Complete List of Shakespeare Plays on DVD, Including Two Versions of A Midsummer Night's Dream
A Midsummer Night's Dream
A Study Guide
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Type of Work
Composition and Publication
Plot Summary
Structure and Language
Nature and Animal Imagery
Use of Couplets
Character Habitats
Study Questions
Essay Topics
Complete Free Text
Study Guide Prepared by Michael J. Cummings...© 2003

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Type of Work

.......A Midsummer Night's Dream is a stage play in the form for a comedy. 

Composition and Publication
.......Shakespeare probably wrote the play between 1594 and 1596. It was published in 1600 and 1619 quarto editions and then in 1623 as part of the First Folio, the first authorized collection of Shakespeare's plays. 


.......Shakespeare based parts of the play on The Knight's Tale, by Geoffrey Chaucer (1340?-1400). Chaucer's story has an entirely different plot, but the setting and two of the main charactersTheseus and Hyppolytaare the same. Other sources Shakespeare used include The Golden Ass, by Apuleius (2nd Century AD); Life of Theseus, by Plutarch (46?-120?); and possibly King James the Fourth, by Robert Greene (1560?-1592). Pyramis and Thisby, the play within the play, is based on passages in Metamorphoses (Book IV), by Ovid (43 BC.-AD 17). The character Puck appeared as Robin Goodfellow in a 1593 play, Terrors of the Night, by Thomas Nashe (1567-1601). Edmund Spenser referred to a devilish sprite called Pook in Epithalamium.(1595), and Shakespeare may have adopted Pook and changed his name to Puck.

.......The action takes place in Athens and nearby woods during the age of myth in ancient Greece. However, the play has the atmosphere and lighthearted mood of a land of enchantment which could be anywhere. Although the characters reside in the environs of Athens, many of them speak and act like Elizabethan Englishmen. The time of the action is June 24. In Elizabethan England, Midsummer Day—the feast of Saint John the Baptist—fell on that date. It was a time of feasting and merriment. On Midsummer Night, fairies, hobgoblins and witches held their festival. To dream about Midsummer Night, therefore, was to dream about strange creatures and strange happenings—like those in the play.

Protagonists: The Various Lovers; Puck, the Main Trickster Who Invigorates the Plot and Informs the Audience That the Story Is Not to be Taken Seriously
Antagonists: Egeus and the Tricks and Pitfalls Facing the Lovers
Theseus: Duke of Athens. He orders lavish festivities and merriment for his marriage to Hippolyta, queen of the Amazons, telling her "I will wed thee . . . with pomp, with triumph and with revelling." Theseus and Hippolyta represent ideal, mature love against which the immature love of the other couplesincluding Oberon and Titaniais to be measured.
Hippolyta: Queen of the Amazons, a race of women warriors, and a former battlefield foe of Theseus. She is his wife-to-be. According to one tale in Greek mythology, Theseus first made war on the Amazons in their homeland on the Black Sea; they, in turn, invaded Greece in the region of Athens. In this tale, Theseus marries an Amazon queen named Antiope, who is the daughter of the war god Ares (Mars). 
Hermia: Strong-willed young woman in love with Lysander. She refuses to marry Demetrius, her father's choice for her. Her father asks Theseus to settle the dispute.
Egeus: Hermia's father.
Lysander, Demetrius: Young men in love with Hermia.
Helena: Young woman in love with Demetrius.
Philostrate: Master of the revels for Duke Theseus.
Bottom: Weaver who plays Pyramus in the tradesmen's play.
Peter Quince: Carpenter who plays Thisby's father in the tradesmen's play. He also recites the prologue.
Snug: Joiner (Cabinetmaker) who plays a lion in the tradesmen's play.
Francis Flute: Bellows-mender who plays Thisby in the tradesmen's play..
Tom Snout: Tinker who plays Pyramis's father.
Robin Starveling: Tailor who plays Thisby's mother.
Oberon: King of the fairies.
Titania: Queen of the fairies.
Puck (Robin Goodfellow): Mischievous sprite who acts on behalf of Oberon. He can take the form of any creature or thinghog, bear, horse, dog, and even fire. 
Peaseblossom, Cobweb, Moth, Mustardseed: Fairies.
Other Fairies Attending Their King and Queen
Attendants of Theseus and Hippolyta
.... .

