‘My Oberon! what visions have I seen! Methought I was enamoured of an ass.’
This Thursday is the longest day of the year, also known as the summer solstice, or Midsummer. And what better way to illustrate Midsummer than a scene from Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream.
Henri Fuseli has painted Act IV Scene I, where Oberon punishes his fairy Queen Titania by giving her a love potion which causes her to fall in love with one of a company of players in the forest, Nick Bottom, who has been given an ass’s head.
This supernatural fairy comedy seems like an ideal subject for Fuseli, whose paintings often feature dreams, spirits and other worlds, including other scenes from Shakespeare’s plays (see Lady Macbeth Seizing the Daggers).
The magical nature of the play suits this time of year well too; I don’t know if we’re driven mad by the heat, but midsummer has a hedonistic and slightly surreal feel to it, and since the 13th century Britain has celebrated it with feasts, bonfires and merrymaking. How are you going to celebrate?