Distractions?

It seems that Shakespeare uses side-notes/side stories as a tool in his playwriting. Having only read The Twelfth Night in addition to a Midsummer Night’s Dream, I am noticing that this is a strategy Shakespeare repeats. It as almost as if he opens his plays by displaying scenes that are loosely connected (which in turn does a very good job at throwing off the audience, in my opinion) and then slowly begins to knit the seemingly unrelated scenes together until the stories are interwoven and become one.
I feel as though the placement of these different scenes serves as a distraction from the main storyline. In this case I’m referring to the main-plot as it is presented in Act I Scene I in contrast to the side-plot in Scene II. First, we are introduced to the ruler, Theseus and his bride to be, Hippolyta. Then we are introduced to the love sick puppies: Demetrius, Hermia, Lysander, and Hermia’s overpowering father figure, Egeus. From there we are introduced to the love-triangle that Shakespeare has created for these characters as well as a general introduction to the obstacles they will be grappling with for the remainder of the play. Then we are thrown into Scene II.
Scene II introduces a whole new slew of characters. I am in agreement with Krystal’s post about the childish nature of these characters, especially in this scene. Scene II is much more carefree and a tad silly if you ask me.  As opposed to Scene I, Scene II does not really lay out an obstacle the characters are facing. Rather, it presents a task the characters must fulfill which is to perform a play for the Duke and his bride on their wedding night. The language/dialogue and behavior of these characters lightens the “impending-doom” feeling that Helena’s speech leaves the audience with at the end of Scene I.

Are these distractions actually distractions or am I just really bad at multi-tasking?  I feel as though Shakespeare is making his audience work really hard to pay attention and get a full grasp on the play. Is this all a part of Shakespeare’s genius or is this a bad move on his part? Most would have to agree that the man had a way with words, but is it wise to open a play with a scatter-brained type style? Since his plays were being performed for the general public, were these side-stories/distractions a problem for those less versed in the intricate literary strategies implemented in Shakespeare’s plays? I’m just not so sure I see the point in having a plot underlying a plot for something that is to be performed. When read, these types of literary tools are enjoyable and really highlight the skill of the writer but on the stage (in my experience at least) these kinds of methods have more potential to confuse than to bring things to light.    

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5 thoughts on “Distractions?

  1. ssomer

    I think you bring up a good point. The multiple stories within the play can be quite distracting or hard to follow. For some people, it can be just downright confusing. I do think, though, that it is all a part of Shakespeare's plan. It might be slow at first, but it makes for an interesting play by the end. Personally, I like movies and literature that involves "mini-plots" within the story. I always like to see how it all comes together in the end. I have never seen any of Shakespeare's plays performed but I think it would work. Consider how popular they are. It seems to me that this tactic in his writing has done quite well in captivating audiences for centuries.

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  2. Stacy Carter

    I agree that this play can get confusing and easy to lose track of, but I think it works here. The main plot itself, with the love triangles and mischievous fairies, is confusing already. By adding the mini-plot with Bottom and the "play within a play," Shakespeare is able to take that feeling of confusion a step further. This play is meant to seem hectic. In the beginning we get the quote "The course of love never did run smooth," and what better way to illustrate that than with a crazy piece such as this one!

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  3. Jess

    You bring up an excellent point that also had me somewhat confused upon approaching the play. I read act one and thought "okay, I think I get this…" then I got to act two where new characters and a new situation was introduced, and I became a bit flustered. Upon further reading, however, I am finding that the use of side stories sort of works in the play. It adds dimension and creates added opportunities for the audience to identify with different characters. As far as Shakespeare's audience potentially not understanding the "scatter-brained type style" when it was/is performed, I believe that it may be easier to follow when acted out on stage than when read.

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  4. Kelly Prendergast

    I think that watching these scenes performed in succession, while slightly scatterbrained, might be easier to follow than reading the text. The audience is watching three different sets, with three different sets of actors, in three different sets of costumes performing three different scenes. In contrast, as you're reading the written text, you're asked to imagine and remember all of the characters and expected to keep them all separated into their respective scenes. In reading these scenes, it's easy to blur the lines between characters, especially when all of the scenes revolve around the same general theme of marriage. This, on the other hand, is a complex literary device as Shakespeare weaves all of these stories into one. I don't think it's your lack of multi-tasking ability, rather the challenges of reading a text that is meant to be performed. SSomer brings up a good point as well- most movies today employ similar techniques, weaving seemingly unrelated sub-plots together. The characters and settings generally differ enough that the audience is capable of distinguishing between the different sub-plots, and I would think that this would work for Shakespeare's audience as well. If you were to read the written script of a movie that followed this pattern, I'm sure it would be just as hard to differentiate between the characters as it is to differentiate between Theseus and Hippotlya's marriage, Demetrius, Hermia, and Lysander's love triangle and whatever silly pranks Bottom is playing in Scene II.

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  5. Cyrus Mulready

    What a great discussion! One of my favorite ways to approach the reading of a Shakespeare play (or really any story, dramatic or otherwise) is to look for the details that seem to be insignificant or side points and to delve into them in more detail. Especially when this approach is tied back to bigger questions or insights about the text, it can be an effective way of approaching a work. I think that reading for the "scattered-ness" of a text can bring up some good insights.

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