In A Midsummer Night’s Dream, William Shakespeare plays with ideas of sight and reality. Sight, eyes, and the gaze become crucial themes in this seemingly light-hearted play. They appear constantly in the language of all of the characters, beyond the obvious role in the power of the magic potion. The fact that the play takes place at night is also a crucial aspect of the prevalence of vision as a theme. Here, it is the reduced vision, the effect of darkness, that the characters must endure. This night setting creates a world of transformation and unrealistic change. Even when vision goes seemingly unhampered, in the daylight scenes in the wood, it is deluded by a magic potion. Essentially, there is never pure sight. Warped vision poses an especially serious problem in the play because Shakespeare shows us the folly of characters who trust their eyes too dearly, without the capacity to judge what they see. In a space where sight reigns above reason, chaos readily ensues. This is a world where minds are controlled by eyes, and therefore inadequate in perception. The final solution is to find a compromise between the world of reason, and the world of sensory perception.Sight is a theme alluded to constantly in the details of Shakespeare’s language. Descriptions of love are often steeped in references to sight. When Hermia describes her love for Lysander, she claims that “Before the time I did Lysander see,/Seem’d Athens as a paradise to me,” (I.i, ll.204-205) therefore placing all the impetus of her emotion in the power of her eyes. Helena also uses this sight-terminology when she discussed her feelings for Demetrius: “It is not night when I do see your face,/Therefore I think I am not in the night/…How can it be said I am alone,/When all the world is here to look on me?” (II.i, ll.221-222, 225-226). Demetrius says “The object and the pleasure of mine eye/Is only Helena,” (IV.i, ll.170-171) when he realizes that he loves her. Eyes seem to be a favorite topic for many of the characters, appearing enough to betray a conscious choice by Shakespeare. In referring to Hermia’s beauty, her eyes are constantly the subject of both praise and jealousy. Helena complains “Happy is Hermia, wheresoe’er she lies,/For she hath blessed and attractive eyes./How came her eyes so bright? Not with salt tears;/If so, my eyes are oft’ner wash’d than hers” (II.ii, ll.90-93). Theseus repeats such references in his speechifying: “…The lover, all as frantic,/Sees Helen’s beauty in a brow of Egypt./The poet’s eye, in a fine frenzy rolling,/Doth glance from heaven to earth, from earth to heaven” (V.i, ll.10-13). This is one of many quotations discussing the gaze, and therefore yet another example of Shakespeare’s careful inclusion of this specific subject.The plot is essentially driven by the sight theme. The narrative is constructed by the consequences of displacing, confusing, and playing with vision. Oberon sets the story in motion by meddling with the eyes of Titania and Lysander. The magic potion that creates all of the confusion (and therefore action) of the play because when “on sleeping eyelids laid/[it] will make a man or woman madly dote/Upon the next live creature that it sees” (II.i, ll.170-173). The properties of this potion create obvious potential for references to eyes and sight, creating a plot that dwells upon several sets of eyelids. But the question of vision is not simply answered by the magic potion. Oberon is jealous in the first place because he trusts what he sees more than what he hears. Puck warns a fairy to “Take heed the Queen come not within his sight;/For Oberon is passing fell and wrath,/Because that she as her attendant hath/A lovely boy stolen from an Indian king” (II.i, ll.19-22). Titania explains that she is raising the boy out of love for an old friend. But because Oberon sees Titania with a beautiful young boy, he ignores the reason behind it, and bases his jealousy on what he sees before him. Titania is doting on someone. Reason is insignificant. The sight alone is worthy of revenge for him.Shakespeare is careful to show us the danger in basing decision on sight alone. Part of the reign of vision in the events of play is its capacity for mistake when removed from reason. Just as Oberon trusts his mistaken sight with Titania’s changeling, he assumes Puck can find Demetrius based on how he looks. Puck is told to assume Demetrius’ identity based solely on “the Athenian garments he hath on” (II.ii, l.264). Puck indeed sees a set of Athenian garments and distributes the potion, but he chooses the wrong person because his only guide is what he sees. Again, the plot is driven by an assumption that is misplaced because it is based on nothing but sight. It is clear that Shakespeare sees danger in a world where reason, and words, are eclipsed by pure vision. The decisions made by Oberon stand to prove this point, and they also happen to drive the plot of the play. They are part of the world of magic and fantasy, where nothing beyond sensory reaction is considered, and frantic consequences thus ensue.Oberon is not the only character that affects the plot of the play in terms of sight. The four human characters all make the decision to flee Athens by night, therefore consciously entering into a half-lit world where vision is certainly reduced. Oberon puts it best when he calls his endeavors “night-rule about this haunted grove” (III.ii, l.5), alluding to the mysterious quality of the forest at night. The wood becomes associated with darkness, and Athens with light. Helena cries “O weary night, O long and tedious night,/Abate thy hours! Shine, comforts, from the east,/That I may back to Athens by daylight” (III.iii, ll.431-433). Athens is also representative of reason, of law. Lysander suggests the wood because “…to that place the sharp Athenian law/Cannot pursue us” (I.i, l.62-63). Oberon sees this dichotomy too, as he predicts that when his victims all awake, they will “all to Athens back again repair/And think no more of this nights accidents/But as the fierce vexation of a dream” (IV.i, ll.66-68). Athens, the realm of justice and reason, will allow the characters to think about and categorize all of the strange sights they’ve seen in the forest. Their judgement will allow them to call this “dream”. The wood is thus embraced once more as a free space, where reason is suspended. This is certainly a point of the vision theme. It is a sensory substitute for reason, an alternative that proves both entertaining and inadequate.Reason and vision cross in several crucial moments, allowing Shakespeare to draw them clearly into the foreground as related subjects. Lysander mixes them up when he explains his change of heart to Helena: “The will of man is by reason sway’d;/And reason says you are the worthier maid./Things growing are not ripe until their season,/So I, being young, till now ripe not to reason;/And touching now the point of human skill,/Reason leads me to your eyes, where I o’erlook/Love’s stories written in Love’s richest book” (III.i, ll.115-122). This is a crucial signpost for a reader. We know that Lysander has chosen because of what he awoke to see. The repetition of the word reason so thoroughly through the passage signals a connection. It is clear that this magic place somehow blurs the lines between the gaze and human judgement which should direct it, making them seem one and the same. Helena speaks directly to this point, foreshadowing its prevalence in the very first scene of the play. The opening scene ends with a prophetic soliloquy, during which Helena says “Love looks not with the eyes but with the mind;/And therefore is wing’d Cupid painted blind./Nor hath Love’s mind of any judgement taste” (I.i, ll.232-234). We, the audience, have been warned. There is a third party present in both of these passages. Love cannot be burdened with reason. If we are to surrender to love, we must too accept its blindness and lack of judgement.This flighty, weightless reading of love bears consequences. It is easy to forget what the return to Athens, to daylight, to reason entails. For Hermia, it is death or the convent, a command enacted by her own father. The vision theme is of course included in this predicament, as Hermia argues “I would my father look’d but with my eyes” (I.i, l.56). Theseus retorts “Rather your eyes must with his judgement look,” (I.i, l.157) reminding both Hermia and the reader exactly which forces are contrasted here. The word “judgement,” the very same quality that will be verbally divorced from love (in Helena’s soliloquy, above), reminds us what the world of Athens creates. It may be daylight and clarity, free from magic potions or eerie forests. But reason means judgement, and therefore precludes love by its very nature. Hermia, because she loves, cannot possibly see with her father’s thinking eyes. She must abandon safety and light, and face the danger of fleeing into the dark woods to seek an alternative to this serious Athenian state.The power of love to eclipse reason is only solidified by the ending of the play. In the final moments, Athens enters the wood, as Theseus and Hippolyta arrive there and catch the rebellious lovers, now united in two happy couples. Symbolically, the realm of reason must now face the realm of love. Although Egeus still demands the law, it is now Theseus’ wedding day and he sees with different eyes. The same man who so readily judged Hermia is suddenly willing to pardon her, for a specific and crucial reason: “Fair lovers, you are fortunately met;/Of this discourse we more will hear anon./Egeus, I will overbear your will;/For in the temple, by and by, with us/These couples shall eternally be knit” (IV.i, ll.177-181). The lovers are free because Theseus is seized by his love for Hippolyta, nearly consummated in marriage vows. But they are no longer in Athens, where he must proclaim his pomp and judgement and issue decrees of punishment. Still, he is the ruler, and voice of reason. Thus, Shakespeare shows us love and law combined in the voice of Theseus. It is marriage. The lovers are indeed free from the judgement of death, but they must now abandon the flighty lovemaking that was embraced by the wood.Marriage is not a romantic decision, but a compromise between sensory, transitory love and stable, consistent reason. The love of Hippolyta and Theseus is less playful than the four crossed lovers. But it is also less elastic, and lacks the endless sensory allusions that signal trouble. Titania and Oberon, who dwell in the sensory world, can embrace and bless the marriage state but cannot truly achieve it themselves. This triple wedding at the end of the play is not necessarily happy. Essentially, Shakespeare embraces the necessity of law without reveling in it. One cannot live their life in the sensory world without controlling their perception. This control is human reason, and judgement. The beauty of the world, and the capacity of our vision to perceive it, is even greater when we understand what we are seeing and why. A Midsummer Night’s Dream is not simply a pretty, playful little spectacle. Beneath its fairy games and glittering words, Shakespeare has included reason, and therefore meaning.
