Supernatural Phenomena in The Tempest, Julius Caesar, and Midsummer Night’s Dream
The Oxford English Dictionary defines “supernatural” as something “that is out of the ordinary course of nature; beyond, surpassing, or differing from what is natural.” In light of this definition, I shall be discussing the plays The Tempest, Julius Caesar, and A Midsummer Night’s Dream through three successive pairings, drawing distinctions and comparisons between each play and its significant others as relate to some aspect of the supernatural realm.
In any discussion of two Shakespeare plays, the issue of chronology deserves at least a passing nod. In the case of The Tempest and A Midsummer Night’s Dream, knowledge of the chronology of the plays is of paramount importance in understanding the differences in tone, language, and the relationship dynamics between Oberon/Puck and Prospero/Ariel/Caliban. A Midsummer Night’s Dream came out roughly 1594-5, The Tempest around 1611-12, some seventeen years later. The development of Shakespeare’s imagination, as well as his powers as a playwright and poet, are certainly evident in The Tempest: The language is richer and more convoluted, the tone darker, more brooding, as are the characters (a feature characteristic of Shakespeare’s Jacobean phase), and the whole message of revenge transmuted into forgiveness and resignation is a remarkable departure from traditional Senecan motifs. Also, as often seen in the later plays, a particular character or group dynamic seen in an earlier play is updated, expanded, and elaborated upon, in this case that of Oberon and Puck.
In MND, Oberon is proud and imperious, but basically helps the course of true love run smooth in the end with the help of…
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…20th century might consider a quaint dramatic expedient, a colorful, fanciful, booga-booga quality, for the Elizabethan and Jacobean theatre-goer of the time, the world of fairies and ghosts and demons and witches was very much a real one, and it pays to bear this in mind when reading and attending the plays. To try and imagine that such things really people one’s world, really have a place somewhere in the immense chain of being, is to feel a very vital resonance within that nothing in the gray, bleak, so-called post-modern landscape can ever provide.
Badawi, M.M., Background to Shakespeare, London, MacMillan Education Ltd., 1981.
Boyce, Charles, Shakespeare A to Z, New York, Roundtable Press Inc., 1990.
All act, scene, and line number citations refer to the Arden editions of the various plays discussed in this monograph.