Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream starts off with the two pairs of Athenian lovers whose love is prohibited from flourishing. Here, the atmosphere is appropriately sombre. Even an element of ‘anguish’ is elicited from the audience as the play progresses, the surreptitious fairies work their magic and exacerbate the confusion on stage.
'Oberon, Titania and Puck with Fairies Dancing' by William Blake (circa 1786)
Pencil and watercolour on paper, 475 x 675 mm
Michelle Pfeiffer (Titania) & Kevin Kline (Nick Bottom) being awesome
Were it not for Bottom’s antics and his delusions of grandeur (Act I, Scene ii … HI-LA-RIOUS, you’re welcome), there would be very little to make us chuckle in this realm conjured up by one of Shakespeare’s most fantastical of comedies. Is it Bottom, then, that makes this play a comedy?
Traditionally, a comedy is called as such because it ends happily. The main ‘problem’ is resolved, the lovers are re-united – ‘all’s well that ends well’… What Bottom actually provides is comic relief and farce.
Such, I think, is the situation that Frank Capra’s 1941 film ‘Meet John Doe’ presents. Although the final few minutes provide the happy ending through a somewhat forced coup, the film deals with real and serious issues throughout. Indeed, the protagonist, John Doe, is presented as being not only a symbol of the collective society, not only a fictitious creation of Ann Mitchell (the newspaper journalist ), but also a real person (actually called John Willoughby).
By acting as a kind of everyman, Doe successfully represents ‘every man’ and functions as the character Everyman does in the ‘Morality Plays’ of the Middle Ages. However, John isn’t a fighting against his own vices, he is ironically fighting against the vices of a society whose individuals he represents.