The Taming of the Amazon

A Midsummer Night’s Dream, The Globe, 7 June 2013

Two invented sequences preceded the main action. In the first, two couples moved rhythmically around each other; Theseus with Titania and Oberon with Hippolyta. The doubling of these roles meant that two of them were played here by other actors in masks.

This was followed by a representation of the battle between the Athenians and the Amazons. Hippolyta’s archers lined up on one side of the stage, faced by Theseus’s men on the other. The Amazons were defeated one by one, leaving Hippolyta to be taken an unwilling prisoner by Theseus. The Athenian conqueror confiscated her belt as a token of his victory.

This sequence merged seamlessly into 1.1 as Theseus (John Light) and Hippolyta (Michelle Terry), wearing standard Globe Renaissance costume, spoke of their impending wedding. The elision of her seizure with the wedding preparations brought a freshness to Hippolyta’s still vivid resentment of her capture, which informed her grudging acknowledgement of their nuptial.

Candelabra hung low over the stage and three oil paintings of noblemen stood on the upper gallery to indicate the court setting.

Theseus reminded Hippolyta that he had “woo’d thee with my sword, and won thy love, doing thee injuries”, which had been seen moments before, as he shook the stolen token at her. He grasped Hippolyta on the back of the neck as he spoke, a gesture redolent of possession and control rather than affection.

The added prologue focussed attention on Hippolyta and made the ensuing action a subplot to her story, which was the starting point of the play’s narrative.

The entry of Egeus (Edward Peel), Hermia (Olivia Ross), Lysander (Luke Thompson), Helena (Sarah MacRae), and Demetrius (Joshua Silver) and the exposition of the tangled affections of the four lovers appeared a secondary consideration.

Given her situation, dark-haired Hermia was suitably earnest, which contrasted with Lysander’s cocky confidence.

Theseus applied the same forcefulness in support of Egeus’s control over his daughter Hermia’s affections as he had employed in his conquest of Hippolyta. Telling women what to do was something he found natural. He therefore insisted that Hermia wed Demetrius and not her true love Lysander.

Just as Lysander pointed out that Demetrius had first wooed Helena, the tall blonde in question became distressed and ran off.

Theseus resolutely told Hermia that failure to marry Demetrius would mean either her death or a cloistered life.

Hippolyta had remained silent all this time, but her supercilious looks gave no doubt that she was unimpressed. Nevertheless she could not let matters pass without making her own wry comment upon them.

As everyone but Lysander and Hermia left the stage, Hippolyta moved silently to Hermia and made a cross on her forehead with her index finger, either marking her for death or for a religious life, in either case signalling that Hermia should not submit to Egeus and Theseus. This was more evidence of her continued resistance to Theseus’s will. Hippolyta’s silent conclusion to the lovers’ first scene restored focus on her once again.

The rhetorical neatness of Hermia and Lysander’s exchange about the various ways in which “the course of true love never did run smooth” was enhanced by Hermia positioning herself on the triangular promontory at the stage front to give her replies more force. The pair arranged to flee Athens for the forest.

The comic stichomythia of Helena and Hermia’s mirrored complaints about Demetrius loving one of them but not the other, appeared even more light and fluffy for taking place against the dark backdrop of the performance’s opening. Helena said that she would tell Demetrius of her friends’ flight.

The mechanicals clog danced their way onto the stage and continued to dance a highly entertaining clog routine (1.2). Bottom (Pearce Quigley) arrived late with an extra-textual apology “Sorry, my cock-a-doodle didn’t”. Pearce Quigley’s trademark laconic delivery worked its magic in transforming Bottom’s usual bombast into vacant understatement.

He repeatedly faltered over Quince’s name “First, good Peter… Peter?… Peter Quince…” a seemingly deliberate absentmindedness that showed his disdain for the company’s manager.

Bottom was delighted that he would be playing the gallant lover Pyramus. His conditional “if I do it…” was followed by an extra-textual “I’ll do it”, as he launched into his “raging rocks” speech. He congratulated himself on his performance “This was lofty!” in a subdued style that was all the funnier for its quiet restraint.

