‘The course of true love never did run smooth.’ (Lysander, Act I, Scene i)

A Midsummer Night’s Dream Full Company. Credit: Simon Annand.

Puppets have been in vogue for ‘grown-up’ theatre since War Horse stormed the National Theatre and Handspring Puppet Company are back with a production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream at Bristol Old Vic. From Michael Morpurgo’s moving children’s tale to Shakespeare’s carnivalesque comedy, Handspring had much to live up to following their sell-out triumph in the West End.

With gleeful comedy and playful acting, the company carried the production on a raucously funny and rude ride from the Mechanicals intermingling with the audience pre-show to lovers tiffs that blossomed into full-blown play-fights. It was a mischievous, dream world of wild love and magical enterprise.

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Unfortunately, for Auden, who says that, ‘Christmas and Easter can be subjects for poetry, but Good Friday, like Auschwitz, cannot. The reality is so horrible… Poems about Good Friday, have of course been written, but none of them will do’ (W H Auden – A Certain World) there have been poems about that day and for many, they ‘will do’. It is not called ‘Good’ Friday for nothing. Christ’s crucifixion is prophesied throughout the Bible, creating probably the greatest literary foreshadowing of an event in any collection of books and poetry plays a key role in foretelling the saviour to come.

Good Friday is then a subject for poetry and the image which acts as its motif in the Bible is the lamb who was slain. Old Testament Jews would buy a one year old lamb, unblemished, and lay a hand on its head to confess sins over it; symbolically transferring the sins onto the lamb. Then at the first Passover (Exodus 12), which Jews today celebrate, a lamb’s blood was painted on the doors of God’s people so that the Angel of Death would pass over them. Jesus is our New Testament lamb, the wrath of God taken upon him in death, so that death passes over us and we may have eternal life (John 3.16). In John 19.14, John points out that Jesus was killed at around the time of the Passover – the disciple makes it abundantly clear that Jesus is our Passover lamb. Then in Corinthians, ‘for Christ our passover lamb has been sacrificed’ (5.7).

The following poem, from the book of the Bible ‘Isaiah’, foretells the sacrifice Jesus made on the cross.

Songs of Innocence and Experience incapsulate Blake as visionary, revolutionary and Romantic. Often his peers regarded him as madman and yet now he is read as surprisingly modern, accepted widely on university and school courses as a crucial poet of the Romantic period. Often the poems in this work come in pairs, so that innocence and experience can be compared. The accompanying printed colour designs from Blake’s few original copies use his complex system of symbolism to suggest further readings of the poems in an unusual pairing of visual and poetic art.

Blake idealises a state of innocence, and finds it in early childhood (see his influence from Rousseau ‘everything is good as it comes from the hands of the Creator’) but also wants to find a state of innocence out of and after experience. Innocence, for Blake, is therefore a state of mind rather than a period of life.

Read on for the poems.