In William Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream, the minor character Hippolyta functions in three ways. Her first role in the play is as an example of mature love in juxtaposition to the two immature Athenian couples. Her second purpose in the play is to aid in answering the question “Can love follow conquest?.” Her final function is to act as a voice of reason and clarification for the audience. Even though Hippolyta is a minor character in the play, her part is critical to the development of the play’s major themes of love and understanding. Hippolyta and Theseus begin A Midsummer Night’s Dream by discussing their plans to marry. They remain true to one another throughout the course of the play, until finally marrying in the end. Shakespeare juxtaposes them against Hermia, Helena, Demetrius, and Lysander’s unstable relationships. He portrays the Athenian lovers as irrational because of their arbitrary love for one another. Their love is superficial and the objects of it change several times during the play. Demetrius is unable to explain his sudden love for Helena when he says, “I wot not by what power- / But by some power it is-my love to Hermia, / Melted as the snow” (IV, i, 167-169). After saying these lines, he absurdly makes plans to immediately marry Helena, even though his love for her is arbitrary. Hippolyta’s relationship with Theseus is not tainted or changed with magic, as is the case with the Athenian lovers’ relationships. The magic the Athenian lovers experience represents the immaturity and uncertainness of their love.Even though Hippolyta’s relationship with Theseus appears to be more stable and mature than the Athenian lovers’, it is still based on the conquests of war. After Theseus conquers the Amazons, Hippolyta must become his wife. Their relationship is not hateful and cruel like Helena and Demetrius’ relationship is at the beginning of the play, however there is still noticeable tension. This poses the question “Can conquest result in love?.” Theseus comments that he “wooed thee with my sword, / And won thy love, doing thee injuries;” (I, i, 16-17). This apparent paradox is not the typical standard of true love. When the couple goes hunting Theseus seems to recognize the effort he must put forth to conquer Hippolyta’s heart (IV, i, 122-128). He tries to impress her with his dogs’ howling even though she has said there is none better than the howling of Hercules’ dogs. The howling is like music to Hippolyta, which is symbolic because it represents harmony. She does not believe she will have harmony in her life with Theseus, because it is a result of war. Hippolyta shows that love is not won on a battlefield. However, the couple has only mild disagreements for the continuance of the play. The idea that she will grow to love him emerges with the symbolic dance of Titania and Oberon (V, i, 402-424). Their dance signifies harmony and order for the couple.Hippolyta’s final function is to aid the audience in sorting through the disorder and chaos of the play. Her literal mindedness and rational nature allow her to clarify the mysterious and magical events of the play for the audience. Her fiancé, Theseus, is the most powerful mortal in the play, however Hippolyta proves to use less imagination and more reasoning than he does. Theseus sees the Athenian lovers as being without reason because “The lunatic, the lover, and the poet/ Are of imagination all compact” (V, i, 7-8). On the other hand, Hippolyta uses reason to prove the lover’s stories true, because all of their stories coincide with one another. This enables the audience to realize the previous scenes actually happened, even though they are full magic and other ethereal components. Later, Hippolyta comments symbolically, “This is the silliest stuff that ever I heard” with regard to the mechanics’ rendition of “Thisbe and Pyramus”(V, i, 211). Her comment on the play is like that of an audience member’s comment on “A Midsummer Night’s Dream,” because of the ridiculous events that occur. Theseus’ reply that one should use his or her imagination to better understand it shows how Shakespeare intends the audience to view the play. Hippolyta clarifies for the audience again, adding that it is the audience, not the characters, that use their imagination. She illuminates the way the audience should respond to A Midsummer Night’s Dream.Even though Hippolyta only appears in three scenes of the play, her contributions are essential to the play’s development. Her demonstration of mature love functions as the standard that the Athenian lovers never reach. The juxtaposition of Hippolyta’s relationship against the other lovers’ relationship shows the irrational, superficial, and arbitrary nature of the latter group’s love. Hippolyta also shows that love can emerge from conquest and war. Her love for Theseus emerges after order and harmony resumes in their world. Lastly, Hippolyta acts as a voice of reason and clarification for the audience. Her rational insights allow the audience to understand the events surrounding the Athenian lovers, as well as the play as a whole. Hippolyta’s three functions as a minor character contribute immensely to plot and understanding of A Midsummer Night’s Dream. Without the character of Hippolyta, the play would lack in theme, substance, and clarity.
By the time A Midsummer Night’s Dream reaches its final act, the major conflicts of the play have already more or less been resolved. Thus, instead of serving its usual function, this comedy’s Act V offers the audience a chance to reflect on what they just watched. The play within a play in particular can be interpreted as illustrating Shakespeare’s vision of theater. He places his actors on a stage within a stage, a location where they can evade the official authority of the expectations of not only real life, but the relativistic “real life” shared by all the characters in A Midsummer Night’s Dream. In this fantasy world of Pyramus and Thisbe the actors are free to speak in opposites, misnomers and ridiculous extremes, which forces their audience to try to tease some order from their disorder. This is consistent with how the audience should approach interpreting A Midsummer Night’s Dream: by understanding the nuances of the confused interactions of the characters from such a removed perspective, one can then, in the words of Theseus, “find the concord of [the] discord” within their own lives. (5.1.60) In this regard, Shakespeare’s theater serves as a simplified, “distilled” version of confused reality, in which, freed from the authority of the grossly murky ambiguities that haunt real life, the playwright deliberately arranges each line and stage direction so as to give the audience digestible art.Two aspects of the language and plot of the play within the play make it this caricature of theater. First, the performance is colored by concrete irrational dualities that represent the disorder of the world as we understand it. The play aims to be both a comedy and a tragedy, the characters aim to be both actors and the characters they play, improper punctuation reveals double meanings of their lines, and Bottom goes so far as to mix up the senses of sight and sound. Second, the theatrical elements are both simplified and exaggerated to depict the disorder offered by the medium of theater more overtly than in A Midsummer Night’s Dream, allowing the audience to grasp more easily the purpose of the art. Examples of this “distilled” aspect include the straightforwardness of the action and motives of the character (such as the pure love between Pyramus and Thisbe), the overuse of flowery language, and the overacting on the part of the actors.The most obvious duality of the play within the play is that it strives to be both a comedy and a tragedy. The very title of the performance bills it as “very tragical mirth.” (5.1.57) Egeus rationalizes this paradox by stating that while in plot the play is a tragedy, in that Pyramus kills himself, in execution it is a comedy, due to the ineptitude of the actors. However, the fact remains that the two genres are actually mutually exclusive a play cannot have both a comedic and tragic resolution. Since the play attempts to do both, it causes the audience to think from a more removed level of analysis and reflect on the purpose and effect of theater. The confusion between lovers at the heart of Pyramus and Thisbe is analogous to the confusions of A Midsummer Night’s Dream. It is as if Shakespeare is telling the audience that his play could just as easily have turned out the way the Peter Quince’s tragedy did, but did not. By squeezing both genres into one play, Shakespeare uses disorder to create an effect similar to that generated by a cubist painting he shows the audience how perspective influences their approach to understanding an artistic work.Another irrational doubling takes the form of the self-awareness of the actors. Tom Snout and Snug the Joiner both identify themselves by their actual names in addition to identifying their roles, preventing the audience from thinking about them in terms of one or the other. The members of the troupe go so far as to break character and engage the audience mid-scene. For example, in response to Theseus’s quip that the Wall should curse Pyramus, Bottom takes his statement at face value, replying “No, in truth, sir, he should not.” (5.1.180) In his response, a broken prose replaces the lyric verse of his actor voice, further emphasizing his doubled nature, as does his use of the grounding qualifier “in truth.” That Bottom fails to understand Theseus’s jest and instead interprets it on a literal level demonstrates how he is removed from the conventions of “real” communication. Similarly, Snug’s self-awareness is an ironic one, punctuated by his wearing of the lion suit so “half his face [is] seen through the lion’s neck.” (3.1.32-33) He acts conscious of how his roar will affect his audience, but while he fears it will frighten them, they instead mock his gentleness. The overall effect of this behavior on the part of the actors is a blurring of the lines between their two personae. This is another disorder which, by attempting to untangle it, the audience acquires an appreciation for unraveling the disorders of real life.The garbled syntax and punctuation of the play, perhaps best represented by Peter Quince’s prologue, constitutes a third paradoxical confusion. His attempt at a well-mannered address becomes misconstrued into a self-parody as he “doth not stand upon points.” (5.1.118) For example, when he states, “If we offend, it is with our good will. / That you should think: we come not to offend,” the period at the end of the first line totally changes what he meant to say. (5.1.108-109) Instead of apologizing for his troupe in case they offend the audience, he says that it would be intentional. This passage can be likened to the optical illusion that looks like both a duck and a rabbit depending on how you look at it: the punctuation and delivery serve as hinges around which the meaning swivels. By comprehending the slipperiness of this “grammatical” illusion, the audience sees how it should take contextual parameters into effect when they go about discerning meaning from life.The final