A Midsummer Night’s Dream: Rereading and Rewatching Shakespeare in Feminist Theology

Christina Kolias

Introductory Context: Early Modern Religious History

In terms of the Reformation and its connection to literature, Patrick Collinson wrote, “Shakespeare and countless others of his generation did not know what to believe or, if they did, could not tell when they might be called on to believe contrary things” (219). The religious life of early modern England was one of momentous tension and in constant flux, both institutionally and ideologically. In the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, England experienced periods of religious uncertainty with moving from Roman Catholicism, to Catholicism, to Protestantism, to radical Protestantism, to renewed Roman Catholicism, and to Protestantism once again. William Shakespeare’s own religious affiliation has been contested for over four-hundred years with critics like Velma Bourgeois Richmond believing his works to be deeply Catholic, Steven Mullaney arguing for an atheist reading, Lois Potter contending Shakespeare to be a good Protestant “or doing his best to look like one” (59), and Roland Mushat Frye’s abstruse belief that we cannot definitively insist upon Shakespeare’s religious milieu. As we can see, scholars have been keen on exploring Shakespeare’s own reactions to the Reformation through his many works. Specifically, A Midsummer Night’s Dream (1600) has been characterized as a political allegory in comparison to Edmund Spenser’s The Faerie Queene with its conspicuous resonances to the queenly reign of Elizabeth I. In the name of transdisciplinarity, I intend to contribute to the existing scholarly discourse amongst the guilds of literature, history, religion and cinema.

Overall Argument and Thesis:

At the core of A Midsummer Night’s Dream lies trangressivity because it walks the periphery of being set in the Athenian court and the fantastical woods. The play explores the elements of dreams and illusions as they are pitted against the dogmas of reality and truth. In other words, the play tackles tensions between the court world and the “green world,” which is a Shakespearean theory devised by Northrop Frye. The court world is one of prototypical royalty and prestige, and the green world encompasses lands of the supernatural, mysticism and nature physically distant from the court world’s placement. With this in mind, I am positing that Shakespeare skillfully uses the topic of “dreams” as a disguise to explore such tensions of religion in this historical period of the Reformation. The green world allows characters to escape society’s grim realities, which in this case could be the religious uncertainty of the era. My thesis will be investigating how Shakespeare craftily uses the fragility of love and love’s own illusive qualities as a framework for commenting on religion as an illusion. I intend to prove that Shakespeare’s play is not about siding with secularization or non-secularization. Rather, he is questioning the institution all together: is religion a dream? I intend to argue that Shakespeare’s feminist sensibilities are demonstrated by his application of feminist theology to inspire a process of equality and autonomy in a historical time of religious unrest. Lastly, I will be extending my analysis to the world of cinema to prove how Shakespeare’s play appeals to film by exploring how the court world and green world are portrayed in contemporary culture. The implementation of imaginative elements in the woods like dreams, spells and fairies simultaneously excited and terrified Elizabethan audiences of the time. This same debate of religion continues in the twenty-first century beyond the Reformation to prove to us that Shakespeare is an author of expanded sensibilities, both then and now.

Why Feminist Theology? : Building a Framework

Feminist theology is grounded in reconstructing Christianity to go beyond a social vision of female subordination. Since antiquity, the Bible has chanted such glaring gender inequalities with the story of Adam and Eve: “For Adam was first formed, then Eve” (King James Bible, 1 Tim. 2.13). Christian feminists have long been aiming to shatter such denominational markers of patriarchy present in biblical texts with women literally viewed as less than man and second best. Historically, Elizabeth Cady Stanton has been credited with bringing awareness to women's blatant inequalities laid out in the Bible and beyond. During the first wave of feminism, Stanton, along with other noteworthy activists like Susan B. Anthony and Lucretia Mott, produced The Women’s Bible that began to question hegemonic orthodoxy. As Anne M. Clifford dutifully notes in Introducing Feminist Theology, “Because feminism emphasizes equality, interrelatedness, and mutuality as the basis of the world as it ought to be, feminist theology can be greatly enriched by the image of the Trinity as three equal persons dancing together in perfect harmony” (116). In other words, feminist theology is championing for uniformity and coexistence between a new Trinity of God, man, and woman. Love is what bonds all three forces together and thus, feminist theology works to make the religious experience a nonhierarchical office. In my proceeding analysis, I will work to explain how it is only natural to compare feminist theological principles to that of William Shakespeare’s canon because he too was a proto-feminist and worked to promote an egalitarian holism by alerting his audiences to social problems of his day. Shakespeare time and time again, has unmasked androcentrism through his writings and continues to guild new empowering visions for feminism. It is only natural to use feminist theology as a lens to analyze a play like A Midsummer Night’s Dream because Shakespeare is known to expose the human frailty of social institutions of influence, like that of religion. In the same way that Shakespeare and feminist theology aim to suppress patriarchy in favor of equally treating the female experience, I contend that the play presents a similar mutuality of religious traditions during the Reformation’s time of divine chaos.

