Site Section Links
"THE SEASONS ALTER": CATASTROPHISM IN A MIDSUMMER NIGHT'S DREAM (CONTINUED)
Copyright (C) 1975, 1981 by Irving Wolfe
If A Midsummer Night's Dream is indeed a celestial parable, its essential elements of plot, character, and context should exhibit clearly perceptible unconscious intimations of catastrophe. Indeed, every element of the play should be suffused with buried cosmological meaning. To illustrate that this is so, we shall begin with the astral overtones of the important characters. Hermia's "eyes are lodestars" (1.1. 183), while Demetrius is a celestial body who "hail'd down oaths" that he loved Helena (1.1. 243). These oaths melted when they felt "heat from Hermia" (1.1. 245), as if she were a hot planet opposed to the cold Demetrius. The love of Lysander and Hermia is said to be bright as the lightning, and in danger of being overcome by a monstrous force, "The jaws of darkness" (1.1. 148). Immediately, therefore, the action is established visually and imagistically as the movements of dazzling bright objects against a sinister dark backdrop, with the Earth affected by the resultant clashes.
The general effect of these hot objects upon each other and upon the Earth is quite disturbing. Former alignments are imperilled or destroyed, with the result that old configurations and old attitudes change drastically. Helena complains
The proximity of Hermia, her influence in astral terms, altered Demetrius radically. He dissolved. Hermia makes almost the same complaint about Lysander.
In the world of Athens at the beginning of the play, good causes evil. Hermia's lodestar eyes, which should guide truly, lead Demetrius away from Helena. Hermia's warmth, intended for Lysander, melts the oaths rained down by Demetrius on Helena. Hermia's love for Lysander, which should make the world more attractive in her eyes, instead turns heaven into hell. In other words, the attractions and repulsions between these highly-charged bright bodies in the dark sky create havoc.
Theseus is shown to possess a similar celestial dimension. On the one hand, he is the base or ground upon which the action occurs, symbolizing the Earth in its stable form, mature love, wise attraction, a figure
Such is not the whole picture, however. Shakespeare would undoubtedly have read of Theseus in Plutarch's Lives of the Noble Grecians and Romans, translated by Sir Thomas North. There, he would have found Theseus linked with a Roman figure, as were all the Greeks in the book. In this case, Plutarch compares Theseus with Romulus, best known as the founder of Rome and representative of political and marital stability. But Romulus has another significance, a more deeply repressed one, quite opposite to the first. He is identified by Velikovsky with the catastrophic near-collisions of Earth, Mars, and Venus in the eighth and seventh centuries B.C.E., at which time Rome was founded.(34) As such, Romulus is associated not with civilized and natural stability, but with frightening celestial displays, planetary disturbance, solar eclipses, plague, earthquakes, thunder, blasts and storms, altered poles, deep clouds, flaming skies, and bloody rain. He is understood to be a celestial figure, the son of Mars, who returned to the stars at his death.
Romulus thus has a double personality. His public Roman personna, whitewashed to provide comfort, is that of the paternal founder. His folkloric personna, chronicled by Livy, Plutarch, and Ovid, is that of natural violence, nature uncontrolled and on a destructive rampage. If Theseus is paired with Romulus, then he too must carry about him the public personna of order and the repressed folkloric personna of elementary planetary destruction.(35)
There are other celestial overtones. For example, the whole play occurs during the crucial part of a lunar fertility cycle. It begins when the Moon is on the wane, a period of danger and error in folklore, so every impulse seeking to run its course during this period must be held in check, must be delayed until a time of better beginnings. It then moves through three or four nights of darkness and confusion until it finally reaches the moment of the new moon. This is the correct time for beginnings, for impregnation and fertility, and that is precisely when all the discord in the play is reconciled, with nothing irreparable having been previously set in motion. Thus, the tribe or social mother has been reborn, like the feminine Moon emerging from her periodic decline, or a menstruating woman cleansed and refreshed and ready to produce new life, or the teeming Earth surviving the barrenness of catastrophe and regaining a regular, life sustaining periodic cycle of seasons.
Secondly, the particular holidays which form the context of the play are originally pagan and astral. The first is May Day, and, more particularly, Maying, or bringing home the May.
The other holiday is Midsummer Eve, the longest day and the shortest night of the year.
