Act Four: A Return to Normalcy(?)

Act Four, Scene One of A Midsummer Night’s Dream begins in the woods, with Titania and Bottom (ass-head and all), plus her fairies attending on him.  More interestingly, however, is the stage direction of “the King (Oberon) behind them” (IV.i opening stage direction); in other words, Oberon watches the first part of this scene, unseen.  Titania dotes wonderfully on Bottom:

Come, sit thee down upon this flowery bed,
While I thy amiable cheeks do coy,
And stick musk-roses in thy sleek smooth head,
And kiss thy fair large ears, my gentle joy.

— IV.i.1-4

Love is blind in an ABAB rhyme.

kinda rhymed myself, there…

She finds beauty in his “sleek smooth head” and “large ears” as she caresses (“coy”) his lovable (“amiable”) cheeks.  It is as pure a vision of love and joy (“gentle joy,” no less) in the entire play.  Unlike Theseus’ formal declarations, and the lovers’ rushed, (seemingly far too) passionate speeches, this is love, calm and soothing… rather than political or lustful.  And if Titania finds joy in doting on Bottom, he enjoys it no less, interacting with the fairies with the greatest of ease, letting slip the occasional realization of his changed self:

  • “methinks I am marvelous hairy” (IV.i.24)
  • “I am suck a tender ass” (IV.i.25)
  • “I could munch your good dry oats… a bottle of hay” (IV.i.31, 33)

does Bottom realize his shape?  does he see himself for what he is?  has he seen himself?  or has he internalized his outward shape without consciously witnessing it? … all interesting questions for performance

Titania sends the fairies away and tells her lover, “Sleep thou, and I will wind thee in my arms… O, how I love thee! how I dote on thee!” (IV.i.39, 44).

When they sleep, Oberon advances and Puck arrives.  While Oberon finds the scene a “sweet sight” (IV.i.45), he also “pit(ies)… this hateful imperfection of her eyes” (IV.i.46, 62).  He tells Puck that he has asked Titania for and received the changeling boy, and will now undo the trick.  He asks Puck to remove the ass-head from Bottom.

love may be blind, but fear and loathing is 20-20…

When Titania awakes, she thinks she had been “enamored of an ass” (IV.i.76); and when Oberon points out Bottom, she “loathe(s) his visage now” (IV.i.78).

And as the lovers and a now ass-headless Bottom continue to sleep, the king and queen of the fairies dance a dance of reconciliation.  Morning comes, the fairies depart, and Theseus and a hunting party that including Hippolyta and Egeus, arrive.

After the not-quite-weds wax poetic on the sounds of Theseus’ hounds (we begin to see the martial experiences Oberon and Hippolyta have in common… maybe martial commonalities will turn into marital happiness, after all), Oberon finds the four lovers asleep together on the ground, and says,

No doubt they rose up early to observe
The rite of May, and hearing our intent,
Came here in grace our solemnity.

— IV.i.131-133

or as my bawdy high school English teacher once said: “Hooray, hooray, the First of May… Outdoor humping starts today!” … and that’s the clean version…

“Observe the rite of May?” That would mean drinking, feasting and dancing, right?

It almost seems that Theseus realizes what he’s about to say (and to whom he’s going to say it), and backtracks with “came here to grace our solemnity” (uh, right).  There’s a funny little moment when Theseus orders his huntsmen to wake the lovers with their horns; then Theseus begins to question the lovers.

It’s like the 3am question: you have to tell the truth because you’re not awake enough to lie… and Lysander admits coming to the woods with Hermia, beyond the reach of “the Athenian law” (IV.i.152)… with this, Egeus has heard enough and wants Lysander punished, telling Demetrius that Lysander has robbed him of his wife.

When Demetrius responds, however, it is a Demetrius unlike the one we’ve seen all play: he’s neither the wooer of Hermia nor the over-the-top, relentless pursuer of Helena… now, he simply “wish(es Helena), love(s her), long(s) for (her), // And will for evermore be true to” (IV.i.175-175) Helena.  Before Egeus can speak and upset the equilibrium, Theseus “overbear(s Egeus’) will” (IV.i.178), and announces that the two couples will be wed, side by side, with Oberon and Hippolyta later today.

Oberon and his hunting party leave, and Bottom, too, awakes.  Unlike the lovers who can’t figure out what was real and what was dream, Bottom is certain: he has “had a dream, past the wit of man to say what dream it was” (IV.i.203-204).

of course, he hasn’t… it’s been “real” in the play… or has it?  could all of this be “Bottom’s Dream” (IV.i.213-214), dreamt in midsummer?

He decides that he must have Peter Quince write a ballad of the dream, one that he can sing at “the latter end of (their) play, before the duke” (IV.i.215).  He has returned to his normal senses–as the center of attention.

Act Four, Scene Two finds us back at Quince’s house, where the actors are in a bad state: they have a play but no star… until Bottom arrives with tales of wonder–of which, ironically, he will speak “not a word” (IV.ii.32), at least not for the moment.  Instead, he has brought news that their “play is preferred” (IV.ii.37) and has made the final slate of entertainments.  He cautions his fellows to “eat no onions nor garlic, for (they) are to utter sweat breath” (IV.ii.40-41).  And off they go, to fame and fortune (or at least “sixpence” [IV.ii.21])… and with any luck to be “made men” (IV.ii.17).

Comment?