On the last day of my class at ICS, we watched a great BBC Shakespeare version of “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” starring very young incarnations of Helen Mirren and Judi Dench. Beyond the surreal, innovative and yet somehow inept editing (jump cuts galore!) and overwhelmingly “flower power” nature of the art design (Oberon, Titania and Puck looked like green aliens from the original “Star Trek”), it was quite helpful to see Shakespeare brought to life and not just read off a page. Above all, it was helpful to see how these famous lines from Theseus which we have been exploring in class fit into the context of the whole play. What a great passage with which to close off a semester of studying the imagination! I offer these words as a quote of the day. They make me think Raphael’s “School of Athens,” where Aristotle points resolutely at the ground and Plato at the vaulted sky… the true poet lies somewhere between the two, looking back and forth, synthesizing, collating, creating, not mistaking this world for all there is but also refusing to leave behind the particular, earthy and organic in favour of abstract universals. Yes, the poet deals with “airy nothing,” but she does not create ex nihilo… in the language of Tolkien, the creative artist is a sub-creator.
The poet’s eye, in fine frenzy rolling,
Doth glance from heaven to earth, from earth to heaven;
And as imagination bodies forth
The forms of things unknown, the poet’s pen
Turns them to shapes and gives to airy nothing
A local habitation and a name.