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All that we see or seem
Is but a dream within a dream.

E.A. Poe

Author William Shakespeare
Title A midsummer night’s dream
Year c.1596

Shakespeare - A midsummer night's dream

With the reading of Shakespeare’s Midsummer night’s dream, I completed the 2007 Once upon a time challenge.

You don’t read (or watch) Shakespeare for the plots, and you certainly do not read A midsummer night’s dream for the plot. If you do you will be as disappointed as Samuel Pepys:

To the King’s Theatre, where we saw “Midsummer’s Night’s Dream”, which I had never seen before, nor shall ever again, for it is the most insipid ridiculous play that ever I saw in my life. I saw, I confess, some good dancing and some handsome women, and which was all my pleasure. (Diary, 29 September 1662)

The situation: Boy lovers girl, girl loves boy, second boy loves same girl, second girl loves second boy. Boy and girl elope, second boy chases girl, second girl chases second boy. They all get together in the forest where Oberon (the king of the fairies) and Puck (his assistant) start meddling with their affairs.

In the meantime, a group of labourers seek the quiet of the forest to rehearse a play they want to perform. One of them, Bottom, is used by Puck to help settle some affair between Oberon and his wife Titiana. Puck magically transforms Bottom’s head into an asses head (bottom – ass: can you imagine all the clever wordplay in the following sections?).

Because of accidental misapplication of Oberon’s weed (that has the same effect as Cupid’s arrows) by Puck , both boys suddenly vehemently woo second girl, who obviously didn’t expect this and thinks she is being mocked:

O spite! O 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,
But you must join in souls to mock me too?

Lots of confusion ensues, causing Puck to utter the most memorable line of the play: “Lord, what fools these mortals be!“. (Puck does enjoy all the confusion and bickering that is going on: “And those things do best please me, That befall preposterously.“)

Eventually everything is settled, second boy (still under the influence of Oberon’s weed) loves second girl, boy marries girl, second boy marries second girl. Everyone is satisfied but confused, and they decide that the events in the forest must have been a dream. And maybe it was but a dream? Puck not only confirms this in the epilogue, but claims the entire play was a dream, dreamt by us:

If we shadows have offended,
Think but this, and all is mended,
That you have but slumber'd here
While these visions did appear. 
And this weak and idle theme,
No more yielding but a dream,
Gentles, do not reprehend:
If you pardon, we will mend.

A midsummer night’s dream was read as part of the 2007 Once upon a time challenge.

I discovered the Pepys quote on Enjoying “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” by Ed Friedlander M.D.
The image is a scan of a programme of a 1961 stage production in Dutch (which I did not see because I did not exist at the time).