In addition, J. G. Frazer's The Golden Bough contains a section entitled "The Solar Theory of Fire Festivals".(39) In sum, the context of the play is suffused with the presence of the Classical Moon Phoebe or the triple deity Hecate Diana Proserpina – acting at a time containing the double parameters of spring rebirth and solstice celebration. We need only add that, in Velikovsky's view, the joy of the spring equinox and the summer solstice, of the return of the Sun and the triumph of the Sun, is a ritual born out of ancestral fear of celestial aberration.(40)
Third, because most of the play takes place under the Moon which dominates the night sky, we may poetically describe the confusions in the enchanted forest as an attack of lunacy. The proximity of the Moon, shining into every nook of the forest, precipitates a love madness to which all save Oberon and Puck are subject. This lunacy, however, is much more than a mere poetic convention. It actually corresponds to what we should expect if the play is a racially unconscious memory of the Velikovskian catastrophes.
In Worlds in Collision, Velikovsky contends that the planets are all electrically-charged bodies, as are the Sun and therefore the solar system, and indeed the entire cosmos. This was rejected by conventional astrophysics in 1950, but has since been proved correct by the discoveries of the magnetospheres,(41) and the theory is critical for our understanding of the cosmic meaning of lunacy in this play. Velikovsky says that over a period of roughly 750 to 800 years, Venus and Mars made several close approaches to Earth, as did the Moon to a lesser degree. If all celestial bodies are charged, including the Moon, then planetary lunacy may be an actuality, for it has been proved that the Moon does indeed influence human behaviour. It is not a folkloric superstition, nor a poetic conceit, but hard, scientific fact.
So says a pioneering biologist and anthropologist. Now, if a relatively small charged body like the Moon can disturb human behaviour, imagine the lunatic frenzies able to be caused by Mars and Venus, which have much greater masses. When I speak of planetary lunacy, it should be understood that I do not refer to fear and desperation at impending disaster seen in the approach of a fiery body in the sky, for that is a psychological phenomenon which occurs even today when a comet is seen.(43) The kind I mean is physical, caused by drastic changes in the terrestrial magnetic field, which produce an alteration in the electromagnetic balance of the body and result, as the American Institute of Medical Climatology noted in its report on the full moon,(44) in psychotic behaviour of a destructive kind, such as arson, destructive driving, aggravated attack and homicidal alcoholism. This is similar to the response of peoples witnessing approaching planets, as cited in Worlds in Collision, where we are given instance after instance of non-specific, non justified anger, resentment, and violence directed indiscriminately, especially at those closest. Joshua recorded that:
The ancient Chinese wrote that when the planets abandon their orbits and the seasons become disarranged, then
Egypt of the fifteenth century B.C.E., the time of the earlier Venus catastrophes, bewailed
In Iceland, it was chronicled:
The planetary lunacy described in Worlds in Collision also caused mass frenzy, exodus, and migration.
The Scythians came south, the Greeks besieged Troy, the Assyrians attacked Elam, the Aztecs migrated, the Aryans invaded India, the Dorians sailed to Aegean islands, newcomers invaded the Appenine Peninsula, and the Cimmerians left Europe for Asia Minor.
Such worldwide madness during the more recent period of catastrophe was attributed to the planet Mars, the god of war, whose stretched atmosphere was seen as a giant celestial sword inflaming and destroying nations, sending down plague and pestilence and shooting thunderbolts out of a sunlit sky. What was seen in those frightening times was
The same situation was believed to exist during the Mosaic cataclysms.(52) In all of these instances, the madness is attributed to disorder in the heavens and the near-approach of planetary bodies.
Shakespeare's play contains a reduced comic equivalent to such events. At a time when, as Titania had told us, the seasons are disordered and the heavens rain destruction, we see several groups of people dominated by a sullen Moon and reacting agitatedly to its presence. There is migration, anxiety, and displacement as three different groups arrive temporarily in the forest and generate friction between them. Not only the four young lovers, but also Titania and Bottom, behave erratically under the moonlight. The proximity of supernatural personages casts them under spells, as a result of which they change natures, break established relationships and become hostile toward those formerly held dear. Some are transformed into monstrous appearance or behaviour. Under the changed climate and threatening sky, there is hate, rivalry, fear, anger, violence, confusion, mistrust, and desperation. When Puck then obscures the sky with a dense cloud, so that the Sun is veiled and shines not in the sight of men, man threatens man and woman woman, friend against friend, beloved against beloved. Because the play is a comedy, its tone is kept correspondingly light, but it is important to notice that the actual events in it are quite horrible. One critic observes that
It is a farcical axe-time, sword-time, with movements of peoples and tribal strife, while in the sky a supernatural influence arouses these people wandering in unrest. The prominent presence of lunacy in the play may therefore be the product of Shakespeare's unconscious racial memory of catastrophic lunacy.
