William Shakespeare’s “A Midsummer Night’s Dream”: A Retelling in Prose — Act 2, Scene 1

— 2.1 —

In the forest near Athens, a fairy met Puck.

“How now, spirit! Whither wander you?” Puck inquired.

The fairy replied, “Over hill, over dale, through bush, through brier, over park, in light so pale, through flood, through fire, I do wander everywhere, swifter than the Moon’s sphere; and I serve Titania, the fairy Queen — I dance for her upon the green. The cowslips tall her bodyguards be. In their gold coats, spots you see — those be rubies, fairy favors, and in those spots live their savors. I must go and seek some dewdrops here and hang a pearl in every cowslip’s ear. Farewell, rustic spirit. I must go — and how! Our Queen and all her elves will come here now.”

Puck replied, “Oberon our King does keep his revels here tonight: Take heed our Queen come not within his sight. For Oberon is very fierce and angry because Titania has a new attendant: a lovely boy, stolen from an Indian King. She has never had so sweet a changeling. Jealous Oberon would make the child a knight of his train of followers, so the child can walk through the forests wild. But Titania withholds the beloved boy, crowns him with flowers and makes him all her joy. Now Oberon and Titania never meet in grove or green, by fountain clear, or in spangled starlight sheen. Instead, they quarrel, and all their elves do fear and creep into acorn-cups and hide them there.”

The fairy recognized Puck, a celebrity in Fairyland: “Either I mistake your shape and form quite, or else you are that shrewd and knavish sprite called Robin Goodfellow. Are not you he who frightens the maidens of the villagery, skims the cream from milk, and sometimes makes the breathless housewife grind and churn but make no flour and butter that will for her money earn? Are not you he who sometimes makes the beer to bear no froth and misleads night-wanderers, laughing at them when they are lost? Some call you Hobgoblin, and others call you Puck, and those you befriend will have good luck. Are not you that Puck?”

“You speak aright,” Puck replied. “I am that merry wanderer of the night. I jest to Oberon and make him smile, and sometimes I a fat and bean-fed horse beguile when I neigh as if I were a filly foal. Sometimes I hide in a gossip’s bowl as if I were a roasted crabapple, and when she drinks, against her lips I bob and on her withered dewlap pour the ale. The wisest aunt, telling the saddest tale, sometimes for a three-foot stool mistakes me. When she tries to sit on me, then slip I from her bum, and down topples she, and she falls on the floor roughly and after she falls she coughs. Then her friends hold their hips and laugh and sneeze and swear — a merrier hour was never spent there. But make room, fairy — here comes Oberon!”

“And here comes Titania, my mistress. Would that Oberon were gone!”

The Fairy King and Queen appeared with many attendants.

“Ill met by Moonlight, proud Titania,” Oberon said.

“What, jealous Oberon, are you here? Fairies, let us leave at once. I have sworn never again to be in Oberon’s bed or in his presence.”

“Stay here, rash wanton,” Oberon said. “Am not I your husband?”

“Then I must be your wife,” Titania replied, “but I know of your affairs. I know when you have stolen away from Fairyland, and in the shape of a mortal lover sat all day, playing on a homemade flute and singing verses of love to an amorous mortal lover. Why are you here, recently returned from the farthest mountain range of India? You must be here because Hippolyta, the swaggering Amazon, your boot-wearing mistress and your warrior love, to Theseus is going to be married, and you have come to give their bed joy and prosperity.”

“For shame, Titania,” Oberon replied. “How can you criticize my love for Hippolyta when I know about your love for Theseus? Haven’t you protected him from the consequences of his affairs? Did not you lead him through the glimmering night when he abandoned Perigenia, whom he had kidnapped and seduced? And didn’t you help him when he seduced and abandoned Aegles, Ariadne, and Antiopa? Theseus has been quite the lover boy, and without fairy help, he would have paid for his seductions and not felt joy!”

“These are the lies of jealousy,” Titania replied. “Ever since the beginning of midsummer, each time we have met, whether on hill or in dale, forest, or meadow, by paved fountain or by brook banked with growing rushes, or on the beaches of the sea, to dance our ringlets to the whistling winds, you have disturbed our dances with your quarrels.”

