Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Week 6 - A Midsummer Night's Dream

A Midsummer Night's Dream is a comedy play. It takes place in Ancient Greece (Athens to be exact) at a time when daughters were supposed to honor and respect their fathers by doing what was directed of them and marrying whomever the father wished. Of course, if that daughter had given her love to someone else, all kinds of problems could ensue and that is the crux of the situation which begins A Midsummer Night's Dream. Some things to keep in mind:

1. This play has several plots that are intertwined. First, Thesius is getting married and the plans are being laid. A troop of actors is preparing a play to honor the bride and groom at their wedding feast. The play they pick is Pyramus and Thisbee, which echoes the problems of Hermia and Lysander. Second is the quarrel between Oberon and Titania, king and queen of the fairies. It is the mischief of Oberon that leads to further complications between the Athenian youths. Third is the main plot: Hermia loves Lysander, but her father wishes her to marry Demetrius, who is pledging his love to her after already pledging his love to Helena, who still love Demetrius and follows after him like a lovesick puppy. Try to keep each of these plots in mind, because each one will be resolved in the end.

2. There is a play within a play, which can seem confusing. Many of the abridged versions avoid introducing this at the same time as Shakespeare. Bottom (his name is a forshadowing of what he becomes) is a funny character, though, and this scene early on provides comic relief against what the father is demanding of Thesius - - that he enforce a little used law that would condemn his daughter to death if she refuses to marry Demetrius. What other plot does he become entwined in?

3. The main overriding conflict here is love vs. obedience. Is love greater than obedience to a father, or in the case of the fairies, a husband? Both Hermia and Titania are willing to be disobedient to the legitimate authority of a father or husband (remember this is Shakespeare's time,not ours). With Hermia, it is for love of another man that she disobeys her father, and Titania, it is love of her friend that she disobeys her husband. Are they correct to go against this authority? How is it all worked out in the end?

In Acts I and II, we are introduced to these characters and to the various plots in the play. We can see the conflict between Hermia and her father, and what her and Lysander plan to do. We can see Helena introducing an obstacle, by betraying the secret to Demetrius. We can also guess how this is all going to be mixed up, by the machinations of the fairy king - Oberon and his sidekick, Puck. (I don't want to give away too much here!)

We discussed the play, rereading certain parts of it. I had obtained a study guide on line from Signet Classics, which you can find here. Of course, you can also go on line to find others - - I found several just by doing a search, so pick one you like.

The assignment for next class is to finish reading the play (we had a week or so off with the holidays). We will be discussing the remainder of the play and what our final project should be.

I think this catches us up to where we are at. I apologize for not posting sooner, but the holidays had caught up with me.

Week 5 - Shakespeare's Plays

Shakespeare wrote a great variety and number of plays (36 have been attributed to him). Comedies (Taming of the Shrew, A Midsummer Night's Dream) are not necessarily funny, but they have a happy ending, in spite of containing perhaps some sad events. Tragedies (MacBeth, King Lear) are plays in which the main character or characters die due to some character flaw or bad situation of their own making. Romances (The Tempest) differ from comedies in that they deal with love and marriage. The historical plays (Henry VI, Henry VIII) are just that - - plays that deal with historical characters.

We will not have time to read all of the different types of plays during this class series. I hope to have the kids read one of each during subsequent school years.

Shakespeare uses many literary devices in his plays: similes, metaphors, alliteration, assonance, and hyperbole. He also tends to use a lot of forshadowing, so be aware and look out for evidence of these.

In addition, while discussing Shakespeare's language, we also discussed how he used rhyme for certain characters, like the Prince in Romeo and Juliet and the fairies in Midsummer Night's Dream. We discussed how he also incorporated sonnets and soliloquies within the plays.

Shakespeare was also inventive with words. He is said to have created over 3000 words and many expressions are used today. See if you can keep a lookout for "Shakespearean" expressions. Write them down and note where you found them. They will pop up in the least expected places.

The assignment for today was to read Acts I and II in A Midsummer Night's Dream.

Week 4 - Soliloquy Assignment - Background work for plays

I am a bit behind in postings - - we've had a very busy yet productive holiday. I am separating the posts so that you can see how we worked it out.

We discussed what a soliloquy is and read through Jacques' soliloquy on the Seven Ages of Man. It was an interesting read, since Jacques is a bit of a pessimist. The students will rewrite parts of the soliloquy and it will be posted under the "worksheet" on the Soliloquy tab.

After reading through Jacques' soliloquy, we also read through one of Romeo's soliloquy - specifically the balcony scene. The reaction of the kids was both interesting and fun. They felt that he was one step below a stalker!

The essays from the sonnet assignment are also posted under the essays tab. They have turned out well.

To prepare for the next class, we started talking about Shakespeare's plays. I will post questions under the plays tab that can be printed so that the students can find the answers. We used Usborne's World of Shakespeare book to answer them, but any good book on Shakespeare's works should be able to provide the answers.

Also to prepare for reading A Midsummer Night's Dream, I suggest reading an abridged version or children's version. This will give the students an idea of the play, perhaps making it a little easier to follow. It is not necessary, as this play is one of the easier ones.