Are you guys rant-baiting me? Seriously, is that what’s happening here? Because honestly you cannot ask me a question like that and not expect a rant, especially when I started drinking like two hours ago.
So in much the same way that Romeo and Juliet is not just about a couple of dumbass teenagers topping themselves, Midsummer is not just about a bunch of fairies fucking around in the woods. (Although there is a lot of that, and that’s partly why it’s so glorious.)
Midsummer starts in Athens a few days before the wedding of Theseus and Hippolyta–and yes, this is the same Theseus that killed the Minotaur, hump-and-dumped Ariande, and then caused Aegeus to commit suicide because he FORGOT TO PUT THE RIGHT FUCKING SAILS UP. But that’s not importnat, what is important is that right from the start we have Shakespeare + Greek mythology which obviously = the most awesome literary sandwich EVER. But this whole Theseus/Hippolyta thing is thematically important too, because Hippolyta was Queen of the Amazons, and Shakespeare is giving us a hint that this play is going to be about female empowerment and the collision of nature and civilization right from the start. That’s called forefuckingshadowing, ladies and groundlings.
Then we have the lovers: Helena, who wants to marry Demetrius, who wants to marry Hermia, who wants to marry Lysander. Inconvenient, but hey, we all went to high school and we know how this shit goes. It’s made more complicated by the fact that Hermia’s father, Egeus, who is an absolute asshat, refuses to let his daughter marry Lysander without ever offering a real reason except that he has some kind of weird paternal hard-on for Demetrius. The upshot of this nutfuckery is that Hermia has the options of marrying Demetrius against her wishes or becoming a nun, which are pretty fucking shitty options. So what does she do? She says fucking NEITHER because she’s not an idiot and plots to run away with Lysander.
MEANWHILE IN THE WOODS: Titania and Oberon (the king and queen of the fairies, respectively) are having a lovers’ tiff of epic proportions–like, their discord is so powerful it’s literally fucking up the weather and the seasons–over a changeling boy Titania is rearing on behalf on a friend who died. Oberon wants the boy for his entourage, or so he says, but it’s really kind of obvious that he’s just jealous of how much attention Titania is lavishing on it. Titania justifiably tells him to grow the fuck up, get over it, and come party with her, but he decides he’d rather pout about it and they go their separate ways.
Back to the lovers: Hermia and Lysander set off through the forest, pursued (unbeknownst to them) by Demetrius, who wants to stop them eloping, and Helena, who just wants to bang Demetrius. And this is where shit gets really dark. People like to pretend this play is light and fluffy like cotton fucking candy, but you’d better back the fuck up with that assumption, because man, are you wrong. Demetrius gets fed up with Helena (who is in the middle of telling him to beat her like dog, can you say desperate), and literally threatens to rape her if she doesn’t stop following him. NOT SO FLUFFY NOW, IS IT? At any rate, all of the lovers eventually get tired and decide to lie down and sleep, because that’s what you do when you’re lost in an unfamiliar enchanted forest in the middle of the fucking night. I don’t know.
Okay, so at the same time that all of this shit is going on (Did I not tell you this play was not fucking simple?) there are also a bunch of bumbling actors rehearsing in the forest for a scene they want to play at Theseus’ wedding. Among them is a guy called Nick Bottom, who is the biggest fucking blowhard of all time. But we’ll come back to him.
Oberon and his little minion Puck hatch a plan–in a series of mind-blowingly beautiful monologues full of mermaids and rainbows and shit–to find a magical flower, which when you squeeze it into someone’s eyes while they’re asleep, causes them to fall in love with whatever they first see when they wake up. The Fairy King FUCKING ROOFIES HIS SLEEPING WIFE (say it with me: dark dark dark), and then takes pity on Helena and instructs Puck to love-blast Demetrius so he’ll fall in love with her when he wakes up, but Puck gives the potion to THE WRONG FUCKING DUDE (i.e., Lysander). You can see where this is going. Anyway, Puck doesn’t realize this, but he does stumble upon the players and is inspired to bewitch Nick Bottom so he comes out for his entrance with the head of a fucking donkey like a fucking shitty Animorph. Naturally this is the first thing Titania sees when she wakes up. Chaos ensues. The lovers have a massive, hilarious fight in Three-One while the regal Fairy Queen is busy not-so-regally seducing a donkey, and in the meantime Puck and Oberon are scrambling around like mad trying to fix what they fucked up. It’s fucking ludicrous but it is also gut-bustingly funny.
But why is this play important? Aside from the frankly underrated quality that it’s wildly entertaining and has been wildly entertaining for like 500 years (no small fucking feat), it’s actually a really empowering play for women. It may not sound like it from the summary I just gave you, but bear with me. The women in this play are subversive as hell. They do whatever the fuck they want, regardless of what the men have to say about it. Hermia refuses to listen to her dad and the Duke, and just fucks off out of Athens to marry the man she loves. Titania basically tells Oberon to bite her when he tries to force her to give up the changeling. At the end of the play, Hippolyta tells Theseus to calm his fucking tits and let the lovers do what they want and he listens. And even Helena, who is possibly the most submissive female in the troupe, has some strong moments. She berates Lysander and Demetrius for mocking her, and resists the advances of the man whom she’s loved desperately since the start of the play because she doesn’t believe he’s sincere. That’s what is fucking up.
Of course, you can argue that all of these women (Hippolyta excepted) are pretty heavily manipulated by Oberon. And that’s true. But that doesn’t change the fact that this play is a huge win for the female characters. At the end, they all have exactly what they want–except Titania, because she does lose the kid. But it’s not over–she tells Oberon that he has to explain how the events of the night all came about, and if you think she’s going to take it all quietly, I call BULLSHIT. (When I was in this and played Titania, we actually did a really interesting thing where at the end when she and Oberon are ‘making up’–read: making out–I actually pulled the flower out of his pocket and let him know he wasn’t fooling me. There was one hilarious night where we were like rolling around on the ground and Oberon kept smacking my hand out of his pants and I couldn’t figure out why until I finally realized I was grabbing the wrong flower, and that’s actually not a euphemism.) But the point is, fucking girl power.
Anyway, there’s a lot more. Like I said, there’s a lot of stuff about the collision of nature and civilization. The lovers lose their minds in the woods, and Bottom become half wild animal. Hippolyta, the queen of the Amazons, is now the queen of Athens and is overruling the king. Shakespeare’s making some very interesting statements about the power of Man and men against Nature and women (note: interesting alignments). Sometimes it’s easy for that stuff to get lost in the hilarity of a dude with a fucking donkey head and fairy orgies and a guy dressed as a fucking talking wall, but it’s there. Midsummer is the best kind of comedy, because it’s deep at the same time that it’s funny as fuck.
Also, did I mention? This play is fucking sexy. Oberon and Titania are about an inch away from writhing hate sex at all times, and the lovers aren’t much more restrained. If you want to do some steamy Shakespeare, this is a great place to start. (And if you want to have to rinse your eyeballs in bleach later tonight, there’s also a porno called A Midsummer Night’s Cream, wherein, believe it or not, you can actually see and hear the entire play performed by real life friggin’ porn stars. I shit you not.)
So that. That’s just a little taste of what’s so great about Midsummer.