Throughout history, society has been divided by social disparity and stratification. People from all walks of life are classified into the existing hierarchy of social class according to their economic, racial, educational, and even political status, of which the existing social class and hierarchy are made. In William Shakespeare play adaptation of Mid-Summer Night Dreams, Midsummer Jersey shows that the power structure does not allow the lower class to move up the ladder. This essay will address the characterization of social hierarchy, as revealed in Mid-Summer Night Dreams, Midsummer Jersey, to show how the lower class struggles, despite all odds to make names for themselves in the society.
Throughout Act 5, scene 1 in Midsummer Jersey/Night Dreams, the authors portrays the demeaning treatment that the people at the bottom of the social class hierarchy get from the those in the upper class through the actions of the salon workers who are skilled beauty technicians /The Mechanicals who are skilled labourers and Chris Athens who is the Governor of New Jersey/Theseus who is the Mayor of Athens. The first instance is seen when the salon workers/Mechanicals came to perform their play for the Governor/ Mayor and his fiancee.
Named for their occupations as staffs of the local beauty salon/the Mechanicals, the workers are a group of amateur actors from modern NewJersey/Athens, looking to make names for themselves. Their play was chosen among several other acts as the courtly entertainment for the royal wedding party of Governor Chris Athens/Theseus and Hippolyta his fiancé. Before the play-in-play started, Philostrate/Justin Dicardo, the Governor’s chief of staff already discredits and degrades the workers’ performance when he says to the Governor: “No, my noble lord. It’s not something you’ll like. I’ve seen it, and it’s worthless, as worthless as anything ever created—unless you find their sad attempt funny, with their bad acting and incorrectly remembered lines”(Philostrate/Justin Dicardo).
And in response to that, the Governor says: “Then we’re even kinder people for thanking them for something that they’re not good at. /… When poor dutiful people can’t do certain things well, generous people can consider the effort they put into it rather than the product of their performance.”(Chris Athens/Theseus).These lines suggest that the Governor takes some kind of patriarchal stance toward the lower class. Because he thinks as a more refined and intelligent individual, it is his duty to give the salon workers a chance to perform and overlook their lack of talent.
In a condescending way, both the Governor and his chief of staff perceives the workers as uneducated and lacking the skills of an actor, although entirely true, they gave their all. It is safe to say that Midsummer Jersey/Night Dreams uses the actions of the Governor and his chief of staff’s as a perfect depiction of how individuals who are politically powerful, educated and wealthy suppress individuals who are uneducated and at the end of the social class hierarchy. Here education is seen as always been one of the major components of social class disparity and stratification throughout history.
Still persisting in today’s society, it is no surprise that the struggles of the uneducated, and that of those at the bottom of the class hierarchy, and their ability to rise above their socio-economic conditions are constantly being thwarted and undermined through these kinds of behavior from the powerful. That is to say that the wealthy and politically powerful individuals constantly uses their negative rhetoric and condescending word to prevent the socially stratified individuals from going up the ladder of success.
Take, for instance, the actions and negative rhetoric of the President of the United States sometimes hurt those at the bottom. For example, an article by Center for American Progress wrote “over the past 52 weeks, the Trump administration has waged war on communities of color by threatening to take away almost every hard-won protection and opportunity for which many generations fought and sometimes died” (Solomon).The article listed over 52 ways in which the president’s administration has done harm to the lower class communities both with his words and actions since he took office. So it can be said that this behavior by Trump’s administration mirrors the actions and words used by the Governor’s and his chief of staff in Mid Summer Jersey/Night Dreams.
Another instance in Midsummer Jersey/Night Dreams, where the royals use a degrading tone to criticize the Salon workers/Mechanical is seen in Act 5, scene 1 when they arrive at the royal wedding to perform their play. Nikki/Nick Bottom, one of the stylist and Patti/Peter Quince the leader of the company both delivers the prologue to the play in the play. In her prologue, Quince apologizes in advance for whatever mistakes they are about to make and says: “If we offend, it is with our good will./ That you should think we come not to offend,/But with good will. To show our simple skill”(line 114-116).
