Monday, June 30, 2008

A Midsummer Night's Challenge

A friend of mine gave me a copy of A Midsummer Night's Dream a few years ago (way back in high school, actually) but it was so long ago that I didn't actually remember the majority of the play. Part of my problem was that I watched a lot of cartoons after school:

So I was really looking forward to re-reading it. Here's the story, for those of you who are unfamiliar:

Lysander and Demetrius are in love with Hermia. Hermia is in love with Lysander. Helena is in love with Demetrius. Hermia's father tells her she has to marry Demetrius, so she and Lysander decide to run off and elope. Meanwhile, Theseus and Hippolyta are getting married, and a group of actors has decided to perform a play for entertainment at the wedding. Both groups (the actors and the lovers) end up in the forest, where Oberon (the King of the Fairies) is hanging out with Puck. Oberon decides to play a trick on Titania (the Queen of the Fairies), and has Puck put a spell on her so that she falls in love with the first person thing she lays eyes on. Then Puck turns Bottom, one of the actors, into an ass (the donkey kind, not the jerk kind) and he turns out to be the person thing that Titania falls in love with. Oberon also tells Puck to do this to Demetrius* so that he will return Helena's love and leave Hermia alone, but Puck gets mixed up and Lysander ends up falling in love with Helena. And then Demetrius does, too, but Helena thinks it's a prank and gets upset. Of course, everything ends up getting fixed at the end - the couples are restored, and everyone goes to the wedding and watches the play, which turns out to be really bad.

It's not a bad play; it's pretty short, and easy to follow - I read it in an afternoon. It's just not as good as some of Shakespeare's other comedies (like Much Ado About Nothing). The fifth act seems superfluous to me. I understand that the marriage acts as a frame for the play (it opens with Theseus and Hippolyta discussing their upcoming wedding) so it makes sense to close with it, and the bad acting is funny, but it just seemed so different from the rest of the play that it was a bit jarring. I did like the characters, though (even Demetrius, I guess), and it is an amusing play. Titania's "Thou art as wise as thou art beautiful" is an excellent example of damning with faint praise.

The other book that I read for this challenge was Terry Pratchett's Lords and Ladies, which was hilarious. I have quotes!
There were other elves seated in a semicircle, except that "seated" was a barely satisfactory word. They lounged; elves could make themselves at home on a wire. And here there was more lace and velvet and fewer feathers, although it was hard to know if it meant that these were aristocrats - elves seemed to wear whatever they felt like wearing, confident of looking absolutely stunning.*

* The Monks of Cool, whose tiny and exclusive monastery is hidden in a really cool and laid-back valley in the lower Ramtops, have a passing-out test for a novice. He is taken into a room full of all types of clothing and asked: Yo,** my son, which of these is the most stylish to wear? And the correct answer is: Hey, whatever I select.

** Cool, but necessarily up to date.
Pratchett novels are always lousy with humorous footnotes. I like this one because I picture the Monks of Cool as extras in a Grease! production. I posted my other favorite quote (no footnotes in that one, sadly) for a mini-challenge during the 24 hour read-a-thon this weekend.

So, how does Lords and Ladies compare to A Midsummer Night's Dream? Well, it's not as easy to follow, for one thing. This was mostly because I've only read a few Discworld novels, so I'm not as familiar with all of the characters, settings, and relationships. The elves in the book are EVIL, rather than just mischievous, but a lot of other things are the same: the wedding, the lovers, the bad acting... Overall, it was very funny and I think reading A Midsummer Night's Dream beforehand added to my understanding and enjoyment of it.

Both of these books are registered on BookCrossing; if anyone wants one (or both) comment and I'll send it to you.

* Make him fall in love, not turn him into an ass - although you could argue that he already is one. :)

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