Fairy Time…

For the last part of Carl V’s Once Upon a Time challenge, I read Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream, and I was enchanted. Not at first, though… It’s difficult for me to sit down and just READ a Shakespeare play. I don’t understand all the nuances if I just read it, at least not until later after I’ve also seen it performed or listened to it read aloud. I’ve been told that Shakespeare embedded all his acting directions into his plays, so that when the actors were given their parts only (a way to protect the play from being stolen in those days), they would know how to interpret their lines because all the cues and acting clues were to be found in HOW it was written. I’d like to learn more about that! Perhaps it would help me as I read his plays.

So to tackle this project, I decided to use my teaching experiences with Macbeth to take on A Midsummer Night’s Dream–I immersed myself in the play. To become familiar with the story, I read two different retellings for young people: Bernard Miles’s version in Favourite Tales of Shakespeare, and Leon Garfield’s version in Shakepeare Stories. Then I read the play itself. My copy was an annotated version to help me better understand some of the language.

Next, I ordered several different DVD versions of the play, including the 1981 film with a lovely young Helen Mirren as Titania, (she also plays Hermia in a 1968 version, but that one hasn’t arrived yet), and the beautifully filmed 1999 version with the gorgeous Michelle Pfeiffer as Titania. I watched the first one with script in hand, noticing what they left out, but enjoying hearing the lines interpreted by such wonderful actors. I reread the play over the next few days, then watched the Michelle Pfeiffer/Kevin Kline film, and that’s when it all fell into place. That film, in particular, brought out the magic! The visual effects were so wonderful, the costuming and sets so beautiful, that I was under a spell all the way through it! By then I knew the play and thoroughly enjoyed the complete experience. I loved the fairy lights and magical effects of the film. The soundtrack was wonderful, as well. So this week, I’ve also been listening to the soundtrack and to the Boston Symphony’s CD of Mendelssohn’s “A Midsummer Night’s Dream.

The one thing missing for my immersion, is the opportunity to see a live performance of the play. I’ve checked the playbills for all the nearby Shakespeare festivals, but this seems to be the summer for his other plays.

Immersing myself in this play was fun and refreshing. What an enchanting way to finish up my Once Upon a Time reading challenge! Thanks, Carl, for hosting a delightful reading experience!

Here are a few of my favorite passages and lines:

The Lunatic, the Lover, and the Poet:

More strange than true. I never may believe
These antique fables nor these fairy toys.
Lovers and madmen have such seething brains,
Such shaping fantasies, that apprehend
More than cool reason ever comprehends.
The lunatic, the lover, and the poet
Are all imagination all compact.
One sees more devils than vast hell can hold;
This is the madman. The lover, all as frantic,
Sees Helen’s beauty in a brow of Egypt.
The poet’s eye, in a fine frenzy rolling,
Doth glance from heaven to earth, from earth to heaven,
And as imagination bodies forth
The forms of things unknown, the poet’s pen
Turns them to shapes, and give to airy nothing
A local habitation and a name.




Love looks not with the eyes, but with the mind,
And therefore is winged Cupid painted blind.






Lord, what fools these mortals be!


If we shadows have offended,
Think but this, and all is mended,
That you have but slumbered here,
While these visions did appear…

18 thoughts on “Fairy Time…

  1. Kay

    What a clever way to read Shakespeare. I will admit that the last time I read one of his plays was probably in high school. I may have to try this. Thanks for sharing!


  2. Robin

    Thanks, Kay! When I first started reading it, I didn’t think I would like it. But I figured if my immersion method works for 6th graders, it had to work for me…and it did! It made it very enjoyable.


  3. Chris

    Ah, this is one of my favorite Shakespeare plays! I can’t wait to re-read it. What a great way to experience it! Sounds like you made it quite enjoyable. Great wrap-up to the challenge.


  4. a.book.in.the.life

    You describe it all so well, that is a great way to get to know a play. I am going to do that this summer, thanks for the inspiration.


