The wood in ‘A Midsummer Night’s Dream’ has been variously interpreted as a pretty and charming place, home to an innocent troupe of fairies, and a malevolent and threatening place, peopled by an altogether more sinister type of spirit. How would your set and costume designs for the scenes set in the wood communicate your interpretations of the fairy world? Elizabethans were extremely conscious of the parallels between human life and the natural world and I believe that the natural world, often perceived to be well-balanced and harmonious is an example to the human world as similarly it can also suffer discord and unrest.
Evidently, the woods demonstrate several factors as although a place of mystery, magic and action in which the fairies feel at home this contrasts with the dangerous, wild place in which humans feel threatened and lonely. Thus, I would describe the woods to be a place of great beauty as well as an area of potential danger. Creating a distinct fairy world, I would choose the fairies, ‘ Peaseblossom, cobweb, moth and mustardseed’, loyal followers of Titania to be professional ballet dancers in order to ensure that they move delicately and flowing and I would use the rhythm of their dance to signify the mood of the woods.
Stereotypically, ballet dancers are graceful and attractive and this side to the fairies would symbolise the charm and beauty of the woods. I would choose them to wear a short, elegant dress made out of floral print fabric to demonstrate a sense of natural and earthly presence with some chiffon netting over the top of this conveying their delicacy as chiffon is a smooth fabric. The colours of their dresses should be different shades of pinks and purples as these colours emphasize beauty and exquisiteness and don’t have a harsh tone to them.
I would also choose them to wear delicate glittery silver and gold wings to portray a sense of perfection and worth. The material of the wings should be a fleece fabric in gold and silver with a very soft texture and on top netting in the same colour to give the wings different layers. In order to contrast this demonstrating the more dangerous, mystical form of the woods and the natural world I would have their faces to look more unusual and mysterious using exaggerated make-up in dark colours such as browns, greens, blacks and blues.
Their facial expression should also be stern and severe; reflecting that although the woods may appear to be innocent and pure actually, underneath they contains much danger and trepidation. Titania, passionate and stunning, I believe should wear a very beautiful long, flowing dress reaching the floor made out of silk, emphasizing her purity. The top half of the dress should incorporate some figured polyester satin which would have printed butterflies on representing her relation to delicate, natural creatures.
Evidently, Titania also has a more sensual side of her nature as the intimacy which she treats Bottom with highlights the difference between his “mortal grossness” and her delicate beauty. Demonstrating this, her dress should be off the shoulders and I would choose her to wear a white, furry shawl to wrap around her back and shoulders to convey her proud, elegant and well-dressed character. Oberon, King of the fairies, represents power in his world in much the same way that Theseus does in the human world.
Oberon however uses his power rather differently and is more volatile, his first words being: “Ill met by moonlight, proud Titania” which are a stark contrast to Theseus’s words of love. Furthermore, Oberon is a creator of dreams, working in the realms of imagination and whose mischievous use of power brings chaos and confusion. Portraying his power and supremacy I would choose him to wear an outfit that immediately the audience would recognise as someone who was full of confidence and thought a lot of themselves.
I would choose him to wear black leather trousers, a white silk shirt with a frill on the chest and a beige sheepskin waistcoat. This also implies that although he is out to impress, he is quite a jealous character which caused havoc in nature and his plan to get the boy off Titania makes a fool of her. Black trousers are also symbolic of this darker side as unmistakably Oberon is a creature of the night and is most comfortable at night time in which he believes all the strange creatures roam around the woods.
Puck, an impish spirit from English folklore, delighting in mischief and trickery embarks on interfering with other people’s lives purely for the mischief he can cause. Clearly, he enjoys creating circumstances in which ridiculous events and behaviour are inevitable, as described he can “put a girdle round about the earth in forty minutes”. Loyal to Oberon, I would choose Puck to be a very petite man who looks like a young boy to perform the role as also being smaller than Oberon represents the difference in importance as Oberon gives his orders to Puck and height is a useful demonstration of power.
A comical character, I think that Puck should imply this by his sense of dress that he is making an effort to impress Oberon and demonstrate that he is almost a ‘servant’ to Oberon and therefore he should portray a butler figure. Thus, I think that he should also wear the black leather trousers that Oberon wears and a white silk shirt but should wear a black blazer with a tail.
This emphasizes both a butler figure that is loyal and accepts orders from his master and the comical side to his character as he doesn’t always do as Oberon orders and has his own independence at times to do as he pleases and get up to mischief. In order to set the scene as a wood, as I feel that the woods are neither a pretty and charming place, nor a threatening, overpowering place but a mixture of the both creating a sense of mystery and magic, I would not have a detailed set allowing the audience to assume one type of wood.
