I have always studied English Literature, all the way from secondary school through to my BA degree, and I'd love to do an MA one day soon, so I've had a lot of experience with Shakespeare - some good, some bad, some downright repetitive (I've studied The Tempest a grand total of five times!), but my very first Shakespearean experience was with A Midsummer Night's Dream at the grand old age of ten. I was in an after school drama club where the teacher thought it would be good to cast me as Helena because (and I quote) 'you're tall'. I should add that I have all the dramatic ability of a stick insect. Oh, and I'd had a giant crush on the guy playing Lysander for about two years but was always too cripplingly shy to talk to him... As you can imagine, it was an interesting experience! Despite the agony of the actual performance, I fell in love with the play. I found it hilarious and romantic at the same time and I loved learning my lines - they were so beautiful and poetic and sounded so great said aloud. Reading it again I found myself smiling at lines I remembered vividly. A particular favourite was "thou painted maypole" (Hermia, Act 3,Scene 2), which I remember finding absolutely hilarious at the time (ah, ten year old humour!).
A Midsummer Night's Dream is believed to be Shakespeare's fourteenth play, performed around 1595. It's also probably one of the most well -known of his plays, and is performed annually in Regents Park in London on an outdoor stage. It has (according to Wikipedia!), four ballet adaptations, nine film adaptations, two television productions and countless literary adaptions. Also, for me 2012 is the year of all things fairytale and folklore, and this definitely counts!
For anybody who doesn't know, A Midsummer Night's Dream basically takes place in a wood outside of Athens. Four Athenians are the central characters: Lysander and Hermia are in love and planning to elope together, Demetrius wants to marry Hermia and although her father says she must marry him, she refuses, and Helena is in love with Demetrius. The problems arise when the Athenians unknowingly wander into the middle of a dispute between Oberon, the fairy king, and Titania, the fairy queen, and become subject to the meddling of Robin Goodfellow, otherwise known as Puck. People are made to fall in love with other people, different people are given asses heads, and general hilarity ensues until eventually they all live happily ever after (it's not a tragedy, after all).
I am always really apprehensive of starting to read Shakespeare - for some reason part of me still thinks it's going to be really difficult to read, although I know it isn't. I read A Midsummer Night's Dream in a day, and periodically had to remind myself to put it down and do things like go back to work. I got so swept up in the language, and I just wish that I could write things like this:
Robin Goodfellow, Epilogue"If we shadows have offended,Think but this, and all is mended:That you have but slumbered here,While these visions did appear;And this weak and idle theme,No more yielding but a dream,Gentles, do not reprehend.If you pardon, we will mend.And as I am an honest puck,If we have unearned luckNow to 'scape the serpents tongue,We will make amends ere long,Else the puck a liar call.So, good night unto you all.Give me your hands, if we be friends,And Robin shall restore amends."
I know that there is much more I could say about the play, but basically I would just recommend that you go and see it. I plan to go in Regents Park this year if I can get tickets, as it's on over my birthday which would be amazing. Even reading it is just such a magical experience, and although the human characters are a little bit on the whiny side, and Oberon and Titania are frankly a bit petty, Nick Bottom is hysterical (with or without his asses head!) and Puck is a chaos - making genius. I think he was the forerunner of Peeves from Harry Potter.
Shakespeare wrote his plays as entertainment for Queen Elizabeth and various other noble people. I really really wish that some of the people who script for TV shows nowadays would take more than a few leaves out of his book. Why can't we have stuff this good to entertain us??