A Midsummer Night’s Dream is something that, in my personal experience, isn’t something that is widely taught in schools when Shakespeare is involved. As a student, I only ever encountered tragedies; Romeo and Juliet, Othello, and Hamlet were the go-to plays. (That isn’t to say that they aren’t good plays, but I feel like you should introduce students to his work through his comedies first because they have a lot of the same elements but are lighter-hearted.)
I love this play because it’s pretty hilarious — c’mon, Nick Bottom gets his head turned into an ass’s head — and it breaks a lot of the expectations that students tend to immediately feel when they hear the name Shakespeare (many of them sort of reminiscent of either Fred Savage in The Princess Bride or just generally not happy because everything is unhappy).
Also, there are so many reincarnations of this play that really lends itself well to comparing how the play works for ‘modern day’ audiences. (My favourite is the 2016 BBC version, which I know a lot of my literature friends were not happy with because so many of the lines got swapped to other characters. But the aesthetics are amazing, Nonso Anozie makes for an awesome Oberon, Puck was wonderfully played by Hiran Abeysekera, and Matthew Tennyson’s Lysander looks like a super lost Harry Potter.)
As I only had one student during the time that I was teaching this play, we had a lot of time to work with and really explore it. It was such a good moment for a lot of interesting conversations that were largely student-initiated:
- ‘Translating’ the play from Shakespeare’s Early Modern English to today’s Modern English (my student’s request) and exploring some changes in language.
- During the above, he found a lot of words that he didn’t expect and wanted to find out the etymology of them and compare modern usage to Shakespeare’s usage.
- What makes an insult? Using Shakespearean insults to discuss parts of speech (my suggestion, obviously), how and why certain words are insulting and the associations we make to other words, and modern equivalents of the insults Shakespeare used.
- How do we ‘disarm’ insults? Some of the insults used in A Midsummer Night’s Dream didn’t really seem, at first, to be too insulting. My student wanted to know why that changed.
- Why is some language taboo? This stemmed from a combination of his propensity to use ‘bad’ language and also a genuine interest in why certain words are considered ‘bad’.
Honestly, there are so many subjects to explore in this play that this is only one avenue of discussion.
Anyway, through the ‘translation’ process, there was a project where my student created a TV (his decision) where he had to represent roughly every scene with one image depicting the events in it. As he worked the TV, he had to summarise the scenes and what was happening. (It’s annoying because I used to have a video of him doing this, but my school-owned iPad was reset three times in one year without letting me back-up files.)
Anyway, this is the final product of that assignment. It’s super cute! A GIF of the following pictures can be found here.