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YMMV / A Midsummer Night's Dream

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  • Alternate Character Interpretation:
    • Some productions hint that Demetrius really loved Helena the entire time, that he only switched to Hermia for her wealth and status, and the potion just reawakened his real feelings. This is consistent with Lysander's statement in the first scene that Demetrius was wooing Helena before he inexplicably switched to Hermia. And then other productions imply that Demetrius wooed Helena just long enough to take her virginity and then immediately kicked her to the curb, making this a case of Laser-Guided Karma with a smidgen of Rape Portrayed as Redemption on Demetrius's part if you want to be macabre about it.
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    • There's also the fact that Egeus's word is the law, and Demetrius has to marry Hermia because he's been ordered to. Yes he will benefit from the marriage, but it's possible he's pursuing Hermia into the woods because he's afraid of what will happen to both of them if it's discovered that they've run off. In fact, it's Demetrius announcing he's fallen for Helena that spurs Theseus to overrule Egeus - suggesting the former was aware Egeus was pressuring both of them.
    • Helena is often thought of as a Stalker with a Crush or Clingy Jealous Girl. But if you think about it, Demetrius was wooing her before he switched to Hermia - so she has good reason to think she can win him back if she gets him to face the reality that Hermia loves Lysander. She could be seen less like a stalker and more like a jilted lover trying to work out why her other half has gone cold on her.
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    • At least one critic voiced the idea that Oberon is actually bisexual, and his desire for Titania's changeling boy is actually sexual in nature. This interpretation is especially popular in discussions of Benjamin Britten's opera adaptation, since Britten was openly gay himself. Critics who hold this view also tend to detect Ho Yay between Oberon and Puck.
    • It's possible to read Titania and Oberon's fight over the changeling boy as not about the boy himself but as part of an Escalating War between them. Further exploring the Blue-and-Orange Morality of the fairies, the entire series of events could all be a game to them. Oberon just wins this round, and there's a chance of Titania winning the next one.
    • Titania's bewitched attraction to Bottom can actually be read in a different way as well. The common interpretation is that it's the same mad romantic love Demetrius and Lysander are made to feel for Helena. The 1935 film however suggests it's more of a motherly love, drawing a parallel for how Bottom is the Replacement Goldfish for the changeling prince.
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  • Audience-Coloring Adaptation: The character of Puck is often heavily influenced by his portrayal in the 1935 film. In the 19th century it was common to have Puck played by a female, and be depicted as a graceful ballerina sort (see Ballet Shoes, where Pauline auditions using Puck's monologue with this interpretation). The film's portrayal of him as a mischievous child caught on, and pop culture often thinks of him this way.
  • Author's Saving Throw: Played with in the epilogue, which coyly "apologizes" to anyone who didn't like the play. This was more or less formula for the period, and shows again in The Tempest, among other places.
  • Awesome Music: Both Felix Mendelssohn and Carl Orff wrote epic soundtracks for the play. Mendelsson`s version taking a romantic tone, while Orff was concentrating on the bizarreness of the turns the plot takes.
  • Best Known for the Fanservice:
    • The 1968 adaptation is best remembered for a young Judi Dench as a Fairy Sexy in Stripperiffic garb - with only modesty leaves covering her.
    • The 1999 film is remembered for Christian Bale and Dominic West being naked in the woods with Anna Friel and Calista Flockhart - who then proceed to have a sexy mud wrestling match.
  • Designated Hero: Oberon's surface role in this story is attempting to straighten out the love trouble between the four main mortals so all four of them can be happy. There's even a scene where he points out that his kind are fey creatures instead of infernal ones, and thus not evil but (potentially) benevolent. Yet, he does a lot of awful things as well that detract from this image.
    • In his subplot with Titania, when Titania (rightfully) refuses to give Oberon the orphaned son of a dead friend of hers she's been taking care of to serve him, he retaliates by playing a cruel trick with the explicit intent to humiliate her. The fact that she is to modern audience an incredible Badass (has her own army) and compassionate woman (adopting a child from her handmaiden who is a different species) and that Oberon is a Karma Houdini doesn't help paint him in the best light.
