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Midsummer Night's Dream; A Jewish Religious Allegory

Midsummer Night's Dream; A Jewish Religious Allegory

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Published by JOHN HUDSON
The Jewish religious allegories in A Midsummer Night's Dream, and their implications. A briefing for actors in the production by the Dark Lady Players, a New York experimental Shakespeare company.
The Jewish religious allegories in A Midsummer Night's Dream, and their implications. A briefing for actors in the production by the Dark Lady Players, a New York experimental Shakespeare company.

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Published by: JOHN HUDSON on May 23, 2009
Copyright:Attribution Non-commercial


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by John Hudson
In the past the identification of allegory, especially Christian allegory, hasbeen rightly questioned because many commentators use selectiveattention, suggest an isolated parallel without relating it to other aspectsof the play and without explaining what purpose the allegoricaldimension fulfills
In order to avoid such dangers, this reading of 
 focuses on the allegorical inter-relationships between the maincharacters (except for those at the Athenian court), and demonstrateshow the allegory has been used to create an entire allegorical plot.1. THE ALLEGORICAL PLOTScholars have long known that the character Puck or Robin Goodfellow in
carries the name of two traditional English devils. More recentlyProfessor Patricia Parker at Stanford University has also shown that thecharacters of Pyramus and Thisbe were an established medieval allegoryfor Jesus and the Church, and that Peter Quince whose names are
Petros Quoin 
or Rocky Cornerstone, is St Peter. Similarly Wall is the Partition thatwas thought to divide Earth from Heaven, thus delaying Jesus fromhaving intercourse with his ‘Bride’ (the Church)! These findings alonesuggest that the play is a comic religious satire somehow involvingfigures from first century Judea. The allegory has been used mostcarefully to create the detail of the characters. For example the death of Bottom/Pyramus has been composed out of the Gospels’ crucifixionstory. His coming back to life parodies the resurrection, and earlier hepreviously promises “by and by I will to thee appear” (III,1.82), like Jesuswho promises he will “come again” (John 14;3).The present work provides an extension of the allegory to all the majorentities in the non-Court part of the play and shows that the religioussatire is much more extensive, and that it has been contrived to form acoherent narrative. Unlike those allegorical interpretations which can becriticized for being individually isolated and lacking any overall meaning,the present understanding of each character in
can be inter-related as part of a consistent allegorical plot.Moreover that plot makes historical sense in terms of the emergingradical understanding of the New Testament as a literary creation by theFlavian emperors, following the Jewish war in 70CE. In the allegorical plotTitus Caesar (Titania), is fighting the Jewish war against Yahweh, the godof the Jews (Oberon), who has come from India (Iudea). Titus has stolenaway the Messiah (the little ‘Indian’ boy) from the Jews and from hismother the Virgin Mary (the vot’ress), and has changed him into a false
messiah (the Changeling). The ‘changeling’, which is a term in rhetoric,is by implication contained in a book (the Flower) that is associated withidolatry (idleness), is purple colored, associated with the god of love andwhich makes people madly dote upon Jesus (Bottom/Pyramus), all of which implies that the book in question is the Gospel. Yahweh (Oberon)plots revenge. With the assistance of the Devil (Puck) who is a Moor(barber), he administers the Gospels (Flower) to Titus (Titania) while sheis asleep to punish her, so that on waking she falls in love with Jesus(Bottom/Pyramus). As in the Jewish war, Titus (Titania) orders the limbscut off one of the Maccabees (Bees). Yahweh (Oberon) then kills Titus(Titania) by the administration of Wormwood (another name for Dian’sBud)—the same substance supposedly administered to Jesus on the cross,and resurrects her as a new compliant soul.Then the Partition between heaven and earth (Wall) falls down, bringingabout the day of Apocalypse on which Jesus and the Church will be re-united. Saint Peter (Quince) directs a comic playlet in which this takesplace, but Jesus (Bottom/Pyramus) dies a death whose main features arederived from the Gospel passion stories and which is framed by an
of two mentions of the word ‘passion’. One of the unusual linesin the death scene also echoes the crucifixions that Titus ordered at theend of the Jewish war. This is followed by the death of the Church(Thisbe/Flute). Finally the spirits come out of their graves, this being theday of resurrection, and Yahweh (Oberon) distributes dew to the dancersto “consecrate” the world. This is a unique feature found only in Jewishaccounts of the resurrection on the Last Day, implying that the playlet of Christianity is over and that this is the first day of a new Jewish world.Altogether this constitutes a consistent and rational narrative, althoughthe existence of such a Jewish allegory raises many provocativeimplications.This work suggests that the entire underlying plot is a religious allegory.It would appear to have been created as revenge literature to parodyTitus Caesar, the man who commissioned the writing of the Gospels andtheir literary portrait of a false, literary messiah. As Marlowe put it,scripture was “all of one man’s making” (C.B. Kuriyama
Christopher Marlowe; A Renaissance Life 
p.159), Jesus was a “deceiver”,
and was “n’erthought upon till Titus and Vespasian conquered us” as a Jewish voicecomplains in
The Jew of Malta 
(II,3,10). This is the same theologicalperspective depicted in the allegorical level of all of the Shakespeareanplays, and it matches the latest developments in NT scholarship (see Joseph Atwill
Caesar’s Messiah 
, 2005 and
Das Messias Ratsel 
, 2008).
2. WHO ARE THE CHARACTERS?Much of the religious allegory in
had already been detected byProfessor Patricia Parker by reviewing how readers constructed allegoricalmeanings from texts in the late medieval period. Especially in her keyarticle ‘Murals and Morals; A Midsummer Night’s Dream’ published in
in 1998, Parker had suggested the allegorical identity of Pyramus and Thisbe (Jesus and the Church), Wall (the Partition betweenEarth and Heaven which comes down at the Apocalypse), Peter Quince(Saint Peter) , and confirmed the allegorical identity of Puck (the Devil).The present production completes her work by using source criticism tosuggest the allegorical identity of Oberon, Titania, the Little Indian boyand the Flower, and by constructing an overall interpretation of how allthese entities inter-relate in the allegorical plot. Parker’s finding thatseveral characters are allegories for Christian figures from first century Judea creates the presupposition that the others may be also.A major plot point turns on the war that is taking place between Oberonand Titania. The whole war has been caused by Titania stealing away a“Little Indian Boy” whose mother is a Vot’ress, meaning a holy Virgin.Moreover, Titania crowns him with flowers. We are not told which but theforest contains several notably thorny flowers like eglantine, primroses(oxlips) or the musk roses which made Bottom scratch. This is all verypeculiar. A Fairy Queen would hardly have a vot’ress since the termmeans a woman consecrated by a vow to a religious life especiallyreferring to virgins. And holy virgins, even ones those associated with thesea, by definition, do not have children. In fact, in all of western literaturethere was only one who did —the Virgin Mary, sometimes called the starof the sea. Her son also ended up being crowned---and with thorns.
The Little Indian Boy.
Significantly in this play the Boy is three timescalled the “changeling”. The superficial reason is that fairies were thoughtto steal children and substitute fairy babies as changelings. However therhetorical term ‘Changeling’ also was how George Puttenham employedthe fairy tradition in
The Art of English Poesie 
(1589) as the translationfor the Greek rhetorical term
, in which as Miriam Joseph puts it“the application of words is perverted and sometimes made absurd”.
is a variety of the broader grammatical form known as
, meaning a departure from ordinary order. We are thereforebeing warned that the Little Indian Boy is associated with such adeparture from the ordinary order in which words are given perverted andabsurd meanings.

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