As Different As Night and Day: BBC Vs Hollywood
A Midsummer Night’s Dream
Cari Gilkison, English 520: Shakespeare
Culture influences are interpretation of things. Shakespeare is no different. Two version of A Midsummer Night’s Dream follow the text pretty closely, and yet they are still as different as night and day. The first production is from the BBC and was made in the 1980s. The other one is a Hollywood production, Warner Brother’s, from 1944. From the setting and the costumes to the ways in which the lines are said, these two versions are unique.
Take Act 3, Scene 2 for example. The scene is set in the woods. In the BBC version, the woods are vague and are most definitely a painted backdrop. A crescent moon hangs in the painted sky. There are puddles or small ponds scattered around. The BBC version is more focused on the characters than creating a realistic backdrop. The Warner Brother’s version has tall dark trees, making the woods look haunted. It is all very big and overwhelming and very Hollywood. There are more shadows and darkness in the Warner Brother’s version than the BBC version, which lends itself to more of an atmosphere of fear. Back in 1994, Hollywood liked to make things larger than life. In the 1980s there was a return back to more conservative and abstract movie making. Because the text only mentioned they were in the wood and did not give a particular or detailed description, we are left to imagine what it looks like for ourselves, as the directors have done.
Puck is a mysterious fairy or goblin. His lines are often full of mischief and riddles. In the BBC version, he is a teenager and more dark than humorous. He has black hair and wears fangs. This Puck is someone I would not want to be in the woods with. But in the Warner Brother’s version, he is a small wild boy that laughs and cackles insanely. Puck appears to be nothing more than a bratty little boy rather than a magical fairy or goblin. They both speak the same lines, but they have totally different attitudes. Take the line, “Lord, what fools these mortals be.” (3.2.116) In the BBC version Puck sounds more fed up than amused like does in the Warner Brother’s version. The readers only have the lines to create Puck out of—tone and style can vary.
Oberon is the fairy king and he is incredibly jealous. He wishes to teach his wife a lesson. He is a very angry man. In the BBC version he is a man in his mid-thirties who looked a bit like a hippie. He had long black hair and a shirt that was open. He looked like he stepped off the cover of a romance novel. Warner Brother’s made him more of a father figure to Titana. He is older with a big fancy headdress on. They do a blurred special effect around him to make him appear almost angelic. Oberon, in the Warner brother’s version, appears to have no attitude one way or the other. He says his lines, but he is allusive and aloof in nature.
Titana is considered the Queen of the Fairies. She is jealous and determined to keep the changeling baby that Oberon demands. In the BBC version, she matches her husband in looks with the same long blonde hair. She is warm, graceful and strong. She is motherly, but passionate as well. In the Warner Brother’s version Titana reminded me of Polychrome or Glinda the Good Witch from The Wizard of Oz. There is no anger in her motherly speeches in the Warner Brother’s version.
Lysander is in love with Hermia. They run off to get married and get lost in the woods. Lysander in the BBC version is smart, strong and somewhat sarcastic. When he enters the woods with Hermia, they are in love. The couple is simply glowing with love and laughter. He reminded me of a young Robin Hood from the old movies. He even says, “Get you gone, Dwarf!” (3.2.318) when he pushes Hermia away. In the Warner Brother’s Version it comes across as him mocking her, but in the BBC it seems like it is said all in good fun. Their distinct attitudes toward Hermia are subtle, but these different interpretations are important.
Hermia can be played as either weak or strong. In the BBC version, she is strong and sweet, but emotional. She knows her heart and acts on her passions. She is dressed in clothes from the 1600s. In the Warner Brother’s version she is wearing a big dress from the middle ages. It is a not a period appropriate piece and looks more like a fairy tale princess dress. She is also sweet, but not as strong though. Women and their roles were viewed differently in 1944 than they were in the 1980s. You can see this in the different portrayal of Hermia.
Demetrius is in love with Hermia as well and trying to get rid of Helena, who is in love with him. Demetrius is incredibly annoyed with Hermia. In the BBC version, he has black hair and a goatee and resembles a musketeer. But with the magic Puck bestows upon him, he becomes sweet and is determined to get what he wants. In the Warner Brother’s version he has dark hair as well, but no facial hair. He is more like Lysander. Demetrius seems only slightly perturbed by Helena’s persistence. He gently pushes her away instead of throwing her off like he does in the BBC version. It suggests that in 1944 the problem of unrequited love wasn’t as dramatic or taken as seriously as it was in the 1980s.
Helena is in love with Demetrius who does not love her back. In the BBC version she is whiney and confused. She is dressed much the same as Hermia, but isn’t quite as pretty as she is. Take the line, “Lo, she is one of this confederacy!” (3.2.193) In the BBC version she exclaims it as if shocked and hurt. In the Warner Brother’s version she sound merely sad and heartbroken. Helena in the BBC version makes a dramatic speech, but it doesn’t have the same tone as the Warner Brother’s version. In the Warner Brother’s version she starts out hurt and then gets all wound up and angry by the end of her speech.
It is not just the characters that vary, but the overall scene can very as well. The big scene where they fight in the woods is more physical in the BBC version. They splash in puddles and get in each other’s faces in the. Hermia is hurt and appalled. Helena is confused. Lysander and Demetrius are both in love with Helena and not at all acting like themselves. In the Warner Brother’s version the fight is more in good spirit and in jest instead of so seriously aggressive. Helena is more scorning and Hermia is angry at her. The men are more like the Spaniels they are accused of being in the Warner Brother’s version.
A Midsummer Night’s dream is a very popular play because it is easy to identify with. As timeless as it is, however, it can also be molded to fit the time that it is performed in. The best thing to do is to read A Midsummer Night’s Dream and dream up your own images and ideas instead of relaying on someone else’s interpretation.