Pam Webb

a writer's journey as a reader

Archive for the tag “Midsummer Night’s Dream”

Bard Bits: Will’s Politics

Shakespeare’s stated politics are not overtly known; however, some ideas can be gathered from his plays with some sleuthing, and a small bit of supposition.

For instance, his thoughts on the ruling class come through as somewhat mocking in the Henry plays, with the heir apparent, Henry IV, carousing with rowdies and hanging out in taverns, while portraying King Lear as being irresponsible with his power by dividing it before he is done with the throne (and see where that got him). Then again, Henry and Lear did end up redeeming themselves, but at high cost: loss of friendship, loss of loved ones, and even loss of sanity.


Shakespeare also mocks hardened, pompous rulers evidenced in Richard III, Coriolanus, Hamlet, The Winter’s Tale, and even The Tempest. It’s true he does his fair share of mocking commoners, with Bottom as the poster boy of ridiculous in A Midsummer Night’s Dream.

Then, is he considered a proponent of politics or simply an observer of human nature?

During Shakespeare’s reign on the stage he served Queen Elizabeth I and King James. He came close to sharing a cell with the Essex instigators against the queen when they requested Richard II be played out for the deposition scene. The Bard escaped judgement. The Earl did not. Footnote: the 1597 version omitted the abdication scene.

Shakespeare knew not to bite the hand that paid him, which accounts why his portrayal of Henry VIII, Elizabeth’s father, is toned down. What he thought of King Henry privately did not necessarily make it to the stage, and the history books are mute on William’s opinions on the monarchs beyond his plays.

Several of his plays deal with seizing the crown or regicide, sometimes the two being combined. This could be interpreted two ways. One way is that Shakespeare is emphasizing how chaos erupts when the ruler is violently taken–see Julius Caesar. The second way could be postulating that he understood how his fellow common folk were sometimes tired of their rulers and it was time for a change. The stage allowed for historical reenactment with artistic license–give the paying crowd what they want.

It looks like Shakespeare played both sides by pleasing the monarchy (thus protecting his life), and pleasing the audience (thus protecting his income).

Sounds like Shakespeare could have run for office himself.

image: AZ quotes

Then again he was smart enough to use the stage to present his politics in the guise of entertainment, and aren’t the majority of politicians merely players?

Bard Bits: The Beatles and the Bard

Three months after The Beatles rocked the world on The Ed Sullivan Show in 1964, The Fab Four taped a show called Around the Beatles. The Liverpool songsters performed an abbreviated version of “Pyramus and Thisbe” from Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream.


Of course it was done with the panache that only John, Paul, Ringo, and George could bring to the 400 years old play. First Ringo enters in period dress, bearing a program flag and firing a cannon. Then silhouetted trumpeters appear who are none other than John, Paul, and George. They are a hit before the play begins which is confirmed by the screaming fans situated in the audience.

Decked out in period attire, Paul and John play the star-crossed lovers Pyramus and Thisbe. Paul as Pyramus hams it up well to the camera, with his winks and smiles. John, as Thisbe, with expected mischief, sports a blacked-out tooth, and wild blonde Pippi Longstocking braids. George becomes the Moon and leads out his “doggy woggy”, while Ringo roars out his part as the Lion. As for the wall? Not sure at all.

While the foursome stay mostly to Shakespeare’s penned lines, they, naturally, add in their own unique style. Ninny’s Tomb as the suggested meeting place for the lovers becomes a referenced club: “Ninny’s tomb—is that still open?” And when the Lion is to reassure the audience that he is only an actor, Ringo switches out the lines of—“Then know that I, as Snug the joiner, am / A lion fell”—for: “Then know that I one Ringo the drummer am.” He also reminds the audience that he wouldn’t be making so much money if he really was a lion. Finally, at the end when Pyramus “dies, dies, dies”, Paul comforts the distraught fans with a reassuring: “It’s all right, it’s all right.”  

The performance represents the high/low snubbing typical of the sixties with its counter-culture approach towards tradition. The mixture of the current most famous band performing the world’s long-regarded most famous playwright’s work is a tribute to how versatile Shakespeare’s can be. The overlap that The Beatles are “rude mechanicals”, that is working class fellows, is amplified by planted hecklers in the audience who shout out good-natured jibes, such as “Roll over, Shakespeare.” This could refer to Chuck Berry’s, “Roll Over, Beethoven,” or that Shakespeare might roll over in his grave if he knew about their performance. Personally, I think William S. would be amused, being a bit of a culture-breaker himself.

The Beatles comical performance once again shows how well Shakespeare transfers across the ages and the stages of time. As Ben Jonson once stated about Shakespeare, “He was not of an age, but for all time!”

#4: Required Reading for High School English

Having recently plunked out my series list caused me to wonder about creating other lists.  Yes, I am a confessed list maker.  I have Post-It squares tacked all over the place of To-Dos, Epiphanies, Story Starts, Poem Parts, and Lesson Plan Pundits.  The Cricket List will be an on-going project.  Today’s offering is #4: Required reading in high school English.  I encourage your suggestions:

The Cricket List:

1. Children’s authors and selected titles

2.  YA authors and selected titles

3.  Picture books

4.  Required reading in high school English:

  • The Outsiders(teens haven’t changed too much in the thirty years this has been out)
  • The Miracle Worker (Helen Keller is a hero favorite and goes a long way in learning about overcoming adversity)
  • Pride and Prejudice (all man/woman hate-at-first sight movies stem from this gem)
  • Sherlock Holmes (the original, to understand why Robert Downey and Jude Law’s version is pure entertainment)
  • Frankenstein (a riveting read and shows the fallacy of Hollywood’s meddling)
  • Jules Verne (original science fiction master storyteller)
  • Julius Caesar (politics gone wrong)
  • Hamlet (love-revenge-hate-murder-intrigue-dueling-witty wordplay–who could ask for more in a plot)
  • Taming of the Shrew (Men are from Mars and Women are from Venus four hundred years ago)
  • Othello (Shakespeare was ahead of his time with this tale)
  • A Midsummer Night’s Dream (a light-hearted romp which shows not all is tragedy on Shakespeare’s plate)
  • To Kill a Mockingbird (timeless classic which showcases the South both in a positive and negative way)
  • The Once and Future King (or some version of King Arthur–I like John Steinbeck‘s version)
  • Stargirl (beautiful story of not conforming to peer pressure or the consequences when one does)
  • John Donne‘s Holy Sonnet X (Death Be Not Proud)
  • She Walks in Beauty (timeless appreciation of beauty)
  • Rime of the Ancient Mariner (To understand Pirates of the Caribbean better)
  • Beowulf (so you can boo/hiss at the animated version and hope it will be done correctly someday)
  • Canterbury Tales (when you rewatch A Knight’s Tale you will laugh at the inside jokes)
  • Steinbeck (Grapes of Wrath, of course)
  • Mark Twain (American Lit wouldn’t be the same without him)
  • The Odyssey (understanding the epicness of heroes and their journey)
  • Romeo and Juliet (umm, how could one not read R&J?)

5.  Beach Reads

6.  Must reads

7. Saw the movie, then read the book

8.  Read the book, wish it were a movie

9. Poems to know and grow on

10. GoodRead gotta-get-to-someday reads

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