Flute (Christopher Logan) was not happy at playing Thisbe, a fact that Bottom seized on to insist on playing the part “in a monstrous little voice”. It was apt that Pearce’s standard vocal style, also employed here for Thisbe, was monstrously little.

Parts were allocated, with the Lion being allocated to the very tall Snug (Edward Peel again). Bottom insisted on playing the Lion as well, but Quince (Fergal McElherron) put his foot down and told Bottom in no uncertain terms that he could “play no part but Pyramus”.

Bottom reacted by storming away in the middle of this speech, the others following him out the stage right exit. He briefly appeared in the tiring house doorway, suitcase in hand, as if definitively departing, before returning again through the stage left entrance to concede “Well, I will undertake it”.

Bottom pondered what beard he should wear. The two mentions of “French” with reference to the “French-crown-colour beard” were accompanied by the entire mechanical crew spitting. This felt uncalled for in a play that does not deal in such nationalistic sentiment.

The stage was transformed into the forest as curtains patterned with trees were drawn across the back of the tiring house, while the paintings in the upper gallery were turned round to show their leafy backings.

Real tree branches were brought out of the trap and placed near the stage pillars, and the candelabra that had denoted the interior scenes were raised upwards. A forest creature was chased screaming down the trap, evidencing the wildness of the location.

Feathers

Puck (Matthew Tennyson), a young thin bare-chested figure with feathers sprouting from either side of his head, greeted the Fairy (Fergal McElherron again), resplendent in an animal head mask, for the expositional dialogue setting out Titania and Oberon’s dispute over the changeling (2.1).

The bare-chested, manly Oberon (John Light again) confronted jungle woman Titania (Michelle Terry again), a picture of natural wildness in her green tasselled dress and long tresses of hair. She was backed on either side by her followers who wore animal heads, including one apt donkey head.

The couple traded barbed references to their respective affairs with their mortal counterparts, Theseus and Hippolyta, which had been portrayed at the outset and of which we were now reminded.

Dismissing Oberon’s concerns as “the forgeries of jealousy”, Titania countered “with thy brawls thou hast disturbed our sport”, setting out the trail of environmental damage caused by their dissension.

Oberon was in his own way as peremptory as Theseus, but Hippolyta was his match and refused to hand over the changeling.

Oberon promised to revenge himself and summoned Puck. As he began to describe where Cupid’s arrow had fallen, transforming a flower into the purple “love-in-idleness”, he lifted Puck by placing one arm between his legs and hoisted him upwards so that he could get a better view of the location.

Puck went to “put a girdle round the earth in forty minutes” stretching his arms out and leaning from side to side as a warm up for that exertion.

Oberon made himself invisible to observe Demetrius and Helena. She dogged Demetrius, insisting that she was his spaniel. Oberon became fascinated by Helena’s blonde hair, standing behind her and playing with it, then ascending the stage left pillar to sniff at it once again as she passed.

Oberon watched the quarrelling mortals depart and promised Helena “thou shalt fly him and he shall seek thy love”.

Puck returned with the flower and gestured as if throwing it to Oberon, who in turn appeared to catch it, opening his hand to reveal the bloom. But this was all sleight of hand: nothing was actually thrown. It was appropriate that the inhabitants of this magic fairy world should be fooling the audience with a simple conjuring trick.

Oberon said he would charm Titania’s eyes with the juice of the flower and instructed Puck to do the same to the Athenian-garmented lover.

Titania appeared with her fairy followers and ordered them to “sing me now to sleep”. As they surrounded her and sang, she gradually fell under their spell. She was carried aloft and then reclined onto a fairy’s back to be carried to her flowery bower. This was a grass bed positioned upright against the tiring house stage right. She fell against it and reclined as if asleep on the ground. She remained visible on her bower, changing sleeping position occasionally until her subsequent awakening.

Oberon appeared above on the tiring house gallery to drop juice into her eyes so that she would fall in love with the first creature she saw on waking. He made a gruff, grunting sound, similar to the word ‘open’ that had the effect of opening Titania’s eyes.

