts of silly fairy mischief occurs.  The smaller plotline involves the wedding of Theseus, Duke of Athens, to Hippolyta, Queen of the Amazons.  The last act has the Mechanicals performing their hilariously bad "tragedy," newlyweds rushing to bed, and finally we end with Puck's famous "If we shadows have offended" monologue.

In honor of Midsummer, the girls and I read two picture book adaptations of A Midsummer Night's Dream!

The backyard book photos are courtesy of Big Sis, my sweet helper!

The first came out in 1996, a beautiful adaptation of the full play by Bruce Coville, lushly illustrated by Dennis Nolan.  The edition we read was the out-of-print hardcover, but it looks like Coville sells a paperback edition via his website.

William Shakespeare's A Midsummer
Night's Dream,
retold by Bruce Coville,
illustrated by Dennis Nolan.  Dial, 1996.

Coville's adaptation gives you the whole play, broken down into language a child can mostly understand, with a few quotes from the Bard preserved.  Big Sis is eight-and-a-half, going into third grade, and she really liked it.  There were still some questions, of course, and I had to stop to explain the occasional word or phrase, but she enjoyed the book very much.  The art helps!  Gorgeous illustrations.






The other book I want to share with you is simpler.  It is called Donkey Head, and it was written and illustrated by Lisl Weil.

Donkey Head by Lisl Weil.  Atheneum, 1977.

Donkey Head focuses on the story of Oberon, Titania, Puck, and Bottom.  Oberon and Titania are quarreling over the orphan child Titania has taken.  Oberon decides to play a trick on her.  He has his hobgoblin Puck fetch a flower.  If the juice of that flower gets into someone's eye, that person will fall in love with the first creature he or she sees.  Puck gets the flower, and comes upon the group of mechanicals, practicing their play in the woods.  He spies Nick Bottom, away from the rest of the group, and changes him, giving him the head of an ass!  Bottom, now the Donkey Head of the title, comes upon the sleeping Titania, her eyes now bewitched by Oberon, via the flower.  Titania falls in love with Bottom, and lavishes him with flowers and food and attention.  Finally, Oberon thinks she's been punished enough, and wakes Titania from the spell.  She is disgusted by the sleeping donkey-man beside her, but finds it funny in the end, and goes off with her king.  When he wakes from his spell, he cannot be sure if it was a dream, or if it really happened.  He thinks dream, but then...  where did this wreath of flowers come from?

I love these illustrations!  I wasn't familiar with Lisl Weil's work before, and our library has only a few of her books.









Last, I thought I'd leave you with some videos.  I'm sure one or more of these may be pulled down in the future, but at least you can enjoy them today!

The first is from Shakespeare: The Animated Tales.


Next is a goofy version of Puck's final monologue, via the wacky Warners of Animaniacs!


Here's a rare treat:  from a 1964 television special, Around the Beatles, here are John, Paul, George, and Ringo, along with Trevor Peacock, performing the mechanicals' play, "Pyramus and Thisbe."



And finally, here is the trailer for the beautiful Max Reinhardt-directed 1935 Warner Bros. film, with Mickey Rooney, Olivia de Havilland, James Cagney, Dick Powell, and more.  


We own the Warner film on DVD, as well as the lovely 1999 version.  I also like the 1996 Royal Shakespeare Company film, which is also available to stream via both Amazon Prime Instant and Netflix

(By the way, after we return from Lindsborg, I am taking the girls to see a little Shakespeare:   Love's Labours Lost.)



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Comments

  1. So pretty. I'd like to watch that 1999 movie tonight but I think it will be football (again) for me. The World Cup is BIG in my house. Enjoy Midsummer. I love the long evenings so much.

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    1. It's much bigger over here than it used to be, but we have such limited TV in our house, we get off lucky. ;)

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  2. Oh I love this post! Midsummer Night's Dream is my favorite comedy of Shakespeare's too. The first book is gorgeous, amazing art! I really wish I can find some time to watch the videos later!

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    1. Aww, hope you get a chance at some point. Yay for fairy mischief!

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  3. Fantastic!!!!! Love this! Happy Midsummer! I was Helena too, in high school! (even though I'm brunette -- the director just switched stuff around and the blonde girl was Hermia). Thanks so much for heads up tip on the version in netflix!!!! I wonder what Julia would think??

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    1. Haha! Happy Midsummer and Happy Helena Memories! "Demetrius, I am your spaniel, and the more you beat me I shall fawn on you." Oh, Helena...

      My girls haven't had a ton of interest in watching any of the movie versions yet. Big Sis wants to see the 1935 one now, but it's rather long. We'll see if she makes it through!

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    2. oh my god I forgot about that line.....not the healthiest, this girl eh?? i have some pix of me in that play, I'll try and dig them up....:)

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    3. She was a sad, sick little cookie. I have pictures, too! Mostly from curtain call and post-show...

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  4. My fave is Much Ado - have you seen the Joss Whedon version?

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    1. No, not yet. Honestly, even though it's in my Netflix and Amazon queues, I've put it off a bit because I'm feeling kind of Shakespeared out. That, and all the people raving over it are fans of Whedon shows, and I have never seen a single episode of ANYTHING. Someday I will, though... I love the Branagh version. I played Ursula once. Not the most interesting part, but then, I didn't actually audition or anything. The director just needed another actress, and my husband already cast - he played Don Jon.

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  5. Great post!!! Now you have me searching for these books...got the first through the library, but still haven't found Donkey Head! :)

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    1. It's an older one. Our library system has so few of her books, I think I really lucked out finding this one! :)

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  6. Oooo the art in the DH book reminds me of Marc Chagall. Very whimsical. Me like.

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