Shakespeare The Anarchist!


At every moment of his writing Shakespeare tries to shake us out of our habitual ways of thinking and being. He is in anarchist in the sense that he wants us to look critically at the way we are controlled by our prejudices.  In his sonnet “My Mistress’ Eyes Are Nothing Like the Sun” (Sonnet 130) he dares to tear down the conventions of female beauty then (and now). His girlfriend has breath that “reeks”, she has wiry black hair, dark coloured breasts and a talking voice that no one likes to hear: “Ah shut yar …..” etc.. And yet his girlfriend is “as rare” as any woman who has been dolled up to look totally false! His mistress “walks on the ground”… Shakespeare sees this as a real virtue. She is anchored, honest, not full of bull____.

So this is Shakespeare writing about conventions of beauty. When he turns his attention to the way people in general live their lives (in Sonnet 146), he has a go at our obsession with THINGS… all those things that adorn our lives, that make us “feel better”, but that, ultimately, are such worthless encumbrances. They stand in the way of our true freedom, our capacity to know ourselves with some degree of honesty. If we spend all our time and energy “on stage” parading how good we are to everyone around us, then there is little energy left for our real, essential self. This is why Shakespeare loved the idea “All the world’s a stage and we are merely players”. He saw how we all prance around “on stage” and use up our energy in posturing, being driven by our ego. It will be interesting to see in The Tempest how his central character Prospero eventually finds his way of getting off stage….

In A Midsummer Night’s Dream Shakespeare’s anarchism is expressed through his challenge to a male dominated society which sees women as having no mind of their own. Theseus and Egeus are the stereotypical males who feel they have a right to tell women how to behave. But Shakespeare’s women can stand up to this. Hermia is a great example. She chooses her own lover. She determines her own fate. More importantly, this play shows how dreams and imagination (regarded by most as a useless waste of time) can have a transforming effect on the world. Shakespeare was a powerful believer in the way imagination could change people’s thinking and feeling. It is the interaction of our earth-bound world with the world of Fairy that brings about a harmonious outcome at the end of this amazing play.

Blog Topics…. and please remember these are suggestions. You can create your own topic that weaves aspects of your own life experience with the literature that we are studying each week. 

Creative Topics

1/ Take two lines from anywhere in A Midsummer Night’s Dream (chose lines that have grabbed your attention either because of their meaning or their sound) and use these lines as the starting point for a paragraph which you will write in Shakespearean style. Try to write like an Elizabethan!

2/ Using modern English, try to write a sonnet using the structure that Shakespeare developed. Choose a topic that interests you and see how difficult (or easy) it is to stick to the sonnet form. Worth a try! Nothing to lose. This exercise will give you a real understanding of Shakespeare’s genius. 

Critical Topics

3/ Write a brief description, with examples from the text, of what kind of a person Bottom is. You have heard him in class. Now pin him down. Say what he is like and why others in the play react to him as they do. 

4/ Give a detailed explanation of where the idea of Midsummer Night comes from. Avoid simply cutting and pasting from Google sources. Do some research and try to write down what you understand to be important about this event and why Shakespeare my have chosen the idea as the focus for his drama. 

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