Titania added, “Because you and I, the King and Queen of Fairyland, are quarreling, the winds, tired of singing to us in vain, in revenge have sucked up from the sea noxious waters, which have fallen as rain in the land and have made every petty river so grand and so proud that they have overflowed their banks. Because of our quarrel, crops will not grow — the ox has pulled in vain the plow, the farmer has nothing for his sweat to show, and the green corn dies before the cob grows a silky beard. In the flooded fields stand pens empty of sheep, and crows grow fat from feasting on the dead flock’s meat. Covered with mud are football fields, and paths grow faint with disuse that were by lovers formerly filled.”

Titania continued, “Because of our quarrel, the natural seasons are confused. Human mortals lack their winters, a season that has its pleasures. No night is blessed with hymn or carol, and the Moon, the governess of floods, pale in her anger, washes all the air, causing colds and rheumatic diseases. The disturbance in the natural order caused by our quarrel has altered the seasons. Hoary-headed frost coats the crimson roses, and the mocking crown of Old Man Winter is a sweet-smelling wreath of summer buds. Spring, summer, autumn, and winter are all mixed up, and the amazed world no longer knows which is when. All of these evils come from our quarrel — we are their parents and origin.”

“You can easily fix everything,” Oberon replied, “Why should you argue with me? I do but beg a little changeling boy, my servant to be. Give him to me.”

“That won’t happen,” Titania said. “Not all of Fairyland would I take for the boy. His mother was a priestess of my order, and, in the spiced Indian air, by night, very often has given me joy as she talked with me and sat with me on the sea’s yellow sands, watching the traders sailing on the ocean. We have laughed as we watched the ships’ sails conceive and grow pregnant by the wanton wind. She — pregnant with the child, and walking with a pretty swimming gait — imitated the big-bellied sails. She sailed upon the land, got for me small gifts, and returned again, as if she had returned from a voyage, rich with merchandise. Unfortunately, she, being mortal, died giving birth to that boy; for her sake I will bring up her boy, and for her sake I will not part from him.”

“How long within this forest do you intend to stay?” Oberon asked.

“Probably until after Theseus’ wedding day,” Titania replied. If you will peacefully dance in our circles and see our Moonlit revels, you are welcome to come with us. If you are not willing to be peaceful, then shun me, and I will shun your haunts.”

“Give me that boy, and I will happily go with you.”

“I will not give you the boy even if you give me your fairy kingdom,” Titania replied. “He stays with me and my followers. Fairies, away! Oberon and I will loudly quarrel, if I longer stay.”

Titania and her fairies departed.

Oberon said to himself, “Well, go your way, but you shall not depart from this forest until after I torment you for not giving me that boy.”

He said louder, “My dear Puck, come here. Do you remember when once I sat upon a promontory, and heard a mermaid on a dolphin’s back singing such a sweet and harmonious song that the high waves of the sea calmed and stars fell out of the sky to come closer to hear the sea-maiden sing?”

“I remember.”

“That was the time I — but not you — saw Cupid, armed with arrows, flying between the cold Moon and the Earth. He took aim at a virgin sitting in a throne in the West, and he shot his love-arrow smartly from his bow and it seemed as if it could pierce a hundred thousand hearts. But the Moon is ruled by the virgin goddess Diana, and the chaste beams of the silvery Moon put out the flames of young Cupid’s fiery shaft, and the virgin continued to think the thoughts of a maiden and neglected to think the thoughts of a lover. I remember where the arrow of Cupid fell. It fell upon a little flower in the West. The flower used to be milky white, but now it is purple — it changed colors when hit by Cupid’s arrow just as love’s wound causes maidens to change colors when their beloved’s name is mentioned. Maidens call that flower love-in-idleness. Fetch me that flower — I once showed it to you. The juice of that flower when squeezed onto sleeping eyelids will make a man or woman madly love the next live creature it sees. Fetch me that flower quickly — before a whale can swim three miles.”

“I’ll put a girdle round about the earth in forty minutes,” Puck replied, and then he flew away.

Oberon said to himself, “Once I have this juice, I will wait until Titania is asleep, and then I will drip its juice onto her eyelids. The next thing she waking looks upon, be it a lion, bear, wolf, or bull, or a meddling monkey or ape, she shall pursue with the soul of love. And before I take this charm from off her sight, as I can with another herb, I will make her give up the Indian boy to me.”

Oberon heard a noise, and he said to himself, “But who are coming here? I will make myself invisible, and I will overhear their conversation.”

