William Shakespeare’s “A Midsummer Night’s Dream”: A Retelling in Prose — Act 4, Scene 1

— 4.1 —

In another part of the forest, Titania entertained Bottom. Many other fairies, including Peaseblossom, Cobweb, Mote, and Mustardseed, were also present. Oberon watched from a position where he was unseen.

Titania said to Bottom, who was enjoying himself, “Come, sit down upon this flowery bed, while I your lovely cheeks caress, and stick musk-roses in the hair of your sleek, smooth head, and kiss your beautiful, large ears, my gentle joy and boy-toy.”

Bottom asked, “Where’s Peaseblossom?”

“Here I am.”

“Scratch my head, please, Peaseblossom. Where’s Monsieur Cobweb?”

“Here I am.”

“Monsieur Cobweb, good monsieur, please get you your weapons in your hand, and kill me a red-hipped bumblebee on the top of a thistle; and, good monsieur, bring me the honeybag. Do not tire yourself too much doing this, monsieur; and, good monsieur, be careful not to break the honeybag; I would hate for you to be covered with honey. Where’s Monsieur Mustardseed?”

“Here I am,” he said, bowing repeatedly.

“Shake hands with me, Monsieur Mustardseed, and please stop bowing, good monsieur.”

“What can I do for you?”

“Nothing, good monsieur, but to help Cavalier Cobweb to scratch my head. I must go to the barber soon, monsieur; for I think that I am marvelously hairy about the face; and I am such a tender ass, if my hair do but tickle me, I must scratch.”

“Would you like to hear some music, my sweet love?” Titania asked Bottom.

“I have a reasonably good ear in music,” Bottom replied. “Let’s have something with lots of clacking and clapping.”

“Or would you prefer something sweet to eat?”

“I could peck at a pound of provender. I could munch a bunch of good dry oats. I have a great desire to eat a bundle of hay — good hay, sweet hay, has no equal.”

“I will have a venturesome fairy seek a squirrel’s hoard, and he will fetch you new nuts.”

“I prefer to eat a handful or two of dried peas,” Bottom said, “but, please, let none of your people disturb me, for now an exposition for sleep has come upon me.”

“You mean a disposition for sleep, dear,” Titania said. “You sleep, and I will hold you in my arms. Fairies, go now, and stay away for a while.”

The fairies departed, and Titania said to Bottom, who was now asleep. “I will hold you in my arms the way that sweet honeysuckle gently twists itself around the strong trunk of an elm. How I love you!”

Titania fell asleep beside the sleeping Bottom.

Puck arrived, and Oberon said, “Welcome, Robin Goodfellow. Do you see this sweet sight? I begin to pity her lovesickness now. I recently met with her as she was seeking treats for this silly fool, and I scolded her because of the silly way she was acting. She had placed on this ass’ head a coronet of fresh and fragrant flowers. Drops of dew, which sometimes appear on buds and swell like round and lustrous pearls, were on the coronet, standing in the pretty flowerets’ eyes like tears that did their own disgrace bewail. After I had scolded her, Titania with mild words spoke to me. I then did ask her to give me the changeling child, and immediately she gave him to me and sent a fairy to bear him to my bower in Fairyland.”

Oberon added, “Now that I have the boy, I will undo this hateful imperfection of Titania’s eyes. And, gentle Puck, take this ass’ head off this Athenian fool, so that, when he awakens when the other Athenians do, they may all go back to Athens and think that this night’s incidents are only a disconcerting dream. But first I will release the fairy Queen.”

He squeezed the juice of the herbal antidote onto Titania’s sleeping eyelids and said, “Be as you used to be; see as you used to see. Blessed be Diana, the Moon-goddess. Diana’s herb over Cupid’s flower has such force and blessed power. Now, my Titania, wake up, my sweet Queen.”

Titania, who thought that she had been dreaming, was happy to see Oberon, her husband: “My Oberon! What visions have I seen! I dreamed that I loved an ass!”

Oberon gestured toward the sleeping Bottom and said, “There lies your love.”

Titania looked down and beside her, saw Bottom, and was shocked: “How came this thing to pass? Oh, how I hate now to look at this ass!”