layer of confusion demonstrated by the play within the play is that of the most fundamental aspect of understanding sensory perception itself. Bottom, as Pyramus, confuses sight with sound: “I see a voice. Now will I to the chink / To spy an I can hear my Thisbe’s face.” (5.1.190-191) This synesthetic moment is as pure and simple of a misunderstanding as possible. As a character within the play, Bottom is unable to understand his mistake; only the distanced audience can. The audience is to take away from this the knowledge that they should be sure to question even their senses in trying to unravel confusions. Just as Lysander and Demetrius argued over the differences between the slight differences in appearance of Hermia and Helena and got caught up in the sensory aspect of the argument, we should be careful not to rely on possibly misleading or disordered sights and sounds.Not only is Pyamus and Thisbe full of layers of disorder, but it also full of exaggerations of delivery that drive home the point that it is meant to serve as a distilled version of our actual reality, and that the distilled lessons we learn about understanding apply to our actual lives. Perhaps most prominent is the purity of the character’s motives and the simplicity of the story. Whereas A Midsummer Night’s Dream is filled with characters with convoluted agendas who must be manipulated to love each other properly, in this play it is a given that the lovers are simply one-dimensional lover stock characters. The plot is a very straightforward one as well, and Quince even warns the audience ahead of time how things will go. This short play is very easy to understand, unlike Shakespeare’s long play. The effect of this simplification of plot and characters is to make the play serve as an accessible symbol for all plays, so that when the audience learns how to appreciate it, they can appreciate the function of art in general.The characters use language that also caricatures poetry to reinforce this point. In describing Pyramus’s suicide, Quince adopts a ridiculous amount of alliteration: “Whereat with blade with bloody, blameful blade / He bravely broached his boiling bloody breast.” (5.1.145-146) Bottom similarly refers to the beams of the moon as “gracious, golden, glittering gleams.” (5.1.263) His speech to the night gets so caught up in the language it seems devoid of meaning: “O night with hue so black, / O night which ever art when day is not.” (5.1.167) This technique goes hand in hand with the overacting of the actors, in particular by Bottom. His death scene, in which he manages to rattle off six lines after initially stabbing himself, is absurdly overdramatic, and ends with him repeating “die” five times. (5.1.295) In sum, the extreme artificiality and over-the-top concentration of theatrical elements within the play makes it a symbol, albeit an ironic one, of art, which if one could decipher, one would know how to decipher all art.By constructing a play within a play, Shakespeare affords himself the opportunity to reduce to essentials and comment on his craft by placing characters in an environment where they do not have to behave in accordance with their world. Shakespeare makes a point by condensing the types of disorders that compose the lives of people into a short and essential production that is meant to reflect the production in which it is planted. By watching and attempting to “find concord from the discord” embodied by the interactions of characters within a play, we can learn how to apply the same process to the disorder in our own lives we are to watch life as we are to watch a play, and vice versa. This is consistent with Shakespeare’s own description of the poet, as delivered by Theseus at the beginning of the act:”The poet’s eye, in a fine frenzy rolling,Doth glance from heaven to earth, from earth to heaven,And as imagination bodies forthThe forms of things unknown, the poet’s penTurns them to shapes, and gives to airy nothingA local habitation and a name.” (5.1.12-17)Like the poet, we are to use our imagination to master concepts (“create shapes”) from the unshaped, confused world in which we dwell.
When James Joyce was a teenager, a friend asked him if he had ever been in love. He answered, “How would I write the most perfect love songs of our time if I were in love – A poet must always write about a past or a future emotion, never about a present one – A poet’s job is to write tragedies, not to be an actor in one” (Ellman 62). I mention this because – after replacing the word “comedy” for “tragedy” and allowing a little latitude on the meaning of the word “actor” – Joyce is subconsciously giving A Midsummer Night’s Dream’s argument about the role of the artist. That is to say, an artist must be removed from the action, or, at least, not prone to normal temptations. This emotional distance gives the artist the type of perspective that Theseus likens to a madman’s. It also, however, gives the artist a vantage point from which he can give the other characters’ experiences meaning. Therefore, I will argue that, in A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Shakespeare sees the artist as someone who is removed from the play’s main action, but gives meaning to the play’s experience (for both the audience and the other characters). I will show this by examining the roles of the two counterpart artists: Bottom (who supercedes Peter Quince as Every Mother’s Son’s artist), and Puck (whose art is changing people’s hearts and minds). My first four paragraphs show how Shakespeare uses Puck and Bottom allegorically to represent two different components of the artistic mind. Secondly, I show how Shakespeare leaves them emotionally distant from the main action of the play. Lastly, I will show how they end up interpreting the play, thereby, giving it meaning.It is important to show that Puck and Bottom are very similar characters. I do not mean to suggest that they are interchangeable – the way, for instance, Hermia and Helena are. Rather, Puck and Bottom are counterparts, with each representing a different component of the artistic mind. Shakespeare gives them enough similarities to draw attention to the fact that they share a common artistic bond. For example, they both use their art to serve rulers. Puck changes people’s hearts at Oberon’s bidding. Even when he acts on his own – when he changes Bottom into an ass – he ends up serving his master’s purposes. Bottom uses his art to serve a ruler as well. He is single-minded in his commitment to perform in front of Theseus. In fact, he is so eager to entertain Theseus that he volunteers for every role in the play. By having Bottom and Puck both serve rulers, Shakespeare is highlighting the artistic relationship between the two characters.Another way Shakespeare links Puck and Bottom is through their differences. This sounds paradoxical, but it is not. Their differences are so pronounced that the audience cannot help but contrast them, therefore linking them in the audience’s mind. For example, Shakespeare makes Puck full of mischief, and misanthropy (e.g. “Oh what fools these mortals be”). The name “Robin Goodfellow” was a popular name for the devil, which gives some indication of how he would have been received in Shakespeare’s time (Bloom 151). Bottom, on the other hand, is simple and friendly. His arrogance as an actor seems motivated more out of his passion to please Theseus than out of a self-congratulatory nature. The other mechanicals like him personally, and worry for him when he is missing. Moreover, he strikes up a friendship with Titania’s child servants, although Titania was offering him more selfish pleasures. His name suggests the earth, or being firmly grounded (Bloom 152). This takes on special significance when contrasted to Puck, who, as a sprite, is associated with the air and sky.The reason that Shakespeare goes to such pains to link Bottom and Puck – and I go to such pains to emphasize their relationship – is because they represent two intrinsic parts of the artistic mind. Bottom represents a visceral approach to art. He objects to the portrayal of Pyramus’s suicide, for fear that the women in the audience will be overwhelmed with grief. He becomes so emotionally attached to his art that he cannot understand the rational difference between art and reality.Puck, on the other hand, represents the art of the mind. By this I mean that his art takes place within the minds of other characters. His art has such a profound impact on the minds of Demetrius and Lysander that they renounce their only distinctive characteristic (their love for Helena). Puck’s art not only manipulates the innermost beliefs of his subjects’ minds, it leaves them struggling to articulate their experience. In this way, Puck’s art engages his subjects’ minds even after he is done with them. Even Bottom’s mind – otherwise inactive – is left trying to make sense out of his experience:I have had a dream, past the wit of any man to say what dream it was – .Methought I was – and methought I had – but man is but a patched fool if he will offer to say what methought I had. The eye of man hath not heard, the ear of man hath not seen, man’s hand is not able to taste, his tongue to conceive, not his heart to report, what my dream was. I will get Peter Quince to write a ballad of this dream: it shall be called ‘Bottom’s Dream’ because it hath no bottom (IV.1.203-217)This is primarily a comical speech, but Bottom takes it very seriously. Puck’s art has effected his mind in a very real way, and he struggles to make sense out of it. He finally labels a bottomless dream, which suggests that it was a passive, visceral experience. This is fitting for an artist who becomes emotionally attached to his art, but cannot think rationally about it. It is also a far cry from Puck – an artist who deals with the mind, but seems unable to experience human emotions. For these reasons, I contend that Puck and Bottom represent two necessary, but opposite components of the artistic mind.If, as I have said, Puck and Bottom represent the role of the artist, it is important to discern exactly what Shakespeare is trying to say about that role. Firstly, they are both emotionally distant from the main action of the play. I have said earlier that Bottom is an emotional character, and that is true inasmuch as he feels that art is a purely emotional experience. When it comes to his own actions, however, he remains oblivious to emotions of any kind. When the other mechanicals run away from him, leaving him stranded in the woods, he does nothing but sing silly songs. His composure comes across as somewhat shocking, considering that his friends have just run away screaming. It hints at an inability to feel the proper emotion for a serious time. The most striking example of Bottom’s emotional detachment comes across in his relationship to Titania. Although he may have consummated his relationship with the beautiful fairy queen, it is fairly clear that he does not share her enthusiasm for the relationship. A good example of this comes in one of their early exchanges:Titania. Thou art wise as thou art beautiful.Bottom. Not so neither; but if I had wit enough to get out of this wood, I have enough to serve my own.Titania. Out of this wood do not desire to go;Thou shalt remain here, whether thou wilt or no.