.......The action takes place in Athens and nearby woods during the age of myth in ancient Greece. However, the play has the atmosphere and lighthearted mood of a land of enchantment which could be anywhere. Although the characters reside in the environs of Athens, many of them speak and act like Elizabethan Englishmen. The time of the action is June 24. 
.......In Elizabethan England, Midsummer Daythe feast of Saint John the Baptistfell on that date. It was a time of feasting and merriment. On Midsummer Night, fairies, hobgoblins and witches held their festival. To dream about Midsummer Night, therefore, was to dream about strange creatures and strange happeningslike those in the play.

Plot Summary
By Michael J. Cummings...© 2003
 ......Only four days remain until the marriage of Theseus, Duke of Athens, to Hippolyta, Queen of the Amazons. When eager Theseus bemoans how lazily the hours pass, Hippolyta observes:

Four days will quickly steep themselves in night;
Four nights will quickly dream away the time;
And then the moon, like to a silver bow1
New-bent in heaven, shall behold the night
Of our solemnities. (1. 1. 9-13)
......To prepare for the wedding, Theseus orders his master of revels, Philostrate, to “Stir up the Athenian youth to merriments; / Awake the pert and nimble spirit of mirth" (1. 1. 15-16). After Philostrate leaves to go about his task, one of the duke’s subjects, Egeus, arrives with a complaint about his headstrong daughter, Hermia. With him besides Hermia are two Athenian youths, Lysander and Demetrius. Egeus has commanded his daughter to marry Demetrius, but she has vowed instead to marry Lysander. Egeus now wants Hermia to swear before the duke that she will marry Demetrius or suffer the penalty of an ancient law decreeing that a disobedient daughter shall either be put to death or banished. After hearing the full complaint, Duke Theseus reminds Hermia of her duty to obey her father, saying, “To you your father should be as a god" (1. 1. 51).
......The duke then warns her that if she does not change her mind on this matter before the new moon, he will have no choice but to enforce the ancient law. Hermia and Lysander decide they will steal away to the woods the following night, and Hermia confides the plan to her friend Helena. Bad move. Helena is a blabbermouth who loves the man Hermia rejected, Demetrius. To gain favor with him, she informs him of Hermia’s plan. 
......Meanwhile, tradesmen in Athens plan to put on a play as part of the festivities celebrating the wedding of Theseus and Hippolyta. Among them are Bottom, a weaver; Snout; a tinker; Snug, a joiner; Quince, a carpenter; and Flute, a bellows-mender. Their play is to be called The most lamentable comedy, and most cruel death of Pyramus and Thisby2. Although the workmen know nothing of play-making, they fancy themselves great wits and great actors. When Bottom is told he will play Pyramus, a young man who kills himself after mistakenly thinking his beloved Thisby is dead, Bottom predicts he will be a hit who will win the audience’s sympathy: “That will ask some tears in the true performing of it: if I do it, let the audience look to their eyes; I will move storms. . ." (1. 2. 14).
......To avoid the scrutiny of curious eyes, the actors decide to rehearse in the woods on the morrow. In the woods are fairies who have traveled from India to pronounce their blessing on the bed of Theseus and Hyppolyta. But all is not well with fairykind, for the queen of the fairies, Titania, will not give her husband, King Oberon, a changeling3 boy he wants as a page. Oberon and Titania argue violently over the boy, so violently that the forest elves take refuge in acorn cups. But Titania stands fast. In revenge, Oberon orders his fairy mischief-maker, Puck, to harvest a magical flower whose juice, when squeezed on the eyelids of Titania while she sleeps, will cause her to fall in love with the first creature she sees upon awakening, perhaps a monster. Puck says he will circle the earth and, within forty minutes, produce the flower. After Puck zooms off, Oberon relishes his dastardly scheme, saying:
Having once this juice,
I’ll watch Titania when she is asleep,
And drop the liquor of it in her eyes.
The next thing then she waking looks upon,
Be it on lion, bear, or wolf, or bull,
On meddling monkey, or on busy ape,
She shall pursue it with the soul of love:
And ere I take this charm from off her sight,
As I can take it with another herb,
I’ll make her render up her page [the changeling] to me. (2. 1. 183-192)
......After Lysander and Hermia escape, Demetrius wanders into fairy territory in search of Hermia, ignoring the lovestruck Helena who trails after him like a lapdog. Oberon, feeling sorry for Helena, orders Puck to squeeze the juice of the magic flower on the eyelids of Demetrius to make him fall in love with Helena. Oberon then ventures forth and squeezes flower juice on the eyelids of Titania, who is sleeping peacefully in a bed of violets and thyme. Puck, meanwhile, mistakenly squeezes flower juice on the eyelids of Lysander while he is sleeping with Hermia at his side. Upon awakening, Lysander’s gaze falls upon Helena, who is wandering in search of Demetrius. 