Hermia and Lysander settled down for the night, Hermia insisting that Lysander bed down on the opposite side of the stage to her, so that they were separated when Puck appeared. He juiced Lysander’s eyes, also employing a gruff sound to charm them open, and retreated as Demetrius and Helena approached.

Helena gave up her pursuit of Demetrius and proceeded to wake Lysander, who instantly fell in love with her. Lysander’s rejection of Hermia was as comical as his new-found love for Helena. He broke off from his avowal of love to growl “Where is Demetrius?” and glancing contemptuously at the still-sleeping Hermia, dramatically repented “the tedious minutes I with her have spent”.

Hermia awoke from her bad dream in which a serpent had eaten her heart to find Lysander gone.

The mechanicals entered through the yard and clog danced their way on stage again to rehearse their play (3.1). There was something thrilling about Peter Quince pointing at the tree-patterned curtain in front of the tiring house and announcing “this hawthorn-brake our tiring house”.

Bottom insisted on a prologue to dispel audience fears that anyone might come to harm in their play, giving Pearce Quigley more opportunities to deploy his funny sparse style. Quince wanted the prologue “written in eight and six”, which Bottom demanded should have “two more; let it be written in eight and…. two more” comically pausing until completing his mental arithmetic.

Insisting that the actor behind the lion also introduce himself, Bottom mimed how Snug should speak through the neck of the lion costume to calm the fears of the “fair ladies”.

Yet again, Bottom paused before saying the other’s names because he was not sure who they were.

Bottom also suggested that the wall should be presented by someone encased in plaster, adding “and let him hold his fingers thus…” as he made a downward V with his fingers. He placed the same fingers over his mouth to show how Pyramus and Thisbe should speak through the chink, and thereby formed an obscene gesture.

Puck appeared on the tiring house balcony to observe the “hempen home-spuns”. Bottom exited leaving Flute to wander the stage stiffly as Thisbe. Bottom caused great consternation when he re-entered with an ass’s head, a tail, and hoof fringes on his feet and hands.

Puck’s fairy helpers crossed branches over the exits to prevent the other mechanicals from fleeing, trapping them on the stage so that Puck could then torment them.

Bottom wandered up and down singing, a noise that raised Titania from her flowery bed. She came forward from her upright bower, asking Bottom to sing again. He looked at her, glanced behind him as if she might have been addressing someone else, then pointed at himself as if to say ‘you mean me?’

Titania sought to convince him of her serious intent with her next couplet, giving an erotic immediacy to “So is mine eye enthralled to thy shape” in case he did not realise she was attracted to him physically.

It took time for Bottom to get used to Titania’s interest in him. Her slight reticence and appreciation of his uncertainty made the sequence all the more convincing. She discovered his long tail and caressed it lovingly, a gesture that offered only the merest hint of a sexual subtext.

Titania responded emphatically to Bottom’s suggestion that he wanted to leave, insisting “Out of this wood do not desire to go”.

She summoned her fairies, who appeared in the upper audience galleries and suspended inverted fabric pyramid shapes from rods. These were then released and descended gracefully to be caught in nets down in the yard. This was an original way of creating a magical atmosphere.

The fairies crowded round Bottom and fondled him lasciviously as they introduced themselves. Titania retired to her bower and once stood there invited Bottom to join her. Bottom looked at her, took off his waistcoat with a decisive flourish, hung it on the antler of fairy, and leant in next to her, gesturing that the curtain representing the forest be drawn over them for privacy.

Donkey

Oberon wondered out loud what had become of Titania (3.2). On hearing Puck’s account of how she had fallen for a donkey, he swung round a stage pillar on a rope, ran towards Puck and kissed him forcefully, bending him towards the ground.

Demetrius and Hermia entered through the yard, giving time for Oberon and Puck to hide from them.

Confirmation that Oberon’s plan had gone wrong came when Hermia angrily accused Demetrius of having killed Lysander, the only explanation she could envisage to explain her lover’s absence. Hermia ran off and Demetrius slept on the ground.

As the full scale of foul up became apparent, Puck tried to slink away until Oberon’s accusatory “What hast thou done?” stopped him. But when Puck pointed out that he had, as instructed, juiced the eyes of a man in Athenian garments, Oberon muttered “Oh yeah” to concede that Puck had a point.

