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A MIDSUMMER NIGHT’S DREAM; A JEWISH RELIGIOUS ALLEGORY by John Hudson

In the past the identification of allegory, especially Christian allegory, has been rightly questioned because many commentators use selective attention, suggest an isolated parallel without relating it to other aspects of the play and without explaining what purpose the allegorical dimension fulfills. In order to avoid such dangers, this reading of Dream focuses on the allegorical inter-relationships between the main characters (except for those at the Athenian court), and demonstrates how the allegory has been used to create an entire allegorical plot.

1. THE ALLEGORICAL PLOT Scholars have long known that the character Puck or Robin Goodfellow in Dream carries the name of two traditional English devils. More recently Professor Patricia Parker at Stanford University has also shown that the characters of Pyramus and Thisbe were an established medieval allegory for Jesus and the Church, and that Peter Quince whose names are Petros Quoin or Rocky Cornerstone, is St Peter. Similarly Wall is the Partition that was thought to divide Earth from Heaven, thus delaying Jesus from having intercourse with his ‘Bride’ (the Church)! These findings alone suggest that the play is a comic religious satire somehow involving figures from first century Judea. The allegory has been used most carefully to create the detail of the characters. For example the death of Bottom/Pyramus has been composed out of the Gospels’ crucifixion story. His coming back to life parodies the resurrection, and earlier he previously promises “by and by I will to thee appear” (III,1.82), like Jesus who promises he will “come again” (John 14;3).

The present work provides an extension of the allegory to all the major entities in the non-Court part of the play and shows that the religious satire is much more extensive, and that it has been contrived to form a coherent narrative. Unlike those allegorical interpretations which can be criticized for being individually isolated and lacking any overall meaning, the present understanding of each character in Dream can be inter- related as part of a consistent allegorical plot.

Moreover that plot makes historical sense in terms of the emerging radical understanding of the New Testament as a literary creation by the Flavian emperors, following the Jewish war in 70CE. In the allegorical plot Titus Caesar (Titania), is fighting the Jewish war against Yahweh, the god of the Jews (Oberon), who has come from India (Iudea). Titus has stolen away the Messiah (the little ‘Indian’ boy) from the Jews and from his mother 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 with idolatry (idleness), is purple colored, associated with the god of love and which 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 she is 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 limbs cut off one of the Maccabees (Bees). Yahweh (Oberon) then kills Titus (Titania) by the administration of Wormwood (another name for Dian’s Bud)—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, bringing about the day of Apocalypse on which Jesus and the Church will be re-

united.

place, but Jesus (Bottom/Pyramus) dies a death whose main features are derived from the Gospel passion stories and which is framed by an inclusio of two mentions of the word ‘passion’. One of the unusual lines in the death scene also echoes the crucifixions that Titus ordered at the end 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 the day of resurrection, and Yahweh (Oberon) distributes dew to the dancers to “consecrate” the world. This is a unique feature found only in Jewish accounts 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, although the existence of such a Jewish allegory raises many provocative implications.

Saint Peter (Quince) directs a comic playlet in which this takes

This work suggests that the entire underlying plot is a religious allegory. It would appear to have been created as revenge literature to parody Titus Caesar, the man who commissioned the writing of the Gospels and their 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’er thought upon till Titus and Vespasian conquered us” as a Jewish voice complains in The Jew of Malta (II,3,10). This is the same theological perspective depicted in the allegorical level of all of the Shakespearean plays, 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 Dream had already been detected by Professor Patricia Parker by reviewing how readers constructed allegorical meanings from texts in the late medieval period. Especially in her key article ‘Murals and Morals; A Midsummer Night’s Dream’ published in Aporemata in 1998, Parker had suggested the allegorical identity of Pyramus and Thisbe (Jesus and the Church), Wall (the Partition between Earth 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 to suggest the allegorical identity of Oberon, Titania, the Little Indian boy and the Flower, and by constructing an overall interpretation of how all these entities inter-relate in the allegorical plot. Parker’s finding that several 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 Oberon and 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 the forest contains several notably thorny flowers like eglantine, primroses (oxlips) or the musk roses which made Bottom scratch. This is all very peculiar. A Fairy Queen would hardly have a vot’ress since the term means a woman consecrated by a vow to a religious life especially referring to virgins. And holy virgins, even ones those associated with the sea, by definition, do not have children. In fact, in all of western literature there was only one who did —the Virgin Mary, sometimes called the star of the sea. Her son also ended up being crowned---and with thorns.

The Little Indian Boy. Significantly in this play the Boy is three times called the “changeling”. The superficial reason is that fairies were thought to steal children and substitute fairy babies as changelings. However the rhetorical term ‘Changeling’ also was how George Puttenham employed the fairy tradition in The Art of English Poesie (1589) as the translation for the Greek rhetorical term hypallage, in which as Miriam Joseph puts it “the application of words is perverted and sometimes made absurd”. Hypallage is a variety of the broader grammatical form known as hyperbaton, meaning a departure from ordinary order. We are therefore being warned that the Little Indian Boy is associated with such a departure from the ordinary order in which words are given perverted and absurd meanings.

What in any case is an Indian boy doing in the forest? Scholars are mystified. If this play is set in Athens shouldn’t he be a little Athenian boy? So bearing in mind that as Professor Parker has shown several of the other characters come from first century Judea, could he perhaps rather be a Little Iudean Boy? In Othello, for instance, the reference to a “base Indian” in the 1622 Quarto becomes “base Judean” in the First Folio. Because that is indeed the allegorical identity of the character, this is unlikely to be a printing error as sometimes supposed. Moreover, contrary to Honigmann’s supposition, the term ‘Iudean’ was in use within Lord Hunsdon’s literary circle at around the time that Dream was written so this pun could have been implied.

The characteristics of having a mother who was a virgin associated with the sea, being crowned with flowers, being Iudean, stolen away and a Changeling all make sense in terms of one single identification. They identify the Iudean Boy as the figure of the Jewish messiah which radical scholarship suggests was stolen away from the Jews by the Flavian Emperor Titus Caesar after the end of the Roman-Jewish war, and changed at his Court, into the literary figure of Jesus found in the Gospels.

Titania. The reason why the author deliberately chose this peculiar name, Titania from the Latin text of Ovid, where it refers to the two goddesses who are shape-shifters, Diana and Circe, has never been discovered. In my reading however, this episode is the first major clue that Titania’s name was deliberately chosen because she is a literary allegory for Titus Caesar—the man who destroyed Jerusalem.

To convey his allegorical identity in the Dark Lady Players’ production Titania is played by a man—the only man in the cast. He is dressed in the imperial purple robe of a Caesar and his side of the stage becomes decorated with a large arch that is modeled on the Arch of Titus that still exists in Rome, where it commemorates his victory over the Jews in 70CE. In addition to the points reviewed above, Dream provides three more definite pieces of evidence to suggest the identity of Titania. One is the death scene of Pyramus which contains an allusion to the crucifixions that Titus Caesar ordered towards the end of the Roman-Jewish war. Another is found in the orders that Titania gives to crop the legs of the bees, and yet another concerns Titania’s relationship to Oberon.

Oberon; We are told that “jealous Oberon would have the child" who Titania "perforce witholds" from him (line 26). We are later told that Oberon has "Come from the farthest step of India" (line 69). We also know that Oberon is a King. So Oberon appears to be that "Indian" ie. Judean king from whom Titania has stolen the boy. Furthermore the appearance

of the terms “jealous” and “Lord” in close succession echo the passage in Exodus 20;5 about the Lord being a jealous god. This suggests that the war is the Roman Jewish war in which Titus Caesar is fighting against the Lord God of the Jews. This war was caused by the Jewish insistence on monotheism, which is the term underlying Yahweh’s supposed ‘jealousy’ since the Jews refused to worship Caesar.

Further evidence is found in the passages where Oberon he says he welcomes Aurora the harbinger of dawn ( Act V,1,387), claiming to have made sport with the Morning’s love, and to tread the groves until sunset, until the sun sets firery red in the eastern gate in the sea, offering fair blessed beams (III,ii,388-395). This language represents the sun god— which Yahweh was, according to various passages in the Psalms. This passage has been mostly been written as a conflation of two Psalms. It make very specific references to an “eastern gate” which is turned to “yellow gold” and presents Oberon as having a full solar day from playing with the dawn to the setting sun. Psalm 19 refers to Yahweh’s solar journey, his “rising place at one end of heaven and his circuit reaches the other”. More specifically the passage in Psalm 24 ”lift up ye heads oh ye gates” (verse 7) was interpreted by Jews and early Christians, as referring to the eastern gate of the temple, known as the golden gate or sun gate- --to which Oberon is referring.

So all these references in Oberon’s speech are paralleled in the passages in the Psalms and in this production the various solar imagery is gathered up and used to introduce Oberon’s final speech.

The Wall and the Jewish Apocalypse; Parker‘s work had identified the wall as the partition that comes down on the day of Apocalypse. It is the Day of Judgment, when the spirits come out of the graves and are blessed with dew. This peculiar characteristic is found in no Christian apocalypse, but does appear in the Zohar as the actions of the Hebrew God Yahweh, in which case his opponent Titania should be identified as Titus Caesar.

The ‘Flower’. The so called ‘flower’ that Puck fetches should make us pause. Why should the Hebrew God send the Devil off around the world to collect pansies? They are not a flower normally associated with containing hateful fantasies. Looking at the evidence in detail, the words for flower gathering in Greek are the same as the words for anthology, and to the Elizabethans the word ‘flower’ was another name for a book— such as the 100 poems in A Hundreth Sundrie Flowers (1573). We are also told the flower’s name is ‘idleness’, which was an Elizabethan pun on idolatry, and therefore meant love of a false god—which is a constant theme throughout the play. We also know it is colored in the imperial purple and can fill someone with hateful fantasies. In Dream we even

have a specifically dramatized example of how this book or ‘flower’ misleads someone into falling in love with a “vile thing” who is separately identified as Bottom/ Pyramus ie. Jesus.

There is only one book that fulfils these criteria, namely the Gospels. In this production the allegorical understanding of the ‘flower’ is conveyed by having Oberon point to a chart which bears the following words, while he speaks to Puck in a didactic tone: Flower = A Book, Purple = Imperial Color, Idleness = Idolness, Dote = love a fantasy.

The Bees. The strange instruction that Titania gives to crop the waxen thighs of the bees has never been explained. It appears to be the only example in western literature of anyone amputating the legs of bees and is normally passed over in productions. In the present production however it is made extremely visible by the Fairies actually amputating the limbs of the bees and arranging some of the limbs to decorate Titania’s bower—leaving the bees dead on stage for the next ten minutes.

The reason for emphasizing this peculiar activity is that at the end of the Jewish war Titus Caesar is described in the works of Josephus as having caught a Jewish leader. His family all bore the names of the family of the Maccabees, and Titus had him crucified alive, and then ordered his torso to be cut down, being ‘pruned like an almond tree’ by having his limbs amputated. The suggestion is that if Titania is an allegory for Titus, then the Bees are an allegory for the Jewish rebels the Maccabees, and that they have their limbs cut off accordingly.

Bottom/Pyramus. The death of Bottom/Pyramus has been carefully composed out of the Gospels’ crucifixion story---the stabbing in the side, the disappearance of the light, the references to playing dice, are all framed within two mentions of the ‘passion’ (V,1,277 and 303). Bottom’s coming back to life again parodies the resurrection, which is why he previously promises “by and by I will to thee appear” (III,1.82), like Jesus who promises he will “come again” (John 14;3). A point by point comparison of the typology makes this especially clear.

In Midsummer

Begins with Theseus saying “This passion and the death of a dear friend…” (V,1,277)

Pyramus is stabbed in the side

The light disappears

Men say “no die but an ace for

In the Gospels

‘Passion’ is the technical term for the death of Jesus

In the Gospels Jesus was stabbed in the side (Jn 19;34)

In the Gospels darkness came over the whole land (Mt 27;45)

In the Gospel story men played

him” and play dice (see Arden footnote)

Theseus says he may recover at the hands of a surgeon

Theseus refers to the Passion again “her passion ends the play’

Pyramus returns alive as Bottom

Spirits come out of the grave

Wall between heaven and Earth comes down

lots or dice at foot of the cross (Mt 27;35)

In the other crucifixion story in the Autobiography by Josephus, victim recovers at hands of surgeon

Jesus returns alive at the resurrection (Mt28)

Tombs open and spirits come out (Mt 27;52)

Judgement day is expected

In the Pyramus death scene, Lysander and Demetrius represent the soldiers who---in the literary account in the gospels---crucified Jesus and sat at the foot of the cross. In the play they insensitively imagine Pyramus’ dying words refer not to his death but to his score in a game of dice. (In the mystery plays the soldiers at the foot of the cross who were casting lots were shown as playing dice). Demetrius says that Pyramus is not a plurality of dies (ie. a set of dice) “but an ace for him; for he is but one”. Lysander says he is even less than an ace “he is nothing”. In this production the inter-textual meanings are dramatized by the two men sitting front stage, where they play with metatheatrically large dice.

Although in rehearsal the Mechanicals refer to Pyramus stabbing himself (as in Ovid’s story), much else is discussed in rehearsal that does not appear in the final performance of Pyramus and Thisbe. It is notable that the First Folio does not provide any stage directions at this point. In this production therefore, the Pyramus death scene is shaped by the several typological elements from the underlying inter-text in the Gospels and Pyramus is shown being stabbed rather than stabbing his own left side.

Even more significantly, the line ‘with the help of a surgeon he might yet recover and yet prove an ass’ (V,i,299) is an inter-textual allusion to the three men who were crucified by Titus Caesar and taken down, one of whom recovered at the hands of the surgeon as described in the

Autobiography of Josephus.

4.HOW THIS ADAPTATION TREATED THE PLAY’S STRUCTURE As Mark Rose has pointed out, Dream is symmetrically structured, with the two scenes set in Athens providing the overall framework, and with the two scenes of the Mechanicals surrounding the center which is set in the forest. Because this production was designed to present the

characters in the central part of the play, rather than in the court scenes, the passages involving the Duke and the Lovers were extensively cut. However two outlying framing scenes of Theseus and Hippolyta are preserved in order to maintain structural integrity. In order to make the perspectives on allegory more prominent in this adaptation, the passage from the start of Act V, which as in other plays represents a kind of summary or recapitulation of the play—and which concerns Dante’s two approaches to allegory- has been moved to the beginning to serve as an introduction rather than as a summary. The adaptation begins with a dumb-show to visually illustrate the capture of the Little ‘Indian’ Boy, and concludes with a formal Elizabethan dance on the day of resurrection.

Another significant structural feature is the crosses—which the Lovers mention three times. Because like many Shakespearean plays Dream uses the conventions of a ring narrative, these verbal crosses structurally parallel the implicit crosses that appear in the death scenes or ‘passions’ of both Pyramus and Thisbe, and in the account of how the actors appeared in rehearsal “extremely stretched and conned with cruel pain” as Philostrate oddly describes them. In order to make this structural parallel clear to the audience, in this production physical crosses—made from branches roughly tied together-- are brought on stage as the Lovers mention them in order to prefigure the crosses that appear at the end.

The symmetrical structure of the play is also indicated in this production through the lighting. At the beginning of the play, a large yellow circle on the wall represents the moon, and a red pool of light on stage represents the wood, or hyle, or primal cauldron derived from neo-Platonism. At the end of the play the colors have been reversed, so that there is a golden pool of light on stage, while on the back wall a red pool of light represents the sun and the dawning of the first day of the post Apocalyptic world.

John Hudson

Darkladyplayers@aol.com

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