By Grant Mudge
The December full moon arrives at 12:12am on 12/12, known as the Full Cold Moon. It’s the same date we selected for Lavina Jadhwani’s master class, in anticipation of her production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream. The class will run from 7-9pm.
It’s known also as the Long Night’s Moon, and both names have roots in First Nation or Native American traditions, occurring as it does on near the longest night of the year, the Winter Solstice, this year the 21st. It’s also called the Moon Before Yule, the Oak Moon, and the Bitter Moon.
Naturally, this had me thinking of the Moon in Midsummer. Some of you may know Earth’s satellite plays a special role in my house.
There’s even a hint of direct reference in the play, though Theseus here is speaking more about Chastity than Winter, even contrasting with more Earthly fruitfulness:
“Therefore, fair Hermia, question your desires;
Know of your youth, examine well your blood,
Whether, if you yield not to your father’s choice,
You can endure the livery of a nun,
For aye to be in shady cloister mew’d,
To live a barren sister all your life,
Chanting faint hymns to the cold fruitless moon.
Thrice-blessed they that master so their blood,
To undergo such maiden pilgrimage;
But earthlier happy is the rose distill’d,
Than that which withering on the virgin thorn
Grows, lives and dies in single blessedness. ” I.i
It’s a distillation of the fertile growth of summer living on, perhaps in progeny. Like a flower distilled into perfume outliving the blossom itself.
The cycles of the Moon and the Seasons of course are often tied to fertility rites, marriages, and festivals whether of high summer, deep winter, or harvest. In the very first sentence of Shakespeare’s play, Theseus bemoans the slow approach of a new Moon, whose pace and chastity “lingers his desires.” Hippolyta assures him that the time will quickly pass and that the Moon will arrive in four days, “like to a silver bow/ New-bent in Heaven.” She will “behold the night of our solemnities.” One assumes chaste Diana will occasionally look away.
Moments later in the same scene, Egeus decries Lysander’s singing of feigning verses to Hermia “by moonlight” and of course the Queen of the Fairies herself proclaims the Moon to be “pale in her anger,” who “washes all the air that rheumatic diseases do abound,” among other disastrous climate changes. The speech is a key reason I’ve selected Midsummer for 2020.
The troupe of workmen rehearsing a play for Teseus and Hippolyta’s royal marriage need moonlight in their play because, “you know, Pyramus and Thisbe meet by moonlight.” Nick Bottom later greets the actor presenting Moonshine with “Sweet Moon, I thank thee for thy sunny beams.”
Even Cupid’s arrows are “quenched in the chaste beams of the watery Moon,” and after forty-seven other references, it is not Theseus who speaks the final mention of the Moon, as the Dream fades into morning, but Puck:
“Now the hungry lion roars,
And the wolf behowls the Moon.”
I’m intrigued and delighted to see that as we reach the antipodal solstice of our coming 20th Anniversary NDSF Season, the full Moon will usher in some winter cheer on the 12th day of December. Maybe we’ll howl at the Full Cold Moon.
It should be a terrific occasion and I look forward to everyone meeting Lavina Jadhwani.
See you then.
Read more here:: https://sites.nd.edu/shakespeare/midsummer-in-december/