Dreaming of Shakespeare’s Court World and Green World:

A Midsummer Night’s Dream begins in the court world where Egeus request that Theseus, the Duke of Athens, assist him in his scheme to marry off his daughter Hermia to Demetrius. However, Hermia has another suitor named Lysander whom she loves and wants to marry. The inception of the play introduces the realities of the court world as a strict adherence to patriarchy. The father-daughter dynamics between Egeus and Hermia are similar to other Shakespeare plays. We are alerted to the typicality of a father trying to control the sexuality of his daughter. Marriage is viewed as a means to social status, not personal autonomy. As said by Diane Elizabeth Dreher in Domination And Defiance: Fathers and Daughters in Shakespeare, “The fathers personify traditional values, demanding unconditional obedience from women [while] crushing their individuality with patriarchal authority” (165). The play’s beginning is driven by love or, rather, who has the power to control whom you love. Theseus dutifully notes to Hermia that “your father should be as a god” (I. i. 48). Such sentiments parallel my reading of the play through a lens of religion in that Egeus feels that Hermia has betrayed him by loving and worshiping another man. Egeus approaches Theseus with his supposed dilemma because he wants to enact Athenian law on Hermia to get his way. Theseus then declares, “For you, fair Hermia, look up arm yourself / To fit your fancies to your father’s will, / Or else the law of Athens yields you up / (Which by no means we may extenuate) / To death or to a vow of single life” (I. i. 119-23). As a woman in Athenian society, Hermia’s choice to not marry Demetrius leaves her with a conundrum of death or singlehood. Once again, we see a culture adhere to the diminishment of female liberation. Women continue to succumb to the extreme shackles of male control in such strict societal structures. The most important idea to take away from Shakespeare’s commentary on the court world’s introduction is that the court world is a place where no potentiality for evolution exist; the court world will always be a proponent for a Christian translation of defining a woman in male terms. As the plot continues, the green world becomes an appealing place because the court’s strict moral codes are not upheld.

