ENG220 – Lecture 2 15 May, 2012
Focus Questions: The action of A Midsummer Night’s Dream is essentially concluded at the end
of Act 4. What purposes does the play-within-a-play serve? How does it relate to the main
experiences and themes of A Midsummer Night’s Dream? (see also sonnet 116). How do the
three views of imagination relate to each other? (Theseus at 5.1.2-22, Bottom at 4.1.197-211,
and Puck and Oberon at 5.2.1-52).
Elizabethans had a rather formal acting style, which becomes more sophisticated and loosened
up in the evolution during Shakespeare’s career. The actor had to remember lines as well as
how to project a character’s personality. In the Elizabethan playhouse, there was no scenery;
there was only one stitched backdrop for all scenes. Shakespeare had to write dramas that
were not handicapped by the need of props, but rather liberated from it.
A Midsummer Night’s Dream transports the audience from the indoors to the outdoors (2.1).
The language of the scene makes the need for props unnecessary, as it illustrates the scene
very elaborately and artistically. This technique is very old and is still used. It allows for the
imagination to take over the theatre experience. This means that the plays have a lasting
vitality, and can be performed anywhere, anytime for any audience, as each audience will
experience the drama differently.
The only requirement for a Shakespearean play to be successful was for the actors to
remember their lines. Costuming was also an important aspect of Elizabethan theatre because
it added an aspect of colour and grandeur to the drama. The theatre companies wanted showy
performances and companies often spent 15 times as more on costume than on the plays
because the costumes would last, but the plays came and went.
The audience is compelled to pay attention. Actors could use acoustic techniques by varying the
way they speak – in whispers, or declaiming loudly. This forced the audience to pay attention if
they wanted to keep up with what was going on in a particular scene. Shakespeare used this
element in his plays, particularly in the later part of his career.
Stages were large, often 1000 sq. ft. This made it possible to stage large battles, show
alienation, separate actors and characters, and place the actors so they have a different kind of
relationship with the audience. This allows the audience to develop unique relationships with
the characters. Speed is also an element, as there is no curtain or props obstructing scenes. This
means that there were almost no interruptions between scenes or acts and the audience does
not disconnect with the flow of emotions that the play invokes. Through this element,
playwrights can build heightened emotions.
The location of a scene is often emphasized through the speech of the characters. If no scenery
was required, the actor and playwright would not draw attention to the scenery. Elizabethan
theatre was a complete experience, in which all the senses were engaged. The playwright had a
great deal of control over the production of a play. The Elizabethans view the universe as a harmonious, hierarchical order created by God. The
concepts of the Chain of Being was common, and alludes to harmony and hierarchy in the