In my English class, we had read A Midsummer Night’s Dream by Shakespeare, and watched Life is Beautiful, an AMAZING film, directed by Roberto Benigni.(I highly recommend it, but I’m warning you, there are spoilers ahead, so watch it before you read this) We were given a list of questions to base an essay on regarding these two works. The one I chose was to discuss the numerous reversals in both of them, especially as they pertain to love. All of us were given a limited amount of time and only a notecard to prepare with notes. Honestly, my intro isn’t that great, but I hope you think the rest of it is!(and I do take all credit for writing this, for all you plagiarizers out there…)
In both Life is Beautiful, a film directed by Roberto Benigni,and A Midsummer Night’s Dream, a well-known comedy by William Shakespeare, there is a recurring them of reversals. Many are subtle, for that is intended, but the most prominent reversals pertain to love, especially in Shakespeare’s play. Several of which share similarities to those found in Benigni’s film.
The first reversal in A Midsummer Night’s Dream is the relationship between Theseus and Hippolyta. They had once been sworn enemies, but fell in love during battle. Theseus then says to her, as they’re discussing their wedding, “Hippolyta, I wooed thee with my sword/ An won thy love doing thee injuries.” It is extremely unexpected, to fall for the very man you are fighting, and yet it happened, almost like magic. (another huge them in both works) Demetrius’ object of love also switches throughout the story, at times with the actual use of magic. During the argument with Egeus, Hermia’s father, Lysander mentions that Demetrius was once engaged to Helena, but now claims to have undying love for Hermia. Intended only as leverage against him, Lysander’s accusation reveals another reversal and adds more confusion to the play. Later, in the woods, Helena chases Demetrius, begging for his affection. Much to her surprise, her wish is granted. Robin Goodfellow(Puck) had used the magic love juice on Demetrius, which causes the victim to fall in love with the first creature it sees. This time, it is Helena. However, Demetrius’ sudden change of heart caused her to believe his claims were false, and she grew to despise him. Now, their roles are completely reversed. Her hatred only grows when she finds that Lysander too says he loves her.(This happens because Puck had mistaken Lysander for Demetrius when applying the love juice the first time) Poor Hermia, who has no idea what’s happening, is perplexed; Lysander had once called her “Fair love”, but now says, “Be certain, nothing truer, ’tis no jest/ That I do hate thee and love Helena.” Instead of the two men obsessing over Hermia, they’re now devoted to Helena. Hurt, Helena lashes out, believing them to be making fun of her, only confusing Hermia more. As a result, the two women have an intense cat fight, and they’re no longer best friends; yet another reversal. Likewise, Oberon and Titania are battling over the ownership of an Indian boy. Because they are king and queen of the fairies, their actions directly impact nature. When their argument takes on a dangerous tone, we learn that the seasons are reversed when Titania says, “And thorough this distemperature we see/ The seasons alter; hoary-headed frosts/ Fall in the fresh lap of the crimson rose/ And on old Hiems’ [thin] and icy crown/ An odorous chaplet of sweet summer buds/ Is, as in mockery, set.” In an effort to win the argument, Oberon orders Puck to give his wife the love juice so she will chase after some ugly creature while he takes the boy. Like Demetrius and Lysander, Titania’s object of affection changes, but to Nick Bottom, with the head of a donkey. When Oberon achieves his goal, he gives her the antidote, so she loves him again. After realizing his mistake, when Oberon yells at him, Puck puts the antidote into Lysander’s eyes, so he’ll love Hermia again, putting everything as it should be. Throughout this complicated comedy and romance, Shakespeare skillfully weaves reversals, his last one being in Pyramus and Thisby, where the tone of which turns from happy and comical, to serious and grim after the death of one of the lovers.
Life is Beautiful doesn’t have as many reversals as A Midsummer Night’s Dream. However, in the beginning, Dora and Rodolfo were engaged, planned to be married very soon. Unknown to Rodolfo, Dora did not love him, and sought after another; Guido Orifice. This is very much like the relationship between Demetrius, Hermia, and Lysander. They even run off to Guido’s uncle’s home to be married, just as Hermia and Lysander eloped to Lysander’s aunt’s home outside Athens. Another obvious reversal is the tone of the movie as it progresses. The first half, similar to Pyramus and Thisby, is light and funny. Once thye arrive at the concentration camp, however, the film turns dark and ominous. In the opening scene where Guido is reciting poetry, some of his lines are “‘Here I am,’ said I to chaos. ‘I am your slave!’ And he: ‘Good’… Free in the end I am! What good is a caress when bliss…this man came to possess?” Before these linesx, he says that his story is a sad one and a story difficult to tell. It is possible that his poetry kind of is the story. Guido and his family became a slave to chaos when they entered the concentration camp. The camp itself wasn’t chaotic in any way; in fact it was quite organized, but the life of the Orifices was thrown into chaos. Nothing was as it once was; it was now full of cruel work, starvation, and fear. All they had was each other, and yet that was enough to conquer. The bliss he speaks of could be the bliss of knowing you’ve done everything in your power to protect you family, even if he had to pay the ultimate price. The film even closes with the words “I won,” referencing both the game Guido created, and his victory over chaos. By sheer luck or willpower, nobody knows, but somehow Guido was able to reverse his situation in relationship to this disarray. Another subtle, and almost iffy reversal, is the position of power. While in the city of Arezzo, Guido has no power; he was turned down, not allowed to even own a bookstore at first, and couldn’t resist as the Germans took him and his family away. In the camp, because of his iron will and imagination, Guido is in control. He turns it into a game for Giosue, his son, not allowing him to see or understand the horrific reality of what’s happening. He keeps everything lighthearted, refusing to give in to the loss of hope, and tries to send messages to Dora, like saying “Buon giorno, principessa” through the speaker, so she knows everything is alright, all because of his deep love for his family.
As in life, the reversals found in these two works of art are connected to love. Because love is blind, it obstructs our view of the situation, not allowing us to see the flaws, and at times, stupidity. Hatred confusion, or sadness can cause one to shift their perspective and feelings, but when one truly sees, anything is possible, which Guido so beautifully expressed with his quick wit and imagination. Guido had learned from Schopenhaur’s philosophy, that anything is possible through willpower. What isn’t mentioned is that without love, there can be no willpower. Without love, there can be chaos. A synonym for chaos is formlessness, or disfigured. With the absence of love, your life is worthless and hasn’t been fully lived. Life is Beautiful and A Midsummer Night’s Dream reveal that with love, life can be beautiful and be far better than any dream, but there is no such thing as beauty without any flaws.