Like many, many other adult females in similar positions, Titania thought, What was I thinking!

Oberon said to Titania, “We will talk about this later.”

To Puck, he said, “Robin, take off this ass’ head.”

To Titania, he said, “Call for magical music that will make these five sleeping mortals sleep the deepest sleep.”

Titania ordered, “Music! Music that will charm mortals and make them sleep so deep!”

Music began to play.

Puck removed the ass’ head from Bottom and said to him, “When you wake up, you will not see with this ass’ eyes — you will see with your own ass’ eyes.”

Oberon said, “Come, my Queen, hold hands with me, and we will dance on the ground where these sleepers be.”

They danced and then Oberon said to Titania, “Now you and I newly enjoy amity, and we will tomorrow at midnight ceremoniously dance in Duke Theseus’ house joyfully. We shall bless his house with prosperity and there shall these four lovers wedded be, along with Theseus and Hippolyta, happily.”

Puck said, “Fairy King, hark — I do hear the morning lark.”

Oberon said to Titania, “My Queen, you who sit quietly thinking, we can run toward and rejoin the night soon. We can fly around the globe quickly, swifter than the wandering Moon.”

Titania replied, “During our flight, tell me how it came this night that I sleeping here was found with these mortals on the ground.”

The fairies flew away.

Hunting horns sounded in the distance. Theseus was taking Hippolyta hunting, a good entertainment for an Amazon. Egeus and others also participated in the hunt.

Theseus said, “Go, one of you, find the forester. We have finished our ceremony of the rites of May, and since we are still in the morning of this day, Hippolyta, whom I love, shall hear the music of my hounds. Tell him to unleash the hounds in the western valley and let them bound.”

An attendant left to find the forester.

Theseus said to Hippolyta, “We will, fair Queen, go up to the mountain’s top, and listen to the music of my hounds and the mountain’s echoes.”

Hippolyta enjoyed this kind of entertainment: “I was with Hercules and Cadmus once, when in a forest of Crete their hounds of Sparta brought to bay a bear. Never did I hear such gallant music — the groves, the skies, the waterfalls, and the echoes of every region nearby seemed to be all filled with one mutual cry. I never heard so musical a sound — it was such sweet thunder.”

Theseus said, “My hounds have been bred from Spartan dams and sires. They have the Spartan hounds’ hanging cheeks and sandy color. From their heads hang ears that sweep away the morning dew. They are crooked-kneed and dew-lapped like Thessalian bulls. Slow in pursuit they may be, but they are matched in mouth like bells of harmonious tones to create a tuneful melody of the hunt. The hunting pack creates a cry more melodious and beautiful than any ever created with human voice or with hunting horn — not even in Crete, in Sparta, or in Thessaly. You may judge for yourself when you hear their cries.”

Theseus caught sight of some bodies lying together on the edge of the forest and asked, “What nymphs are these?”

Egeus rode over to Theseus and said, “My lord, this is my daughter here asleep, and this man is Lysander. This man is Demetrius, and here is Helena, the daughter of old Nedar. I wonder how they came to be here together.”

“No doubt they rose up early to observe the rite of May,” Theseus said. “Knowing that we would be hunting here, they came here to watch. But, Egeus, isn’t this the day that Hermia should tell us whether or not she will marry Demetrius?”

“Yes, it is, my lord.”

Theseus ordered an attendant, “Go and tell the huntsmen to wake them with their horns.”

The attendant left to tell the huntsmen, and soon the huntsmen blew their horns loudly. Lysander, Demetrius, Helena, and Hermia all woke up.

Theseus joked, “Good morning, friends. Lovebirds are said to begin to mate on Saint Valentine’s Day, but Saint Valentine’s Day has passed. Do you lovebirds begin to couple only now?”

“I beg your pardon, my lord,” Lysander said.

“Please, young lovers, stand up,” Theseus said. “Lysander and Demetrius, I know that you are — or have been — enemies. How did your gentle concord — and concord it must be because you sleep by each other so peacefully —come into the world? How can two enemies sleep side by side with no fear of harm?”