After everyone exits the scene, Hermia and Lysander are left alone on stage. The idea to enter the green world comes from Lysander when he sets forth a plan for himself and Hermia to sneak past the “sharp Athenian law” (I. i. 164) by physically distancing themselves from its locale. Lysander suggests they flee to his widowed aunt’s dwelling “seven leagues” (I. i. 161), or seven miles, from Athens. The juxtaposition between love and religion, or love as religion, becomes further apparent. One of Lysander’s famous lines in the play reads, “The course of true love never did run smooth” (I. i. 136). Could it be that the course of true religion never did run smooth? Interpreting love as a stand-in for religion in this particular play highlights the Reformation’s sense of devotion and faith to one theology over the other. “A daughter’s romantic love for another man nearly always comes as a shock to her father. Shakespeare’s fathers respond to this threat to their security with outrage, anxiety, pain, and possessiveness” (Dreher 166). Essentially, love, similar to one’s religious preference, can be interpreted as a threat and an attempt to possess a single absolute truth deviant from the social vision. Hermia’s commitment to Lysander presents a new vision of religion as a personal integration of self-commitment, not a social one. Hermia’s conversation with Helena further substantiates the confusing element of love. Love is fickle and, in the Reformation era, one’s religious beliefs could equally be so. Helena describes her endless pursuit of Demetrius as a “sickness [that] is catching” (I. i. 189), which illustrates the endless chase of understanding that is present in both love and religious doctrine. In the same way that “There is no overall doctrine of love that emerges from reading Shakespeare” (Charney 4), there is no one size fits all to theology either. Feminism, as a mode of being and thinking, operates as a mechanism to end sexist exploitation, and its application to theological principles affords Shakespeare’s characters an equal opportunity of changing one’s habits of the mind, like personal faith. Hermia arrives at an epiphany that, “Before the time I did Lysander see / Seemed Athens as a paradise to me” (I. i. 209-210). Hermia begins to see a life beyond Athens as a misogynistic microcosm of the court world. Transcendence of thought occurs within Hermia and she begins to see a life beyond a monolithic narrative and belief of patriarchal rituals. What was once her heaven has quickly “turned a heaven unto hell!” (I. i. 212). Her spirituality is being modified through self-actualization, which brings about a reading of feminist theology because “growth in spirituality doesn’t magically happen. It requires conscious striving and therefore is a purposeful pursuit” (Clifford 178). Shakespeare affords the women in the play to experience value-neutral moments that further present the dynamism of feminist consciousness. Furthermore, Helena’s ending soliloquy further perpetuates the unstableness that comes with love when she articulates, “Love looks not with the eyes but with the mind; / And therefore is winged Cupid painted blind” (I. i. 240-1). We are presented with love and religion to be prizing the intellectual query and dexterity they both exude. Modern slang’s phrases of “love is blind” and “blind faith” have stood the test of time and continue to perpetuate a reading that faith and love are a kind of magic that supersedes a plausible explanation. The beginning of the play lays a foundation for us to read love and faith as representations of the human experience and personal quests for wholeness or holiness. Such characters’ theological rhetoric is not to be ignored in that their belief systems are being tested as previous instigators of the court world and newfound residents of the green world.

The green world makes its presence known in Act II, scene i, when we are introduced to Oberon and Titania as the king and queen of the fairies. Helena and Demetrius are the first two mortals to be noticed by Oberon. Oberon commissions Robin Goodfellow, or “Puck,” to “Fetch me that flower; the herb I showed thee once. / The juice of it on sleeping eyelids laid / Will make or man or woman madly dote / Upon the next live creature that it sees” (II. i. 175-8). This scene is where we are introduced to the mysticism of the green world. Oberon has intentions to use the magic herb on Titania as a means to obtain the Indian Boy they are fighting over. However, he sees an equal opportunity of its use for Helena as “A sweet Athenian Lady [who] is in love / With a disdainful youth” (II. ii. 268-9). The flower’s juice as a kind of nectar affords its physicality to be read erotically, but its placement on the eyelids is not to be ignored. As previously noted, the play has tackled such notions of love being a pursuit of the mind, not a physical judgement. The symbolism of ocularity investigates the false truths of deceptive appearances during the Reformation. As Darren Oldridge notes, “Satan was believed to operate through both indirect and direct methods, and was prone to deceive the mind at least as often as the eyes” (2). Serpent imagery is also noted often in the play and Elizabethan audiences of the time would have most likely viewed such scenes of idolatry as equivalent to witchcraft worthy of panic and agitation, but I believe Shakespeare to have been approaching a larger task. Titania, Lysander, and Demetrius are all infected by the nectar at different times. The person each of them lays eyes on first does not go according to the initial plans, which fits in line with early modern audiences’ perceptions of the fairies as supernatural agents of illusion and destruction. Simply, fairies and similar folklore can be beheld with a sense of otherness and as “possibly a minority group” (Spyra 206). In the green world, the fairies represent god-like figures in their own right, which aligns with figures like the Duke in the court world having their own godly authority. The main objective of probing into the literature present in the green world is to investigate methods for improving new interpretations of Shakespeare’s play beyond the prototypical Catholic linkage.

