A FEW WORDS ON BOTTOM’S DREAM
Okay, the erect nipple is there to get your attention.
But the sex scene has its serious side as well (remember, we’re invoking Shakespeare here). We’re talking ultimately about “every man and woman/to know his and her own mate,” perhaps the closest thing to a final union we’ll find in life.
Sex draws us out of ourselves. It is the great reminder that there is someone, something out there: “the erect nipple, I mean. / Or God, the meaning of life, whatever.”
In the Tantric tradition, any mystical state can be interpreted sexually, and every sexual state can be interpreted mystically. That theme has been played out endlessly in poetry, from the Song of Solomon to Saint John of the Cross.
In the Catholic tradition, in the sexual consummation of marriage, the man and woman participate in the hyperstatic union between Christ and His Bride, the Church, which is inseparable.
But there’s always a Sister Margaret Mary to remind us, “Oh, yes, but only in marriage.” I said this before: it’s hard to be a woman and a Catholic at the same time; harder to be gay and Catholic at the same time; but, Christ, sometimes it’s hard even to be a heterosexual male and a Catholic at the same time.
And there are always dangers in the sexual union. Men and women have sexually used and abused each other throughout civilization. The poet Auden was briefly elated to have found love in someone other than himself, until he realized that the other can totally betray and disappoint you.
Midsummer Night’s Dream is Shakespeare’s celebration of true love, found when all seemed lost in the enchanted woods. Most of Shakespeare’s plays have their origin in other plays or in history. Midsummer Night’s Dream is one of his few plays that seems to have sprung out of his own head, without a precedent. If this is his own celebration of true love, Shakespeare might have been more successful in the play than in his own life, him in London and Anne in Stratford (recall that Shakespeare’s most perfectly matched husband and wife are the Macbeths).
The play itself suggests that a certain amount of fairy magic, a dangerous thing, is necessary for “every man and woman/ to know his or her own mate.”
That, and “a certain amount to technique required, / to finish the dance.”