Fourth, there is a relationship between mortals and deities which powerfully suggests the events of Worlds in Collision. The play's setting is nature disturbed and dominant. Oberon controls Puck, who controls the lovers, as large planets control smaller ones and the smaller ones their satellites. Most of the action occurs in darkness, in the limitless outdoors, amid movement and disruption and flashing points of brilliance. Light wanes, stars become invisible, the supernatural Oberon exerts a constant influence even though he is unseen, while Puck darts about and flies and transforms himself and others. Bottom grows monstrous in appearance and Titania erratic in behaviour during their unseemly interaction, which produces harsh noise discordant with pretty music.
The lovers puff up and bristle with fiery animosity and blunder erratically about in the supernaturally-manipulated darkness. Bertrand Evans comments that the errors of Oberon turn the lovers into runners and pursuers, causing them to jump out of orbit and form new attractions, so that
. . . the world of the mortals is in fact, in our own perspective, out of control, for Oberon is still pre-occupied with Titania.(54)
Such things, when interpreted astrophysically, correspond to Velikovsky's description of the physical consequences of the interaction between Earth, Mars, Moon, and Venus 2700 years ago. In the resultant gravitational and electromagnetic jarring, planets and satellites alternated attractions and emitted streamers of ionized plasma, while the Moon heated up and bubbled, and Mars grew warlike and threatening in its fiery redness, all accompanied by the tremendous noise of tectonic movement and volcanic eruption on Earth and electrostatic attraction and repulsion in the skies.
In particular, there appears to be a thick cluster of such catastrophic memories concentrated in the second scene of the third act, the largest and most important scene in the play. In it, a series of varying oscillating relationships is presented, growing more and more intense, until a certain one is achieved and fixed. Let us look at the motions of the characters in this scene through the optic of catastrophic interpretation.
When we try to assign specific celestial equivalences to the characters in the scene, however, we must proceed with caution. First, we cannot determine for certain whether the events of the first set of Velikovskian catastrophes lie behind the scene, or the events of the second, or a general collective memory of both cataclysms, and others, for Velikovsky insists that there were catastrophes previous to the two he attempts to reconstruct in Worlds in Collision. If so, then all such sources are potentially available to the artist's mind. Second, we do not really know how closely we ought to look for specific parallels, rather than general ones. Third, before arguing subconscious inherited racial memory as the basis for certain features of this play, we must consider all possible conscious influences upon Shakespeare, such as the works of Ovid and the writings of classical historians from whom he might have derived cataclysmic images. Taking all this into account, I venture that at least one of the bases for the action of this scene may be a surprisingly accurate recollection of precise celestial events as described by Velikovsky.
I suggest that one set of suitable equivalences may be:
We note immediately a reversal of the usual genders – the Moon is a male, Mars is a female, and Venus is a male. This is not entirely unknown in Greek mythology, where certain planets are associated with both masculine and feminine heroes, nor, I suggest, should it be unexpected in the sublimating hiding-process of art, for the creative mind must not let itself, nor the minds which its art will affect, know consciously what it is doing, and a change in gender is a fine subterfuge.
Applying these equivalences, we see how the action in 3.2. can mirror celestial events. We turn to the point in the scene where, after Puck has erred by placing the love-juice on Lysander's eyes, his beloved Hermia enters the stage very distressed to have found Lysander gone and Demetrius in his place. She cannot understand the desertion of the former nor accept the affection of the latter. Hermia insists that Lysander is as true to her as the Sun unto the day (50-51). He is then described as having been driven forcibly away while Hermia was sleeping (51-52).
This may mean at night, or in the darkness of thick clouds which so obscure the Sun that day is like night, as if the Sun has abandoned the Earth at a time – day – when it should be true to Earth. This is followed by a puzzling image (47-50) of the Earth being bored and the Moon plunging through to the other side and rivalling the Sun at noon, when it should be at the opposite pole. She then calls Demetrius a murderer of the Sun (56), and describes him as appearing dead, or pale, and grim, or deadly (57). That is to say, the rival in the sky who has driven off or killed the Sun is pale and fierce, which may poetically suggest Velikovsky's Comet Venus, only dimly visible and destructive in its effect. Yet, Demetrius replies that he too has been wounded (59), pierced by Hermia's cruelty, and then tells her that she herself looks as bright as Venus in the sky (60-61).