As Piotr Spyra articulates, “[I]t is hard to find in this play, or any other, a clear religious agenda involving fairies. The light-hearted, non-demonic approach that informs these plays makes it dif­ficult to argue that Shakespeare took fairy belief seriously” (211). Shakespeare’s agenda may not be entirely religious or entirely mystical, but I would argue that religion is being used as a means to an end. He is using the ambiguity of religion during its time of publication (on the cusp of the sixteenth century into the seventeenth) to make a grander point. Even though Titania temporarily falls in love with Bottom, and Lysander and Demetrius both with Helena, the mix-up speaks to love and religion as a delineation of trial and error. Amidst the chaos that has erupted, Puck says, “Lord, what fools these mortals be!” (III. ii. 117). As a voyeur to the aftermath of the drama, Puck highlights the moral of the story: love, as a kind of religion, can be challenging and tricky. However, these complications introduce access and opportunity to celebrate the amateurism that comes with one’s faith and faith in love. The court world and green world come to act as liminal spaces because, in a sense, “liminality captures in-between situations and conditions characterized by the dislocation of established structures, the reversal of hierarchies, and uncertainty about the continuity of tradition and future outcomes” (Horváth et al. 2). The court world and green world, in my opinion, function as two extremes of truth in the same way that the Reformation era was working against the extremities of established structures like Protestantism and Catholicism.

The end of the play is where we begin to see an attempt to enact a sense of normalcy that is, of course, driven by marriage as an archetypal unifying tradition of comedy. More importantly, we see an interesting merging of the court world and green world in Act IV, scene i, when Theseus, Hippolyta, and Egeus go to the forest to celebrate May Day. They come across all four lovers sound asleep and awaken them. Lysander attempts to justify their necessity to flee “the peril of the Athenian law” (IV. i. 159) and Egeus is armed and ready to enforce a punishment for their attempts to undermine his “consent” (IV. i. 165). However, Demetrius interrupts the verbal tiff to make a confession. He speaks the following:

But, my good lord, I wot not by what power

(But by some power it is) my love to Hermia,

Melted as the snow, seems to me now

As the remembrance of an idle gaud

Which in my childhood I did dote upon,

And all the faith, the virtue of my heart,

The object and the pleasure of mine eye,

Is only Helena. To her, my lord,

Was I betrothed ere I saw Hermia.

But like a sickness did I loathe this food.

But, as in health, come to my natural taste,

Now I do wish it, love it, long for it,

And will forevermore be true to it.

(IV. i. 167-183; my emphasis)

The change of rhetoric from Demetrius is remarkable. He only spoke to and about Helena with pure disdain and worked the entire play to win Hermia’s heart. He himself notes that some “power” had to have assisted in the withering of his love for Hermia, which represents a kind of higher authority. Rather than viewing the “some power” as a God-like or Fairy-like authority, I contend that it is Demetrius’ own higher self that has altered his thinking through actualization. As a place without the constraints of civilization, the woods allow characters to discover what is true to them. Demetrius continues to use language of ocularity by noting that Helena is now the only object of his eye’s desire, which shows a strikingly profound dualism between his literal change of scenery in the forest to have affected his change in state of mind. For example, in Northrop Frye’s Anatomy of Criticism, he writes, “The green world has analogies, not only to the fertile world of ritual, but to the dream world that we create out of our own desires” (183). Demetrius’ lines are of pivotal importance because they remarkably unveil the fragility of love and the simultaneous fragility of faith. Could it just be that love, religion, and dreams are all illusions? Do we only place our faith in what we think we should? From the play’s inception, Egeus champions for Demetrius's nuptials to Hermia, but Demetrius does not seem to have as much say as Hermia does in the matter. He pursues Hermia as a social expectation. Shakespeare’s close consideration paid to dreams, to me, aims to prove that the center of our beliefs lies in our own head. External phenomena constantly seek to infiltrate and prey on the eyes, but the key to be a self-actualized individual is being in tune with reality. As said by Abraham Maslow, “[the self-actualized person’s] eyes see what is before them without being strained through spectacles of various sorts to distort or shape or color the reality” (183). Maslow’s “spectacles of various sorts” speak to the disfiguring and illusive qualities that love and religion emote. As an author true to the word of feminist, Shakespeare was perhaps using A Midsummer Night’s Dream as a comical means to suggest that religious and romantic commitment are like a dream in such times of historical instability. As humans, we are entitled to reinterpretation and reforming our own decisions because no decision or belief is entirely concrete. In the same way that feminist theology brings women’s perspectives to the surface of religious ideology, Shakespeare’s revisionist masterpiece refashions sacramentality to go against the presence of God in creation and introduce the presence of the Self. In the same way that women should not be deemed as subordinate to men, one religion over the other should not be viewed as sacrilege. Autonomy makes its presence known in both love and in religious arenas, but Puck’s closing of the play speaks to the religious hostility of the early modern period:

