‘Midsummer Night’s Dream” Based on New Authorship Theory

Amelia Basano Lanyer, 1569 1645
Amelia Basano Lanyer (15691645)

Could Shakespeare’s best-known comedy be a Jewish religious lampoon written by a woman? That’s the basis for “Midsummer Night’s Dream: A Comic Jewish Satire.” This radical new production will be presented by the Dark Lady Players, directed by Mahayana Landowne with dramaturgy by John Hudson, at Abingdon Theatre Arts Complex, 312 W. 36th St., March 28 to April 1.

The Dark Lady Players (www.darkladyplayers.com) will be the first company in the world to put on a Shakespearean production using the Amelia Bassano Theory, which is based primarily on a recent academic discovery by John Hudson that Shakespeare’s plays contain a Jewish religious allegory. The theory reveals they were written by Amelia Bassano Lanyer, who has never before been considered as a potential Authorship candidate. An African American Jewish woman educated by a countess from the age of seven, for at least a decade this “Dark Lady of the Sonnets” was mistress to the man in charge of the English Theater. She was the first woman in England to publish a book of poetry (in 1611), which included a long feminist epic poem criticizing the Gospels.

Kirsta Peterson as Bottom, Minica Cortez as Bee, Megan McGrath as Soldier, Amanda Bruton as Soldier.
LR: Kirsta Peterson (as Bottom), Minica Cortez (as Bee), Megan McGrath (as Soldier), Amanda Bruton (as Soldier). Photo by Jonathan Slaff, 2007.

“Midsummer Night’s Dream: A Comic Jewish Satire” unwraps the play to its deepest allegorical level, revealing its nature as a Jewish satire against Christian idolatry. The allegory takes the form of a dramatization of the Jewish-Roman war (66-70CE), in which Oberon (Yahweh) was fighting against Titania (Titus Caesar). The latter has stolen away the true Jewish messiah (the Little Indian/Iudean boy), whose mother was a Virgin/Votaress, and crowned him with thorny flowers. He was then turned into a Changeling, namely Jesus, who is allegorically represented on stage as Bottom/Pyramus and crucified in a series of actions that the playwright has taken straight from the Gospels.

The allegory makes sense of key aspects of “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” that are never normally staged, mostly because there has been no explanation of what they mean. On a bare stage will be a giant Arch of Titus and giant Torah scroll from which respectively Titana (Titus) and Oberon (Yahweh) will emerge, and from there the entire allegorical play-within-a-play-within-a-play will be unwrapped on stage. This highly visual production reveals the true Identities of all the characters — and therefore the true plot. Each character represents an allegory for a Christian or Jewish religious figure as follows:

Megan McGrath as soldier, Kirsta Peterson as Bottom/Pyramus, Amanda Bruton as soldier
LR: Megan McGrath (as soldier), Kirsta Peterson (as Bottom/Pyramus), Amanda Bruton (as soldier). Photo by Jonathan Slaff, 2007.

PUCK carries the name of a traditional English devil. PYRAMUS and THISBE were characters in a medieval allegory for Jesus and the Church. PETER QUINCE is named after Petros Quoin or Rocky Cornerstone, and is St Peter. WALL is the partition thought to divide Earth from Heaven, and to separate Jesus from the Bride of Christ, with whom he longed to be united. OBERON was composed in part out of the Psalms and represents Yahweh. This is why he is the king from India (a recognized synonym for Judea). LITTLE INDIAN/IUDEAN BOY (whose mother is a prayerful virgin or votaress) is the Jewish messiah who was stolen away to create the account of a pro-Roman Jesus in the Gospel stories. TITANIA, who steals him away, corresponds to Titus Caesar–the man who destroyed Jerusalem–and at whose Court some of those Gospels were written. HONEY BEES have their legs cut off under dramatic orders from Titania, a parallel to the orders Titus gave to prune the limbs off a Jewish rebel who came from the family of the Maccabees.

The allegory has been used to create the detail of the characters. In particular, the death of Bottom/Pyramus has been carefully composed out of the Gospels’ crucifixion story. The stabbing in the side, the disappearance of the light and the references to playing dice, are all framed within two mentions of the ‘passion’ (V,1,277 and 303). Bottom’s coming back to life again parodies the resurrection, which is why he previously promises “by and by I will to thee appear” (III,1.82), like Jesus who promises he will “come again” (John 14:3). Bottom’s asshead is recognized by scholars as another comic satire on the medieval Christian belief that Jesus should be worshipped as a metaphorical holy ass in a special annual church ceremony.

