A Midsummer Night’s Dream (henceforth referred to as MND) is one of the most popular Shakespearean comedies, most frequently performed on stage. The play has undergone numerous changes since 1595 when William Shakespeare penned it. The play has been performed on stage as a musical, or ballet, and off course films. Further, the play has a versatility of being interpreted as per the director who can portray it as a dark nightmare or a light fantasy or a slapstick comedy.
This paper interprets the play in a different way and projects the sex and eroticism present in the drama. The aim of the paper is to ascertain the sexual elements in the drama and then narrow down the choice to one scene where nudity can be used for stage production.
The paper in the process of selecting, will demonstrate the reasons for the particular choice explaining the scene properly. This paper proposes that the nudity that can be used in the play on stage, if it has to be used for just one scene then it should be Act II, Scene 2 and Act IV Scene 1, the reason for which are here forth explained.
MND is believed to be one of the most erotic plays ever written by Shakespeare. Except for Troilus and Cressida, the brutal eroticism expressed in the play is overwhelming. In MND, Shakespeare uses numerous metaphors and occasions through which he refers to coitus. Two such scenes that readily come to our mind are the relation between Titania and Bottom and the other is the scene of the four lovers in the woods.
It should be noted that the woods in MND is not just a nest of nature or a version of Arcadia keeping up with the romantic tradition, but it is a forest that is a dwelling place of the beasts, fairies, and lamias. And in this forest, the fairies, the witches, and the sorcerers have access to all that is needed for their magical pursuit:
“You spotted snakes with double tongue,
Thorny hedgehogs, be not seen;
Newts and blindworms, do no wrong,
Come not near our Fairy Queen.” (Shakespeare Act II, Scene 2)
On eof the characters that has been to most of the sexual incantation in the play is Titania. She is presented in a scene where she lies peacefully within a beautiful meadow with thyme and roses, but the fairies in her train sing a frightening song:
“Weaving spiders, come not here;
Hence, you long-legg’d spinners, hence.
Beetles black, approach not near;
Worn nor snail do no offence.” (Shakespeare Act II, Scene 2)
The song actually is not a lullaby to Titania in her sleep but is filled with frightening beasts like the “long-legg’d” spider, “black beetles”, and worms. So the lullaby actually forecasts horrid and gory dream instead of a pleasant one.
In a way these dreams conjured up by the train of fairies is not random to MND, but is set on the medieval and Renaissance belief that impotence can be cured by potion concocted from pulverized spiders, bats, and cartilage that helps in curing impotence or woman’s afflictions. There in sleep Shakespeare helps in conjuring a form of sexual neurosis through the creatures, which create a feeling of aversion.
The use of beasts to demonstrate the eroticism in the play presents is optimum when Oberon threatens to put the love potion on sleeping Titania and make her fall for any beast she first beholds:
“Having once this juice,
I’ll watch Titania when she is asleep,
And drop the liquor of it in her eyes;
The next thing then she, waking, looks upon
Be it on lion, bear, or wolf, or bull,
On meddling monkey, or on busy ape,
She shall pursue it with the soul of love.” (Shakespeare Act II, Scene 2)
The threat towards Titania and her unaware amour is more severely plotted by Oberon when, to further punish her, he wishes that she fell for a donkey. Titania is the demonstration of the brutal eroticism present in the play as when Oberon wishes her to fall in love with Bottom and especially his donkey’s head is portentous in nature: “Be it ounce or cat or bear, / Pard, or boar with bristled hair… Wake when some vile thing is near.” (Shakespeare Act II, Scene 2).
Therefore, the animals chosen by Shakespeare in his erotic bestiary has abundant erotic potential and helps him to portray sexual demonology. Titania in her dream sees pure animalistic as a part of Oberon’s design. Bottom in the form of an ass does not actually represent idiocy or stupidity but absolute sexual potency as per the belief prevalent during the medieval ages and Renaissance. This act in a way demonstrates the strong narcissistic eroticism that MND holds.
In Act II, scene 2, the confusion between the four lovers creates a sexual tumult in the play. The scene has to be presented with sex that is pleasant to watch with beautiful bodies that are presented extensively. Therefore, in this scene as Lysander and Hermia enter the stage weary from the travelling and struggle of elopement, they decide to rest, with Titania sleeping in the background, unnoticed.