Hermia begs for Lysander back, and Demetrius calls himself a hunter who has killed Lysander and will let his dogs eat him. Hermia cries
She accuses Demetrius the Comet of cowardice, saying he could never dare approach Lysander when Lysander was awake (69-70), meaning, in primitive terms, during the brightness of day, when the shining Sun is lord of the skies and thus drives off all enemies. Only if the sky were to become dark during the day, which would be as if the Sun's power as lord of the heavens had decreased, could an enemy – a pale but deadly comet – rival or displace the Sun.(55) And, in the very next image, Demetrius the Comet, the rival Sun, is described as a Serpent (72-73). Worlds in Collision, of course, is replete with references to a darkened day sky and worldwide devastation and the apparent disappearance or defeat of the Sun, all connected with what seemed to be the intervention of a giant celestial serpent.(56) It would appear that, with Shakespeare's imagination actively engaged, a series of primordial and apparently catastrophic memories has here emerged in one flood of connected imagery.
Then Hermia, the Earth, parts from the Comet, refusing to accept it as a substitute (80), and the Comet does not follow. Helena, meanwhile, is described as sick, weak and pale, but then Oberon anoints Demetrius with the magic juice, saying of Helena
If Oberon is Zeus-Jupiter, then perhaps the application of the love juice represents an electrical interchange between two planetary bodies in the form of a bolt of ionized plasma which begins a new phase in the celestial events. Ralph Juergens has argued along these lines, saying that the Velikovskian scenarios could have been accomplished by the clash of magnetospheres and electrostatic attraction and repulsion.(57) Velikovsky refers to such events in Worlds in Collision, where he discusses the transformation of Phaëthon into the Morning Star.
Helena duly appears in the clearing, shining indeed like Venus, and Demetrius awakens and sees her, and in an instant shifts his attention to her, or becomes attracted to her. Thus, she now exerts a strong attraction for both Lysander and Demetrius, an attraction powerful enough to draw Lysander from his accustomed orbit about Hermia (185). Helena is now described as being unusually bright (187-188), brighter than any other object in the darkened sky. When both men appear attracted to her, Helena complains that she and Hermia had once been very close (202-214), almost twins, and now Hermia has joined with the men to tear their former closeness apart (215).
When Helena flees in confusion, Lysander and Demetrius both follow, calling her a celestial goddess (226-227), and neglecting Hermia Earth. Helena-Mars asks to be released from her attachment to Demetrius-Venus (314-316), and then the two girls clash, and now it is Helena who is accused of having stolen Lysander from Hermia, at night, and Hermia is described as being small and hot when angry (323-325).
In the last stage of this turbulence, Puck and Oberon take control, as curative night forces who do not fear the light (388). In a period of intense darkness, fog and noise, they keep Lysander and Demetrius apart, and do the same for the girls, until they can settle all the young lovers – or Earth, Moon, Mars, and Venus – into a stable relationship, effecting these changes through the love juice and its antidote, or differently-charged Jovian thunderbolts.
To summarize, we are presented in this scene with a gamut of changes based on attraction and repulsion. In a period of nocturnal brilliance and oscillating movement, where individual entities suddenly become as blazing as the brightest planet, the Sun disappears, apparently killed and replaced by a pale and deadly comet-like rival, also called a serpent, who does not deserve to be numbered among the planets. This causes temporary misalliances – the Comet pursues Earth, but then is repelled – after which another planet becomes bright and attracts both Comet and Sun. Then there is a change to darkness, fog, vast noise and the disappearance of guiding light, and in this context the forces of order arrive at last, realign the attractions, and the difficult dark period is over. So the night, which is said to have been difficult, draws to a happy end.
The pattern has been a seemingly orderly but actually dangerous situation at day's end changing to confusion and threat, then to apparently total chaos in the night, but turning finally to salvation by morning. This pattern encapsulates the Velikovskian sequence in brief and is also universal to most creative art, myth, folklore, and religion. In the play, because it is not a dream, the variations have been carefully, geometrically structured to produce an ordered result because they must fulfill a conscious dramatic function, but if one also looks at them as possible products of a suppressed primordial memory, then the pattern of shifting electrically-charged and luminously-varying combinations may reflect celestial catastrophic events of the past, safely realized in the sublimation of art.
Looking at the many cosmic overtones just presented – the celestial associations of the central characters, the relation of the action to solar and cosmic cycles, the possible Saturnian echoes, the element of planetary lunacy and particularly the detailed parallels between the events of 3.2. and the Martian cataclysms of – 776 to – 687 – we may say that the central action of A Midsummer Night's Dream, when transposed into geophysical and astrophysical terms as we have just done, is seen to bear a significant resemblance to the cosmological dramas reconstructed in Worlds in Collision.