Oberon takes revenge against Titania/Titus by making her fall mindlessly in love with Bottom/Jesus, before Oberon kills her by the administration of Wormwood (another name for Dian’s Bud)–the same substance supposedly administered to Jesus on the cross. Finally, after the Wall falls down and it is the Apocalypse, the spirits come out of their graves to dance and Oberon/Yahweh distributes dew, which is not part of Christian imagery but is found in Jewish sources like the Zohar.

“Midsummer Night’s Dream: A Comic Jewish Satire” is directed by Mahayana Landowne. Adaptation and dramaturgy are by John Hudson. The cast includes Chanelle Benz, Jen Browne, Amanda Bruton, Monica Cortez, Daniela Dakic, Morganne Davies, Lila Dupree, Megan McGrath, Kirsta Peterson, Stephen Squibb, and Peggy Suzuki. Head choreographer is Danielle Quisenberry. Elizabethan Dances are choreographed by Caroline Copeland. Set design is by James Simopoulos. Costume design is by Jess Lane. The Assistant Director is Jenny Greeman. Music includes Elizabethan tunes adapted by VORTEX, which brings a modern edge to classical idioms with trip-hop laced electronic pop. The group’s most recent movie soundtracks were for Danny Schechter’s documentary “Weapons of Mass Deception” and Ben Selkow’s “The Cage.” See: website.

Yana Director Mahayana Landowne.
Director Mahayana Landowne. Photo by Jonathan Slaff.

Director Mahayana Landowne holds an MFA in directing from the Yale School of Drama and a BFA in acting from NYU’s Tisch School of the Arts. She recently directed “Wendy’s Words” (West Bank Cafe), “Blue” (Vital Theater), “Carcass” (Dispora Drama), “Baby Dance” (Schoolhouse Theater), “The Heiress” (The Roundtable Ensemble at the Mint), “Machinal” (U. of Rochester), “The Vagina Monologues” ( Millbrook Playhouse) and “Terrible Infant” (Fringe Festival). Her musicals include “Spring Bling,” “Summer in the Hummer” and “The Dick Cheney Holiday Spectacular” (Ace of Clubs); “Western Unidad” (Ice Factory Festival, Ohio Theater), “Post-Code” (American Living Room, HERE) and “Woman’s Voices of Union Square” (Tenement Museum). Other productions include “The Skriker,” “Antony and Cleopatra,” “The Seagull,” “Brass Logic,” “A Streetcar Named Desire,” “Obgynt,” “King Lear” and “Mud.” Her affiliations include Drama League 00, Lincoln Center Director’s Lab 04, Directors Lab West 06, Woman’s Project, Second Stage and Playwrights Horizon’s Theater. She is resident director for BillionairesforBush.com. For more info see: www.yana.landowne.org.

Author John Hudson.
Author John Hudson. Photo by Jonathan Slaff.

Dramaturg John Hudson is the major researcher of the Amelia Bassano Theory and a cognitive scientist specializing in complex literary and organizational analysis. He graduated from University of Exeter with a double First specializing in dramaturgical theory and the social scientific study of texts. He holds postgraduate certificates in Shakespeare and Performance from the Shakespeare Institute of the University of Birmingham, in the psychodynamics of group processes from the William Alanson White Institute, and a postgraduate degree in organizational change from the London School of Economics and Political Science. He has been a Fellow of the Royal Anthropological Institute, a member of the Society of Biblical Literature and of other professional organizations. He has developed new literary analysis of the structure of the Gospel of Matthew and over the last 30 years, has developed innovative industry perspectives and new strategic visions in many areas of the communications industry. He is currently writing a thesis at the Shakespeare Institute on “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” and is the author of “The Dark Lady,” a newly completed biography which identifies Amelia Bassano’s family trademark and seven literary signatures across the Shakespearean plays.

Performances are March 28 to April 1, 2007 at the Abingdon Theatre Arts Complex, 312 W. 36th St., first floor, Manhattan. Performances are Wednesdays through Saturdays at 8 p.m. Matinees Saturdays and Sundays at 3 p.m. Ticket prices are $16 for general admission. The box office number is (212) 868-4444 and online ticketing is available at www.smarttix.com.

On March 22, excerpts from the production will be presented by the Dark Lady Players at the Smithsonian Institution (http://www.washington.org/shakespeare/details.cfm?partid=73&eventid=156) as part of the Washington Shakespeare Festival. John Hudson will address the Trustees of the Shakespearean Authorship Trust on February 26 in London, will speak at the Harlem Arts Alliance on March 5, and will also give a talkback after the production on March 28 at the Abingdon Theater. Updated information on the production will be made available on www.darkladyplayers.com.

Jonathan Slaff writes on cultural events from the brainy, the edgy and the good. He helps us keep ahead of the curve in the world of the arts and culture.