chapter  6
27 Pages

A Midsummer Night's Dream

Faced with an impossible choice, between marriage to a man she does not love, or death, or a lifetime’s vow of chastity, Hermia flees with Lysander, away from the court of Athens towards the safety of his dowager aunt’s house. Of course they never get there: the journey takes them no farther than that part of The wood, a league without the town’ where the action of the central three acts is set. From the very start the setting is imbued with significance: Lysander reminds Hermia that it is the place where they once met with Helena to celebrate May Day. In Tudor times May Day was one the main festivals of the year, and was associated both with erotic licence and with magic. And now they plan to meet there again on Midsummer’s Night, another similar festival. Francois Laroque gives the following description of the Mid­ summer celebrations:

In England, as in most of the countries of mainland Europe, the advent of summer and the triumph of light over darkness was greeted with a show of bonfires. These bonfires were the focus for all kinds of revelries which perpetuated the memory of superstitions and quite a few magic rites, all of which were associated in popular culture with the particular powers of this, the shortest night of the year. The magical fascination of fire was supplemented by the burning of certain herbs to the accompaniment of incantations. In London and other large

towns the Midsummer festival was also an occasion for grand parades. . . [containing figures such as the] giants who were no doubt the equivalent of those who paraded at Carnival time on the Continent. As many of these figures also appeared in the May game, a certain confusion arose between the rites of May and those of Midsummer’s Eve . . . At all events, Mid­ summer was a season which became synonymous with con­ fusion and even mental aberration. Midsummer’s Eve was traditionally a night of mistakes and wandering wits.1