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Shakespeare re-imagined as liturgy

29 July 2016

shakespeare’s globe

“With thine own fool’s eyes peep”: Robin takes the ass’s head off Bottom, in a scene from A Midsummer Night's Dream, now running at Shakespeare's Globe theatre, until 11 September

“With thine own fool’s eyes peep”: Robin takes the ass’s head off Bottom, in a scene from A Midsummer Night's Dream, now running at Shakespeare's Glob...

A NEW liturgy based on Shakespeare’s comedy A Midsummer Night’s Dream is to be performed at Holy Trinity, Stratford, and at St Martin-in-the-Fields, London, in August, to mark the 400th anniversary year of the playwright’s death.

The two “performances” — for which admissions is free on 2 and 3 August — have been organised by the Oxford Centre for Christianity and Culture (OCCC). Seeing More Clearly with the Eyes of Love: A liturgy of voices based on “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” was inspired by a similar project in 2011, which re-imagined the liturgy with the words of Edmund Spenser’s Faerie Queene.

Dr Ewan Fernie, Professor of Shakespeare Studies at the Shakespeare Institute, University of Birmingham, encouraged the OCCC to develop the new liturgy, having created the previous.

The Revd Andrew Taylor, a research fellow of the OCCC, who has been developing the project, said: “It is intended as an act of worship, although we would be the first to recognise that it cannot escape elements of performance, especially with its very heavy use of poetry, newly commissioned for it by poets who are a mixture of Christian and secular. None, however, had any difficulty in writing for the liturgy.”

The OCCC has commissioned poetry for it from Micheal O’Siadhail, Sinead Morrisey, Michael Symonds Roberts, Lawrence Sail, and Jenny Lewis. The service also includes extracts from more traditional sources such as the Song of Songs.

Love is a dominant theme. “Beloved, let us love one another, because love is from God,” it begins, before introducing text from the play, which pursues the tribulations of four star-crossed lovers: Helena, Lysander, Hermia, and Demetrius.

“O hell! To choose love by another’s eyes,” is answered by the Song of Songs: “Arise, my love, my fair one, and come away; for now the winter is past, the rain is over and gone.”

This dialogue, which later introduces verses from the Gospel of John, original poems, silences, and intercessions, continues throughout the liturgy. It is set to music compiled by the chaplain at Regent’s Park College, the Revd Dr Myra Blyth.

Mr Taylor said: “The basic premise of the liturgy is the need to see clearly. Midsummer Night’s Dream is a play full of characters and incidents where the players are continually looking past one another; making mistakes and wrong judgement calls all the time. Love, especially, is misunderstood and misused; and the poetry works with this idea.”

There are two liturgical acts during the worship, he explained. “The first is an invitation to come forward and to receive the opportunity to wash our eyes, as a symbolic representation of our desire to see anew.” There will be bowls of water with which people can dab their eyes.

The second is an invitation to break down the wall that features in Midsummer Night’s Dream. “This is, for us, the wall of separation,” he said, “and it needs to be dismantled.”

Visit www.rpc.ox.ac.uk/seeing-more-clearly-with-the-eyes-of-love-stratford-and-london/ for details

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