“My lord, I shall reply perplexedly, half asleep and half awake,” Lysander replied. “I swear that I cannot truly say how I came here, but as I think — and truly would I speak — I believe that I came with Hermia so we could flee from out of the range of the harsh Athenian law.”

Egeus said, “Enough, enough. My lord, you have heard enough. I beg the law, the law, upon his head. Lysander and my daughter would have stolen away; they would, Demetrius, thereby have stolen from you and me. They would have stolen away your future wife and my right to choose the man whom my daughter will marry.”

Demetrius spoke up: “My lord, beautiful Helena told me of their plan and of their purpose in coming to this forest. Out of fury, I followed them, and out of love, Helena followed me. But, my good lord, I know not by what power — but by some power it has happened — my love for Hermia has melted like the snow. My love for Hermia seems to me now like the memory of a worthless trinket that I loved when I was a child. Now, I love only Helena. Only she is the object and the pleasure of my eye. All the faith and all the virtue of my heart are for Helena alone. I was engaged to marry her, my lord, before I ever saw Hermia. But somehow, as if I were ill, this food I had loved I came to hate. But now I am like a person restored to health and his natural taste, and I long for that food. Now I do wish for Helena, love Helena, long for Helena, and will for evermore be true to Helena.”

“Lovers, this is a fortunate meeting,” Theseus said. “We will hear more about your experiences later.”

To Egeus, Theseus said, “Earlier, I said that I can by no means extenuate the law of Athens, but I do exactly that now. Egeus, I do overrule your will. Your daughter shall marry Lysander, and Helena shall marry Demetrius. In the temple later this day, these couples shall eternally be knit, as shall be Hippolyta and me.”

Pleased at Theseus’ ruling, Hippolyta smiled.

Theseus said, “Now that the morning is nearly over, let’s stop our hunt. Let all of us, including the couples who will be married later, return to Athens. There, we will enjoy a festive feast.”

He turned to his betrothed and said, “Come, Hippolyta.”

Theseus, Hippolyta, Egeus, and others departed, leaving behind Lysander and Hermia, and Demetrius and Helena.

“What happened last night?” Demetrius asked. “The events of last night seem far away and murky, like a distant mountain whose top is hidden by clouds.”

“I remember the events of last night as if I were seeing them with eyes unfocused and seeing double,” Hermia said.

“I remember the events the same way,” Helena said. “I have found Demetrius, but I have found him like I could find a jewel. The jewel is in my possession for now, but someone could come along and claim it as hers.”

“Are you sure that we are awake?” Demetrius asked. “It seems to me that yet we sleep and dream. Was the Duke really here, and did he tell us to follow him?”

“Yes,” Hermia said, “and my father was also here.”

“And Hippolyta,” Helena said.

“And the Duke really did tell us to follow him to the temple,” Lysander said.

“Why, then, we are awake,” Demetrius said. “Let’s follow the Duke, and as we walk let us tell each other our dreams.”

The four young lovers walked away, and Bottom, who had been sleeping at some distance from the lovers, woke up, saying, “When my cue comes, call me, and I will answer. My next cue is ‘Most fair Pyramus.’”

Bottom looked around, saw no one, and called, “Peter Quince! Flute, the bellows-mender! Snout, the tinker! Starveling! Snug! My word, they have gone home and left me here asleep!”

He paused, thought, and said, “I have had a most rare vision. I have had a dream, past the wit of man to say what dream it was — man is but an ass, if he would try to explain this dream. I thought I was — no man can tell what. I thought I was, and I thought I had — but a man would have to be a motley-wearing fool if he would try to say what I thought I had.”

Bottom felt the top of his head above both ears, and then he said, “The eye of man has not heard, the ear of man has not seen, man’s hand is not able to taste, his tongue able to conceive, nor his heart able to report, what my dream was.”

Bottom thought, and then he said, “I will get Peter Quince to write a ballet of this dream. It shall be called ‘Bottom’s Dream,’ because it has no bottom; and I will sing it in the latter end of our play, before the Duke. Perhaps, to show the ballet to better advantage, I shall sing it when Thisby dies.”

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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