A Midsummer Night’s Dream in Subversive Performance: essay cluster

deadline for submissions: 
August 31, 2020
full name / name of organization: 
York University
contact email: 

In a brief survey of four 2016 A Midsummer Night’s Dream productions, Katherine Brokaw remarked that, this is, “perhaps of all Shakespeare’s plays, the one that most tempts radical and experimental interpretation. It is at once familiar and other” (Shakespeare Bulletin 35.1, 2017, pp. 148-156). Indeed, A Midsummer Night’s Dream has often been interpreted as a benevolent, cheerful story with airy, glittering fairies, well-meaning mechanicals, and lush natural settings, ending with a vision of natural harmony and social order. And yet, as Titania’s speech would suggest, the natural world of A Midsummer Night’s Dream is hardly benevolent or orderly: ravaged by the reverberations of the fairy monarchs’ strife, it teeters on the brink of collapse. The play raises but does not put to rest issues of consent (present in all four of its plots, with Demetrius ultimately forced to marry Helena while under enchantment), bestiality, problems of class and race, contested child custody, and the relationship between theatrical performance and audience. 

In this cluster of essays on A Midsummer Night’s Dream in performance, we seek to examine the horizon of expectation imposed on the play’s performances by audiences, critics, and socio-political contexts. How is the play's “familiarity” constructed? How might it translate into non-Western and non-English-speaking contexts? At the same time, this cluster takes up the “otherness” of A Midsummer Night’s Dream: the multiple ruptures in social and natural world, as indicated by the play text. How might these ruptures be productively explored in performance?  What are the stakes of such exploration, and potential repercussions for theatre practitioners’ non-compliance with the tradition of comedic familiarity? How might this exploration be complicated by the play’s metatheatrical destabilization of its own coherence and efficacy as a theatrical performance?

This small cluster of essays emerges from a group of papers delivered at the RSA and from discussions that followed. We have already assembled a strong set of abstracts that examine A Midsummer Night’s Dream productions originating in North America, the UK, Europe, New Zealand, and Brazil. However, we would love to include additional work by scholars working on adaptations of Shakespeare in other countries. As such, we invite submissions that explore MND’s potential for confronting and subverting theatrical, social, and cultural expectations, with a particular focus on 20th- and 21st-century stage and film productions, especially non-Western.

Please send 300-word abstracts to Sarah Crover at sarah.crover@viu.ca and Natalia Khomenko at khomenko@yorku.ca by August 31, 2020. The timeline for submitting the complete essay will depend on the publication venue. We will begin approaching journals once we have finalized our set of abstracts in September 2020.