Choose a film version of A Midsummer Night's Dream (there are several). Answer the following question: does this version capture the spirit of the play as Shakespeare wrote it? (in other words, is it a good adaptation?) Why or why not? Please note: I DO NOT WANT A MOVIE REVIEW. I want an essay that shows thought. Do NOT write comparison/contrast between the film and the play. Analyze the lighting, the music, the scenes the director chose, the actors/actresses, etc. You will need to list a works cited page for this assignment so that I will be able to determine which version of A Midsummer Night's Dream that you viewed.
William Shakespearean’s comedy A Midsummer Night’s Dream written in the 16th century has inspired many films through centuries thus suggesting the Bard’s enduring popularity and a more contemporary relevance. As with many other plays, the climax and theme in this comedy are largely ambiguous that offer screenwriters and directors leeway to bring to the foreground different messages in Shakespeare’s text.
The Chosen Film Adaptation - For the purpose of this essay, the film adaptation chosen is American film director Michael Hoffman’s romantic comedy that goes by the same name as the play. When watching this film we, as audience, need to suspend any prior knowledge of Greek mythology or society that we may have, because Hoffman situates the film in “the village of Monte Athena in Italy at the turn of the 19th century.” Here Hoffman takes charge and his vision is central. We need to direct our attention to what Hoffman wants us to see to appreciate his visual approach while interpreting the play and speak of him as the screenwriter who translates the play into a film with a convincing story. The shift in setting makes any references to Greek mythology irrelevant in comprehending the film. Though Hoffman has retained Shakespeare’s language, he takes care to make the physical embodiment of characters, action and space such that it negates any difficulty that the audience may have in comprehending the dialogues. Thus, it opens the gates to accommodate a larger audience who can experience the film without any language barrier or baggage.
Plots and Characters - Hoffman’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream retains the characters, plots and most events. He also preserves Shakespeare’s language and its effect while showing its relevance in the new setting. However, he deletes or truncates some portions because they either do not add to his film’s story or cannot be accommodated in a two-hour film.
Hoffman depicts four plots through the duration of the film: the royal wedding of Theseus, a “renounced Duke” and Hippolyta; the two pairs of Athenian lovers, Lysander, Hermia, Demetrius and Helena; the conflict between “proud” Titania and “jealous” Oberon; the efforts of “hard-handed man that work in Athens” Bottom, Peter Quince and company to put on a play called “The most lamentable comedy and most cruel death of Pyramus and Thisby” on the night of the royal wedding day. These plots unfold in two different worlds: Monte Athena, a concrete world of real palaces, town square, law and order, and the dim woods, a place full of fairies, Medusas and two-faced creatures. As the film progresses and the plots unfold, these two worlds are shown to be interconnected.
The film stars David Strathairn as Theseus, Sophie Marceau as Hippolyta, Dominic West as Lysander, Anna Friel as Hermia, Christian Bale as Demetrius, Calista Flockhart as Helena, Michelle Pfeiffer as Titania, Rupert Everett as Oberon, Kevin Kline as Bottom, Roger Rees as Peter Quince and Stanley Tucci as Puck who “jest to Oberon”.
Sets, Props and Costumes - The film shows the coexistence of three classes of people: the royal family in their opulent palace, the rustic villagers in a bustling market place and the fairies in the surreal woods. At the outset, the camera gives a panoramic view of the people whose characters will be developed further in the film, including the two dwarfs who steal goods and later revealed to have carried them to the woods.
The actors and actresses are dressed by Gabriella Pescucci in 19th century costumes that enhance the characters and represent the classes to which they belong. The dozens of servants preparing for the royal wedding, the thousands of white roses blossoming in the garden and Hippolyta listening to music symbolize peace, prosperity and orderliness. The opulence of the palace is contrasted with the chaotic market place where the announcement of a dramatic competition to celebrate the royal wedding is put up. Among the goats bleating, people playing cards, an ass braying, a wife looking for her “worthless dreamer” husband, Bottom, Peter Quince and company discuss the roles they have in the play.
The “newfangled creation, the bicycle” is a key prop in the film. The director uses it to delineate Helena’s character. Helena is shown dragging her bicycle wherever she goes; it symbolizes the misconception that she carries about herself. It also offers Puck agility as he utters “I go, I go, look how I go, / Swifter than an arrow from a Tartar's bow.” and “I'll put a girdle round about the earth / In forty minutes.”
Theme and music - The main theme of the film is love the course of which “never did run smooth.” Dream is the antithesis of love; it is rendered as the lovers’ “romantic wakening from the fairy-induced comedy of errors into an ideal world of reciprocated love.” Hoffman incorporates German composer Felix Mendelssohn’s score that includes the Overture, Nocturne, Scherzo and the Wedding March along with Italian opera to accent the theme. He turns Mendelssohn's “music of the night” into a love theme. He also uses music to add a depth to Bottom’s character and portray the woods as “fanciful and even incomprehensible, but not dreamlike.” (John Grasel)
Female voice and friendship - Hoffman’s adaptation is a progressive one for he selects scenes that represent the female voice. Hermia’s vehement protest against marrying the gentleman her father has chosen for her, Helena’s confidence to pursue the man she loves and Titania’s stubbornness to not part with the child make the female voice pronounced. There is also a hint of powerful and long-lasting friendship between female characters that is sometimes barely noticed but not completely absent in the film. Helena in the woods says:
Is all the counsel that we two have shar’d,The sisters' vows, the hours that we have spent,When we have chid the hasty-footed timeFor parting us,--O, is it all forgot?
Titania explains to Oberon thus:
His mother was a votaress of my order:And, in the spiced Indian air, by night,Full often hath she gossip'd by my side,And sat with me on Neptune's yellow sands,Marking the embarked traders on the flood,When we have laugh'd to see the sails conceiveAnd grow big-bellied with the wanton wind;
But she, being mortal, of that boy did die;And for her sake do I rear up her boy,And for her sake I will not part with him.
Credit goes to Hoffman and his team for adopting a cinematic style that corresponds to the novel setting of this creative and commercial pursuit. Hoffman subtly declares that his film is not the play. He adds scenes to enhance his vision. For example, the mud-wrestling bout between Hermia and Helena in the woods to reinforce Puck’s uttering “Lord, what fools these mortals be!” Though the film ends with love being reciprocated with equal fervour, he does not give a happy ending for Bottom. Bottom’s heart aches when he recognizes Titania in the statue, the lady he has seen in a dream that cannot be comprehended by mortals. Indeed, while every line of dialogue is Shakespeare’s, the visual rhetoric is very much Hoffman's.
“A Midsummer Night’s Dream (1999).” The Internet Movie Database (IMDb), 2014. Web.
23 Feb. 2014. <http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0026714/>.
Grasel, John. “A Midsummer Night’s Theme.” John Grasel, 2011. Web.
23 Feb. 2014. < http://www.cs.hmc.edu/~jgrasel/writings/msnd-music.pdf>.
“William Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream.” CinemaReview.com, 2014. Web
23 Feb. 2014. <http://www.cinemareview.com/production.asp?prodid=576>.