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*** A MIDSUMMER NIGHTS DREAM ***
* A Shakespeare story by Andrew Matthews *
Wanting to introduce my daughter to the joy of 'the classic's, I found a book set on 'The Red House' website which would fit the bill perfectly. There were 12 of Shakespeare's works, re-written especially for children. They make a perfect introduction to the more detailed versions, and hopefully a step towards wanting to learn more. One of the books in the set was 'A Midsummer Night's Dream' one of my favourites; and this review discusses both mine and my daughter's thoughts about this book.
I think most people are familiar with the play, so I feel I can explain the story in some detail. I think in the case of the review though, most people will be interested in the relation of it being a childrens book, so although I will reveal the plot, I will discuss the actual re-telling as best I can.
* Synopsis of the Play *
The play features three interweaving stories, all centred around a wedding of Duke Theseus and Hippolyta Queen of the Amazon. In the opening scene, Hermia refuses to marry Demetrius, whom her father has chosen for her, for she is actually in love with Lysander. Her friend Helen can't believe her luck, for this meant she had a chance with Demetrius now. Hermia elopes with Lysander during the night, but fall to sleep in a Wood, tired and weary. Helen tries to explain to Demetrius that she loves him but he doesn't want to know.
Meanwhile, Oberon, king of the fairies, and his queen, Titania have come to the forest outside Athens. Titania tells Oberon that she plans to stay there until after she has been to the wedding. Oberon and Titania have fallen out because Titania refuses to give him a boy who is acting as her page. Oberon seeks to punish Titania's disobedience, so he calls for his elf Puck to help him apply a magical juice from a flower to Titania's eyes. This makes the victim fall in love with the first living thing they see when they wake up. As they are in the forest, he hopes that it could be a toad or even a spider. All Oberon really wants to do is shame Titania into giving up the boy.
Having seen Demetrius reject Helena, Oberon orders Puck to spread some of the magical juice from the flower into his eyes too. Instead, Puck mistakes Lysander for Demetrius. Helena, stumbling though the forest, trips over him and wakes him up. Lysander opens his eyes, and immediately falls in love with her. Oberon then asks Puck to do the same to Demetrius. Upon waking up, he sees Helena. Now, both men are in pursuit of Helena. However, she is convinced that her two suitors are suffering from Midsummer Madness, as neither loved her originally.
The story goes on. An actor waiting to rehearse a play to be performed at the wedding, Nick Bottom, he looks up and sees a strange light circling a tree. He thinks it's a firefly, but it's not, its Puck performing magic. Bottom is suddenly turned into a half donkey - half man, beast. Awakening Titania falls in love with him. I won't go any further and spoil the play for those of you who don't know of it, needless to say, all the characters wake up in the morning thinking it has all been a dream - hence the title of the play.
* Our Thoughts *
This book is a normal paperback size, and although it's a very complex play written as Shakespeare had written it, it is now a much more concise 59 pages long. Each page features pencil drawings from the famous illustrator Tony Ross. They are quite comical, and naive but they do add a magical touch to the book. They are all in black and white, only the book cover is coloured, but I think this adds to its charm, as a coloured picture might detract from the telling of the play.
As there are pictures on every page, it reduces the text by half, so it wouldn't be too much reading to put off a child, and they certainly could read the whole book in one sitting. The only words a seven year old would struggle with are the character names. This is written in a very child friendly manner, and is really easy to understand. There are none of the 'thee' and 'thine's to deal with; it's just straight forward English.
The plot is a real farce. Wiki explains a farce as being: In theatre, a farce is a comedy which aims at entertaining the audience by means of unlikely, extravagant, and improbable situations, disguise and mistaken identity, verbal humour of varying degrees of sophistication, which may include word play. Farce is also characterized by physical humor, the use of deliberate absurdity or nonsense, and broadly stylized performances. This certainly explains A Midsummer Night's Dream to a tee.
Because this story is so outlandish, and so totally out there, my daughter (who is 8) thinks it's really funny. I think that even though it's a sort of love story, even boys will find this fun, firstly that character with 'Bottom' as a name, makes for lots of toilet humour; but also because he's a half man/half donkey person.
It's all going on in this play - First of all there is unrequited love and partner swapping, then someone changes into a donkey, and it all ends where all the correct people love each other and think it's all been a dream. Even at her tender age, after discussing the book one day when we'd finished reading it, my daughter told me that the main theme is true love never runs smooth. My daughter is such an old head on young shoulders.
This book is basic enough for a child (7+) to enjoy without dumbing down the tale too much, and that's what I like about it. It's an enjoyable read and a great introduction to Shakespeare.
* Other Information *
Available from £3.69 on Amazon
But a whole set of 13 Shakespeare books (from this Author) are available at a bargain price of £13.69 if you are interested in further books.
* Thanks for reading my review, which may also be posted on other sites. *