Year 2 / Issue 16 / Midsummer night in High Park / Mei Shao

Midsummer Night in High Park
By: Mei Shao


Every summer, the Canadian Stage Company puts on a selected Shakespearean play in High Park’s amphitheatre. This annual event is called “Dream in High Park” and is very popular with Torontonians, not just for theatre lovers but for families as well. It typically runs from the first Tuesday after the midsummer day until the Labour Day weekend, every day except Monday. The 2011 season starts on June 28th.

In the past years, many of Shakespeare’s popular plays have been put on this outdoor stage, including Romeo and Juliet, A Midsummer Night's Dream, The Tempest. I have been an audience twice at this annual event and have watched A Midsummer Night’s Dream and The Tempest. I have to say this theatre experience is totally different from what you would imagine in a classic theatre where people put on their Sunday best and socialize in the intermission with a glass of wine in their hands, nodding and smiling. In a traditional indoor theatre, you will not see kids, popcorns or hotdogs, whereas at High Park Midsummer Night, you can sit on the steps or on the grass under the stars, eat your sandwich and drink your pop while watching a Shakespearean play. Anyone is welcome. So it doesn’t matter if it’s a friends’ get-together, a family outing or even a girls’ night, Midsummer Night in High Park is a perfect place to be.  

This year is the 29th birthday for this Toronto summer tradition and Canadian Stage Company will feature William Shakespeare's romantic comedy The Winter's Tale: a classic play of two fairytale worlds brought to life with magic, mystery and music. Some critics consider this play to be one of Shakespeare's "problem plays", because the first three acts are filled with intense psychological drama, while the last two acts are comedic and supply a happy ending.

Leontes, King of Sicilia, and Polixenes, the King of Bohemia, are two childhood friends. Polixenes is visiting the kingdom of Sicilia, and is enjoying catching up with his old friend. However, after nine months, Polixenes wants to return to his own kingdom to tend to affairs and see his son. Leontes tries to get Polixenes to stay longer, but is unsuccessful. Leontes then sends his wife, Queen Hermione, to try to persuade Polixenes. Hermione agrees and succeeds in making Polixenes stay. Leontes is puzzled as to how Hermione convinced Polixenes so easily, and is suddenly obsessed with the insane idea that his pregnant wife has been having an affair with Polixenes and that the child is a bastard. Leontes orders Camillo, a Sicilian Lord, to poison Polixenes.

When Camillo instead warns Polixenes and they both flee to Bohemia, Leontes arrests Hermione on charges of adultery and conspiracy against his life. Paulina, a woman of the court and an ardent friend to Hermione, attempts to visit Hermione but can only get to see her handmaid, who reports Hermione has prematurely given birth to a daughter in prison. Paulina, hoping the sight of his child will convince him where words have not, takes the child to Leontes. Leontes angrily dismisses all attempts to convince him he is wrong and he believes the child to be the bastard of Polixenes and Hermione. So he orders Antigonus, Paulina’s husband, to abandon the infant far away.

At her trial for treason, Hermione delivers a heart-rending speech that fails to move Leontes. A report from the Oracle on the Isle of Delphos pronounces her innocence, but Leontes defies the oracle. But he then immediately receives word that his young son, Mamillius, has died of grief, a fulfillment of another of the Oracle's prophecies. Hermione faints and is reported to have died. Leontes laments his poor judgment and promises to grieve for his dead wife and son every day for the rest of his life.

Antigonus follows Leontes' earlier instructions to abandon Hermione's newborn daughter on the seacoast of Bohemia. Antigonus recalls that Hermione told him the night before to name the child "Perdita" (Latin: 'lost'). He wishes to take pity on the child, but Antigonus is then suddenly pursued and eaten by a bear. Fortunately, Perdita is rescued by a shepherd and his son also known as "Clown." There is a large amount of money with the baby and the shepherd is now very rich.

Sixteen years later, in Bohemia, Polixenes and Camillo become aware that Florizel (Polixenes' son) has become infatuated with a shepherdess. They attend a sheep-shearing festival (in disguise) and confirm that the young Prince Florizel plans to marry a shepherd's beautiful young daughter (Perdita, who knows nothing of her royal heritage). Polixenes objects to the marriage and threatens the young couple. Quickly, the lovers flee to Sicilia with the help of Camillo, and Polixenes pursues them. Eventually, with a bit of help from a comical pickpocket named Autolycus, Perdita's heritage is revealed and she reunites with her father Leontes. The kings are reconciled and both approve of Florizel and Perdita's marriage. They all go to visit a statue of Hermione kept by Paulina. Miraculously, the statue comes to life and speaks, appearing to be the real Hermione, who went into hiding to await the fulfillment of the oracle's prophecy and be reunited with her daughter.

If you like the romance, remember the date of the beginning of this season is June 28th. The show starts at 8pm but gate will be open at 6pm. If you do decide to be part of this enchanting outdoor theatre experience under the stars, make sure you are there early to get a good spot. Also remember to check the weather to make sure there is no cancellation. It would also be a good idea to bring some blanket, cushion or folding chair to make you comfortable. General admission is free for children of 14 and under, and pay-what you-can for adults ($20 suggested minimum donation). For more information, please check Canadian Stage website at:

Enjoy the show!