......Lysander woos her. When she flees, he pursues her. After Hermia awakens and notices Lysander is gone, she wanders forth in search of him. 
......As the tradesmen rehearse their play, they discuss having someone play the moon in case it is overcast on the night of the play. And, because the play calls for Pyramus and Thisby to talk through a chink in the wall, Bottom suggests someone also be recruited to play the wall: "Some man or other must present Wall: and let him have some plaster, or some loam, or some rough-cast about him, to signify wall; and let him hold his fingers thus,4 and through that cranny shall Pyramus. . . and Thisby whisper" (3. 1. 25).
......When Puck happens by, he makes mischief by placing the head of an ass on Bottom’s shoulders. Upon seeing Bottom with his new top, the other actors flee in terror. Bewildered, Bottom thinks they are trying to scare him, so he strolls about singing a song to demonstrate his fearlessness. The song awakens Titania, and the flower juice makes her fall deeply in love with Bottom, whom she escorts away. Demetrius encounters Hermia, who accuses him of murdering Lysander. When she runs away, he lies down to sleep. 
......Oberon, meanwhile, has discovered that Puck bewitched the eyes of the wrong man,  Lysander rather than Demetrius. So he puts flower juice on the eyes of Demetrius while Puck fetches Helena. When she arrives, pursued by Lysander, Demetrius falls in love with her. 
......As both men compete for her attentions, she concludes that they are only ridiculing her. Hermia, attracted to the scene by the noise, blames Helena for stealing Lysander. 
......The men go off to fight a duel. Helena, afraid of Hermia, flees; Hermia pursues. Oberon assigns Puck to restore order. Using magic, he causes the four young people to fall asleep near one another, then applies the juice of another flower to Lysander’s eyes to undo the previous spell. Titania sleeps with Bottom. Oberon, having gained possession of the changeling boy, removes the enchantment from Titania’s eyes.
......At daybreak, Theseus, Hippolyta, Egeus, and others enter the woods to hunt. Sounding horns, they awaken the four lovers. Egeus again demands that Hermia marry Demetrius. But Demetrius announces that he is interested only in Helena. Theseus, pleased with the outcome, sanctions the marriage of the two couples to coincide with his own marriage to Hippolyta. Theseus is amused by the activities of the lovers during their time in the forest and says:
Lovers and madmen have such seething brains,
Such shaping fantasies, that apprehend
More than cool reason ever comprehends.
The lunatic, the lover and the poet.
Are of imagination all compact. (5. 1. 6-10)
In the evening, during the wedding celebration, the craftsmen put on their play, with Snout playing Wall and Bottom enacting his tour de force suicide scene:
Thus die I, thus, thus, thus. [Stabs himself.]
Now am I dead,
Now am I fled;
My soul is in the sky:
Tongue, lose thy light;
Moon take thy flight.
Now die, die, die, die, die. [Dies.] (5. 1. 277-283)
......Thisby, discovering Pyramus dead, then kills herself. Bottom gets back up and asks Theseus whether he would like hear an epilogue or see a dance. Theseus opts for a dance, then says it is time for bed:
The iron tongue of midnight hath told twelve:5
Lovers, to bed; ’tis almost fairy time.
I fear we shall out-sleep the coming morn
As much as we this night have overwatch’d.
This palpable-gross play hath well beguiled
The heavy gait of night. Sweet friends, to bed.
A fortnight hold we this solemnity,
In nightly revels and new jollity. (5. 1. 322-329)
......At midnight, the bridal couples retire to their chambers. Oberon and Titania dance and sing as they bless the blissful sleepers while Puck bids good night to the audience.
... .
Structure and Language
.......Shakespeare layers the story of the marriage of Theseus and Hippolyta upon the story of other lovers pursuing one another in a forest inhabited by mischievous fairies. To these stories he adds still another: the misadventures of a group of tradesmen who rehearse and stage a play for the wedding of Theseus and Hippolyta. Shakespeare skillfully arranges all of the story lines into a unified wholea kind of symphony, with a major theme and many recurring motifs. He even blends ancient and Elizabethan societies and customs into his mix. 
.......The language of the characters likewise occurs in a mix: (1) the verse or poetry of the love-struck couples and (2) the homespunand often humorousprose of the bumbling tradesmen. Examples of the verse and poetry appear below under allusions, nature and animal imagery, and couplets. Examples of the tradesmen’s humorous dialogue are the following:
That will ask some tears in the true performing of it: if I do it, let the audience look to their eyes; I will move storms. (1. 2. 14)
Bottom uses hyperbole to predict the effect of his acting on the audience.