    • Even Oberon's attempt to "help" the lovers can come across as very creepy considering he is basically brainwashing people into loving someone they wouldn't usually love.
  • Ending Fatigue: Less so than most examples, but all the plot threads are pretty much wrapped up once Theseus pardons the lovers and lets Lysander and Hermia get married (and Demetrius declares his newfound love for Helena). Even Oberon and Titania seem to have resolved their conflict. But then the play goes on for another little bit in the form of the wedding tableau. As the tableau usually ends up as the funniest scene in the film, people are willing to overlook the fatigue if it's suitably entertaining.
  • Ensemble Dark Horse:
    • Puck is Oberon's minion, a side character's sidekick, and yet he is to many the most memorable character in the play. If someone in fiction does a monologue from A Midsummer Night's Dream, 90% of the time you can be sure it's one of Puck's. He's also one of the characters that can very easily be played by either a male or female.
    • Bottom is also quite remembered and beloved for being the show's biggest source of laughs thanks to his shamelessly hammy nature and childish enthusiasm. Not to mention, Nick's transformation into a donkey is arguably the most famous part of the play.
    • Titania is not the female lead—Hermia is, and Helena would be next in terms of importance, but the fairy queen is one of the most remembered parts. It helps that she's quite the badass, commanding an entire army of her own, and is very much The High Queen.
  • Esoteric Happy Ending:
    • The pairing of the human couples is presented as happy but then you realize that the only reason Demetrius is with Helena is not because he has genuinely fallen in love with her, but because he has been affected by a Love Potion. Some versions will imply that Demetrius did have feelings for Helena to begin with, lessening this somewhat. The fact that Love Potions could be compared to date rape drugs doesn't help matters. Even if the law was harsh the fact is Demetrius is still being forced into loving someone he did not have feelings for at the time, even if he did at one point.
    • Meanwhile, Helena ends up married to the man who jilted her for another woman, spent much of the play verbally abusing and threatening her, and has only stopped because he's been magically induced to love her.
    • The last we see of Titania and Oberon, they are going off for a happy ending, apparently having reconciled. This becomes much less sweet when one recalls that they only ended up this way after Oberon had his wife brainwashed into loving (and, implicitly, sleeping with) a human with a donkey's head and taking advantage of this condition to get her to give him a child she was looking after (something she was very against when in her right mind), only freeing her of the Love Potion because he pitied her and got what he wanted. While the play does end with Titania asking how she ended up next to the donkey-headed Bottom like that, nothing suggests that Oberon doesn't get away with everything he did to her.
    • And of course, if you're familiar with classic mythology, you already know that Theseus and Hippolyta's wedding won't end well.
  • Fair for Its Day: Athenian law stated that a daughter would have to be executed if she did not do her father's will. Theseus finds this too extreme and forgives the lovers — despite the other examples of male dominance found throughout the play.
  • Fantasy Ghetto: At the time, critics scoffed at the ridiculousness of the story - because it depicted fairies as being real and meddling in mortals' lives. 17th century scholars debated about whether it was appropriate to even show fantasy creatures in fiction at all.
  • He Really Can Act: James Cagney was considered a serious miscasting in the 1935, due to his typecasting as gangsters and thugs. As it turns out, he actually started out as a song and dance man, and threw himself into an against type role. Most critics were pleasantly surprised at how well he played Bottom.
  • Ho Yay:
    • Between Oberon and his 'gentle Puck'.
    • In the 2013 Globe production, when Oberon learns that Puck's ensured that Titania has fallen in love with the donkey-headed Bottom, he swings across the stage, snatches Puck up, dips him so low his legs are off the ground, and kisses him full on the lips. It lasts about half a minute. Puck, for his part, is positively swooning during this exchange.
