Act one scene one of “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” opens by portraying to us the situation between the four lovers. Shakespeare creates the subtle impression that they are perplexed group of people with no balance between them. This provides both comedy and tension throughout the play. The basic complexities between the parties are laid out during this opening scene.
A major influence to the direction of this scene is the audience’s perception of the different relationships. Shakespeare more than likely intended this scene to cause confusion as to who loves who, which in turn invites the audience formulate their own ideas.
Naturally, the audience will want the four to form two couples instead of one confusing mess. To effectively portray this onstage, the four lovers should be proximate to the one that they love. This will cause a visual divide between the characters because not all of the lovers are happy with those who are in love with them.
For example, if Demetrius went about following Hermia, she would continually walk away from him because she does not love him.
To further emphasise the divide between the lovers that forms the basis of the first scene, I would direct Hermia’s father Egeus to be very angry with Lysander. He would show this through body language such as thrusting his fists into the air, and tone of voice, which would be loud and harsh. This creates a tense atmosphere onstage and furthermore reinforces the confusion and disapproving dispositions of the characters onstage.
The opening section of the first scene gives us the impression that there is confusion between who loves who, and this is obvious to the audience. Shakespeare also tells us that Demetrius once loved Helena, and this hints to the audience that it may happen again – thus solving the ever tangled “love quartet”. To show this to the audience, when Demetrius talks to Helena, they would often come close as if the rapport between them is very strong, then back away. The general body language of the two would show that there is still a chance of a reunion. By the time that Helena tells Demetrius of Lysander and Hermia’s planned elopement, the audience are aware that if Demetrius did happen to fall in love with Helena again, all would be well. This makes the audience want them to get back together.
In order to bring out the comedy in this scene, I would direct the lovers to be very serious: overly deep and preoccupied with their own feelings. The inflated characters taking the ludicrous situation seriously would be comical. The fact that they are selfish and are only concerned with their own feelings in this scene also adds to the comic value. They are funny, however, singularly – they don’t involve relationships with any other character in order to be comical.
Act one scene one is used to present the four lovers to us and describe their situation. Each of the four is presented in a different way, and depending on their direction is how the audience would perceive them. Shakespeare presents Helena as completely hung up about her looks. In order to show this, I would have Helena with too much make up on, possibly carrying a mirror and checking herself all the time. Her stage presence would show her as very flamboyant and very melodramatic in her movement, over exaggerating gestures in order to show her self-assured ‘importance’.
We know that she is anxious about her looks because of her nervous reaction when Lysander calls her “fair”. Later on in the scene, Hermia becomes self-conscious about her height. It is her reaction to this that is comical. Firstly, she takes the jests very seriously. I would direct her to show this through facial expression, relaying to the audience her devastation. Secondly, she reacts by mocking Helena – “Thou painted maypole”. These lines are intrinsically humorous, so using obvious angry facial expressions and perhaps grabbing each other as if to fight would bring out the comic value of the segment.
Demetrius is willing to see Hermia executed to prevent her from marrying another man, and Lysander appears to think of himself as a hero in a love story: he is egotistical and pretentious. It is ironic that eh thinks of himself as heroic because he is in fact, the opposite. In order to show Lysander’s naivety and contrast to Demetrius, I would direct him to appear less intelligent than the others.
My dramatic intentions in this scene would be to present to the audience the confusion between the four lovers onstage in act one scene one. The main method I would use to do this would be to ensure a contrast between those that do not love each other, which would be shown through negative body language and stage positioning that portrays they do not want to be near each other.