Nay, faith, let not me play a woman; I have a beard coming. (1. 2. 20)
Flute speaks this line.

SNUG   Have you the lion’s part written? pray you, if it be, give it me, for I am slow of study.
QUINCE   You may do it extempore, for it is nothing but roaring. (1. 2. 30-31)
Snug and Quince discuss Snug’s role as the lion.


.......The play reaches its climax near the end of Act IV, after all of the lovers overcome their obstacles and leave for the temple to be united in marriage.

Love ultimately triumphs in the end. Despite all the obstacles they face, the central characters eventually unite with the ones they love.
Love presents pitfalls. All of the lovers encounter mishaps before they achieve their heart's desiremarriage to the one they exalt above all others. As Lysander tells Hermia in Act I, Scene I, "The course of true love never did run smooth" (Line 134).
Appearances are deceiving. Again and againthanks in part to Puckish pranksreality wears a deceptive mask.
Father does not always know best. Egeus orders his daughter Hermia to marry a man she does not love. Hermia protests and runs away. In the end, Egeus is proven wrong.
Dream the impossible dream. Bottom, Snug, Snout, Quince and Fluteall bumbling comic charactersfancy themselves great actors and wits. So they put on a play. The moral: Dare to dream and your dream will come trueor at least you will have fun and enjoy life.
.......In keeping with the ancient Mediterranean setting, the characters allude often to gods and other personages in Greek and Roman myth and legend. Among those alluded to are the following: 
Diana (1. 1. 94): Roman name of Artemis, goddess of the moon and the hunt.
Cupid (1. 1. 175): Roman name for the Greek god of love, Eros, who shot arrows at humans to wound them with love.
Venus (1. 1. 177): Roman name for the Greek goddess of love, Aphrodite. She was the mother of Cupid. 
Dido (1. 1. 179): Dido is not referred to by name but by the designation Carthage queen, meaning she was the queen of the North African country of Carthage. She appears in Virgil’s great epic poem, The Aeneid. Dido falls desperately in love with The Aeneid’s main character, Aeneas, after he stops in Carthage on his way from Troy to Italy. But after he abandons her, she kills herself by falling on a sword. At sea on his ship, Aeneas can see Carthage glowing with the flames of Dido’s funeral pyre. 
Aeneas (1. 1. 180): See Dido, above.
Ariadne (2. 1. 84): Daughter of King Minos of Crete. She gave Theseus a thread that enabled him to find his way out of the labyrinth, a maze constructed to house the Minotaur, a creature with the head of a bull and the body of a man.
Neptune (2. 1. 131): Roman name of Poseidon, god of the sea.
Apollo and Daphne (2. 1. 239): Apollo—god of poetry, music, medicine, and the sun—pursued the nymph Daphne, daughter of a river god. After she prayed for a way to escape Apollo, her father changed her into a laurel tree. Apollo later used the leaves of the laurel in wreaths with which victors of various contests were crowned.
Hercules (4. 1.98): Greek demigod known for his feats of strength.
Cadmus (4. 1.98): Son of the king of Phoenicia and founder of the Greek city of Thebes.
Jove (5. 1. 181): One of two Roman names for Zeus, the king of the Olympian gods. The other Roman name is Jupiter.
.......Following is an example of a passage, spoken by Hermia, alluding to personages of myth and legend. The allusions are to Cupid (second line), Venus (fourth line), Dido (sixth line, referred to as Carthage queen), and Aeneas (seventh line, referred to as Troyan). 
My good Lysander!
I swear to thee, by Cupid’s strongest bow [see Cupid, above], 
By his best arrow with the golden head,
By the simplicity of Venus’ [see Venus, above] doves,
By that which knitteth souls and prospers loves,
And by that fire which burn’d the Carthage queen [see Dido, above],
When the false Troyan [false Trojan, Aeneas] under sail was seen,
By all the vows that ever men have broke,
In number more than ever women spoke,
In that same place thou hast appointed me,
To-morrow truly will I meet with thee. (1. 1. 174-184)
Nature and Animal Imagery

