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director's notebook

Below is an exemplary director's notebook produced by Eric Carson, a student in ENGL 417 in Spring 2009.

Director's Notebook for Shakespeare's A Midsummer Night’s Dream: Act 3. Sc. 2, lines 375-490

Set Design

A Proscenium Arch with a three-level stage, in the form of a graded stair, to allow for actors to remain on stage “sleeping” during the concurrent action. There will be three trees, one for each level of the stage, placed staggered from stage left to right (see diagram 1) to enable Robin Goodfellow to “hide” from Lysander and Demetrius while they give chase. Lighting will consist of soft spotlight from above; it will function to follow and illuminate the characters while they are engaged in the action.


The action of this portion of the scene begins with Oberon and Robin on stage in Down Right Center position. After speaking, Oberon exits Stage Right. ROBIN: “Up and down, up and down, I will lead them up and down: I am fear'd in field and town: Goblin, lead them up and down. Here comes one:” (418-421) Because of the three tier design of the stage, Robin will literally lead Lysander and Demetrius “up and down” by disappearing off stage and reappearing on the other side, a feat the human characters will not achieve. Though the trees will seem to hide him from Lysander and Demetrius, Robin will stay in full view of the audience while he speaks on stage.

Lysander enters the stage from Down Left and speaks from Down Left Center: “Where art thou, proud Demetrius? Speak thou now.” Robin speaks from behind the tree located Down Right: “Here, villain; drawn and ready. Where art thou?” Lysander answers, drawing his sword: “I will be with thee straight.” Puck, exiting Down Right, says “Follow me, then, to plainer ground.”

As Lysander follows, exiting Down Right, and Robin moves behind the curtain back stage to Off-stage Left position, Demetrius enters Stage Left and walks to Right Center. Puck enters Stage Left, hides behind the tree in Left position. DEMETRIUS: Lysander! Speak again: Thou runaway, thou coward, art thou fled? Speak! In some bush? Where dost thou hide thy head? PUCK (from behind tree): Thou coward, art thou bragging to the stars, Telling the bushes that thou look'st for wars And wilt not come? Come, recreant; come, thou child; I'll whip thee with a rod: he is defiled That draws a sword on thee. DEMETRIUS Yea, art thou there? PUCK Follow my voice: we'll try no manhood here.” Puck exits Left followed by Demetrius.

Lysander re-enters Stage Right, stops in Right Center position, speaks, then lies down to sleep.

Robin re-enters Up Stage Left, stops behind the tree at Up Right position. Demetrius follows to Up Left Center, speaks, then lies down as well. Robin remains in Up Right position as Helena enters Down Stage Right, walking to Down Right Center position where she lies down to sleep. Robin speaks from Up Right, and then exits.

Hermia enters Down Stage Left, slows down and crawls as she speaks her lines, ending at Down Left Center position where she lies down and sleeps. Puck enters Stage Right, as he speaks he approaches Lysander at Right Center, applies the potion to Lysander’s eyes and exits Stage Left.

Costumes and Props

Oberon, king of the fairies, will be dressed majestically but with a naturalistic bent: his burgundy colored, toga-style robe will be plush, somewhat short and open at the chest, fastened with a gold cord. He will be athletic and hirsute, with large nacreous, diaphanous wings. 

Robin Goodfellow, also bearded but with shorter hair, wears an open-throated blouse and goats-leg pants. 

Lysander and Demetrius both wear short white togas, perhaps cloaks. 

Hermia and Helena wear white toga-style robes. 

Props will consist of the large purple flower that Oberon gives to Robin to cast his spell, and Lysander and Demetrius’s swords.

Through Line and Beats

The purpose for this part of the scene is to right the mistake Robin made earlier by casting the love spell on Lysander instead of Demetrius. Lysander, upon waking, had seen Helena and fallen in love with her, forgetting Hermia. Robin and Oberon noticed the mistake when they saw Demetrius and Hermia arguing during Hermia’s search for Lysander. When Demetrius had given up chasing Hermia and fell asleep, Robin put the potion in his eyes. Helena entered and Demetrius awoke, falling in love with her, and Robin’s original task was completed. But it still remained for him to correct his mistake and bring Lysander and Hermia back together. Whether this is “the course of true love” is arguable; it is easy to see that it does not “run smooth.”