    • In the same production, Titania displays much physical affection to her mostly female entourage. However, the effect is diminished as the servant fairies are crosscast rather than gender flipped.
    • Helena's jealousy towards Hermia leads her to languish over her rival's beauties in a way that toes the line between envy and desire. Hermia telling Helena where she and Lysander will meet could easily come across as an invitation, given the romantic language she employs.
      Hermia: And in the wood where often you and I upon faint primrose beds were wont to lie, emptying our bosoms of their counsel sweet, there my Lysander and myself shall meet.
    • The BBC 2016 version even adds another side to the love dodecahedron, with briefly Demetrius falling for Lysander.
      • This version also switches up some lines, making it so Titania and Hippolyta are in love. They even share a good, long kiss at the end.
    • The 2016 Globe production gender-swaps Helena into Helenus and strongly implies that his reunion with Demetrius is because Demetrius has accepted his own sexuality. (This also means there's a love triangle between the three guys while Lysander is under the influence of the love potion.) Of course, this can be a Broken Aesop as Demetrius ends up with them due to being brainwashed.
  • Memetic Badass: As Titania commands a whole army of her own, and resists Oberon's attempts to dominate her, she has a reputation as The High Queen. It helps that her entourage (Peaseblossom, Cobweb, Mustard Seed and Moth) feature more than Oberon's.
  • Memetic Loser: Poor Nick Bottom. He's a terrible actor, gets turned into a donkey and is the unwilling pawn in Oberon and Titania's squabbling. Some productions - notably the 1999 film - expand on this by giving him an Awful Wedded Life and being the laughing stock of the city.
  • Memetic Troll: Puck has ended up this way. The mix-up between who gets the love juice is an honest mistake on his part, as he didn't know there were two Athenian boys in the woods (and neither, to be fair, did Oberon). But as Hilarity Ensues from this mistake, Puck is often imagined as a mischievous troll who either screwed things up on purpose or finds the whole ordeal Actually Pretty Funny.
  • Moment of Awesome: From the 1999 film adaptation, after Bottom's melodramatic suicide scene as Pyramus ended up as a laughable farce, Francis Flute in the role of Thisbe gets fed up with being the Butt-Monkey. He stops using the comical falsetto voice, pulls off his horribly unconvincing wig, and plays Thisbe's suicide so tragically straight that he silences the laughter and moves the previously mocking audience to the verge of tears.
  • Newer Than They Think: The fairy queen had no name in folklore. Titania was Shakespeare's name for her, after Ovid's Metamorphoses using that as a general name for daughters of the Titans. Yet people will take Titania as a Canon Name.
  • Retroactive Recognition: Hermia in the 1935 version is played by Olivia de Havilland in her film debut.
  • "Seinfeld" Is Unfunny: This play is one of the oldest examples of the Fantasy Ghetto. Audiences were scandalized that fairies were depicted on the stage since...well they didn't exist. Some critics felt they had to justify this and The Tempest by saying that they only depicted fantasy creatures that came from popular belief. That's the reason Puck apologizes to the audience in his final soliloquy.
  • Ur-Example: Arguably of Playing a Tree.
  • Values Dissonance:
    • After the potion makes Lysander hate Hermia, he wards off her advances by saying she looks like an "Ethiope." African women were considered horribly ugly at the time in Europe.
    • In Elizabethan times, a man who took a woman's virginity was expected to marry her. Notably this happened to Shakespeare himself, who got married six months before his wife gave birth. Hence, Demetrius returning to Helena, despite being under a brainwashing potion and unable to give any consent worth a darn, would've been seen as the properly moral ending.
  • WTH, Casting Agency?:
    • Mickey Rooney as Puck in the 1935 film got lots of criticism for favoring Box Office clout over acting ability. These days it's a Broken Base - with some liking him in the role, and others finding him annoying.
    • Dick Powell in the same version felt himself miscast and asked for his name taken off the film. His performance however is seen in slightly better light than Mickey Rooney's.


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