Midsummer Night's Dream: Shakespeare vs. Michael Hoffman

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Midsummer Night's Dream: Shakespeare vs. Michael Hoffman

A Midsummer Night’s Dream is one of Shakespeare’s most popular and frequently performed comical plays (Berardinelli). The play transformed into a cinematic production by Michael Hoffman has not changed in its basic plot and dialogue, but the setting and some character traits have. The play setting has been gracefully moved from 16th century Greece to 19th century Tuscany (Berardinelli). The addition of bicycles to the play affects the characters in that they no longer have to chase each other around the woods, but can take chase in a more efficient fashion. As far as characters are concerned, Demetrius is no longer the smug and somewhat rude character we find in act 1, scene 1 (Shakespeare pg. 6, line 91), but rather a seemingly indifferent gentleman placed in an unfortunate circumstance set to delay his wedding to Hermia. Perhaps the most noticeable change in the character set from stage to film occurs in the characters of Puck and Nick Bottom.

Puck, or Robin Goodfellow, is established in the play as the jester to the King of Fairies, Oberon. He first appears in Act 2, Scene 1 when he and another fairy discuss the disagreement between Oberon and Titania are having. The fairy gives us some indication of Puck's character as she describes how Puck “frights the maidens of the villagery” and “Misleading the night wanderers” (Act 2.1, line 35). When Titania refuses to give up the boy servant that Oberon wants, he comes up with a plan to steal the child, and enlists Puck's help to do so. Oberon is fully aware of Puck’s desire to have a good time at the expense of others, but trusts him with the task of retrieving the flower to make Titania fall in love with “Lion, Bear, Wolf, or Bull.” (Act 2.1, line 180) The idea here is to convince Titania to hand over the changeling boy while she is infatuated with a beast. Being attracted to mischief, Puck seems excited to be tasked to this adventure, and claims to return “Within forty minutes” (Act 2.1, line 176) so that they can get started on their plan.

Puck describes his harmful behavior as if it is all logically consistent. He says he “Sometimes lurk in gossip’s bowl,” but does not think he takes anything too far. A lot of the humor that Puck brings to the play comes across in a subtle manner. For example, after he places the flower on Lysande...

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...age. Instead of laughing at Bottom, the film generates a feeling of sorrow for his character. When the wine is poured on him when the craftsmen first meet, Bottom takes an obvious emotional blow, so one can see how he would artificially inflate himself with the false perception of being a wonderful actor. When chosen to perform for Thesseus’s wedding, the players are very nervous and turn to Bottom for comfort. They look up to and respect Bottom for his confidence and acting ability, but Bottom later makes a fool of himself in the play by over dramatizing the part of Pyramus, especially when he performs the death of Pyramus. Michael Hoffman’s adaptation of A Midsummer Night’s Dream brings a classical play to a modern audience and makes it an exciting and humorous experience. This is accomplished most notably with the direction he gives to the two characters discussed. The animated humor of Bottom and the slightly more subtle badgering of other characters brought forth by Puck creates a certain amount of attachment to the movie by the viewer. The cinematic version of Shakespeare’s play is well adapted to a modern audience, especially through the characters of Puck and Nick Bottom.
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