Beat 1) As our scene begins, Oberon gives Robin another flower to crush in Lysander’s eyes, and Oberon exits. Beat 2) Robin then schemes to tire Lysnder and Demetrius out by leading them on a wild goose chase. By posing as Demetrius, using his voice to call out to Lysander so that Lysander will give chase, Robin hides behind trees and tires him out until he falls asleep. Beat 3) Robin then repeats the same ploy with Demetrius, using Lysander’s voice, until he too falls asleep. Beat 4 ) Then Helena enters and sleeps. Beat 5) She is followed by Hermia who does the same. Beat 6) Now Robin is able to complete his task by anointing Lysander’s eyes with the magical potion of the crushed flower.

Motivation and Characterization

Oberon, the proud and stubborn King of the Fairies, also has a gentle and playful side. Moved to pity Helena after witnessing Demetrius’s coldness towards her, Oberon puts into motion the plot that will unite the lovers and make Shakespeare’s comedy successful. The fact that there is a proper mate for every main character establishes a corresponding feeling of symmetry and balance for the play; and Oberon is the arbitrator of the process that reestablishes balance to the universe of the narrative.

Robin Goodfellow is a mischievous “goblin,” and to humans may seem ambivalent, or even malicious, in regards to humans. But he is also a faithful servant to Oberon and an important actor in the Parthenon of the forest. As such he is Oberon’s “right-hand man” who executes the actions that bring about the comedic unification necessary to a satisfying conclusion to the play.

Lysander is normally dedicated in full to his love Hermia, but in this scene, because of the effects of the potion, is moved to violence against Demetrius, his rival for Helena’s love. His ability to switch paramours so quickly and effectively causes the audience to question their conceptions of true love.

Demetrius undergoes a similar 180-degree turn of character due to the potion: his normal cruel indifference to Helena is replaced with a fiery passion. Lysander and Demetrius are bitter rivals from the beginning of the play; their love of the same woman, be it Hermia or Helen, goads them into conflict and potential violence. But, by the intervention of the magic wrought by the forest spirits that will provide both with a happy union with a suitable mate, they resolve their differences.

Helena, as a result of experiencing the transition from no suitors to too many, possesses a masochistic character that seems to thrive on abuse and bitterness. Her incredulousness at discovering two suitors, and her refusal to believe that they are not mocking her, should leave the audience wondering whether she doesn’t deserve (and desire) the scorn Demetrius had heaped upon her. The tirade she performs earlier in the scene leaves her exhausted, but by her re-entrance she craves sleep in order to escape from herself as much as the situation she is in.

Hermia, on the other hand, must convey a sense of dismay and shock followed by remorse at the discovery that Lysander has spurned her for Helena. Similarly her rude treatment by her best friend Helena causes a different, but no less sharp pain. She must maintain a sense of ethical superiority to lend weight to her indignation at the abuse she suffers. By her re-entrance at the end of this scene her exhaustion allows her only one thought: Lysander’s safety.


The truest enjoyment of this play is in result of the harmonious union of each set of lovers, and the sense that nature has effected its own balance through the intervention of magnanimous spirits. But like many of Shakespeare’s works there is an anxiety caused by the inability on the part of the audience to answer complex questions about contradictory emotions they feel about the resolution of the play. Does Demetrius truly love Helena in the end, or will the spell wear off? Is Helena more fond of Demetrius’s abuse than she is of Demetrius himself? If their love is so fragile that pollen can reverse it, is Lysander and Hermia’s love really truly true? Also the issues of gender and class bias are problematic to say the least. My goal in directing this play would be to faithfully enact Shakespeare’s vision as a comedy as it is classically defined. Hence the unions would be played as authentic in the end, though the irony of lines like “The course of true love never did run smooth” would not be lost or glossed over.

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Last Update: 01/12/2016