(3.1.147-153)Even after flattery (which, I assume, happens rarely for Bottom) she has to essentially threaten him to stay in the woods with her. What is the audience supposed to make of Bottom’s lack of interest in Titania – It becomes more complicated, considering the fact that he was anxious to star in a grand love story. By all accounts, it appears as though Bottom would rather play a lover, than actually be a lover. This is because he is an artist, and he has to distance himself from the action he is trying to portray. This emotional distance from love gives him the perspective he needs to portray love in the final act. In that way, Shakespeare is suggesting that the role of an artist should be distanced from the main action.Puck has a similar attitude of emotional detachment. This is not to say that he does not take pleasure in his work – he has the same sort of maniacal love of mischief that Falstaff has for laziness – only that he has no interest in his own product. The audience never sees him using his art to his own ends (with the exception of his turning Bottom into an ass). He appears to have no romantic desires at all, which is strange for a fairy whose art deals with love. Moreover, we know that fairies can experience such feelings. Titania and Oberon are in love, and their early banter indicates that they are rather lusty characters. Why does Shakespeare put a character without any romantic desire at the center of a play about romantic love – I offer the same answer that I gave about Bottom – Puck, unlike Titania and Oberon, is an artist and therefore has to distance himself emotionally. This emotional distance gives him a perspective where he can interpret the play’s experience, and give it meaning. In this respect, Shakespeare is again saying that an artist must be emotionally distant from the play’s main action.The goal of emotional distance – and, in fact, the goal of all art – is to bring meaning to experience. In the final act, Puck and Bottom interpret the meaning of the play in different, but not opposing, ways. The mechanicals’ play represents the culmination of Bottom’s art, and it is also the one area where the actions of the Athenians are given meaning. The play represents the ridiculousness of true love. Although the irony is lost on the Athenians – and probably on the players themselves – they have just undergone a ridiculous experience ending in true love. Even the language highlights the similarities between the play, and the Athenian’s experience. For example, when Bottom, as Pyramus, says:Sweet Moon, I thank thee for thy sunny beams;I thank thee, Moon, for shining now so brightFor thy gracious, golden glittering gleamsI trust to take of truest Thisby sight.(5.1.272-275)It seems characteristically ridiculous that Pyramus would put his trust in something as precarious as the moon. At the same time, it sounds remarkably similar to Hermia’s speech in the first act, where she swears her love to Lysander on “Cupid’s strongest bow” (1.1.169). (Hippolyta had just compared the moon to cupid’s bow 160 lines earlier). Bottom is interpreting the character’s experiences for their own benefit. In doing so, he is giving their experiences meaning. It is appropriate that it is a ludicrous interpretation, because the Athenian’s had just had a ludicrous experience.Puck also gives meaning to the play’s experience, but he does so for the audience, not the other characters. His final speech suggests a way for the audience to accept the play:If we shadows have offended,Think of this, and all is mended,That you have but slumbered hereWhile these visions did appear,And this weak and idle themeNo more yielding but a dream(5.1.423-428)Puck is speaking directly to the audience, and interpreting their experience as playgoers. It is not a coincidence that the responsibility falls on Puck. He is an artist, and it is his duty to bring meaning to the audience’s experience. In this manner, Shakespeare shows that one of the roles of an artist is to interpret an experience, and in doing so, bring it meaning.In the beginning of act five, Theseus says:The poet’s eye, in a fine frenzy rollingDoth glance from heaven to earth, from earth to heavenAnd as imagination bodies forthThe forms of things unknown, the poet’s pen,Turns them to shapes, and gives to aery nothingA local habitation and a name.(5.1.13-17)Theseus takes this dismissive attitude largely because he has no need for art. He is a warrior, and therefore sees no virtue in distance. His experiences as a warrior are so intense that it seems unlikely that he needs anyone to bring extra meaning to them. But Theseus does not emerge as the favorite character of the average reader (I assume this was also true in Shakespeare’s time). The average reader is more likely to be charmed by Puck or Bottom, than Theseus. Part of this is because of their humor, and part of it is because A Midsummer Night’s Dream is a comedy with no need for a warrior. Part of it, however, is because those two characters speak most directly to the reader’s immediate concerns. By distancing themselves from the action, and interpreting the play’s final meaning, they embody the artistic experience. In doing so, they insure that the play’s artistic merit will take shape, and not remain “aery nothing.”Works CitedBloom, Harold. Shakespeare: The Invention of the Human. Riverhead Books. New York. 1998.Ellman, Richard. James Joyce. Oxford University Press. 1959.Shakespeare, William. The Riverside Shakespeare. Houghton Mifflin Company. Boston. New York. 1997.
Shakespeare anticipates the Freudian concept of the dream as egoistic wish-fulfillment through the chaotic and mimetic desires of his characters in “A Midsummer Night’s Dream.” The play also utilizes a secondary meaning of the word “dream” – musicality – by tapping into theater’s potential for sensory enchantment. Through this artificial recreation of the dream-state, Shakespeare integrates the audience, whom the solipsistic characters have run the risk of alienating, into the dream. Ultimately, the play refutes a psychoanalytic interpretation by reminding the observer that dreams, much like love, sometimes have “no bottom” (IV.i.209) and lack logical motivation.If the dreamer’s goal is always wish-fulfillment, cloaked or not, as Freud argues, then the four lovers fit his theory perfectly. Shakespeare toys with the fickleness of desire through Oberon’s “love-in-idleness” flower, a symbol of debauched purity: “Before, milk-white; now, purple with love’s wound” (II.i.167). Puck’s haphazard “planting” of the juice in the lovers’ eyes sets up a system of indiscriminate desire-attachments. The gaze becomes the only agent for desire, yet it is a manipulated gaze which destroys reasoning – as Oberon gleefully notes, Titania may not even relegate herself to her own species: “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” (II.i.179-182). Laura Mulvey addresses the phallocentric roots of the gaze in “Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema”:”Woman then stands in patriarchal culture as signifier for the male other, bound by a symbolic order in which man can live out his fantasies and obsessions through linguistic command by imposing them on the silent image of woman still tied to her place as bearer of meaning, not maker of meaning.” Titania and Oberon’s squabble over the changeling child follows Mulvey’s second point on the male fear of castration and its relationship to the gaze: “The function of the woman in forming the patriarchal unconscious is two-fold; she first symbolizes the castration threat by her real absence of a penis and second she thereby raises her child into the symbolic.” According to Mulvey, Titania “turns her child into the signifier of her own desire to possess a penis,” and Oberon wrests the symbolic phallus from her to retain his status as “the Name of the Father and the Law.” The tense and insulting greetings between Oberon and Titania typify this; Oberon refers to her as “proud Titania” (II.i.60), with a possible phallic pun on the obsolete meaning of “proud” as “Sensually excited; swelling,’ lascivious” (OED, 8), and Titania returns the favor with the more direct “jealous Oberon” (II.i.61).Shakespeare seemingly resists Mulvey’s explanation by bestowing upon Titania, and the other women, the power of the gaze as well, although with less dominant effect. As Helena laments, “We cannot fight for love as men may do; / We should be wooed, and were not made to woo” (II.i.241-242). Titania confuses the gaze, which makes her “eye enthrallèd to” Bottom’s “shape” (III.i.123), with the more profound admiration love provokes: “And thy fair virtue virtue’s force perforce doth move me / On the first view to say, to swear, I love thee” (III.i.124-125). Her desire is not merely mimetic; it is a product of puppetry. Yet she never relinquishes her maternal, doting instincts even under the spell of her manipulated gaze, implying some constancy to her desire: “Come, sit thee down upon this flow’ry bed, / While I thy amiable cheeks do coy, / And stick musk-roses in thy sleek smooth head, / And kiss thy fair large ears, my gentle joy” (IV.i.1-4). Though the entire play is peppered with references to flowers, Titania’s insistence on decorating her ersatz child with musk-roses bifurcates her love instinct, suggesting it stems from both the eros of the sensual musk and the purity of the white roses. More conventional forms of mimetic desire show in Helena’s questioning the artifice of Hermia’s hold over Demetrius: “O, teach me how you look, and with what art / You sway the motion of Demetrius’ heart” (I.i.192-193). As the generally self-deprecating Helena concedes, her failure to entice Demetrius has little to do with her appearance: “Through Athens I am thought as fair as she. / But what of that? Demetrius thinks not so. / He will not know what all but he do know” (I.ii.227). Love, and especially seduction, has little to do “with the eyes, but with the mind” (I.ii.234), and the edifying power of imagination can raise someone’s physical and spiritual stock: “Things base and vile, holding no quantity, / Love can transpose to form and dignity” (I.ii.232-233). Shakespeare’s inverted sentence construction repeats the process by which a person invents substance from nothingness.Mimetic desire, which operates under a system of artificiality and blindness and retains only traces of original desire, seems most like an attempt at self-validation through another person’s eyes. Indeed, Shakespeare exploits this egoistic impulse of the dream by playing on the word “eye.” The eye has two additional and related purposes beyond channeling the gaze: as a pun on the personal pronoun and as a reflective surface in which the viewer can glory in his or her own image while being pinned by the otherworldly force of the gaze. Helena attributes Hermia’s magnetism to the brightness and celestial allure of her eyes: “For she hath blessèd and attractive eyes. / How came her eyes so bright? / What wicked and dissembling glass of mine / Made me compare with Hermia’s sphery eyne!” (II.ii.97-98, 104-105) Her dissembling glass leads to a distortion of self-image that results in self-loathing: “I am your spaniel, and, Demtrius, / The more you beat me I will fawn on you” (II.i.204-205). Demetrius, under the spell of the love-juice, later reverses the judgment of Helena’s eyes in a passage which exaggerates the ideal over the real and continues the trope of brightness/whiteness as a reflective, selfish medium through the imagery of snow:O Helen, goddess, nymph, perfect, divine!To what, my love, shall I compare thine eyne?Crystal is muddy. O, how ripe in showThy lips, those kissing cherries, tempting grow!That pure congealèd white – high Taurus’ snowFanned with the eastern wind – turns to a crowWhen thou hold’st up thy hand. O, let me kissThis princess of pure white, this seal of bliss!