  5. Robin

    Chris and A.B.I.T.L–it really was an enjoyable experience and not completely over yet, either. The other DVD version with a very young Helen Mirren is due to arrive any day, and I also picked up an audiobook of the play. It’s amazing how much is out there to immerse yourself in for any one of his plays!


  6. Nymeth

    wow, what a wonderful idea! That sounds like the perfect way to experience this story. I wish I had thought of that myself. I’ve seen the movie with Michelle Pfeiffer, but it’s been a few years. If I order the DVD, though, it shouldn’t arrive before the end of the challenge, and I doubt my local video store has it. Ah well, I can always order it anyway and watch it after the 21st, when I’m done reading the play.

    I have been going through it slowly, because, like you, I feel that it is strange to just sit and read a play. My edition has very helpful annotations too, and a glossary at the end of some of the vocabulary used, which is particularly useful for a non-native speaker like myself. But still, I do feel that there’s a lot that is missed if one just reads the test instead of watching a performance.

    I would so love to see this play being performed. I really hope I can catch it when I’m studying in England next semester. It would be absolutely perfect.

    Thank you for this wonderful post!


  7. Robin

    Thanks, Nymeth! I really enjoyed the process of combining the reading with the watching and listening to performances of this play. It made it so much more understandable for me.

    Also, I got the DVD of the Michelle Pfeiffer version from the library, so you might check at your library, too. And I wouldn’t be surprised if it is still available through the video stores. It’s sort of the standard film version at this point.

    How exciting that you get to spend a semester in England! I’ll look forward to reading your posts about that experience!


  8. Amy Palko

    Midsummer Night’s Dream is such a fabulous play, isn’t it? I think it’s one of my favourites – certainly out of his comedies anyway. My favourite lines are when Titania first sees Bottom:

    ‘I pray thee, gentle mortal, sing again!
    Mine ear is much enamoured of thy note.
    So is mine eye enthralled to thy shape,
    And thy fair virtue’s force perforce doth move me
    On the first view to say, to swear, I love thee.’

    What a wonderful evocation of love at first sight! It’s a shame you’re not going to be in Edinburgh this August for the Fringe festival as there are going to be free performances of Midsummer Night’s Dream at the Royal Botanic Gardens. I think we’ll probably all go along with the kids in tow!


  9. Robin

    Amy, I love those lines, too. It would be wonderful to see the play in Edinburgh. Take the kids and enjoy it for me!!


  10. Petunia

    That was a fabulous review. And the artwork you posted is stunning. I read this one with my kiddos for school a couple of years ago and I watched the Pfeiffer version a couple of months ago. It was enchanting.


  11. Robin

    Thanks, Petunia! I love the artwork and the music inspired by this play. It definitely captures the imagination and works magic on each of us.


  12. CdnReader

    Great review post, Robin. I haven’t seen any of the films, but did see it performed live at the tiny Magnus Theatre in my hometown of Thunder Bay a couple of years ago. Highly recommended. 🙂


  13. danielle

    I have been trying to read Shakespeare in a similar way. I try and read a little about the play/story first, then watch it, then read it, then watch it again. I need to get to work on this one–I have started reading a bit about the play, but I need some time to devote to it.


  14. Robin

    Thanks, Donna. I’d love to see a live performance! The film versions are fun, too. I just love to see all the different interpretations, the different sets and costumes.

    Combining the reading, the listening, the watching was a very enjoyable way to get to know this play better. Enjoy, Danielle!


  15. Melissa

    While my husband and I were watching the play, we remembered that there was the movie version and wondered if it was any good. I’ll have to get a copy and watch it. Thanks!


  16. Robin

    Hi Melissa,
    I really enjoyed the 1999 movie version. By the time I watched it, I’d already seen a BBC version and read the play, so I think being so familiar with it really made a difference in how much I enjoyed it.


  17. Jill

    I made my first foray back into Shakespeare this past month — watching a version of Macbeth with Ian McKellan and Judy Dench while reading the play itself using one of the Folger Library publications. Your explanation of how you immerse yourself in preparation for teaching is really quite helpful.



Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s