We may continue the astral interpretation beyond 3.2 to 4.1, where the upheavals end and order is reestablished. The Sun-Theseus had left the action as soon as Demetrius-Venus had decided to pursue Hermia-Earth in 1.1, after which night and conflict had descended upon the forest. The second, third, and most of the fourth acts, during which the varying alignments, attractions and repulsions occurred, took place in darkness, in the absence of the Sun. This constitutes the middle and largest portion of the play, and it terminates by 4.1 with the resolution of the discord between the lovers and between Titania and Oberon, as well as an end to the Titania-Bottom entanglement.
After Oberon releases Titania from her spell and Puck removes the ass-head from Bottom, only then are the clouds dispersed. The night of confusion ends with the Sun-Theseus returning in 4.1 or shining forth once more, but now in a much more benevolent form. He approves the unions of Hermia-Lysander and Helena-Demetrius, proclaiming they will marry when he weds Hippolyta. In cosmic terms, it is the new day of a new world. Where there had previously been noise and glare and destruction, there is now a universal concord of sound and light and planetary hierarchy, producing on Earth an environment favorable to fruitful couplings approved by heaven. This is how the survivors of catastrophes around the world perceived the histories of their cultures.(59)
Later, there will be a divine solemnization of the newly-achieved order by Oberon-Jupiter, but, before this occurs, we have the third section of the play, which consists largely of the rustics' playlet. It has been considered by many a weak and unnecessary appendage, a simple attempt by Shakespeare to "leave 'em laughing". I contend that it is much more, that by means of it Shakespeare carefully tries to set forth as effectively as he can the larger meanings of his play. There are few authorial comments earlier, few references to overall meaning, but, here in the third part, Shakespeare begins to pile hint upon hint, signal upon signal, leading us to reflect upon what had happened and thereby to grasp its meaning.
It is important to notice that the action has almost concluded by 4.1. In terms of plot necessity, all of the desired aims except the actual marriages have already been reached. The last section of the play, which separates the resolutions from their ritual solemnization, therefore contributes little to plot development. Protasis, epitasis and catastrophe are actually over, with every conflict settled, every discord reconciled, every knot unknotted. In virtually all of Shakespeare's comedies, once this point has been reached, there follows a swift conclusion as recommended by most classical literary authorities. The characters are invited to a feast or a return which will occur after the play ends, during which they will recount to each other what happened. In this play alone, such is not the case.
Perhaps it is the presence of a noble audience, even a royal audience, at a special performance of the play.(60) Whatever the reason, Shakespeare uncharacteristically pontificates. In his other comedies, there is little time at the end accorded for reflection or moralizing. Here, a large section of the total drama, perhaps 20%, is set aside for post-action review. It seems that Shakespeare accepted at least this once the dictum that art is didactic, that its aim is to "profit and delight," as Horace said. We must remember that Shakespeare was raised in an intellectual climate where it was understood that the poet, like the orator or the philosopher, is didactic and uses his talents to persuade, for his aim is an intellectual victory over the mind of his audience.(61)
This means that not all the incidents in his plays need be dramatic. Some may be debates or lessons, and the texture of his plays may be a mixture of the two, with the dramatic parts illustrating and complementing the points made in the non-dramatic ones. To teach by delight, he must invent lies, but he must do more than that – he must also explain the meaning of the lies, and explain and explain. Homer and Vergil, for instance, were considered great rhetoricians by the Elizabethans, and Shakespeare seems clearly to be part of this tradition. He uses the theatre as a pulpit.
Here, he lays out the last section of the play like a trained orator marshalling his rhetorical devices for the final attack upon his audience. The imitatio, the fable, is suppressed. Now will come almost overt proof, disproof and conclusion, in good partition, like a debate. Up to this point, he has persuaded purely by delight, but now he will persuade by fiction as argument, presented with skillful but subtle oeconomia or management. For perhaps the only time in his dramatic career, he becomes like a preacher in a public pulpit, and the final quarter of the play is his sermon.
The first section of this sermonic conclusion is a positive statement of the play's central action. In oratorical terms, it constitutes the proof. It is first introduced in non-verbal form, as a musical contrast. When Titania had desired to provide music for Bottom, he had asked for tongs and bones, crude and rustic sound using metal and bone percussively. Moments later, after Oberon and Titania are reconciled, there is the almost-divine music of the fairies' reuniting dance. Both are music, but the contrast between the two, one grotesque and signalling a temporary state of enchantment, the other divine and signalling a permanent state of joy, establishes through non-verbal means the alternative possibilities always latent in the general action of the play itself. It could have descended to the level of Bottom, where the divine in man and society is subjugated to the bestial, pictured by the angelic Titania winding herself infatuatedly about the ass' head of Bottom. At the end, however, it did not, for Titania was released from this degrading spell and invited to ascend to the heights of Oberon, a movement indicated by the fairy dance. This contrast is the first in a series of indications which Shakespeare has carefully planted in the final part of the play concerning what has occurred and how we are to understand it.
