Reading Midsummer Night’s Dream in Winter

Sometimes the blogger must yield his place to the poet, and in recent weeks I’ve been hard at work on my current project. Because of this, I haven’t had the time to put together a proper post. But last month, weighed down by winter sorrows, I thought that I should give myself a little treat. At that moment, my eye lit on a slender volume by the Bard. No more of care, I thought, I’ll while away the hours with Puck and Oberon and lovers charmed within the wood. 

Reading plays is something of an art to itself. There in the dream theater of the mind, we are free to create the perfect cast, and elaborate sets give way to real palaces and forests. Midsummer Night’s Dream is, as one of its own characters admits, “the silliest stuff.” But in the midst of its beautiful nonsense, I happened upon the following passage. 

The poet’s eye, in 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 gives to airy nothing

A local habitation and a name. 

This strikes me as the most apt description of the writer’s art. Before Shakespeare took up his pen, who had heard of Bottom and his ability to roar? Or before Dickens, Mr. Pickwick had no local habitation or a name. And we might say the same for all the great characters or dramatic scenes we find in the pages of our favorite books. By the magic of words that they spread upon the page, the poet, the playwright, the novelist bring forth the forms of things unknown. Or, as a character in Thomas Pynchon puts it, they “project a world” and give us great delight. 

Coming Up In Worlds Imagined: In the next few weeks, I hope to review Cormac McCarthy’s novel Blood Meridian. After that, I will be discussing Homer’s Iliad. Until then, may no fairy strike, and may you find your heart’s true love. 

Reading Midsummer Night’s Dream in Winter: Copyright 2022, Jonathan Golding. All Rights Reserved.

Artwork: A Scene from Midsummer Night’s Dream by Edwin Landseer. Public Domain

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