Order and Disorder in A Midsummer Night’s Dream
Order and disorder is a favorite theme of Shakespeare. In A Midsummer Night’s Dream the apparently anarchic tendencies of the young lovers, of the mechanicals-as-actors, and of Puck are restrained by the “sharp Athenian law” and the law of the Palace Wood, by Theseus and Oberon, and their respective consorts. This tension within the world of the play is matched in its construction: in performance it can at times seem riotous and out of control, and yet the structure of the play shows a clear interest in symmetry and patterning.
Confronted by the “sharp” law of Athens, and not wishing to obey it, Lysander thinks of escape. But he has no idea that the wood, which he sees merely as a rendezvous before he and Hermia fly to his aunt, has its own law and ruler. As Theseus is compromised by his own law, so is Oberon. Theseus wishes to overrule Egeus, but knows that his own authority derives from the law, that this cannot be set aside when it does not suit the ruler’s wishes. He does discover a merciful provision of the law which Egeus has overlooked (for Hermia to choose “the livery of a nun”) but hopes to persuade Demetrius to relinquish his claim, insisting that Hermia take time before choosing her fate. The lovers’ difficulties are made clear by the law of Athens, but arise from their own passions: thus, when they enter the woods, they take their problems with them. Oberon is compromised because his quarrel with Titania has caused him and her to neglect their duties: Oberon, who should rule firmly over the entire fairy kingdom cannot rule in his own domestic arrangements. We see how each ruler, in turn, resolves this problem, without further breaking of his law.
In the lov…
… middle of paper …
…espeare’s control of the play proper. This is shown both on the small and the large scale. The linguistic variety of the play (see below) and the control of the four narrative strands are such that the play has enjoyed great success in performance. In the wood, Shakespeare will leave a group of characters alone for as long as he needs to, but we never lose touch with their story. It is typical of Shakespeare that the mortals we see first in the wood are Demetrius and Helena; at once the playwright shows us the cause of Demetrius’ rejection of Helena and lets us know that the other pair are also in the wood. We do not need to see Lysander and Hermia before they have lost their way, but we are ready for Puck’s mistake as he seeks one in “Athenian garments”.
Shakespeare, William. A Midsummer Night’s Dream. New York: Washington Square Press, 1993.