Monday, April 23, 2007

I have had a most rare vision

Near the end of A Midsummer Night's Dream, the brilliantly foolish Nick Bottom awakes and finds himself all alone in the woods. Still in the midst of a dream, he calls out for his mates and hears no response. Then it hits him. Something strange and unusual has happened; he has had a "most rare vision."

That's where we were in class today in: "Bottom's Dream."

Most of the period we looked at Bottom's delightfully bumbling soliloquy, another of Shakespeare's little gems tucked away at the end of Act IV, scene 1. In past years, I've spent little time looking at these lines and, instead, glossed over them, maybe mentioning the reference to I Corinthians 2:9 that Bottom screws up so wonderfully. However, today, when the kids walked into F14, they were assigned a bit of updating. Put Bottom's speech into language they could better understand. (I never use the word translate when discussing Shakespeare because it is, of course, still English; it would only need translating to say French or Sanskrit). Since Bottom is having a tough time coming up with the right words, maybe the students could relate. It turned into a nice, simple lesson.

I think every now and then I have to be reminded to slow down, spend some time on shorter pieces of text. Look closely at the writing. In this case, it's a master writer presenting a purposely garbled rendering of his ideas. It takes a little time to muddle through and appreciate. This isn't Shakespeare's crowning moment in the play, like some of the longer poetic speeches by Titania or Oberon. It's worth the time we spent on it today, though. With a deeper understanding of Bottom's take, we can better appreciate Theseus's more rational explanation at the opening of Act V. Once we get that out of the way, we can sit back and enjoy the play-within-a-play that Bottom and his mates perform for Theseus.

Just as important, the assignment allowed the students to get beyond Bottom's initial confusion, which I think is easily understood by any one who's ever woken from a powerful dream. The students wrote in their own words how Bottom wants his buddy Peter Quince to write a ballad of this dream, otherwise no one will believe it. One student said it the best during our discussion when she said that something like Bottom's adventures with fairy queen Titania is so unbelievable that the only way for it to make sense to us (dare I say "mortals"?) is if it is put forth as fiction or literature.

Absolutely. Even Bottom knows that.

No comments: