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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

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

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).

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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.

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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

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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

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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 In the Gospels


Begins with Theseus saying ‘Passion’ is the technical
“This passion and the death of a term for the death of Jesus
dear friend…” (V,1,277)

Pyramus is stabbed in the side In the Gospels Jesus was


stabbed in the side (Jn 19;34)

The light disappears In the Gospels darkness came


over the whole land (Mt 27;45)

Men say “no die but an ace for In the Gospel story men played

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him” and play dice lots or dice at foot of the cross
(see Arden footnote) (Mt 27;35)

Theseus says he may recover at the In the other crucifixion story


hands of a surgeon in the Autobiography by Josephus,
victim recovers at hands of surgeon

Theseus refers to the Passion again


“her passion ends the play’

Pyramus returns alive as Bottom Jesus returns alive at the


resurrection (Mt28)

Spirits come out of the grave Tombs open and spirits come out
(Mt 27;52)

Wall between heaven and Earth comes down 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

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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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