Midsummer Magic - WMODA | Wiener Museum

Midsummer Magic

A Midsummer Night's Dream is one of Shakespeare's most popular plays and has been portrayed frequently in ceramic art as can be seen in our Fantastique exhibition.

In ancient Greece, midsummer was marked with an event called Adonia when Adonis left the underworld to spend six months with his paramour Aphrodite. It was a spellbinding time to celebrate the bliss of lovers. In A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Shakespeare muses on various aspects of love and magic with a comical twist. Central to the plot is the marriage of Theseus, the Duke of Athens, to Hippolyta, the former queen of the Amazons. Much of the action takes place in a moonlight fairy forest where four young Athenian lovers experience a comedy of errors with mistaken identities. Puck’s mischievous magic is responsible for much of the chaotic comedy. Notably, he casts a spell on Titania, Queen of the Fairies, causing her to fall in love with the amateur actor Nick Bottom, who is transformed with the head of an ass.

A Midsummer Night’s Dream was particularly popular during the Victorian era when the play was staged as a spectacle with a huge cast. Usually women played the fairy King Oberon and the sprite Puck surrounded by gossamer-winged fairy ballerinas led by Titania. One of the most popular portrayals of Shakespeare’s fairy characters was a set of 12 printed tiles designed by Helen J. A. Miles for Wedgwood in the 1870s. They were made in different sizes and colors – blue, green, sepia and hand-tinted polychrome - and set into walls or furniture in Victorian homes.

Miss Miles also designed a set of tile panels for the Doulton pottery in Lambeth, which were inlaid in a mantelpiece at the Philadelphia exhibition in 1876. One of the unique hand-painted panels can be seen in the Fantastique exhibit. The Minton Pottery also included a scene from A Midsummer Night’s Dream in their set of Shakespearean tiles designed by J. Moyr Smith c.1874. Much rarer, however, is the pair of hand-painted vases depicting Titania and Oberon in the Fantastique exhibit.

In more recent years, Royal Doulton artists have designed figures of the characters from A Midsummer Night’s Dream. Titania by Pauline Parsons was a popular addition to the collection of Shakespearean heroines in 1995 and a comical figure of Bottom with the head of an ass was trialed for a series of Shakespearean characters but never put into production. Come and experience some midsummer magic at WMODA.