If we shadows have offended, Think but this, and all is mended: That you have but slumbered here While these visions did appear. And this weak and idle theme, No more yielding but a dream, Gentles, do not reprehend: If you pardon, we will mend. And, as I am an honest Puck, If we have unearnèd luck Now to ‘scape the serpent’s tongue, We will make amends ere long; Else the Puck a liar call. So, good night unto you all. Give me your hands, if we be friends, And Robin shall restore amends.

(V. i. 440-55)

The above soliloquy from Puck is important because he appears to be apologizing to the audience if anyone was perhaps offended by the play’s fantastical and green world exploration. Many critics take Puck’s final words at face value, but I believe that Shakespeare works from beginning to end to prove that religious convictions in themselves are not axiomatic and “No more yielding but a dream.” Equal parts devotion and defiance have paved the way to form the basis of the world’s most prominent religions, and even the Bard’s own literary works. My interpretations of A Midsummer Night’s Dream highlights Shakespeare’s open-mindedness, visions of mutuality, and feminist acceptance of believing that perhaps all delineations of love and religion are worthy of self-exploration.

As we can see, William Shakespeare is a gift that keeps on giving in many scholastic guilds. Even in the twenty-first century, Shakespeare’s vitality in popular culture has not subsided. Modern cinematic liberties of A Midsummer Night’s Dream continue to visually explore the religious tensions of the Bard’s time in a way that makes us question if we ever even left the Reformation.

Dreaming on the Twenty-First Century Screen:

Casey Wilder Mott’s production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream (2018) is a rather provocative and playful take on Shakespeare’s play. The film is presented in five acts set in Los Angeles, California as a mockery of the Athenian locale in the original play. The film even cuts to an image of the world-renowned Hollywood sign to read A-T-H-E-N-S in its place. In terms of the twenty-first century, using Hollywood as a new kind of court world is rather fitting for celebrities’ contemporary popular culture standards being a kind of quasi-royalty. Hermia, played by Rachel Leigh Cook, is portrayed as a beautiful actress and known celebrity. Theseus, played by Ted Levine, is a powerful film studio executive whose biggest star is Hermia. Lysander, played by Hamish Linklater, is portrayed as the typical scruffy “bad boy” with a motorcycle, ripped jeans, and an unpromising career as a photographer to match, not to mention a tattoo running across his left forearm that reads, “Never did run smooth.” Helena, played by Lily Rabe, is an obvious foil to Hermia as being the “pretty enough” nerdy hipster friend who loves poetry and pining over the popular boy that just won’t seem to notice her. Demetrius, played by Finn Wittrock, is the typical workaholic hustler businessman that wears pressed suits and spends most of his days making phone calls from his high tower office. Mott’s film deserves creative acknowledgement by its way of linking Southern California hierarchal culture to Elizabethan life. A film adaptation like this celebrates the feminist legacy of the Bard by demonstrating that Shakespeare’s script is not the only script that can exist. Essentially, “Shakespearean appropriation becomes possible, perhaps even imperative” (Desmet and Sawyer) by memorializing a brilliant dramatist like Shakespeare. However, I argue that the film falsely perpetuates religious ideologies that prizes the court world and demonizes the green world by using the topics of dreams, love, and illusions as a disguise.

The film A Midsummer Night’s Dream opens with the following words being revealed on screen one line at a time: “Are you sure that we are awake? It seems to me that yet we sleep, we dream” (Mott). This line is a direct quote from Demetrius in Shakespeare’s original rendition. This particular cinematic element is worth mentioning because the beginning of the film fashions a kind of self-consciousness and a paranoid milieu where viewers are instantly questioning what they think they know. What is fact and what is fiction? What is reality and what is a dream? This particular film rendition has not been discussed in formal scholarship, but I believe that, as Shakespeareans, we must take note of how Shakespeare’s legacy materializes itself in present media and what theologies are being enacted on the big screen today in his name.

