Just to keep the ball that Randall has again set in motion rolling, I'm going to quickly post random responses rattling around in my brain now in no very coherent form, with plans to return with a more polished piece.
First, Ernst notes, rightly I think, that this play reveals a more mature Shakespeare. It seems to me that there is a marked qualitative shift in this play that I can't completely articulate. But this seems much more like the work that we praise as a product of the great Bard than most of the earlier works we read. Did something happen?
On a different tack, I've been thinking about Puck recently. Theseus sends him half way around the world to procure a desired flower with special properties. Now I'm no specialist in Elizabethan commercial history, but as I recall at the time, the English navy and commercial special interests were spreading around the world and regularly bringing back wonders to the English shores. Would it be too much to say that Puck partly represents a wonderment at the growing ability of people with means to obtain undreamed of exotic products from undreamed of farthest reaches of the world?
And what is our Puck today? Is it not the undying "person" with fairy-like super power to procure for us undreamed of goods from the farthest reaches, that is the corporation? While this fantastic entity can serve our desires, our modern Puck has also come to shape those desires, as well as controlling our government.
Sorry if I'm drifting into something perhaps resembling Marxist criticism here. Watching what looks like the beginning of the collapse of world capitalism this week has my mind walking down strange paths, perhaps.
I like the connection of this play to the pastoral tradition, not something I had thought of before. The couples certainly escape the strictures of urban life to the freedom and magical, mischievous, but ultimately healing and benign influence of the wild wood. Sounds like the dream that helped create the blight of suburbia across much of the land.
OK, enough random provocation for now. More later.