After the fairy dance is over, and Oberon has promised divine blessing to the marriages of the next night, the lark signals the arrival of morning and the fairies must leave the stage. They fly away swiftly, leaving below them the sleeping mortals. Then Theseus' hunting party comes upon the stage, a decline from the divine to the earthly announced by Theseus' hunting horns, but to an earthly day of very special significance. First of all, it is May Day morning, the celebration of the return of natural fertility to a winter-barren world. We may thus expect that the conflicts in the play have traversed the winter period of the old declining moon and have been resolved in the spring of the new moon, on May Day. Second, Theseus and Hippolyta have just finished performing the rites of May Day. They are thus purified initiates, like priests, able to observe and consecrate the transformation from Winter to Spring.
In other words, this day is a religious occasion, and these princes are fit to supervise it. What we should therefore expect is a preamble to establish the day's meaning theoretically before the actual passage into the spring-world occurs, and Shakespeare does not disappoint us. The moment after Theseus tells us he has performed the May rite, he immediately mentions music, and this motif sets before us the central action and theme of the play, the movement from discord to concord. This theme, the essence of the play, controls all its action, informs every polarity and is the point of the entire final section.
The theme of music is presented in a vigorous animal image, the barking of dogs, to establish its double nature, for it represents both control or lack of it, and thus is able to arouse in us the wonder of perceiving discord as concord.
At a glance, there appears to be no music in this image, but only the confusion of barking and its echo. It is not ultimately confusion, however, because we are told that the individual harsh noises made by each dog, normally frightening and rough, blend into conjunction, into harmony, and herein lies the central meaning of the play. When one sees the whole picture from the mountain's top, from the largest point of view, the harsh individual barks – or the moments of conflict and anger and tension in the play – are perceived to blend into a harmonious totality. It is this final beatific vision for which the oratorical and didactic last section of the play is preparing us.
Hippolyta continues and expands Shakespeare's theoretical preamble in her description of the hounds of Cadmus.
Here, the theme of the play is presented in epigram. The gallant baying of the hounds, filling grove and sky and fountain, has blended into a mutual cry, a total harmony. The noise, when perceived as a totality, has become So musical a discord, such sweet thunder. In Worlds in Collision, Velikovsky cites records from country after country referring to the enormous noise which accompanied the derangement of the skies, noise so long-lasting and intense that the people called it the time of heavenly noise and prayed for it to be lessened.(62) Here, the awful noises of earthquake and volcano and meteor which underlie the image of barking have become the oxymoron sweet thunder.
In Theseus' next speech, the point is made once more.
It is as if the entire world of the Mediterranean basin is familiar with this noise. Velikovsky cites what may have been contemporary descriptions of it.
In reality, the sounds were terrifying, but in art the symbolic roaring of the dogs and horns is transformed into a choir-like harmony
Cultural amnesia has done its work, and terror has been turned into beauty. It is against this outlook that the action of the play must be measured.
With the preamble done, the themes set, Shakespeare can begin the May Day ritual. Hunting horns awaken the lovers, and what follows is a set of question-and-answer encounters which carries from 4.1 through 4.2 to the first part of 5.1 and involves in turn all the human characters in the play. We might describe this, to coin a phrase, as Renaissance dramatic oratory, wherein Shakespeare, using the resources of the stage as an Elizabethan orator would the resources of argument, throws questions at us which the play does not satisfactorily answer. We must therefore try to find the answers for ourselves, and so we are provoked through our own efforts to perceive what he is getting at. The first such encounter begins when Theseus asks the newly-awakened young men
The question is also directed at us, of course. The lovers, totally confused by the past night's events, can offer no satisfactory answer. Lysander mumbles
My Lord, I shall reply amazedly,
Demetrius says of his conversion
This is, of course, what had to happen for Athens to reap maximum benefit from the events in the forest, and it did. The lovers cannot understand how or why this has occurred, but we can, for we have seen the supernatural at work and we applaud its achievements. Demetrius has been led from ideological sickness to health, from childhood to natural taste. We know he is still enchanted, for Puck never put the antidote on his eyes, but we desire him to remain so, for now he will love Helena forever. As well, Lysander has been returned to his rightful condition, and will love Hermia forever. We are therefore inclined to agree with Theseus when he says:
Indeed they are. After a very troubled and potentially dangerous interval, they have all ended up in the same clearing, alive and ritually pure, just when Theseus arrives fresh from his cleansing in the May Day rites. What follows is the springtime of fresh authority rid of its wintry narrowmindedness. When Egeus had demanded early in the play that Hermia obey his wishes or die, Theseus had concurred. Now, when Egeus discovers the lovers asleep together and makes the same demand, Theseus rejects it.