(III.ii.138-145)Titania’s substitute-love for Bottom, which even he must admit she has “little reason for” (III.i.126), is lightly mocked in a coy Shakespearean word game. In her order to Bottom, she begins by commanding subservience and stressing her high rank: “Out of this wood do not desire to go. / Thou shalt remain here, whether thou wilt or no. / I am a spirit of no common rank: / The summer still doth tend upon my state” (III.i.134-137). What is not apparent to an audience member but only to the reader is that her first seven lines form an acrostic that reads: “O-T-I-T-An-I-A” (the fifth line includes both a’ and n’). While this cannot be passed off as mere coincidence, in conjunction with her self-serving speech it does resemble an onanistic ode.But the ode, one of the more sonorous forms of poetry, does fulfill part of the secondary definition of “dream”: “The sound of a musical instrument; music, minstrelsy, melody; noise, sound” (OED, 2). The language of “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” is as melodic as any play Shakespeare has produced, and often the words self-consciously reproduce the thematic material, as when Oberon reminisces in alliterative and internally rhythmic fashion:Thou rememb’restSince once I sat upon a promontory,And heard a mermaid on a dolphin’s backUttering such dulcet and harmonious breathThat the rude sea grew civil at her songAnd certain stars shot madly from their spheresTo hear the sea-maid’s music?(II.i.148-154)The slight phonic dissonance between pairs of words such as “since/once” and “upon/a promontory,” coupled with the delayed rhyming of “heard” and “mermaid” and the more conventional yet still technically adroit alliteration of “s” throughout, produce an instrumental arrangement in our ears equal to the beauty of the sea-maid’s music. The speech ends fittingly on an interrogative, so as to stress upon the actor the vocal progression from the base of recollection to the elevation of the question.The relationship between the dream and music is furthered elsewhere; Lysander associates the fickleness of love with the brevity of sound and image, which fuse in dream: “Making it momentany as a sound, / Swift as a shadow, short as any dream” (I.i.143-144). Music – “music such as charmeth sleep” (IV.i.80), as Titania defines it – explicitly encourages sleep and protects the dreamer, as the fairies sing in chorus to the recumbent Titania: “Philomel with melody, / Sing in our sweet lullaby; / Lulla, lulla, lullaby; lulla, lulla, lullaby. / Never harm / Nor spell nor charm / Come our lovely lady night. / So good night, with lullaby” (II.ii.13-19). Titania later satisfies Bottom’s “reasonable good ear in music” (IV.i.26) with rural music which, as Norton notes “continues during the following dialogue, rather than a separate dialogue.” The layering of background music over the lovers’ ensuing dialogue, which juxtaposes Titania’s declarations of affection with Bottom’s appetitive appeals, exemplifies Shakespeare’s expertise over dramaturgy which induces a similar range of emotion in the audience. Titania’s words alone produce pathos; coupled with Bottom’s, bathos; and the addition of the music stirs enchantment.This spellbinding mode of storytelling is what elevates “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” beyond simple farce. Nothing in the play can be taken at face value – not because of deceit, but from the mysticism that shrouds everything, as Hermia observes: “Methinks I see these things with parted eye, / When everything seems double” (IV.i.186-187). Demetrius agrees that consciousness has been indistinct from unconsciousness: “It seems to me / That yet we sleep, we dream” (IV.i.189-190). Surprisingly, it is Bottom who has the most “profound” thoughts on the adventures, in that he recognizes his inability to comprehend them: “I have had a dream past the wit of man to say what / dream it was. Man is but an ass if he go about t’expound this / dream” (IV.i.200-202). His stuttering attempts to grasp the ineffable concept urge him to enlist a writer to commit his dream to paper: “Methought I was – there is no man can tell what. / Methought I was, and methought I had – but man is but a / patched fool if he will offer to say what methought I had/ I will get Peter Quince to write / a ballad of this dream. It shall be called Bottom’s Dream,’ / because it hath no bottom” (IV.i.202-204, 207-209). Bottom, the ham of the acting troupe, is emblematic of the problem confronting the play: how is the audience to remain interested in other people’s dreams and loves? The answer lies partly in Bottom’s butchered description of his dream: “The / eye of man hath not heard, the ear of man hath not seen, man’s / hand is not able to taste, his tongue to conceive, nor his heart / to report what my dream was” (IV.i.204-207).Shakespeare does an admirable job of representing these sensory devices, especially through his use of music, but his subtler tactic is to include the audience in the dream. Puck tells us that we have “slumbered here, / While this visions did appear” (V.ii.3-4). This satisfies firstly our narcissism, and secondly, witnessing the lovers watching the play – itself a confirmation of their status via gazing at their social inferiors – gratifies us with a third-degree gaze of our own. The tie to theater, then, rests on Theseus’s claim that “The poet’s eye, in a fine frenzy rolling, / Doth glance from heaven to earth, from earth to heaven, / And as imagination bodies forth / The forms of things unknown, the poet’s pen / Turns them to shapes, and gives to airy nothing / A local habitation and a name” (V.i.12-17). Puck, the shape-changer, is the originator of all the mischief and imagination, a poet of selfhood and of others. An analogy to Shakespeare is not entirely absurd. Puck’s power, though, is reined in by Oberon’s (Queen Elizabeth?) command; even he is subject to the gaze of authority and authorship.
William Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream is a journey through the three phases of a Shakespearean festive comedy. The audience is taken from unhappiness to confusion to finally reunion. Anything is possible in this story and the reader must engage in verisimilitude in order to fully enjoy this story. Verisimilitude is a willing suspension of disbelief. For instance, within A Midsummer Night’s Dream, fairies interact with humans at the same level.The first phase of a Shakespearean festive comedy emits feelings of unhappiness and frustration. This can be caused by anything from separation of loved ones to unrequited love to cruel people being in control. At the end of the first phase, a feeling of escape comes over the characters and audience. It is time to get out of the cloud of unhappiness that has set over the land and sit back and have some fun. In A Midsummer Night’s Dream the opening act shows many signs of frustration and leaves the characters all feeling upset, edgy, and impatient. Helena experiences unrequited love from Demetrius, Titania won’t grant Oberon’s request and Theseus is growing ever impatient as he must wait to enjoy his soon to be bride until their marriage in a couple of days. The transition that takes place begins after Helena chases Demetrius into the forest. While in the forest, Puck gets a hold of the young lovers and the journey enters into the second phase.The second mood that comes over a Shakespearean festive comedy is confusion in a comedic way. This is the point where readers have to have verisimilitude. Anything goes and anything is possible including disguises, odd love triangles, or pranks. In the end of the confusion real lessons are learned and there comes a point where enough is enough. Things are taken too far and it stops being funny. In A Midsummer Night’s Dream love potions are responsible for phase two. Puck, the King fairy’s personal assistant, tries to make Demetrius fall in love with Helena, but instead sprinkles the love potion on the wrong man’s eyes making “some true love turn’d, and not a false turn’d true”. He potions Lysander who is actually in love with Hermia, but not after the potion. He also potions Oberon’s wife at his request since they are mad at each other, and makes her fall in love with a man who Puck turned into a donkey. At first, the whole scenario is quite funny as the audience watches Helena get more and more confused all the while that Titania is cuddling Bottom’s furry, large ears. However, tension quickly mounts and the reader experiences an overwhelming feeling of enough, just as “a surfeit of the sweetest things the deepest loathing to the stomach brings”. It becomes too much of a good thing and the play needs to progress into the third phase that will fix all the madness. This point mainly is reached when Helena and Hermia go at each other’s throats.The final phase of a Shakespearean festive comedy is one of relief and reckoning. There is a creation of a new and better world when the play is finished. Things taking place in the third phase include reunions, a sense of healing, love fulfilled, or cruel people either having a change of heart or leaving. This is the best phase because the world is happier and everything is set right. This happens in A Midsummer Night’s Dream when Puck corrects his mistake with the potion and puts the true love between Hermia and Lysander back together. He also creates love between Helena and Demetrius. Also, at Oberon’s request, he takes the potion off Titania who is thrilled to see her Oberon again. Puck then turns the donkey back into a man. The last piece of the puzzle is Theseus who gets married during this phase and is finally able to enjoy his wedding night.A Midsummer Night’s Dream exemplifies the three phases of a comedy and plays with two other themes within the play. The first theme being the illusion of dream versus reality where the audience finds themselves questioning what was real and what was a dream. The potion state of the young lovers exhibit part of the dream experience. The second theme, as stated by David Devington is, “This play within a play focuses our attention on the familiarly Shakespearean metaphor of art as illusion and of the world itself as a stage on which men and women are merely players”. The play within a play he is referring to is the performance of Pyramus and Thisbe by the rude mechanicals. Shakespeare weaves themes, language, and plays within plays all through A Midsummer Night’s Dream tying up the whole package and leaving the audience with feelings of joy, awe, and happiness in the new and better world he has created.