Oberon sent him to find Helena. Puck was foppishly vague when insisting “I go, I go, look how I go!” Oberon juiced Demetrius’s eyes hoping that he would be found by his true love.

Helena returned with Lysander, complaining that he was mocking her. By now the clothes of all the lovers had been reduced to the dirty tatters of their undergarments.

Demetrius awoke with a start and performed a perfect backflip before professing his love for Helena. The audience responded to this athletic feat with applause, causing Lysander to turn to them and gesture at them to cool it. This was perfectly in character, as Lysander continued to respond to his new rival for Helena by disparaging everything he did.

Oberon seemed not to be content with this turn for the better and blew some sort of magic force at Helena that inspired her to see mocking conspiracy in the sudden turnaround “… you all are bent to set against me for your merriment”.

Hermia appeared through a gap in the curtain representing the wood, summoned by the sound of Lysander’s voice. Both Lysander and Demetrius had crammed so close to Helena that it appeared that both were ravishing her simultaneously.

Hermia asked Lysander why he had abandoned her, which was enough to make Helena think that Hermia was in on the joke too.

Hermia climbed onto Lysander’s back until he shook her off. He became unexpectedly violent, slapping Hermia in the face as he spurned the “tawny Tartar”. The audience responded to this attack with concern.

However, this violence was directly contradicted by his statement a few lines later, when he said “Although I hate her, I’ll not harm her so”. But he had just hit her.

Hermia rounded on Helena, who in turn insulted Hermia by calling her a “puppet”. Hermia tried to scratch at Helena and was held back by the two men. The four grouped themselves into a tight knot with Helena and Hermia closest, Lysander and Demetrius right behind them. Lysander grasped at Hermia’s leg pulling it upwards.

Oberon seemed to be relishing this conflict and thrust rhythmically at the stage pillar to which he clung.

The knot broke up with Lysander and Demetrius rushing away to fight each other while Helena ran from the amazed Hermia.

Oberon ordered Puck to cause confusion among them and to juice Lysander’s eyes to restore his love for Hermia.

Demetrius and Lysander were tricked by Puck, who mimicked their voices to lead them apart. His fairy helpers used tree branches to create obstacles hindering their progress.

All four lovers eventually grew tired and fell asleep, guided by the fairies wielding bushes so that they assembled in their correct couplings. After hesitating to make sure he had picked the right Athenian, Puck juiced Lysander so that when they awoke all would be well. At this point the interval came.

The lovers stayed in position asleep for some time into the interval before rising to allow the stage to be prepared for the second half.

A trap door in the promontory was propped open and decked with greenery to make it into another iteration of Titania’s bower.

The second half began with Titania appearing through the forest curtains with Bottom (4.1). He bent forward so that she could place a floral coronet over his long donkey ears. They both reclined against the bower. Bottom’s leg shook in appreciation when his head was scratched.

Titania asked if he wanted to hear some music and when he said “Let’s have the tongs and the bones” the drummers in the gallery began to thump out the base line of “We Will Rock You”, much to Titania’s consternation.

Titania snuggled down with Bottom and made good on her promise “Sleep thou, and I will wind thee in my arms”. Both of them gesturing to the attendant fairies to turn around and not look at them. One fairy would not leave but instead drew closer, prompting Titania’s indignant “Fairies, begone, and be all ways away”.

She wrapped her leg over his, coiling around him like honeysuckle and kissing his snout.

Oberon appeared from out of the trap door behind them with a grunting sound, greeting Puck and expressing his delight at seeing Titania asleep with an ass.

With the changeling now in his charge, Oberon undid the charm on Titania, who awoke and immediately embraced Oberon.

Puck removed the donkey head from Bottom, who had appeared for the second half minus the other donkey parts to ease his restoration.

Titania’s joy turned to edgy bitterness when she snarled at Oberon to tell her how she had been found sleeping “with these mortals on the ground”.

An extended dance sequence by the fairies enabled the actors to change into Theseus and Hippolyta, who entered in hunting outfits with bows for their wedding morning.