Nature and animal imagery also abounds in the play, helping to maintain the “enchanted forest" atmosphere. Oberon’s description of the place where Titania sleeps is an example of this imagery:

    I know a bank where the wild thyme blows,
    Where oxlips and the nodding violet grows,
    Quite over-canopied with luscious woodbine,
    With sweet musk-roses and with eglantine:
    There sleeps Titania sometime of the night,
    Lull'd in these flowers with dances and delight;
    And there the snake throws her enamell'd skin,
    Weed wide enough to wrap a fairy in. (2. 1. 259-266)
The song of the fairies in Act II, Scene II, is another example. It emphasizes the spooky creatures that inhabit the forest.
    You spotted snakes with double tongue,
    Thorny hedgehogs, be not seen;
    Newts and blind-worms, do no wrong,
    Come not near our fairy queen.
    Philomel,6 with melody 
    Sing in our sweet lullaby;
    Lulla, lulla, lullaby, lulla, lulla, lullaby:
    Never harm,
    Nor spell nor charm,
    Come our lovely lady nigh;
    So, good night, with lullaby.
    Weaving spiders, come not here;
    Hence, you long-legg'd spinners, hence!
    Beetles black, approach not near;
    Worm nor snail, do no offence. (2. 2. 12)
Use of Couplets

Sometimes characters speak in couplets. (A couplet consists of two successive lines with end rhyme). Here are two examples:

    Captain of our fairy band,
    Helena is here at hand;
    And the youth, mistook by me,
    Pleading for a lover's fee.
    Shall we their fond pageant see?
    Lord, what fools these mortals be! (Puck: 3. 2. 116-121)

    Now, until the break of day
    Through this house each fairy stray
    To the best bride-bed will we
    Which by us shall blessed be
    And the issue there create
    Ever shall be fortunate. (Oberon: 5. 2. 33-38) 

The lovers also sometimes speak in couplets, but their imagery is frequently overwrought as Shakespeare mocks their quixotic wooing. An example of intentionally sugared rhymes is the following passage spoken by Demetrius upon awakening:
O Helena, goddess, nymph, perfect, divine!
To what, my love, shall I compare thine eyne?
Crystal is muddy. O, how ripe in show
Thy lips, those kissing cherries, tempting grow!
That pure congealed white, high Taurus snow,
Fann'd with the eastern wind, turns to a crow
When thou hold'st up thy hand: O, let me kiss
This princess of pure white, this seal of bliss! (3. 2. 144-151)
.Character Habitats

Shakespeare's plays frequently present characters in settings far removed from urban centers. However, they generally are creatures of the city, the court, the vibrant life where people throng. Consider the following observation: 

    Shakespeare's characters are . . . dubious of rusticity. Valentine [in The Two Gentlemen of Verona] does not rejoice in his woodland life as head of an outlaw band; the lovers of A [Midsummer Night's] Dream find their woodland adventure unnerving, and mountain life seems rude to the characters in Cymbeline who are forced to endure it. Although Florizel [in The Winter's Tale] dreams of spending his life with Perdita in a cottage, she knows that pastoral bliss is only a dream; true content lies in Leontes' court, to which all the characters . . . return. Even Prospero [in The Tempest], who has no great desire to see Milan again, knows that he and Miranda must leave their island, which is as much prison as refuge to them. Although critics can idealize the pastoral experiences of Shakespeare's characters as renewing contacts with nature, that experience is often somewhat harrowing.Shakespeare's Comedies From Roman Farce to Romantic Mystery. Newark: U of Delaware, 1986 (Page 144).
Study Questions and Essay Topics
  • When Hermia’s father opposes her choice of husbands, Duke Theseus tells her not to go against her father’s wishes, saying, “To you ....your father should be as a god." Is Theseus right?
  • The play ends with a triple wedding. Do you believe those getting married will stay married? 
  • Write an informative essay focusing on what a typical wedding was like in Shakespeare’s day.
  • Puck’s magic spells cause several characters to fall in love with the wrong persons. Are there “magic spells" in real life that affect people this way?
  • Hippolyta, bethrothed to Theseus, is the queen of the Amazons, who play prominent roles in various stories in Greek mythology. Who were the Amazons? 
  • German composer Felix Mendelssohn (1809-1847) wrote music based on the themes in A Midsummer Night’s Dream. One of these compositions inspired by Shakespeare’s play accompanies a ceremony performed tens of thousands of times in churches throughout the world every year. What is this ceremony? What is the composition? 
  • Write an essay focusing on one of the themes of the play.

