Dreaming in French
in The Shakespearean comic and tragicomic
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This chapter brings three principal French intertexts (and some secondary ones) to bear on A Midsummer Night’s Dream. It first argues that Dream evokes a recent play comically adapting Italianate pastoral conventions, La Diane, by Nicolas de Montreux (1594). The next key intertext explored is Le proumenoir (1594), by Marie de Gournay, which offers a feminist slant on the histoire tragique as exemplified by her source, the Champs faëz of Claude de Taillemont. Gournay’s novel presents love as tragic, particularly for women as victims of male inconstancy, as in the legend of Theseus and Ariadne. Gournay introduces this exemplum through the Epithalamium of Catullus, where it counterpoints celebration of a mythical marriage – an effect matching the intrusion of sombre overtones on Shakespeare’s representation of marriage as comic fulfilment. Finally foregrounded is the relation between the burlesque ‘tragedy’ of Pyramus and Thisbe staged by Shakespeare’s Mechanicals and an anonymous Moralité, which illuminates the Mechanicals’ absurd approach to theatrical challenges. Also considered is a poetic reworking of Ovid’s narrative by Antoine de Baïf, which anticipates Shakespeare’s embellishment of this material with humanist trappings. These intertexts highlight the parodic potential Shakespeare exploited in insinuating the fragility of generic boundaries.

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