These quotes suggest that the workers knew beforehand that the Royals will degrade their performance, yet, they aimed for their goal, not letting their incompetence hold them back. Although, during the prologue and performance, the incompetency of the salon workers/Mechanicals is seen when they comically mumble their way through the play. As a result, from the beginning of the performance, the Governor/Mayor and his family and friends ridiculed and criticizes the punctuations and sentences of Quince, the head of the group and says: “This guy doesn’t pay attention to punctuation” His speech was like a tangled chain. Unbroken, but all jumbled up. Who’s next? Already rebuking the worker.
And in turn, Hippolyta his fiancee says “Yes, he’s performed the prologue like a child plays a recorder—he can make sounds, but not with any purposeful control.” Even though Quince has already rendered an apology in advance for their incompetence before their performance, they were still criticized. Ludwig/Shakespeare use this scene from the play to show how in today’s society, powerful politicians, the wealthy, and those with better educational and socioeconomic background, once again, exercise superiority over those individuals who are especially beneath their social status; not mindful of the effects that their degrading words will have on the self-esteem of these individuals on the receiving end.
According to research, the upper classes are not mindful of others, they are worse at reading other people’s emotions and they are more selfish than individuals in lower social classes (Kraus). Those at the top the social ladder exercise authority and superiority over those at the bottom because they are more educated and, or influential. In retrospect, it is a common knowledge that the president of the United States and his administration are no exception.
In other words, it is safe to say that the criticism by the Royals towards the workers in Midsummer Jersey/ Night Dreams can be seen as a parallel to the President of the United States and his administration’s constant demeaning and degrading manner in which they criticize women, gold families, past generals, immigrants, and even a disabled news reporter. In today’s society, one can safely say that those at the top of social class hierarchy oppress those beneath them, not just for lack of education and skillfulness, but also because of wealth and affluence.
Although, arguably, it can be said that education is a major factor why most people in the lower class struggle to survive. There can also be a counter-argument that lack of education is not the main factor in a class struggle, however, not everyone is born with a silver spoon in their mouth. Ludwig/Shakespeare perfectly uses the salon workers/Mechanicals as a depiction of the workers in the lower class who are not necessarily uneducated but are been suppressed by the social structure resulting in lack of resources such as wealth and proper education to improve their competence.
On the other hand, on my theater experience, what surprised me most is that the theater experience broadened my understanding of how the work of artists and literateral thinkers allows people from different cultures and time period to communicate with each other through images, sounds and stories produced by these great works by great artists and poets. The play addressing social issues such as social class hierarchy and the struggles of those at the bottom of the class hierarchy from past to present day.
Concerning what we learned in class about philosophers, in a way, Marxism is reflected in A Midsummer Nights Dream because, Karl Marx’s focus was on the class system, the Working Class and Bourgeoisie. His concern was about extreme wealth disparity. He believed in equal distribution and increased worker rights. Marx believed that capitalism must be eliminated because of its inherent unfairness toward the middle class. He proclaimed that history is the chronology of class struggles, which can be seen in Shakespeare’s Midsummer night Dreams and Ken Ludwig’s Midsummer Jersey.
Florman, Ben. ‘A Midsummer Night’s Dream Translation.’LitCharts.LitCharts LLC, 11 May 2014. Web. 20 Nov 2018. https://www.litcharts .com/Shakespeare/Shakespeare- translations/a-midsummer-nights-dream/act-5-scene-1 Kraus, Michael W., and Dacher Keltner. “Signs of Socioeconomic Status: A Thin-Slicing Approach.” Psychological Science, vol. 20, no. 1, Jan2009, pp. 99–106, doi:10.1111/ j.1467-9280.2008.02251.x Solomon, Danyelle and Maxwell, Connor. How the Trump Administration Hurt Communities of Color in 2017. Center for American Progress, January 10, 2018. https://www. American progress.org/issues/race/reports/2018/01/10/444806/52-harms-52-weeks/