1. Moon . . . bow: New moon, crescent-shaped.
2. Thisby: Thisbe, the lover of Pyramus. Both were Babylonians were the subject of a story by the Roman poet Ovid (AD 43 BC-17) in his Metamorphoses. When Pyramus thinks a lion has killed Thisbe, he kills himself. Thisbe is still alive, however. But when she discovers the body of Pyramus, she also kills herself.
3. Changeling: Child whom fairies substitute for another.
4. Fingers thus: Held apart, in a V shape, to represent the chink. 
5. The iron tongue . . . twelve: Clapper of the bell strikes midnight.
6. Philomel: nightingale.

Plays on DVD (or VHS) 
Play Director Actors
Antony and Cleopatra (1974) Trevor Nunn, John Schoffield Richard Johnson, Janet Suzman
Antony and Cleopatra BBC Production  Jane Lapotaire 
As You Like It (2010)  Thea Sharrock Jack Laskey, Naomi Frederick
As You Like It (1937)  Paul Czinner Henry Ainley, Felix Aylmer
The Comedy of Errors BBC Production Not Listed
Coriolanus BBC Production  Alan Howard, Irene Worth
Cymbeline Elijah Moshinsky Claire Bloom, Richard Johnson, Helen Mirren
Gift Box: The Comedies BBC Production Various
Gift Box: The Histories BBC Production Various
Gift Box: The Tragedies BBC Production Various
Hamlet (1948)  Laurence Olivier Laurence Olivier, Jean Simmons
Hamlet (1990)  Kevin Kline Kevin Kline
Hamlet(1991)  Franco Zeffirelli Mel Gibson, Glenn Close
Hamlet (1996)  Kenneth Branagh Kenneth Branagh, 
Hamlet (2009) Gregory Doran David Tennant, Patrick Stewart, Penny Downie
Hamlet (1964)  John Gielgud, Bill Colleran Richard Burton, Hume Cronyn
Hamlet (1964)  Grigori Kozintsev Innokenti Smoktunovsky
Hamlet (2000)  Cambpell Scott, Eric Simonson Campbell Scott, Blair Brown
Henry V (1989)  Kenneth Branagh Kenneth Branaugh, Derek Jacobi
Henry V( 1946)  Laurence Olivier Leslie Banks, Felix Aylmer
Henry VI Part I BBC Production Peter Benson, Trevor Peacock
Henry VI Part II BBC Production  Not Listed
Henry VI Part III BBC Production  Not Listed
Henry VIII BBC Production John Stride, Claire Bloom, Julian Glover
Julius Caesar BBC Production  Richard Pasco, Keith Michell
Julius Caesar (1950)  David Bradley Charlton Heston
Julius Caesar (1953)  Joseph L. Mankiewicz Marlon Brando, James Mason
Julius Caesar (1970)  Stuart Burge Charlton Heston, Jason Robards
King John BBC Production  Not Listed
King Lear (1970) Grigori Kozintsev Yuri Yarvet
King Lear (1971) Peter Brook Cyril Cusack, Susan Engel
King Lear (1974)  Edwin Sherin James Earl Jones
King Lear (1976)  Tony Davenall Patrick Mower, Ann Lynn
King Lear (1984)  Michael Elliott Laurence Olivier, Colin Blakely
King Lear (1997)  Richard Eyre Ian Holm
Love's Labour's Lost (2000) Kenneth Branagh Kenneth Branagh, Alicia Silverstone 
Love's Labour's Lost  BBC Production)