Most of Act I takes place in the court world but Act II is when we are visually presented with the green world. Puck, played by Avan Jogia, is portrayed on the sands of Venice Beach as a free spirit surfer and pothead thinker who lives in a minivan. He meets another female surfer and the film instantly cuts to a sex scene in his van with the woman, or “spirit” (II. i. 1), who repetitiously whispers in his ear, “You have witchcraft in your lips.” Jason Gleckman points out how “a new eroticism is being formulated” (25) in the play when the green world is explored as a new playground. The sexual undertone is presented quite early on in the film with the beach as the first interpretation of a green world. The first scene in Act II works to be equating supernatural forces and magic with an awakening eroticism in the film’s youth. The woman runs out of the van and heads in the direction of the forest by the beach, which feeds into the introduction of the land of the fairies as a second green world. The characters of Oberon, played by Saul Williams, and Titania, played by Mia Doi Todd, have racial implications through casting. Williams is an African American actor and Todd is a Japanese American actress. As we can see, the green world is visually portrayed through a lens of otherness from the onset and sets forth an ideological framework of the green world as an external phenomenon that is a borderland to courtly behavior. The court world is regarded as a place of hustle and bustle, prestige, and noteworthy propriety in Los Angeles, but the green world is time and time again seen as something outside the city, a foreigner if you will, that “redefines both sexual and racial parameters in [a new] fairyland” (Hendricks 55). Three other sex scenes take place in the play in green world settings between Hermia and Lysander, Titania and Bottom, and Puck’s ménage à trois with two female spirits. The film does not shy away from exploring the interplay between geography, sexuality, and xenophobia. Adaptations of A Midsummer Night’s Dream in twenty-first cinema perpetuate a tradition, and a false one at that, of valuing the court world over the green world.

The cinematic choices of staging and production are begging to be made explicit. When the scenery changes to the forest, the camera shots’ color scheme is consistently in a dark overtone of red. In color psychology red invokes feelings of danger and passion, which fits in line with the early modern era’s demonization and sexualization of fairy-like environments. Furthermore, once the characters (Titania, Lysander, and Demetrius) wake up from having the floral serum adorned on their eyelids, their pupils are portrayed as bloody red. Once again, the film is playing with intense surrealism and its coexistence with the supernatural as a satanic sphere. The musicality in the background of the green world scenes adopts an eerie and otherworldly film score that amplifies the dream symbolism through its use of original music in line with folk and psychedelic musical genres. The court world’s costuming is normally suburban with pants and t-shirts as we have come to know them in the twenty-first century, but that of the green world is quite fantastical. Characters in the green world are decoratively dressed in feathers, furs, jewelry, and floral headdresses with lots of flesh exposed. Once again, the green world is portrayed as a sexually loose and savage-like entity. The othering of the fairyland is magnified through the film’s adoption of modern day. Puck’s mischievous qualities portray a reputation of hobgoblins and fairies as “evil spirits” (Keightley 293). Mott also fully embraces the twenty-first century as a media-suffused era. Puck is able to spy on the four lovers by the use of a video camera hidden in one of the trees. He watches the live stream from his iPhone and laughs at the disorder befalling before his eyes. Puck acts as a voyeur when Titania has sex with Bottom in her tent. He takes pictures as proof to show Oberon that he completed his mission and the two of them sit on a tree log and laugh at the photographic evidence. Shakespeare’s use of the green world is that of a safe place away from court world problems. However, the film politicizes the green world as a peripheral land that fashions insiders and outsiders, which fails to adhere to Shakespeare’s feminist theological structure.

