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Recorded HS
Early and Late Comedies: A Midsummer Night’s Dream and The Tempest (Catholic Shakespeare Series)

Shakespeare’s comedies are marvelously funny at every level from low humor to grand comedy of Godly forgiveness. We will see how the Master combines both to keep us penny-groundlings amused and in order, even while he is soaring over our heads into Heaven!

Total classes: 10

Prerequisite: The ability to read and understand the plays

Suggested grade level: 9th grade and up

Suggested credit: One semester Classical Literature


This semester’s plays will examine how Shakespeare used the “spirit world” in drama to stand in for the great actions of God himself. This was necessary to avoid English law against overtly religious drama, but it also created delightful characters.

A Midsummer Night’s Dream is structured around six (!) different sets of romantic lovers, descending from the spiritual Oberon and Titania, down through the humans: Theseus and Hippolyta; Lysander and Hermia; Demetrius and Helena; to the union of a spirit, Titania, and a human-animal, Bottom; and finally to the fantastical Pyramus and Thisbe. This ladder of lovers and fools shows many ways that love can be distorted by sight that looks only to the physical or by our petulant wills that override reason. Yet in the end, each lover is healed or aided by Oberon’s spiritual guidance, even if that guidance is mediated by the erratic acts of Puck. Duke Theseus creates a New Law of love fitting for the Feast of St. John the Baptist (Midsummer) who announces the New law of Christ.

The Tempest’s main character, Prospero, can command the winds, the sea, the fire, can foresee the future to the minute and open graves at his command. These attributes of God, the Father, mark his true nature in Shakespeare’s final allegory, a return to the Catholic Mystery Plays outlawed by Queen Elizabeth when the playwright was a teen. The action of the drama is simple. Prospero draws his enemies, who have driven him from Milan to his island of exile, to bring them to repentance and offer forgiveness, culminating in unifying his family and theirs through marriage with his perfect daughter. The play also presents the two sides of Man to the audience, the spiritual, angelic Ariel (pure spirit that is forgetful and even sometimes impatient at the low necessities of the world) and the base, animal-like Caliban—the picture of unredeemed man.


1: The Catholic Shakespeare. Biography and Typology
2:  A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Act I
3: A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Act II
4: A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Act III
5: A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Act IV
6: A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Act V
7: The Tempest, Act I
8: The Tempest, Act II
9: The Tempest, Act III
10: The Tempest, Act IV
11: The Tempest, Act V
12: Trying Conclusions

Materials and Homework

Course Materials: Any edition of the two plays, as long as they have line numbers. Without such numbers you will not easily know where we are in the plays. Best editions: David Bevington, or Signet, or Cambridge.

Homework: Expect about one hour of reading per class, plus approximately one-half hour for note taking. Computer-graded quizzes will be available each class, as well as a Final.

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