Allowing the audience to use their own imaginations, I would create an atmosphere of tension and suspense by having the set mainly in darkness when the characters are having their ‘night time’ on stage but with spotlights concentrating onto the stage as beams of light representing the intensity and depths of the woods as though the intervene of trees only allows little light to seep through the cracks.
Night is also an important theme in the play as it is a time in which humans sleep and would be lost and frightened to interact during the darkness however it is a time in which magical beings roam and embarking on danger, Oberon and Puck are able to manipulate emotions and lose their true identities. To emphasize their change in personality during the night time as their action begins, I would add gels in the lights to allow the white beams of lights to change into a more deep red shade of light, demonstrating the danger.
Creating a tense atmosphere on stage I would also place mirrors at both stage left and stage right so that every slight movement made on stage is reflected and emphasized to the audience especially when the four lovers are on stage to portray their discomfort in the setting of the woods. However to demonstrate that the fear and loneliness the lovers have during the scenes in the wood I would create their shadows to be enlarged behind them as though their fear and tension is overpowering them inside as the dangers of the dark are more of an emotional danger than physically threatening.
Also I believe it is important to acknowledge the contrast between daylight and darkness as daylight allows you to see clearly, believe what you see and reflects a state of knowledge whereas in the dark you are unable to trust in what you see, reflecting a state of ignorance. This links in with the theme of ‘moonlight’ which those in the sixteenth century believed created a magical and mysterious world in which natural forms are disguised. Furthermore they believed a full moon affected people’s behaviour as the word ‘lunatic’ stems from the Latin word for moon.
In a Midsummer Nights Dream the moon is related to as “like to a silver bow/ New-bent in heaven” which signifies a powerful image of a weapon ready to destroy the earth. To incorporate this sense of overpowering and magnitude I would have a projection from the back of the theatre focusing onto the back wall of the stage of a bright, luminous green/yellow light which spins round slowly. I have chosen this use of lighting as it emphasizes the importance of the moon as a theme in the play and also with it spinning round indicates the change in the behaviour of the characters as during moonlit scenes often they act unnatural and irrational.
Due to the quarrels between Oberon and Titania, this resulted in destructive crops and misery associated with unseasonal weather and set off a harmful chain of events in which humans found themselves entangled. To specify this I would project images of lightning onto the back wall of the stage and use sound affects of thunder to demonstrate the inharmonious relationship of the weather. I would also have sound effects of more dangerous creatures such as snakes, spiders, beetles, bats believed to threaten the peace and have the outline of these images projected onto the back wall as though shadows of the animals.
Oberon also speaks of more fearsome creatures such as lions, bears and wolves, creatures that can be hunted in daylight but dangerous at night and I would also have sound effects of these creatures played to make the audience feel quite unnerved and isolated. I would choose the daytime scenes of the woods to demonstrate the charming, pretty essence of the woods as it is clear that although nature can be cruel, unpredictable and destructive it inevitably allows us to survive.
During the daytime scenes I would have the sounds of small earthly creatures played such as butterflies, small birds, squirrels and dragon flies and again have images of these projected onto the back wall of the stage and onto the side walls of the theatre but the full image of the creatures not their shadow as they represent a friendlier environment. I would also have a small pond on the stage with blue, clear water and several small animals such as birds and rabbits around it to give a sense of tranquillity and beauty during the daytime in the woods.
During the scene in which Titania is lying in her bower with her fairies surrounding her as she goes to sleep I would have the younger, small fairies hand her flowers, pot pourri and spray perfume round her to convey their loyalty as though they keep her looking beautiful and charming. I would have her bower made out of shrubbery and strong flowers and branches woven and intervened to make a beautiful, natural, protecting place for her to sleep.
In amongst this I would have flowers of all different colours woven into the branches and stems of the large flowers to create an image of natural splendour. To create the sense of invisibility of Oberon and Puck I would have a large curtain pulled across the back of the stage allowing the figures to stand behind this and their shadows to appear on the other side so the audience can see their movement. When Puck first appears in the woods I would show him behind this curtain jumping around and sneaking about as though in the lookout for mischief and to find someone to make a fool of.
When Oberon also first enters the stage I would place him behind this curtain at first in order to imply to the audience that the characters are invisible and have a sound effect of a synthesized tone which is played when the invisible characters are on stage which will stand out. Once the audience have become accustomed to the shadows of the characters they can then appear in front of the curtain but the synthesized tone will continue to distinguish their magical presence from the other characters.