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

— 2.2 —

In another part of the forest, Titania and her fairy attendants were settling in for the night.

Titania ordered, “Come and dance in a fairy ring and sing a fairy song. Then leave and attend to your duties. Some of you will kill cankerworms in the musk-rose buds, and some of you will war with bats and take their leathern wings to make my small elves coats, and some of you will keep back the clamorous owl that nightly hoots and wonders at our dainty spirits. Sing me now asleep, then attend to your work and let me rest.”

The fairies sang this song:

You spotted snakes with forked tongue,

and thorny hedgehogs, be not seen.

Newts and small snakes, do no wrong,

come not near our fairy Queen.

Nightingale, with melody,

sing in our sweet lullaby.

Lulla, lulla, lullaby, lulla, lulla, lullaby.

May no harm,

or spell or charm,

come near our lovely lady here.

Say good night with a lullaby.

Weaving spiders, come not here.

Go away, you long-legged spinners, go hence!

Beetles black, approach not near.

Snake and snail, do no offence.

Nightingale, with melody,

sing in our sweet lullaby.

Lulla, lulla, lullaby, lulla, lulla, lullaby.

May no harm,

or spell or charm,

come near our lovely lady here.

Say good night with a lullaby.”

A fairy said, “Away we go! All is well! One alone stand sentinel.”

Most of the fairies departed, and the lone sentinel made a poor guard. The sentinel did not dare interfere with Oberon, King of the Fairies, and flew away when Oberon appeared.

Oberon walked to the sleeping Titania and squeezed the juice of the flower onto her eyelids and said, “Whatever you see when you wake, do it for your true love take. Love and languish for his sake. Whether it be lynx, or wildcat, or bear, or panther, or boar with bristled hair, whatever shall appear before your eyes when you do awake, you shall love it for its own sake. Whatever you see when you do wake, dear Titania, you will hold it dear, so wake when some vile thing is near.”

As soon as Oberon flew away, Lysander and Hermia walked close to Titania, the sleeping fairy Queen, but they did not see her.

Lysander said to Hermia, “Fair love, you are faint from much wandering in the wood; and to say the truth, I have forgotten our way: We are lost. Let us rest here, Hermia, if you think it a good idea, and we will wait for the comfort of morning and daylight.”

“Let it be done,” Hermia said. “Lysander, find a place for you to make your bed, for I upon this bank will rest my head.”

“One piece of ground shall serve as bed for us both,” Lysander said. “We need no ground between us to waste. We will have one bed and one heart, and we will pledge to each other our lover’s faith.”

“No, good Lysander, Hermia replied. “For my sake, my dear, lie further away, do not lie by me so near.”

“Understand what is behind my words, my sweet, and know that it is innocence!” Lysander said. “Lovers understand each other’s meaning in each sentence. I mean that my heart unto yours is so knit that only one heart we can make of it, and both of us know we do love each other. So by your side let me tonight lie, for when I tell you I love you, you know I do not lie.”

“Lysander, you speak very prettily, and please forgive me if you thought that I think you lied, but gentle friend, for love and courtesy lie further away. Be courteous and let there be such separation between us as may well be said becomes a virtuous bachelor and a modest maiden. So make your bed at a distance from me, and good night, sweet friend. May your love for me never alter until your life ends.”

Lysander was disappointed, but he was a man who took no for an answer, so he said, “Amen, amen, to that fair prayer, say I; and may my life end when I end my love for you! Over here will I make my bed. May you sleep well where you rest your sweet head.”

“May you sleep as well as I, while I take my rest in my sweet nest,” Hermia replied.

Hermia and Lysander were asleep when Puck arrived and complained, “Throughout the forest have I gone, but Athenian found I none on whose eyes I might test this flower’s force in causing love. All is night and silence.”

Puck then caught sight of Lysander: “Who is here? Clothing of Athens he does wear. This is he, my master said, who despised the Athenian maiden.”