Theseus announced that they would go and listen to his hunting hounds. Hippolyta made it clear that she was not impressed by this.

Hippolyta went to draw her bow, but then paused and lowered it again to relate her anecdote about her hunting expedition with Hercules and Cadmus, accompanied by excellent “hounds of Sparta” that made a truly impressive noise.

This assertion of her higher standards was a challenge to which Theseus rose to by insisting that his hounds were also “bred out of the Spartan kind”.

But as he finished his defence of his own dogs, Hippolyta tripped him with her bow, yelping a quick “Oops!” and pretending that it was an accident. This incident fleshed out the hints in the text that Hippolyta was, even at this late stage, still not fully domesticated. Some Amazonian fire continued to burn within her.

Blast

Theseus discovered the lovers sleeping on the ground and ordered the huntsmen to wake them. A blast issued from the trumpeters in the tiring house gallery.

Once fully awake, the lovers explained the course of events in the forest and that they were now settled contentedly into couples.

Theseus concluded that all was well and invited everyone back to Athens. He passed his bow to an attendant and gestured to his fiancée “Come, Hippolyta”. Still resistant to his dominance, Hippolyta smilingly thrust her bow to the attendant right across Theseus’s path, forcing him to stop.

The lovers departed too leaving Bottom to wake all alone. Pearce Quigley did not bring out any of the potential bawdiness in Bottom’s reference to “what methought I had”. He said that he would get Peter Quince to write “a ballet” (the F4 variant) not “a ballad” about his dream.

The mechanicals bemoaned the loss of Bottom and the concomitant failure of their plans to stage a play (4.2). But suddenly the sound of clog dancing could be heard offstage, heralding the return of their leading man. Amid the joy of their reunion, Bottom informed the company that their play had been shortlisted.

On hearing that their play been “preferred”, Quince fell into ecstatic shrieking which lasted for so long that he was eventually left performing this ecstasy stage right while the others stood back and stared at him.

Once Quince had calmed down, Bottom turned away from him to continue his speech “In any case…” which in context of the preceding shrieks was wonderfully dismissive of Quince’s overlong display.

The parts were handed out on sheets to the actors. One of them had to discard his onion, and another spat out a garlic clove, when Bottom warned the company to keep their breaths fresh by avoiding those specific items.

Hippolyta had grown more conciliatory towards Theseus (5.1). She described the events of the previous night as “strange and admirable”, touching Theseus’s cheek tenderly with her hand in a show of genuine affection. Her rebellion against her captor was definitively at an end.

After the lovers joined the couple, Theseus read out the list of entertainments. Philostrate’s disdain for the Mechanicals’ play was accompanied by scornful looks at Hippolyta so that his repeated “nothing, nothing” was clearly his opinion of her.

When he had finished, Hippolyta approached and tipped his hat off his head, matching the frivolity of her revenge to the childishness of his scorn. Theseus settled on Pyramus and Thisbe.

The company arrived, wheeling in their folding stage and props. But disaster struck. Starveling’s (Huss Garbiya) dog was crushed under the rear wheels of the platform. He cradled the limp body of his beloved pet in his arms and wailed as he presented the sorry sight at the front of the platform.

The small stage was folded out and decked with two small-scale Globe stage pillars. These objects made the mechanicals’ stage into a replica of the one it stood on, but they also overcrowded the performance space. This design flaw was to become a major source of comedy. A pair of curtains hung from a pole at the back, one of the pair dressed the wrong way with its lining on show.

Theseus and Hippolyta sat on cushions directly in front of the stage, while the other couples sat further away at each side.

Quince spoke the prologue, but its flow was disrupted by his wincing realisations that his incorrect lineation of the speech meant he was talking nonsense.

Pyramus was given his cue and posed with comic allure between the pillars. Flute, who had been reluctant to take on the female role of Thisbe, and had approached it stiffly, now threw himself into the part with gusto. He dramatically tore apart the curtain to make a diva-like entrance, revealing his painted face, orange wig and hooped dress.

Snout (Tom Lawrence) wore an oblong wicker basket covered in plaster to represent the wall. By the time this large object was on stage, there was precious little space left. He mispronounced the names of the principal characters as “Thyramus and Pisby”.