Theseus' conversion constitutes the practical beginning of the new order which had just been ritually inaugurated by the fairies' dance. There is now a better level of law in Athens, more forgiving, more tender and creative and constructive. Life will be given a chance to grow and flourish. This meeting in the forest, which heals and reconciles, is fortunate to an extent unperceived by Theseus himself.
As Theseus and his party sweep offstage to the flourish of horns, it is the turn of the lovers to ponder just how this state of gentle concord was achieved. Demetrius seems to sense that these joyful conversions and salvations are beyond strictly human origin
but that is as far as his perception can reach. Lysander is confused, Hermia's understanding is parted or out of focus and Helena does not yet know what is hers, which means who she is, while Demetrius voices their common suspicion that what they seem to remember is actually unreal, an illusion.
This now becomes the central issue which Shakespeare puts before us, from one angle and another and then yet another. What has actually happened in the forest? Was it all a dream? Is there a supernatural, and, if so, what does it mean? The lovers' ineffectual gropings after the truth are designed to prod us to search for the truth ourselves. We will therefore watch the rest of the play with this matter prominently in mind, and Shakespeare thereby focuses our attention in a certain direction to guide our enlightenment.
The process of elucidation continues after all the Athenian nobles leave the stage, and only Bottom remains, sound asleep. In a moment he awakens, minus his ass' head, ready to continue the rehearsal which Puck had interrupted the night before, but he sees it is morning and he is alone, and then he too, like the lovers immediately before him, begins to wonder what had happened.
But we have not slept. We have seen what happened. For us it is no dream, and therefore we are being prodded, as we were in the immediately-preceding episode with the lovers, to reject the speaker's attitude. We must think about the dream ourselves, Shakespeare is telling us, or else we too are but an ass, but we must expound it somewhat more successfully than Bottom. The clue as to how we should do it is contained in Bottom's convoluted attempt to describe his experience.
If we are to perceive what Shakespeare is getting at here, we must respond to the Biblical allusion to Corinthians in this passage, as a good part of Shakespeare's audience could have been counted on to do so. Shakespeare is setting out to defend a play when plays were attacked as mere fancy, mere entertainment, and so he appeals to a higher level of truth.
We are then told how we may perceive this wisdom.
This hidden wisdom is available to spiritual man, to him who is attuned to deep things. Natural man, like Bottom, can never know such truth, for his dreams have no bottom, and so to him they are foolishness. With consummate elegance, Shakespeare leaves it to us to choose what we will be as we watch the last act – natural man or spiritual man.
What follows – the play presented by the yokels to celebrate Theseus' wedding – has been considered by most critics a bit of lightweight burlesque spoofing the inadequacies of inferior actors and theatrical traditions. It is this, undeniably, but it is much more, and there are several clues to its hidden wisdom.
The first is to be found in the debate between Theseus and Hippolyta on the nature of art which opens the final scene. It comes between Bottom's ironic reference to hidden wisdom and his play, and functions as an ideological prologue to it, much as Theseus' reminiscenses about hunting dogs had served as an ideological prologue to the presentation of the theme of concord two scenes earlier. Theseus here is made to speak for natural man, despite his royalty and education, for he classes the poet with lunatics and obsessed lovers. We are asked to disagree with him because Shakespeare gives him a flow of unfortunately-chosen words which become devastating if unintentional self-satire. This is established in his first lines, when, replying to Hippolyta's reference to the story the lovers told of the events in the forest, he comments
We know that what the lovers say is true, and so we are being manipulated by Shakespeare to reject Theseus' attitude. He then adds that poets are like madmen, who
Again, if reason is Theseus, who utterly rejects what happened in the forest, we are being urged to recognize that it is only the shaping fantasies of poets which can truly describe the reality beyond cool reason. We are thus urged by Shakespeare to totally invert Theseus' denunciation of the creative artist.
