Ask Philippa: “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” Edition

Philippa Kelly, Resident Dramaturg for Cal Shakes, invites your questions about A Midsummer Night’s Dream, which runs September 3–28. Tickets on sale now.

A Midsummer Night’s Dream begins where most comedies end: with the announcement of a wedding. As the curtain rises, Duke Theseus calls for general rejoicing at the news of his impending wedding to the Amazon Hippolyta.  “Stir up the Athenian youth to merriment,” he tells Philostrate, expecting the young folk to readily oblige. But they will not, or they cannot, so hopelessly enmeshed are they in the tangles of their hearts. By the play’s conclusion, however, all will find fulfillment (or at the very least, acceptance), bowing to the wonder of this wedding day. Marriage in A Midsummer Night’s Dream is more than a note of triumph: it marks the end of a struggle and the beginning of a journey. And all of us who witnesses this play—beautiful, hilarious, even dangerous—bring to it our own flawed hearts. In the confusions of the young lovers, the competitive ambiguities of mature love, and the hilarious malapropisms of the “rude mechanicals: we might see our hopes, dreams, passions, and our laughably regrettable mistakes.

Resident Dramaturg Philippa Kelly. Photo by Richard Friedman.

Are you going to see our production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream?  Do you have questions or comments about the production’s cast, themes, creative choices, or anything else? Please leave them in the comments, and I’ll be sure to respond.


9 thoughts on “Ask Philippa: “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” Edition

  1. Hi Philippa,
    I am considering attending a performance of A Midsummer Night’s Dream and, since it is one of Shakespeare’s most sexual plays, I am interested in learning more about the artistic expression of the work and how explicit the content and acting is. I would appreciate a frank review of the play’s tendency to either play up the innuendos or skim over them. Thank you so much!

    • Hello Emma,
      I didn’t know this was up here – I am so sorry to answer so late. I think you wil love it. It is so highly metaphorical, physical and beautiful, I think one could as easily see a ragingly beautiful orange setting sun as being as ‘explicitly’ sensual as this play itself. There is no flashing of buttocks or anything like that in this production. I’m not saying it won’t provoke sensual thoughts, though (as the best art so often does)

    • Hi Philippa-

      I saw A Midsummer Night’s Dream tonight and it was magical – I loved it! You offered to e-mail your notes for your talk tonight since there wasn’t enough time to cover what you had to say. What you said in your talk was fascinating and I would love to have the rest of your thoughts on this play. Thanks very much.


  2. Phillipa,

    Thank you for the Grove Talk and hosting the Talk Back after the performance last Sunday.

    I was intrigued by your comment that Shakespeare used rhymed couplets frequently in this play. I had thought that rhyming was restricted to the fairies, particular Puck, Oberon and Titania, so I went back to the text I have, The Annotated Shakespeare edition with Burton Raffel as the General Editor, 2005. I discovered to my surprise that in Act I, Scene 1 Hermia beginning at line 171, then Helena joins her (line 180) and Lysander makes an appearance in line 208 and again in lines 224 and 225 and then exits; although Hermia exits in line 224.5, Helena continues through line 251—all their speeches in rhymed couplets. Act I, Scene 2, the tradesmen is all in prose, except for Bottom, who “declaims” in rhymed iambic duometer (aaacbbbc) lines 25 through 32. The fairy in Act 2, Scene 1 starts off with a abab rhyme and then quickly goes into rhymed couplets. The fairy and Puck continue with rhymed couplets through line 59. Then, curiously to me, Oberon and Titania enter and don’t rhyme at all. And when Demetrius enters with Helena at line 188, neither speaks with rhyme. But Oberon’s speech, the last in the Scene, is in rhymed couplets. In Act 2, Scene 2, the faires show some rhyme while singing Titania to sleep. Oberon has a different rhyme (aaabbbbb) for his 9 line speech while putting magic juice in Titania’s eyes. There are rhymed couplets again for Hermia and Lysander, lines 43 through 69, after Lysander enters with an abab four-line speech. Then Puck’s speech of rhymed couplets, followed by the rest of the scene: the four lovers all speaking in rhymed couplets (lines 88 through 160). And so on through Acts III and IV. A further surprise was in Act V, where the tradesmen speak in rhyme, occasionally rhymed couplets Snout (lines 155 through 160), Bottom and Flute (lines 196 through 203), and Snug (lines 121 through 124).

    Thanks again,

    —Richard Olsen

    • It’s wonderful to get this analysis, Richard – though my eyes and mind were boggling to try to remember what you mentioned and to see the lines in my mind’s eye. Thank you so much for this – it is actually very very useful for dramaturging productions.

      The rhyme is quite wondrous because it is so unforced – part of this is the way in which it’s written (the scansion, etc) and part of it is because our actors work very hard to speak it in a natural voice, so that the rhyming couplets inform and inflect what they’re saying while also sllowing the speech to come out freely

  3. Hi Philippa,

    What a wonderful performance! I was the one who came up at the end of the performance and suggested you do a talk on the Earl of Oxford/the authorship question. I think there would be a lot of interest.


    • I Barry, I’d be happy to do this. I might even involve a woman called Colleen who’s interested in thsi issue, and the wonderful dramaturg Barry Kraft, who lives locally and would have lively views on the issue. We could have a moderated discussion, perhaps?

      • And Coleen gets all her unorthodox views from me on this. And I would be happy to corrupt you or indirectly many others in a heretical relay (or have any excuse to visit the area again after this last summer’s successes with the master classes).

  4. i believe that I offered you my Shakespeare library, but was unable to arrange the transfer. Could I possibly drop these items off at the Hertz Street location, or elsewhere.

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