Considered one of William Shakespeare’s greatest plays, A Midsummer Nights Dream reads like a fantastical, imaginative tale; however, its poetic lines contain a message of love, reality, and chance that are not usually present in works of such kind. All characters in the play are playful, careless and thoughtless, and Puck: one of the central characters in the play: is significant to the plot, tone, and meaning of A Midsummer Nights Dream, thus becoming a representative of the above-mentioned themes.The plot in this one of Shakespeare’s plays is comical and, at times, ironic. As summarized by Puck in the last stanza of the play:If we shadows have offendedThink but this, and all is mended: That you have but slumb’red hereWhile these visions did appear. And this weak and idle themeNo more yielding but a dreamGentles do not reprehend: If you pardon, we will mend. And, as I am an honest PuckIf we have unearned luck Now to scape the serpent’s tongueWe will make amends ere long; Else the Puck a liar call: So, good night unto you all. Give me your hands, if we be friends, And Robin shall restorer amends. (Shakespeare 89)Puck suggests to both the watchers and, consequently, to the readers, that if they did not enjoy the tale, they should pretend it was a dream: a notion so convincing that at times the audience is left bewildered; this effect of his works made Shakespeare seem so cunning, like Puck. The lines above formulate the ending of the play to be ironic and humorous, much in the same way as the rest of the story was told. The general plot, with certain characters implementing stresses on puns more than others, also contributed to the wit in A Midsummer Night’s Dream. Such cunning manner that Shakespeare had developed was often found in the play in ironic forms when one character in the book says something that is a pun on words, or has several meanings, such as when Puck states,”[a]nd, as I am and honest Puck/ Else the Puck a liar call: (Shakespeare 90).” In Shakespeare’s time the Puck was never honest and always lied in order to play his pranks on people. Therefore, the audience was deceived into believing that the story was a dream. Many stanzas were woven into the plot that contained deep critical thoughts behind them that made the scenario of the scenes intricate and deceptive. Puck’s important role contributed to these situations is obvious in the unfolding of his character to seem illusory and fanciful. Puck also tied up the story in parts where the plot was getting serious to make them clever and amusing to watch. The plot of this play contained many different phrases that made the story line intriguing and Puck helped emphasize the comedic side of characters in the tale and of Shakespeare’s writing of the play. The tone of the entire play is slightly satirical, but overall good-natured toward the characters. Historically, Puck has been part of English folklore for a long time, even before Shakespeare. His other name of Robin Goodfellow meant that “[t]he spirit was not actually good by nature, but was called Goodfellow as a sort of appeasement, meant to deflect the spirit’s pranks towards other people” (Bulfinch). Puck during Shakespeare’s time was a mischievous creature that was known for his evil-like, unserious, playful ways. His other name, Hobgoblin, suggests the true meaning of his nature. In the second half of the play, the characters undergo a change in attitude towards each other, because of the antics Puck administrated. Puck wanders around dispensing a love potion into mortal’s eyes, making them fall in love with the unsuitable member of the opposite sex. Shakespeare, as an author, is playing with the characters and because of Puck, the roles of the characters are switched, making the play more appealing in a comical sense of view. To make the manner of the play pay off with deep meaning despite the comical plot, metaphors were said by many of the characters such as this one, “I go, I go; look how I go/ Swifter than arrow form the Tarter’s bow” (Shakespeare 45). The Tarters were people whom fought with the Mongol hordes, and had bows that contained a special power, to make them faster than a bolt of lightning. The excerpts connotation demonstrates that Puck was meandering around the forest so fast that he causes the characters in the play many harms, like a bow. The ironic, playful tone that the play embodies is accomplished through the adventurous mishaps of Puck.Many meanings can be deciphered from this play, and can be interpreted in numerous ways; one of them revealing the extent to which human beings are too easily swayed and subjected to non-reality, chance, and love by appearance and emotions. “What fools these mortals be!” (Shakespeare 46) expresses Puck, his one line hinting at several possible interpretations. One reads in the above line Shakespeare’s idea that humans become too readily affected by their feelings. Puck states with exclamatory emphasis that mortals are fools because they cannot control their emotions properly and are never sure on what they feel in their inner self. Chance is too often taken as shown in “A Midsummer Nights Dream” by Puck, when Puck states “[t]his is the women, but not this the man” (Shakespeare 43). Oberon has taken a chance with love when he describes the Athenian man Puck is to distribute the love potion on, and that chance was wrongfully took, for Puck put the potion onto some other man, who was not supposed to be emitted with it. This also shows that there is some mockery to Pucks statement for not do only mortals fool around with love, so do pixies. Reality is often mixed up with, mystical thoughts as well as feelings. Shakespeare must have realized this because he often showed implications in his plays of this type, for example: when Titania expresses her love for a mortal with an asses head on him and she says “Come, sit thee down upon this flow’ry bed, While I thy amiable cheeks do coy, And stick musk roses in thy sleek smooth head, And kiss thy fair large ears, my gentle joy” (Shakespeare 62). This exemplifies the type of ridicule Shakespeare had his characters go through so that he could express a point, thus he had to make other characters such as Puck help contribute to these happenings. Therefore, the deep meaning of the play is much more intricate than the eye can see, and because of Pucks actions these imperative meanings came out to be.Overall, the play A Midsummer Night’s Dream contains many important features that are represented by Puck. The in-depth analysis of every character depends on the actions and attributes of other characters and Puck helps contribute to deceitful aura of the play. Another key factor of this play were its many inclinations toward a comical relief and Puck’s involvements of making mishaps occur. The mood, implication, and scheme are all carefully weaved together in the play, with Puck being a symbol or a catalyst for nearly every one of them.
Emilia from Othello and Helena from A Midsummer Night’s Dream both experience a constant battle against the institutions of men, such as marriage and courting. These institutions have the implications of turning these women against their own sex and self because of the institutions’ placing of gender upon them. Both voice their complaints against these institutions as well as conform to the standards set by them, but in the end are eventually silenced by the institutions, relating the idea that conformity to these institutions is not a choice, but a way of life or death for these women.When Helena first appears in Act 1 she is inseparable from her irrational love for a man. She dotes on Demetrius, but he finds Hermia more attractive. This causes Helena to wish that she was not herself, which begins her cycle of self-deprecation: “How happy some o’er other some can be! Through Athens I am thought as fair as she. But what of that? Demetrius thinks not so;”(1.1.226-228). Even though she is believed to be beautiful by all of Athens, she only desires the affection and admiration of one man without this she is nothing. Essentially, she wants to be someone or something else to gain Demetrius’ favor, which becomes more evident as the characters enter the woods. In this monologue by Helena she mentions that Hermia stole Demetrius’ love from her, which deepens the intra-gender rivalry. This institution of courting and wooing sets up a division between the female sex as they vie for the desire of males. Although Hermia is not to blame for Demetrius’ interest in her, Helena places the burden upon her instead of Demetrius because she loves him. This creates a break within female companionship, and thereby making the men in this play all the more powerful and enhancing their control through the method of divide and conquer. This idea becomes clearer as the play ventures into the magical woods, where roles come into question. Emilia faces a similar situation with her husband Iago and her lady Desdemona. The problem that presents itself is Othello’s handkerchief, a seemingly meaningless object that comes to mean everything. Emilia’s job as an attendant becomes significant because her duty is to protect her lady, but also is “employed” by Iago to be his wife. Immediately she has become caught between the sexes and must choose between her own and her husband. Before the handkerchief situation, she is completely subject to her husband’s needs, which leaves her open to his abuse. In Act 2 Scene 1, Iago goes on a tirade about women in front of Desdemona and Emilia, harshly criticizing Emilia for her treatment of him. Emilia is silenced by her husband and it is Desdemona that speaks up for her: “O, fie upon thee, slanderer!” (2.1.129). Reversely, Emilia later favors Iago by giving him the handkerchief sealing Desdemona’s fate and death, by catering to her husband she gets another woman silenced forever. However, it is Desdemona’s situation with Othello that brings Emilia to criticize the institutions of men and men in general, but until this point she is totally enamored of her husband as noted when she states what she will do with the handkerchief: “ And give’t Iago. What he will do with it heaven knows, not I; I nothing but to please his fantasy” (3.3.335). Her words “I nothing” call attention to the dehumanization and deprecation of herself. She does not say “I am,” which furthers the idea that she does not see herself as anything, but as servant to Iago. Interestingly, Iago’s name begins with an “I”, Shakespeare uses this capital letter to indicate throughout the play the deception and penetration of Iago’s schemes, and in this instance it implies his control over Emilia. In addition, she echoes Helena, who is also willing to do anything to please her man and knows of nothing else. Now that both women have been placed in precarious situations by the institutions, it allows for them to criticize the very institutions that placed them there. The situations that these two women are put in by the institutions allow them to question the very institutions that they are entrapped.Helena begins questioning the institutions of men within the forest, where the laws of Athens do not apply. It is within this realm that she is able to question the powers that be, because when she returns to Athens she is re-subjected to male dominance and no longer voices complaints. However, within the forest she becomes a dynamic character rather than her simply overly loving one. In the beginning of the forest sequence, Helena humiliates herself in front of Demetrius by begging for his love: “What worser place can I beg in