Puck then looked at Hermia and said, “And here is the maiden, sleeping sound, on the dank and dirty ground. Pretty soul! She dares not lie near this lack-love, this kill-courtesy.”

Puck went to Lysander and squeezed the juice of the flower onto his sleeping eyelids.

He then said, “Chump, upon your eyes have I thrown all the power this charm does own. When you wake, you pest, may love forbid you any more rest. So awake when I am gone, for I must go to Oberon.”

Puck flew away, and immediately Demetrius and Helena ran near Lysander and Hermia and stopped.

“Stay here and run no more, even though you kill me, sweet Demetrius,” Helena pleaded.

“I order you to leave and to leave me alone,” Demetrius replied.

“Will you leave me in the dark? Do not so.”

“Stay here, or face my anger. I alone will go,” Demetrius said before crashing through the forest again.

“Oh, I am out of breath in this fond chase!” Helena said. “The more I pray, the less is my grace. Happy is Hermia, wherever she lies, for she has blessed and attractive eyes. Why are her eyes so bright? Salt tears did not make them bright. My eyes are oftener washed with salt tears than hers, and my eyes are not so bright as hers. No, no, I am as ugly as a bear. Beasts that meet me run away in fear. Therefore, I should not marvel that Demetrius runs away from me as if he were from a monster fleeing. What wicked and lying mirror made me seek to compare my eyes with Hermia’s eyes that are as bright as the stars in the sky at night?”

Helena, seeing Lysander lying on the ground, said, “But who is here? Lysander! On the ground! Is he dead? Or asleep? I see no blood, no wound. Lysander, if you live, good sir, awake.”

Lysander awoke and said, “And run through fire I will for your sweet sake. Radiant Helena! Now that I have awakened, I can see into your heart. Where is Demetrius? Oh, how fit a word is that vile name to perish on my sword!”

“Do not say that, Lysander; do not say that,” Helena said. “So what if he loves your Hermia? It doesn’t matter because Hermia still loves you. Be content with that, and leave Demetrius alone.”

“Content with Hermia!” Lysander said. “No! I do repent the tedious minutes I with her have spent. Not Hermia but Helena I love. Who will not change a raven for a dove? The love a man feels is by his reason swayed, and reason says you are the worthier maiden. Things growing are not ripe until their season, so I, being young, was not until now ripe to reason. Now that I have grown up, reason becomes the leader of my will and leads me to your eyes, where I look and see love’s stories written in love’s richest book.”

Helena was certain that Lysander was cruelly mocking her by pretending to be in love with her. She complained, “Why was I to this keen mockery born? When at your hands did I deserve this scorn? Is it not enough, young man, that I did never, no, nor never can, despite how I try, deserve a sweet look from Demetrius’ eyes? Why then must you mock my insufficiency? You do me wrong, you do, by pretending to love me and me to woo. But fare you well, although I must confess I thought you were a man of true gentleness. Oh, that a lady, by one man refused, should by another therefore be ill used!”

Helena ran away from Lysander.

Lysander said, “She did not see Hermia. Hermia, sleep you here, and may you never come Lysander near! Just like a surfeit of the sweetest things, the deepest loathing to the stomach brings, or as the heresies that men do leave are hated most by those whom the heresies did deceive, so you, my surfeit and my heresy, by all be hated, but most of all by me! And, all my talents, address your love and might to honor Helen and to be her knight!”

Lysander ran after Helena.

A nightmare woke Hermia: “Help me, Lysander, help me! Do your best to pluck this crawling serpent from my breast! What a nightmare I had here! Lysander, look how I do shake with fear. I thought that a serpent was eating my heart, and you sat smiling as the serpent played his part. Lysander! Gone?”

She shouted, “Lysander! Can you hear me?”

She listened, and then she said, “You must be out of range of hearing me. Lysander, where are you? Speak, if you can hear me! Speak, my love! I almost faint with fear!”

No reply came, and Hermia said, “I know you are not near. I will go and seek you because you are my dear. I will find either my dear or my death.”

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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