...to sweep the dust behind the door...
Or, to translate Shakespeare's Puck a bit, to calm more modern ears, a Blessing upon all you who read these words!
For now comes to us happy Midsummer, celebrated by Shakespeare's British fellows since at least the 1200's, and evolved a century before him from a holy time of prayer into that delightful Bacchanalian festival we now recall.
The British celebrated Midsummer Eve specifically on the night of June 23rd, and it was a time of bonfires (as indeed the very word hails from such festivities, and is derived from the old "Bonne-Fyre", or "Bone Fire"), as well as all the ever-so-jolly singing and dancing one might expect.
One might also expect a visit from the Fair Folk, as Midsummer falls at the end of the Summer Solstice, one of the few nights in the year when a lucky soul might chance to see a Fairy or two, in the magic space between Light and Dark...
And William Shakespeare of course gave us Fairies in abundance in his immortal "Midsummer Night's Dream", written in the 1590's. The tale is familiar, of course: Boy meets Girl, Fairies show up, Girl falls in love with Donkey, etc. -- it is a delightful blend of magic and comedy, and easily captures the mood of this frivolous yet so important festive time.
Ironically, the play was written just as movements to ban such celebrations were beginning to take root.
Indeed, the Puritan tide would soon swell to such dismaying proportions that most if not all of the regular English theaters would be closed less than fifty years after Shakespeare wrote "A Midsummer Night's Dream". It would in fact be another two centuries until this particular play would be again performed in its entirety upon the English Stage, though a great many adaptations would be attempted during this time.
As it happens, legendary composer Felix Mendelssohn composed his "Midsummer Night's Dream Overture" in 1826, at the age of 17, at a time when the play had not been performed in England for over 180 years. It was his own contribution to the various adaptations and homages that had grown up all around this poor, forgotten play, like so many overgrown English hedges.
Whether or not this wonderful piece helped spur things along, it is nevertheless a fact that, a scant 14 years later, in 1840, "A Midsummer Night's Dream" reappeared on the English Stage for the first time in 200 years!
Not so coincidentally, this initial production featured Mendelssohn's wonderful Overture.
It was all such a success that the Overture became intrinsically associated with the play for all its subsequent 19th Century presentations, and indeed Mendelssohn was quickly moved to add some incidental music to the Overture in 1842 -- just two years after the play's rebirth.
So it is that if your are lucky to see the 1935 film of this enchanted play, or really any other version that comes complete with the famous Overture, you may now rest assured that the producers were simply following an already quite well established tradition...
And if by chance this column has offended, think but this, and all is mended--
That you have but slumbered here,
While these visions did appear
And briefly did I have your ear...