I recently read A Midsummer Night's Dream and didn't think that it was any good. I found that I wasn't laughing at the jokes and I didn't admire the assumed profundity. The three tenuously linked storylines baffled me somewhat and made the whole thing seem rather chaotic. Furthermore, I felt that it missed those lovely little sex-crazed, bloodthirsty plot twists that I've come to expect from the Old Bard.
Last Friday, sitting in the pub with my family, I told them how I felt.
I've always known that it's slightly controversial to claim that one doesn't enjoy a particular Shakespeare play. This is, after all, one of fundamental lessons of GCSE English. Apparently, it's considered a sort of treasonous betrayal of wholesome British culture, akin to questioning David Beckham's footballing ability or criticizing the ostensible beauty of Elton John's song about a candle. The hatred that I received from my family upon my announcement, therefore, was expected.
I was paradoxically condemned to be both pretentious and a philistine. I was both too smart and too dumb. I was, ultimately, just plain old wrong. My family's condemnations were, much like A Midsummer Night's Dream, rather bland and confusing.
My criticisms of Shakespeare may have come across as somewhat untimely, perhaps, considering that we were only in that particular pub to watch a performance of Shakespeare's play. What made my criticisms even worse, perhaps, was that my ticket was bought for me as a gift. Worse still, it was given to me by the woman who was sat to my right and that woman happened to be my mum. She suffered nine months of pregnancy and an intolerable labour to give birth to a son who felt that her present was kind of naff.
Nonetheless, I sat with my now angry kin, next to my seething mum, and watched A Midsummer Night's Dream at my local. It was an unusual performance by a bunch of folks who travel around Britain acting in pub smoking areas. The organizers appropriately named the event 'Shakespeare in the Garden' - a seemingly more palatable title than 'Shakespeare in the Smoking Area'.
In order to avoid offering a summation, I'll recount some of the highlights. At one point, Bottom, perhaps the most likeable character and certainly the most likeable actor, brought out his ukulele and told us that he was going to play a song that he wrote. He then performed a comedic version of Bob Marley's 'Don't worry, be happy' while the audience, and admittedly myself, merrily sang along. Lysander, at one particularly funny moment, downed a pint of beer before nervously proposing to Hermia. A short while later, Bottom stole an audience member's burger and fecklessly ate one of her chips. The audience, and admittedly myself, appropriately laughed.
As the actors left, my family turned to me, smug and supercilious, with a sort of 'I told you so' look on their faces, and collectively said: 'Now that you've seen it live, you have to admit that it's a good play'. I looked at them, more than a little drunk at this point, and said 'no, it was a good performance, not a good play'.
In order to substantiate my point, I asked them what they considered to be the most enjoyable moments. They basically went on to recite the abovementioned highlights. This is what I cunningly expected. I told them that all those moments were improvised and that the core Shakespearian version of A Midsummer Night's Dream was still confusing and bland. They, of course, disagreed entirely and once again I became the ungrateful, stubborn enemy. I felt like I did when I was fifteen after my English teacher berated me for disliking Romeo and Juliet.
I've grown up since high school and have come to enjoy some of Old Bill's work. Nonetheless, it's not impossible to conceive that certain plays don't appeal to certain people. Thus it's important to remember that the reaction to Shakespeare, like everything else, is entirely subjective. I don't suppose that I should be criticized too vehemently - by high school teachers or family members - for not liking one of his plays. Shakespeare might be one of our most treasured artists and he may verily be the most revered playwright to ever grace Albion's greenest pastures, but that doesn't mean that one can't dislike some or all of his plays.
I suppose I should conclude with some trite Shakespearian quote to both substantiate my point and simultaneously mollify my potentially angered reader: To thine own self be true, I guess.