Thursday, 19 June 2014


The program from Her Majesty's Theatre London January 10, 1900

When William Shakespear's Midsummer Night's Dream was printed in 1600 there were many enchanting forests in England. Sadly much of them have vanished now and England is the least forested place in Europe. Yet if you look you can still find remnants of a few places where it is not hard to imagine the Queen of the Fae frolicking on this longest day of the year.

A lesser known painting of Titania and Bottom, by Edwin Landseer.

I admit that it was Shakespeare who introduced to me to the folklore of the longest day.  Later I looked deeper into the subject and discovered a wealth of art and text about it and despite the ensuing years it retains all of the old magic which bewitched me as a child. Midsummer evokes modern and historic imagery, scents and sounds.

Beautiful table setting from HERE:

 Long evenings alfresco, Rose wine, music festivals in the park, the heady scent of incense and roses. Christina Rossetti's Goblin Market, The Secret Garden, Mermaids, Peter Pan in Kensington Gardens, Pirates and those Faery rings we accidentally come across which seem to appear overnight.

J.M. Barrie and one of the Davies boys
 playing 'Neverland' in Kensington Gardens
Arthur Rackham illustration for Undine, 1919
Midsummer Eve by Charlotte Bird 

Detail from Midsummer Eve by Charlotte Bird 

But it is Shakespeare's depiction of the night which is the best known and beloved.

Henry Meynell Rheam (1859-1920) - Titania welcoming her fairy bretheren

When we lived near London I watched many sunsets on this night from Richmond Terraces overlooking The Thames. In younger days I did dare to wander in the forest and enjoyed being spooked by the animals that lived there, imagining them to be one of the Faery Folk. Maybe they were.

A special place to be on this night is the Open Air Theatre in London's Regents Park and I had the pleasure of seeing The Royal Shakespeare Company perform A Midsummer Night's Dream there. There have been many illustrious actors grace the stage and the setting is always intimate and enchanting.

Diana Rigg and Helen Mirren in 1968
, and I remember when Toyah Wilcox played Puck. 
Benedict Cumberbatch plays Demetrius in 2001.
I'm very partial to Puck, especially when drawn by Arthur Rackham. 

But I probably love Bottom best of all. There is something 'Beauty and The Beast' about him. Awhile back I found a copy illustrated by Arthur Rackham at a charity book sale to aid a crumbling church. This is my favourite illustration of Bottom. 

I hope everyone is having a lovely summer and that some enchantment sneaks into your dreams on the longest day. Just remember that all is not what it seems on Midsummer Night!

In A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Puck delivers this epilogue:

If we shadows have offended,
Think but this, and all is mended,
That you have but slumber’d 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 luck
Now to ‘scape the serpent’s tongue,
We will make amends ere long;
Else the Puck a liar call;
So, good night unto you all.

And Robin shall restore amends.” (V, i. 440-455)

The Marriage of Titania and Oberon by John Anster Fitzgerald 

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