Bottom put his foot through a stage board, trapping his foot in the gap and consequently losing one of his boots. Snug the joiner crouched and hoisted him up, before loudly nailing down a replacement plank.

Pyramus saw Thisbe’s bloody mantle, prompting thoughts of suicide, but he soon realised he had no sword with which to kill himself. Responding to Bottom’s frantic gestures, Snug improvised by handing Pyramus his saw, which he then stuck under his arm in imitation of a fatal self-inflicted blow.

Thus the prologue ended with the cast grimly trying to avoid falling off the cramped stage.

On to the play proper, Wall spoke of the “crannied hole or chink” through which the lovers were to peep. It was obvious that the two-finger cranny referred to in rehearsals would not be possible because both of Snout’s arms were trapped inside the wall-basket.

Snout struggled inside the wicker frame to punch out holes on either side revealing his unbuttoned underwear just behind the opening.

Pyramus reminded everyone of the original cranny by sticking out his two fingers in a V, which he then flipped rudely at Quince in recognition of this staging failure.

As well as not remembering Quince’s name, Pyramus could not remember his lines. This began absurdly when the forgotten word was “forgot”, and Bottom responded to the prompt by saying “Yes, I know I forgot!” He subsequently forgot almost an entire line and asked for a prompt after each individual word.

The replacement stage board broke, requiring yet another impromptu intervention by Snug and his toolkit. After this repair Pyramus gingerly stepped over the board each time he approached it, not wanting to risk further damage.

The openings in the wall were at waist height and Pyramus looked in disgust at how low he now had to bend in order to talk with Thisbe, who made another drama queen entrance to appear on the other side. Eventually he crouched to look through and at one point extended his arm all the way to the other side.

Wall announced that he had completed his function, climbed down off the stage, lost his balance and fell over. He remained pinioned to the ground by the all-encompassing basketwork.

Slow-witted Snug appeared as Lion and recited his verse lines, fixing his gaze immediately in front of him as if the text was printed in midair. As he jabbed his finger from word to word, Quince stood at the side counting out the feet of the metre, rhythmically slapping his fingers into his palm.

After Lion had demonstrated that he was harmless, Moonshine clutched his dead dog, held up his lantern and peered through it to show that he was the man in the moon. He was mocked by the others and broke down disconsolately at being reminded that his dog was dead.

In another indication of her changed character, Hippolyta took pity on Moonshine and sat him beside her on a cushion to console him as the disastrous performance continued.

Pyramus discovered Thisbe’s bloodstained garment and stabbed himself with a lath sword, slowly lowering himself to the ground, laconically and protractedly announcing his own death.

Thisbe yet again snatched back the curtain for her dramatic entrance. Finding Pyramus dead, she looked at the couples to say “Lovers, make moan” exhorting them to condole with her.

She stabbed herself and also died protractedly, reaching out all round her, uttering a deep gurgling death rattle before collapsing backwards with the hoops of her dress pitching upwards to reveal the actor’s undergarments.

The mechanicals offer to dance was taken up, which allowed time for the actors to change into Titania and Oberon for the final sequence.

As candles were lit in the tiring house gallery, Puck struck a magical note with his speech about the quietness of the house that Oberon proceeded to bless. This was followed by dancing and Puck’s final farewell.

The cast moved into a formation and chanted as they performed some tai chi style movements. On completion the audience had its cue to show its appreciation.

Conclusions

The foregrounding of Hippolyta by dramatising her capture made her a major focus of attention and her character arc more dramatically satisfying than the relatively bland story of the foursome of lovers, which almost became a subplot. Her character was much more than a blank set of parentheses to the romantic plot.

The implication in the text that Hippolyta had been captured and effectively tamed was made unambiguously clear, inviting comparisons between Hippolyta and Katharina Minola.

Michelle Terry further cemented her reputation for excellence in assertive female Shakespearean roles, making full use of her superlative voice projection.

The production provided another instance of Pearce Quigley transforming every role in which he is cast by applying his trademark laconic style. In this case swapping Bottom’s traditional rumbustiousness into something more subtle but equally amusing.

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