November 29, 2015

The Mutability of Reality in Shakespeare

This weekend I saw some Shakespeare performances, A Midsummer Night's Dream and A Winter's Tale at Blackfriars Theater in Staunton, Virginia, a wonderful venue, a recreation of Shakespeare's indoor theater. I was thinking about how both of these plays express a core aesthetic strategy inherent in "the literature of wonder," my term for science fiction, fantasy, and supernatural horror: reality is conditional. The ordinary is mutable. This comes through in A Midsummer Night's Dream with Bottom's soliloquy. He wakes up alone in the woods having been, for a brief moment, the guest of fairies and the beloved of the queen of fairies: "I have had a most rare vision. I have had a dream -- past the wit of man to say what dream it was." And this comes through in A Winter's Tale, when Antigonus, leaving a condemned child to the wilderness, states, "I have heard, but not believed, the spirits o' the dead may walk again: if such thing be, thy mother appear'd to me last night, for ne'er was dream so like a waking." In both instances, there is a blurring between waking life and dream life, the objective and the subjective. Tzvetan Todorov discusses the fantastic in these terms.