Shakespeare in the Classroom
Shakespeare should be read out loud, in class, and one scene at a time. Each scene should be discussed at the end before before proceeding to the next scene. Sending students home to read passages not read in class serves very little purpose, because those who are having trouble understanding the text will miss the opportunity for discussion during which to clarify.
For "Midsummer," divide the class into three sections. The students who read the parts of one group (The Royals, for example,) will not read roles from the other two groups — unless the class is so small that it is necessary.
When "A Midsummer Night’s Dream" is first introduced, give students a short introduction about the play. A Midsummer Night’s Dream is, at its very core, commentary on love and marriage. Under that umbrella, Midsummer’s characters are divided into three distinct groups that display various aspects of courtship and the complex relationships between men and women. These groups are The Royals, The Faeries, and The Mechanicals.
The play begins with the Royals. Simply put, they are the monarchy, the rulers in the land of humans.
Theseus and Hippolyta are to be wed in four days when the moon is full, and this play begins with their discussions and anitcipations of the happy event. Theseus will have the entire kingdom celebrate.
Theseus and Hippolyta symbolize mature love. It is noteworthy that Theseus tells Hippolyta that he "woo’d thee with my sword, yet I shall wed you in another vein." One small line, but it says a lot about their relationship. Students may be interested in exploring what this symbolizes and says about gender roles.
The four young lovers display for us the infatuation and fickleness of young love.
Hermia and Lysander are in love. Hermia’s father, Egeus, wants her to marry Demetrius. And Helena is in love with Demetrius, who has already slept with her, and now holds this against her. Demetrus looks forward to marrying Hermia, regardless of her love for Lysander.
When Hermia and Lysander run away, at some point they must rest in the woods. Lysander begs to be allowed to sleep next to Hermia, but she remains virtuous and refuses him.
But the real fun begins when Puck (of the fairy folk) enchants and confuses the four. While the play begins with Lysander as a true lover to Hermia and Demetrius as a deserter to Helena, Puck causes Lysander to become a deserter and shun Hermia, and then finally both men become true lovers: Lysander to Hermia and Demetrius to Helena.
The Faeries, of course, live in a world the humans in the play do not see. We in the audience, however, can see and hear them.
Oberon and Titania have been married for a long time. Together, they show us about jealousy.
Titania has something new: a little boy whose mother has died and he has been entrusted to Titania’s care. Of course, she dotes upon the child and not on Oberon. Jealous Oberon wants to have the child for himself, and wants Titania to pay attention to him and not the child. In his anger and for spite, he sends his servant, Puck, to enchant Titania and cause her to make a fool of herself. In the end, Oberon does get his way — Titania hands over the boy.
While Puck is successful in his venture to enchant Titania, along the way he has some fun with the four young lovers, as mentioned above.
The Mechanicals are the townspeople and are also the clowns of this play. It is noteworthy that the Mechanicals speak in prose, while the other two groups speak in verse. This is a subtle way that Shakespeare displays their lower status.
The Mechanicals perform the famous "Play Within the Play." They are rehearsing a play one of them has written to be performed at Theseus’ and Hippolyta’s wedding celebration. In addition to the comic relief this brings to the play, Puck enchants Nick Bottom, a Mechanical, by putting a donkey’s head on him. While under Puck’s enchantment, Titania falls in love with this donkey which gives Oberon his revenge.
A Midsummer Night’s Dream is a truly fun play for high school students, and it gives them much to think about in the way of gender roles and love relationships. It is a great addition to any class’ Shakespeare curriculum.
This post is part of the series: Teaching Shakespeare’s Plays
- A Midsummer Night's Dream Summary
- Is the Merchant of Venice an Anti-Semitic Play? A Debate For the Classroom
- Is Hamlet Insane? For Engaged Discussion in the High School Classroom