P is for Power Structures

| February 24, 2014

In my “Teaching of Shakespeare” course, we constructed a lesson plan that aims to analyze the interwoven power structures in Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream. By means of performance and composition, students endeavor to illuminate how social hierarchies play a vital role in the way in which we perceive the Athenians and fairies, focusing upon four speeches in Act V. While the majority of this lesson is performance and written-based, students have an assignment to complete for homework that enables them to visually analyze these power structures within paintings of Midsummer. Whether consciously or unconsciously, each painter illustrates these social hierarchies to some degree—something that students can recognize and analyze without necessarily having an extensive background in art history.

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A Midsummer Night’s Dream: Painting Analysis

Directions: Reflecting on the power relations discussed and performed in today’s class, apply this knowledge to the following paintings that illustrate scenes from A Midsummer Night’s Dream. Pay particular attention to the location and demeanor of each character—and how they play a part in understanding these social hierarchies. In two days, when this assignment is due, we will share our responses in class.

1. Primus, John Lamb. A Midsummer Night’s Dream. 1834. Watercolor. Private collection.

Ideas learned from classmates:


*In the next two paintings, pay specific attention to the differences in how Oberon and Titania interact with each other.

2. Howard, Henry. The Contention of Oberon and Titania for the Indian Boy from William Shakespeare’s ‘A Midsummer Night’s Dream’ Act II. 1832. Oil on canvas. Sir John Soane’s Museum, London.


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3. Paton, Sir Joseph Noel. The Reconciliation of Oberon and Titania. 1847. Oil on canvas. National Gallery of Scotland, Edinburgh.

Ideas learned from classmates:

*In these two paintings, how do Titania and Oberon’s demeanors differ? How are they the same?

4. Dore, Gustave. A Midsummer Night’s Dream. Sotheby’s, London.

Ideas learned from classmates:

*In the next two paintings, pay specific attention to the differences in how Titania and Bottom interact with each other.

5. Fuseli, Henry. Titania and Bottom. 1790. Oil on canvas. Tate Britain, London.

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6. Fuseli, Henry. Titania Awakening. (1785-89). Oil on canvas. Kuntzmuseum, Winterthur.

Ideas learned from classmates:

*In these two paintings from Fuseli, how do Titania and Bottom’s demeanors differ? How are they the same?

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7.Rackham, Arthur. A Midsummer Night’s Dream: Mislead Night Wanderers Laughing at Their Harm. 1908.

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