your love-And yet a place of high respect with me- than to be used as you use your dog” (2.1.208-210). This can be likened to Emilia’s removal of the word “am” in her speech in that it subjects her to men, however Helena’s rhetoric degradation is far less subtle emphasizing her plight for love and irreconcilable desire for Demetrius. Her attempt to “woo” Demetrius ultimately fails in “her opinion” because of a difference between the sexes as she notes in her rhyming couplet: “We cannot fight for love, as men may do; We should be wooed, and were not made to woo” (2.1.241-242). Shakespeare uses a couplet to emphasize this difference between the sexes, suggesting that it is not just Helena, but rather all women are unable to woo and must remain passive bystanders to obtain their lovers. In the forest men require potions to begin their wooing of Helena and use a similar technique that Helena used toward Demetrius, but it is Helena’s reaction to this wooing that deserves attention. She has become so corrupted by the male institutions of courtship that she can no longer believe when someone actually has affection for her. Her self-deprecation has led to a belief that others could never fall for her. As Demetrius and Lysander attempt to seduce her she remarks that it is a “…manly enterprise, To conjure tears up in a poor maid’s eyes, (3.2.157-158). She believes that both these men are tricking her and chiding her for her unabated love for Demetrius and that is simply what men do. She finally tires of the scorn she feels from men and no longer wants to be treated in such a manner. She does not mind being hated as much as she wants to be respected by others, which differs entirely from her previous reduction of herself to a canine. Yet again the blunt of her discourse falls upon Hermia, who Helena believes to be in cahoots with Demetrius and Lysander in this “manly enterprise.” She verbally attacks Hermia, noting: “Our sex, as well I may chide you for it, Though I alone do feel the injury” (3.2.218-219). She separates Hermia as a traitor to the sex and creates herself as the sex’s martyr. Because of the men’s actions, which are controlled by other men (Puck, Oberon), both women fall victim to the institutional forces. Men are actually playing games with them, literally because of the actions of Puck and Oberon, but the women fail to see this trickery and find each other to be the enemy. Finally, instead of attacking their oppressors, the women fight against themselves with Hermia trying to gouge Helena’s eyes out, which points to the blindness to the hegemony of men and seeing other women to blame rather than men.Not seeing men as they truly are also plays a role in Emilia’s relationship with Iago. Emilia only begins to open up to the seedy side of men, due to Othello’s treatment of Desdemona. After Othello has questioned Desdemona about the handkerchief, Emilia remarks about the nature of men: “They are all but stomachs, and we all but food; they eat us hungerly, and when they are full, They belch us” (3.4.116-119). This scene ending speech adds to the list of plights of women, men are only interested as long as women fulfill their needs, but when women are no longer needed they are expelled from men’s lives, which sheds light on Iago’s treatment of her, yet she sees Iago as a glorious man to be honored. Her questioning of the institutions reaches a boiling point, however, in Act 4 Scene 3 in which she examines her position against men. She talks of the equality between the sexes, but having to prove it to the opposite sex: “Why, we have galls; and though we have some grace, Yet we some revenge. Let husbands know, their wives have senses like them” (4.3. 106-109). Although she questions, she also stays within her sphere, she still defines herself as a “wife” and not a woman, which leaves her under Iago’s control. It is not until the end of the play that she finally breaks with her husband and resides on the side of her own sex. Although both women voice complaints against the male institutions, these institutions eventually silence them. As the characters in Midsummer Night’s Dream exit the forest, the natural order of gender roles returns. Helena no longer voices complaints against Demetrius loving her and instead embraces it: “I have found Demetrius like a jewel, Mine own, and not mine own.” She declares that she does not have ownership of Demetrius even though they are in love, the first time she seems level in the play. However, Demetrius through this relationship does exert his power over her. Even though she appears in the last act, she does not utter a single line of dialogue. She, who has been a constant and lengthy source of dialogue throughout the play has had her power of speech taken away, she has been silenced by finally gaining Demetrius, but in this gain she loses her ability to speak. She is merely a body upon the stage, a prop, which harkens back to male control. Emilia in contrast, who has been silent for the most part of the play in regards to her husband, finally speaks against him. Once she has learned of Othello’s murder of Desdemona and Iago’s role in this tragedy, she speaks: “I will not charm my tongue; I am bound to speak” (5.2.217). For the first time Emilia is fully on the side of her sex, abandoning her husband and protecting the name of Desdemona. But in speaking out, she is silenced by Iago as he stabs her to death. Emilia’s last wish is to be laid by her mistress furthering her full commitment to her sex. Emilia and Helena are both silenced, but in radically different ways. Interestingly, this is the final institution they face: genre. Though the women have similar views about what should be done with men, they are treated differently in their respective genre. Helena is silenced through marriage, a comedic trope. At the end of the play, all is well in the world of Shakespeare, but from a modern perspective her loss of lines and thoughts remain tragic. Now that Lysander and Helena are coupled, that Lysander speaks for both of them. Her husband silences Emilia because he kills her, making it into a clear-cut tragedy. She becomes a lifeless body on the stage, much in the way Helena has in the final act. Helena experiences a spiritual death, while Emilia is completely eliminated from the play for committing treason against her husband. The genre determines the type of death, but not surprisingly another man has constructed it: Shakespeare.Helena from A Midsummer Night’s Dream and Emilia from Othello allow us to visit the impossible situations that women are put in by men. In these situations, these women struggle with themselves in relation to their male counterparts and these events lead to self-doubt, treason, and love lost or won. The women seem to hate men as well as love them at the same time, thereby questioning institutions as well as conforming to them. Yet these two women differ because of the institution of genre where they reside predetermining their “happy” or tragic ends before their first line is spoken.
“The lunatic, the lover, and the poet are of an imagination all compact” (Act 5, Scene 1, Lines 7-8). This quote by Theseus encompasses the notion of love as being an illusion, a product of the imagination. Love is equated with lunacy and poetry, both intangible qualities, which makes it necessary to question its existence. In A Midsummer Night’s Dream, love is viewed in many different ways. Bottom proves to be quite accurate characterizing the four main lovers when he states, “O what fools these mortals be” (Act 3, Scene 2, Line 115). While the four main characters believe in romanticism, Theseus is a strong supporter of realism. This sets up a comparison between the dichotomy of reason and love; that love is without reason and if we use reason to rationalise love, then perhaps it does not exist or is tenuous at best. In Act 1 Scene 1, Hermia declares her love for Lysander and swears upon “Cupid’s strongest bow, By his best arrow, with the golden head, By the simplicity of Venus’ doves, By that which knitteth souls and prospers loves, And by that fire which burned the Carthage queen When the false Troyan under sail was seen. (Act 1, Scene 1, Lines 169-174)” The oath is strong and invokes the power of mythological beings. However, it is also intangible. As much as the oath alludes to unrestrained and powerful desires (Olson, 105) it cannot withstand “Love-in-Idleness”. The introduction of the potion provides a reason for love; otherwise it is merely an intangible feeling. In other words, the existence of “Love-in-Idleness” gives a tangible representation to loving. However, this brings to mind the question: if a love that is willing to defy death cannot overcome a mere potion, then what is the strength of love that Hermia and Lysander speak of? Moreover, the potion disrupts the natural progression of love. Olson argues “Love moves always to impress its form upon the base material of Chaos” (105). Yet, it is hard to find an example of love in the play. The young lovers Hermia and Lysander, Helena and Demetrius do not exhibit unwavering love. True love is embodied in Shakespeare’s Sonnet 116, where it “looks on tempests and is never shaken” (6). Here, love is not seen to overcome the chaos that Olson speaks of; instead, it causes more chaos and imbalance: Demetrius and Lysander are magically compelled to transfer their love from Hermia to Helena. The play strives for balance, which is why the young lovers are nicely coupled in the end. The chaos caused by the potion, which is an act against nature, builds up tension in the play that has to be resolved by restoring balance. Marriage thus becomes a convenient resolution, a deus ex machina rather than a portrayal of love and the potion is a catalyst for this seemingly loving ending. The potion is essentially a liquid, and this signifies the fluidity of the young lover’s identities. As the play progresses, it is difficult to distinguish between Hermia and Helena. Even their names sound almost identical. This supports Marshall’s assertion that the characters are “changelings in the sense that the play’s plot revolves around their exchanges. (568)” I opine that Shakespeare uses the potion to show how easily the affections of the so-called lover can be swayed. The ease by which their affections switch mocks Helena’s stoic claim that “Love looks not with the eyes, but with the mind. (Act 1, Scene 1, Line 234)” Her statement assumes that love is based on the impressions formed by the lover, and if the lover’s impressions can be swayed so easily and fluidly, then the will to love is undermined. It is worth noting that the female lovers Hermia and Helena stand unfaltering in their devotion to their lovers Lysander and Demetrius, while Lysander and Demetrius are affected by the potion and cannot stay true. The impotence of language is thus highlighted, and this undermines Hermia’s oath in the beginning of the play stated in the above paragraph. The presence of using the potion to induce love also serves as a mockery to love. “Love alters not with his brief hours and weeks (11)” – that is what love is according to the aforementioned sonnet; but in the play, love is altered within hours and that further emphasizes the falsified nature of love. The fact that the play is entitled A Midsummer Night’s Dream reminds readers that a dream is an illusion. Under this pretext, readers enter a world of make-believe, where love can be tampered. This notion possibly offends sensibilities and the traditional logic that love is transcendental of failures. Puck