Demetrius and Helena came close to Oberon, whom they did not see.

Exasperated, Demetrius said to Helena, “I do not love you, so stop following me. Where are Lysander and fair Hermia? The one I will slay, the other has already slain me with her lack of love. You told me they had stolen away from Athens and come to this forest, and I am going nutty among these nut trees and batty among these homes for bats and wild in this wilderness, all because I cannot find Hermia. Go away, leave me, and follow me no more.”

“Your attractiveness attracts me toward you,” Helena replied. “The kind of love you draw from my heart is not base iron but a finer metal, for my heart is as true as steel. Only if your attractiveness stops attracting me toward you will I stop following you.”

“Do I entice you?” Demetrius said. “Do I speak fair words to you? No! Instead, I in plain truth and in plain language tell you that I do not and I cannot love you.”

“And even for that do I love you the more,” Helena replied. “I am your cocker spaniel, I am your pet dog, and, Demetrius, the more you beat me, the more I will love you. Treat me as you treat your cocker spaniel, spurn me, strike me, neglect me, lose me. Do whatever you want to me as long as you allow me, unworthy as I am, to follow you. What worser place can I beg in your love — and yet for me it is a place of high respect — than to be treated by you as you treat your dog?”

“Be careful not to put to the test my hatred of you because I am sick when I look at you.”

“And I am sick when I do not look at you,” Helena replied.

“You do risk your reputation and your virginity too much, to leave the city and commit yourself into the hands of me, a man who does not love you. It is dark, we are in a deserted place, and if I were a different kind of man, I could force myself on you.”

“Your goodness will protect me and prevent you from taking advantage of me,” Helena said. “When I look at you, I see no night, and therefore I see no darkness. This forest is not deserted. Why? Because you are my entire world. How can anyone say that I am alone, when all the world is standing in front of me?”

“I’ll run from you and hide in the thickets and leave you to the mercy of wild beasts,” Demetrius said.

“The wildest of wild animals has not such a heart as you. Run whenever and wherever you will; the story of Apollo and Daphne shall be changed. In the old tale, the mortal Daphne ran from the god Apollo, who pursued her. But with you as Apollo and with me as Daphne, Apollo will flee, and Daphne will chase. The dove will pursue the eagle; the mild doe will speed to catch the tiger. A coward will pursue a fleeing brave man!”

“I will not stay around to listen to you. Either let me leave you, or be afraid that if you follow me I will do some harm to you in these woods.”

Fortunately, despite making the threat, Demetrius was not the kind of man who would carry out the threat.

“You have already done harm to me in the temple, in the town, and in the field, Demetrius! You have wronged me by making me do the wooing, and you have wronged all women! Women cannot fight for love, as men may do; women should be wooed and were not made to woo. You, Demetrius, should be wooing me.”

Demetrius made a motion as if to kick her and then fled.

Helena said, “I will follow you and make a Heaven of Hell, by dying at the hand of the man I love so well.”

She ran after Demetrius.

Oberon had watched and heard everything, and his own marital woes made him empathize with Helena.

He said, “Fare thee well, nymph. You are of an age to be married to this young man, and before he leaves this grove, you shall flee from him and he shall seek your love.”

Puck, having returned from his journey, went to Oberon, who said, “Welcome, wanderer. Do you have the flower?”

“Yes, here it is.”

“Please give it to me,” Oberon said. “I know a bank where the wild thyme blows, where oxlips and the nodding violet grows. It is quite over-canopied with luscious woodbine, with sweet musk-roses and with eglantine. There sleeps Titania sometimes during the night, and among all those flowers she is lulled by dances and delight. There the snake sheds its enameled skin, which is wide enough to make a garment to wrap a fairy in. With the juice of this flower, I will streak Titania’s eyes, and make her mind full of lovesick fantasies.”

He added, “Puck, take part of this flower and look throughout this grove for a sweet young Athenian lady who is in love with a youth who disdains her. Anoint his eyes with the juice of this flower, but do it when the next thing he sees will be the Athenian lady. You shall know the man by the Athenian clothing he is wearing. Do what I tell you to do with care, so that he will be more in love with her than she is in love with him, and know that you must meet me before the first cock crows.”

“Fear not, my King, your servant shall do so.”

Copyright by Bruce D. Bruce

David Bruce has retold in today’s modern English all 38 of William Shakespeare’s plays.

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