Lysander on entering the stage expresses his interest to lie down next to Hermia and says: “One turf shall serve as pillow for us both; / One heart, one bed, two bosoms, and one troth.” (Shakespeare Act II, Scene 2) and as Lysander approaches Hermia to “lie” with her in the scene, his hands approaches closer to her and reveals her décolleté, eventually taking her breasts in his embrace, and in the end Lysander can be found half naked on the stage, except for a loincloth.
The physical closeness between Hermia and Lysander can be emphasized with Lysander’s physical urge to have Hermia sleep with him. The physical proximity between the two lovers can be further emphasized with Lysander trying to get closer to Hermia as he pledges to get closer to her in bed as their “hearts” are intertwined into one. The lighting on the stage will be presented in such a manner that only the audience and not the objectionable parts see the unobtrusive nakedness of Lysander.
The audience, off course realizes that Lysander is naked and the actually see most of it. Using this technique nudity can be presented on stage without becoming disgusting. In a pleasant way, the lovers will chase around one another signifying the superficial eroticism of MND. Therefore, the more overt sexual scenes that one may imagine while reading this scene can be portrayed subtly with partial nudity and implied eroticism.
The sexual intonations can be underplayed in the scene with Lysander at once agreeing to Hermia’s request to make his bed afar, but the trickster Puck actually puts his body close to Hermia’s when he drops the liquor on the eyes of Hermia. In another part of the stage Helena falls on knees in order to woo Demetrius and one can show on stage that in her urgency to win his love, she makes sexual advances towards him.
This too will show a different angle to the sex and nudity shown on stage wherein not only men but women too were eager to express their love and gain love through sexual favour. As Demetrius exits the stage, Helena sees Lysander and Hermia lying on ground and wakes Lysander.
Lysander, infected by the love potion, instantly falls for Helena and expresses his undying love for her. At such an unexpected advance, Helena is taken aback, but her own décolleté is revealed and Lysander expresses his love with physical passion towards the fear stricken maiden.
The other act that may be used to show the sexual intonations and nudity on stage is Act IV, scene 1 where Shakespeare explicitly mentions coitus between Bottom and Titania. This is a more explicit portrayal of sexuality in the play and therefore nudity can be brought forth without any hidden symbolism.
This scene describes the sexual relation between Titania, the fairy queen with Bottom, the mechanic transformed magically to a man with a donkey’s head by Oberon and the reason was a punishment to Titania for her refusal to hand over the Indian boy the latter wanted.
Therefore, the relationship between Titania and Bottom as portrayed in the scene will clearly pass as an erotic visual. In this particular scene, Titania seduces Bottom in the first place when she is awakened from her dream, almost offensively, and expresses her overt lust to have sex with the beast. Nudity in this scene is apparent in the very theme of the act.
The eroticism is forcefully defined in the scene where Titania treats Bottom’s tail as his phallus and engages in the act of stimulating his desires. Therefore, the message that can be portrayed in this scene is that there has been an overt sexual undertone to the characters and the characters of Titania and Bottom can be shown cuddled in bed with bare torso. This will enhance the sexual potency of the message brought forth through the play.
The strange lovers in Bottom and Titania will couple up on the stage, enacting a loud sexual act that would demonstrate the eroticism budding between eh two characters. Therefore, in these scenes, Titania will reveal her genitals to Bottom, he will be urged to engage in coitus with her violently.
This act when shown on stage will demonstrate the eroticism of MND. However, even in this scene nudity can be avoided in stage just by not showing any more skin to the audience than required, i.e. maybe only to the shoulder as the play itself has sexual connotation smeared all in it. therefore, if Titania reveals herself only to Bottom turning her back towards the audience, they actually do not see her naked, but realizes what happens, and Bottom can engage in the scene of love making without exposing any skin at all.
From the two scenes discussed in the above essay, it is apparent that Act IV, Scene 1 definitely has a clear sexual eroticism laid in the original play, however, the nudity on stage for this scene would imply a very overt and forceful representation of coitus between Bottom and Titania that may seem vulgar to the audience. However, if nudity is used in Act II, scene 2, it can be handled more subtly for the sexual message is not so overt and therefore will not come out to ferociously.
Shakespeare, William. A Midnight Summer’s Dream. NA: Harper Collins, 1595. Print.