Skip to main content
Shakespeare & Beyond

Drawing Shakespeare: A Midsummer Night's Dream

Titania and Bottom
Titania and Bottom

Titania and Bottom

This is the second post in a series by artist Paul Glenshaw about drawing the bas-reliefs by John Gregory on the front of the Folger Shakespeare Library building. The series will examine the bas-reliefs one by one; each sculpture depicts a scene from a different Shakespeare play. Today’s post is about the bas-relief of a scene from A Midsummer Night’s Dream.

There’s a document in the Smithsonian’s Archives of American Art dated August 28, 1929, that lists the scenes that Gregory was to depict, according to Henry Folger’s wishes. The first is “Titania with Fairies,” from Act II, Sc. 2 of A Midsummer Night’s Dream. But Gregory carved instead a moment from Act IV, Sc.1—when Titania invites Bottom, still with the head of an ass, to sleep entwined her arms, like “…the woodbine the sweet honeysuckle/Gently entwist; the female ivy so/Enrings the barky fingers of the elm./O, how I love thee! How I dote on thee!”

It would appear Emily Folger changed the scene after her husband’s death. Gregory wrote to her on May 16, 1930, saying, “I will at once set about preparing another version of the Dream, incorporating your plan…”

It’s a perfect moment to represent the play. We’re in the woods where all the mayhem takes place, with Titania and Bottom representing the misplaced, drug-induced affections in the play. In contrast to the frenzied, tangled-up emotive energy of many of the other scenes in the woods, this one is quiet. Titania is happily smitten with her donkey man, and Bottom is charmed, blithely unaware of his grotesque transformation (but hoping for some oats). It’s the moment before the knotty mess of infatuations begins to get resolved. It’s a quiet scene in terms of narrative, but visually, it’s exploding with activity.


[…] Next: A Midsummer Night’s Dream […]

Drawing the Folger's Shakespeare bas-reliefs - Shakespeare & Beyond — October 25, 2018

[…] A Midsummer Night’s Dream | Next: The Merchant of […]

Drawing Shakespeare: Romeo and Juliet - Shakespeare & Beyond — October 26, 2018