Either Theseus is right, and all narrative art is foolishness – including Shakespeare's own play – or he is wrong, and art offers truth. There can be little doubt where Shakespeare's own sympathies lie. What he is doing here is to answer the question about the role and function of creative art raised first by the yokels' ignorant and foolish concerns about the proprieties and functions of drama in 1.2. He is telling us that the poet is indeed like the madman, but in inspiration, in going beyond cool reason. He can glance from Heaven to Earth as the Corinthians passage enjoined, and then speak of things unknown, meaning not known until the poet pointed them out to the rest of humanity. The poet, Shakespeare says, gives shape or substance to airy nothing, to transcendental reality. More than that, his imagination explains, for
By this time, Shakespeare has shredded Theseus, and we take a perfectly opposite view to his. The poet's imagination can apprehend not only a joy, but the cause of it, just as it can perceive true danger where others see only the surface bush. Shakespeare makes Theseus demolish himself, and in the process ennoble Shakespeare's art. In this debate, Shakespeare is telling us how to understand the action, now that it is over. We can either be like Theseus, and dismiss the lovers' stories – which means the play itself – as fables, fairy toys, airy nothing, or we can adopt the opposite view and look upon the poet as inspired, seeing beyond the finite limitations of reason, apprehending equally the cosmic dimensions of existence, the ultimate bringer of joy, and the cosmic danger behind the seemingly innocuous. In contrast to Theseus, Hippolyta offers us a much more fruitful attitude when she comments that the stories of the lovers
This tells the audience and us how to react. The stories may indeed be strange and admirable, or highly unusual and to be wondered at, but they have a core of truth – they make sense. They tell of something important, of great constancy, a wisdom hidden from the realist. This is the touchstone by which we may discover Shakespeare's meaning in the drama as a whole, and we clutch it as we come to view the next segment of the sermon, Bottom's play.
. . . to be continued.
REFERENCES33. A Midsummer Night's Dream . Ed. G. L. Kitteredge, rev. Irving Ribner. Blaisdell, 1966. Introduction, xi.
34. Worlds in Collision, pp. 244-246.
35. It should be understood that the catastrophes which occurred at the time of the founding of Rome are not the only ones reflected in the play. It may also echo world upheavals which occurred much earlier, involved other planets and produced different terrors. For an idea of what these other catastrophes might have been, see Part III of the present essay forthcoming in KRONOS .
36. David P. Young, Something of Great Constancy: The Art of "A Midsummer Night's Dream" (New Haven, 1966), p. 18.
37. C. L. Barber, Shakespeare's Festive Comedy (Princeton, 1959), pp. 18-19.
38. Young, op. cit., p. 20.
39. J. G. Frazer, The Golden Bough, Abridged edn. (London, 1954), pp. 643 ff.
40. Worlds in Collision, pp. 305-311.
41. C. J. Ransom, The Age of Velikovsky (Glassboro, 1976), pp. 101-104.
42. Lyall Watson, Supernature (N. Y., 1974), pp. 45-46.
43. It must be made clear that such reactions do have a catastrophic basis as Velikovsky has pointed out at length in Worlds in Collision, pp. 95-99, 103-104, 132, but they are a product of racial memory, not electromagnetic influence.
44. Watson, op. cit., 45.
45. From Louis Ginzberg, The Legends of the Jews . Quoted in Worlds in Collision, p. 59.
46. Ibid., p. 261.
47. Ibid., p. 271.
48. Ibid .
49. Ibid., p. 273.
50. Ibid., p. 270.
51. Ibid., p. 268.
52. Ibid., pp. 110-114.
53. Bertrand Evans, Shakespeare's Comedies (London, 1967),p. 36.
54. Ibid., p. 37.
55. The American folksinger Woody Guthrie related how, during a very severe dust storm in Texas, daylight was virtually obliterated and the frightened farmers who had gathered for shelter in a flimsy shack feared the world was about to end. Guthrie was somewhat sarcastic, but the incident seems typical of an innate folk connection between unexplained anomalous darkness and the fear of universal cataclysm.
56. Worlds in Collision, pp. 184-185.
57. Ralph Juergens, "Reconciling Celestial Mechanics and Velikovskian Catastrophism," Pensée 11 (Fall, 1972), pp. 6-12.
58. Worlds in Collision, p. 169.
59. Rome spoke of the stability which followed the birth of Romulus. Greece told of the new age after the Trojan Wars. The Mayans wrote of wandering and exodus leading to a new society.
60. Young, op. cit., 56.
61. See Marvin T. Herrick, Comic Theory in the Sixteenth Century (University of Illinois Press, Urbana. Paperback edn., 1961).
62. Worlds in Collision, pp. 110-114.
63. Ibid., pp. 111-112. 92