I chose this particular film rendition instead of other countless classics since it was released within the last two years of this paper’s cultivation, but I do not think it does Shakespeare’s play justice. If we continue to apply a lens of feminist theology, the film is very much so lacking in its equity of religion. This message is clear when Puck goes to wake the lovers from their spell. He notices a necklace adorned around Demetrius’ neck that glows when it is near Puck’s herb. Puck touches the necklace, which instigates a dream and flashback sequence where the four lovers are on a beach picnic. The wind blows Hermia’s scarf off of her neck, which causes Demetrius to run after it since Lysander has a broken leg. The scarf is caught on what looks like a bow and arrow, which comes to symbolize Cupid’s bow and arrow. Demetrius picks it up and touches the tip of the arrow that oozes a red sticky substance on his fingers, which furthers the film’s surreal quality. His eyes once again turn bloodshot red when the plot returns to Puck in the forest in present time. Or is it the past? The film should be applauded for its close attention to ocularity by promoting a reading that love (and religion) is indeed a blind pursuit. Puck then yanks the necklace off of Demetrius’ neck and throws it into oblivion. The piece of jewelry essentially represents ecclesiastical imagery that renders an anti-Catholic communication through the use of idolatry. Idolatry is at the heart of Catholicism and its religious rituals and means of devotion, but Puck’s flinging and discarding of the token creates a discourse that questions the notion of faith and mocks such superstitions. The placing of such a prop is quite polemicist, but I interpret the artistic choice to incorporate religious paraphernalia as furthering an anti-Catholic crusade where visuality furthers the religious drama of the Reformation period by bringing it into a twenty-first century vortex.

The film’s conclusion takes viewers back to the court world where pandemonium and madness is jovially restored. Everyone is married off and they all live happily ever after like the fairytales tell us, but Mott’s film characterizes Puck’s ending dialogue in a brilliant way. Part of the plot centers around a play within a play with The Actors theater troupe acting as comical relief in the play with Bottom as their lead actor. The film morphs the concept by creating The Athens Film Institute where the theater troupe represent a group of film students making their own reenactment of Pyramus and Thisbe. The film flips back and forth between the storyline of the lovers and the storyline of the actors, but the play’s finish wittingly unites all of these elements together. An unidentified character’s hands are seen typing on a computer keyboard while editing the play’s scenes we have just watched. The camera angle cuts to Puck’s character behind the computer screen as he recites his ending soliloquy. The director’s choice to end the film in this way takes us to the precipice of understanding that dreams in themselves are a production that can be edited, modified, and amended. In the end, both love and religion are paradigms and products that extend beyond our understanding, and the film infuses the Shakespearean theatricality of A Midsummer Night’s Dream by perhaps suggesting, through a metaphor of cinematography, that our religious and love interests are not always final edits of a motion picture, they can be paused, rewound, and altered to our present liking.

Conclusion: That’s a Wrap

William Shakespeare’s religious beliefs will continue to be a mystery of early modern and present speculation. Scholars have continued to tackle and investigate the Bard’s confessional proclivities during the Reformation era, but I do not think Shakespeare is the enigma scholars make him out to be. If we look deep into the literature, it is quite clear that he was a visionary feminist who tackled pressing issues of his lifetime by using his male privilege in a commendable way. If he wanted to disclose his religious preference, I think he would have found a way. It might just be that Shakespeare’s choice of faith is hard to locate because he perhaps did not believe such socially prescribed structures benefited society by giving in to monolithic devotion. A Midsummer Night’s Dream is a playful masterpiece that questions if religion is itself a dream where Shakespeare eloquently uses love as an understudy for religion to highlight their abstractness, fickleness, and vulnerability to change at a moment’s notice. By applying a lens of feminist theology, it becomes ever so clear that Shakespeare was perhaps intending to satirically comment and seek to end the era of religious oppression he lived in by illustrating that an individual’s connection to love and religion are unique and an unending decision-making process. Casey Wilder Mott’s modern cinematic production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream (2018) further highlights how Shakespeare’s preeminence has not withered in popular culture. More than ever, in the twenty-first century, Mott’s adaptation of a classic play proves that we have not escaped the implicit notion in our culture that old faiths (i.e. the court world) and new faiths (i.e. the green world) continue to compete for the spot as the elite religious power. We can learn a great deal from questioning the patriarchal structures around us by making love and religion personal quests, not social ones. In the end, we can appreciate how Shakespeare was championing for an equitable society where no matter what theology you live by or who you choose to love, to quote Puck, “we [can] be friends” (V. i. 454).

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Christina F. Kolias is a first-year doctoral student at Claremont Graduate University. As a scholar of English, her concentration is in Early Modern Studies and Women's and Gender Studies. Christina’s research explores the interdisciplinary field of feminine psychology with interests in early modern religion, feminist aesthetics, sexuality, virginity, self-actualization, and feminist consciousness raising.