acknowledges this when he ends of the play by apologising “If we shadows have offended, Think but this, and all is mended – That you have slumbered here While these visions did appear. And this weak and idle theme, No more yielding but a dream… (Act 5, Scene 1, Lines 415-420)” Furthermore, the structure of having a play within a play, that is the inclusion of “The most lamentable and most cruel death of Pyramus and Thisby” reminds us that this is only acting. This impresses upon the reader that the stage is an act of illusion, and we cannot ignore the element of uncertainty in the play. With this uncertainty, we thus mistrust the displays of love in A Midsummer Night’s Dream. There are many instances in A Midsummer Night’s Dream where love is coerced from or foisted upon unwilling persons. In Act 1 Scene 1, we are introduced to the dilemma between the love of Hermia and Lysander. Egeus insists that Hermia marry Demetrius if not she will die or be a nun. Marshall offers an explanation to Egeus’ tyranny when he says that Egeus believes that Hermia’s impression “is seen as rightfully his, which is why Hermia’s claim to think and speak for herself is also a crime against her father. (551)” Both the play’s humans and fairies try to shape love into forms that are advantageous not to the lovers, but to the leaders. Egeus insists that Hermia submit to Demetrius or die; Hippolyta must marry Theseus as a symbol of his country’s dominance over hers. And the non-human characters are just as anxious to control the romantic landscape. Again, love is being subjected to intervention and interferes with natural progression. A Midsummer Night’s Dream is a play built on setting up contrasts within scenes. Similarly, the notions of love are being compared. The young lovers are consumed with what they think is love to the point of losing touch with the world and escaping to an alternate reality embodied by the forest. To them, love is a fairy tale that involves no reason. Theseus ridicules this idea when he states that “Lovers and madmen have such seething brains, Such shaping fantasies, that apprehend More than cool reason every comprehends. (Act 5, Scene 1, Lines 4-6)” By this, he is dismissing the young lovers’ love as a fantasy that is without rationale. This is true of the lovers especially when they disregard their family and are willing to even die for their love. Helena represents this foolish loving when she avows, “I am your spaniel, and Demetrius, The more you beat me, I will fawn on you. Use me but as your spaniel – spurn me, strike me, Neglect me, lose me; only give me leave, Unworthy as I am, to follow you. What worser place can I beg in your love – And yet a place of high respect with me – Than to be used as you use your dog? (Act 2, Scene 1, Lines 202-210)” This avowal, though passionate, lacks dignity and sensibility. It is senseless that she is begging for Demetrius’ love only to be loved by him in the end because of the potion. The unity of the lovers is laughable when we rationalise that the pains they have taken to be together is eclipsed by “Love-in-Idleness.” It could be Shakespeare’s way of mocking their love because the pansy in effect, creates love without having to do anything (idleness). Despite my intentions to prove that love does not exist between the young lovers, we have to bear in mind that it is staunch to Lysander’s view that “The course of true love never did run smooth (Act I, Scene 1, Line 134). Love exists if we understand love as a path fraught with difficulties to be overcome. However, this conclusion would be simplistic because it does not take into account the fickleness of the young lovers. By this yardstick, it is then difficult to determine whether love exists or not. And because of this difficulty, I can only conclude that true love is elusive and rare and is perhaps an illusion that can only be found in a dream. After all, didn’t Shakespeare conclude in Sonnet 116 that “If this be error and upon me proved, I never writ, nor no man ever loved”? Works CitedMarshall, David. “Exchanging Visions: Reading A Midsummer Night’s Dream.” ELH, Vol. 49, No. 3. (Autumn, 1982), pp. 543-575.
In ‘The Motives of Eloquence’, Lantham describes Shakespearean drama as the art of “superposition”. One arc of action is performed over others so that “[d]ramatic motive is stronger than ‘real’, serious motive”. The justification of a characters action occurs as theatre. “Drama, ceremony, is always needed to authenticate the experience”. In a morally ambiguous play text, the characters dramatise their motives to justify their actions. While Lantham argues that this dramatisation occurs at the level of the playtext, it is my intent to argue that there is an analogous mechanism operating at the level of the play itself. Shakespearean comedy in particular seems to offer a preferred mode of justice, what I will refer to as comedic justice. Comedic justice is the sense that the play will arrive at a ‘justified’ ending – that ‘true love’ will prevail and villainous characters will be punished for their actions. This comic justice acts to bring the play towards its obligatory, happy conclusion. In this sense, superposition occurs when other characters offer subjective justices: systems of justice that come from the needs of a character rather than a dramatic requirement. Although these subjective justices never triumph in a comedy, they are rarely the target of moralisation. These alternative justices make themselves apparent in production through their flexibility; simple directorial decisions can accentuate these justices, remove them or radically reposition their dominance. In both Max Reinhardt’s and Michael Hoffman’s adaptation of ‘A Midsummer Night’s Dream, the character of Egeus is conspicuously underplayed. While there is the potential for subversive justice, both directors cast him as an inconsequential villain; he is little more than a plot mechanism. Reinhardt’s ‘A Midsummer Nights Dream’ presents the audience with a rebellious Hippolyta. She presents a powerfully constructed alternative justice. This alternative is never dominant and eventually becomes absorbed into the film’s comedic discourse. However, the film can make some claim to preserving the ‘superposition’ present in the play. This contrasts with Michael Hoffman’s adaptation of the same play. In his film, Hippolyta’s justice is reconstructed to act as a function of comedic justice. Of all the films discussed in this paper, the most radical adaptation occurs in Michael Radford’s Shylock in ‘The Merchant of Venice’. Like Egeus, it is possible to characterise Shylock as a discardable comedic villain, devoid of justification. It is equally possible to imagine Shylock as a variation on Hippolyta, a minority justice peripheral to the play. However, Radford chooses to undermine the comedic drive of the play and accentuate Shylock’s tragic potential. There is a comedic justice to the film but its execution can only be achieved at Shylock’s expense. Ultimately, the happy ending demanded by the form is undermined by Shylock’s suffering.A figure from classical mythology, Shakespeare’s Hippolyta comes prefigured with history and character. Her relationship with Theseus in the play is always glossed by reference to her capture and forced marriage. Theseus admits in the first scene, “I woo’d thee with the sword,/and won thy love doing thee injuries”. Reinhardt’s representation of her character accentuates this tension. In contrast to Theseus’ jollity, Hippolyta appears disdainful, even vengeful. Teasdale’s costuming establishes Hippolyta as an emblem of violent, Amazonian power. The snake draped around her shoulders recalls Eve the temptress and her headdress causes her to appear serpentine, herself. In a further nod to classical mythology, Hippolyta keeps her right breast covered throughout the first scene. This serves to remind the audience of the ‘history’ behind Hippolyta’s character and explain her discontent. From the opening of Reinhardt’s film, we see a tragic figure out of place in a comedic setting. Reinhardt’s representation of Hippolyta is aligned against the tone of the opening scene and the play in general. Implicitly, she draws attention to her suffering and the injustice perpetrated against her. Teasdale’s delivery of the lines “Four days will quickly steep themselves in night…” makes clear that Hippolyta wants nothing to do with Theseus. Here, Reinhardt rearranges the playtext so that these lines come after the introduction of the lovers rather than before. This further highlights Hippolyta’s incongruity with the levity of the other characters. Reinhardt’s Theseus may feel justified but he is clearly operating by a system of justice to which Hippolyta does not subscribe. Her characterisation in the opening scene is a representation of dissatisfaction with the dominant justice of the play. While her posited justice remains unrecognised, Reinhardt never gives the audience any moral grounds to deny Hippolyta. Her justice is subservient to the culture of the film but remains a valid alternative, nevertheless.Hoffman’s filmic adaptation of the same play treats Hippolyta’s mythological history quite differently. The change in setting from classical Athens to Monte Athena in the 1800s significantly softens her character; Reinhardt’s Hippolyta is angry and powerful while Hoffman’s is more innocent and playful. When Marceau delivers Hippolyta’s opening lines, there is no hint of the disdain that Teasdale’s performance shows for Theseus. This Hippolyta is clearly attracted to Theseus – even her rebuff of his sexual advance is flirtatious. In general, she seems more congruous with the comedic tone of the play. However, it is made apparent that Hoffman’s Hippolyta is also at odds with Athenian legality. Hippolyta’s reaction to Egeus’ plea is silent but clearly sympathetic to the plight of Lysander and Hermia. Later, she shows her disapproval of Theseus’ ruling when she dismisses his boasting about “the music of [his] hounds”. Interestingly, despite the change in setting, Hoffman retains Theseus’ references to Hippolyta’s classical prefiguration. As a result, the relationship between the two is more equivocal, if happier than Reinhardt’s interpretation. Perhaps Hoffman is suggesting an arranged marriage between Theseus and Hippolyta, not unlike that between Demetrius and Hermia. If this is the case, her defence of Hermia can be read as a projection of her own desires. Regardless, it is clear that Marceau’s Hippolyta is, like Teasdale’s at odds with the dominant justice of the play; both posit a version of justice superimposed on the justice of Athenian law. Despite this, both characters have different roles in their respective films. The justice of Hoffman’s Hippolyta is always working towards and contributing to the play’s happy ending. Reinhardt’s interpretation of the character acts against the comedy. Her justice is alternative, rather than true or false. The former’s concept of justice is aligned with the true justice of the play – the justice that works towards the comedic ending. In contrast, the character of Egeus in the same play is very much aligned with the prevailing system of law. As a father, “the ancient privilege of Athens” to arrange Hermia’s marriage is his. His representation in both films is rather straightforward. He is an elderly man, whose motivation for patronising Demetrius seems rather weak. Lysander remains uncontradicted when he describes himself as being “…as well deriv’d as [Demetrius],/As well possess’d…”. Critics have suggested that Egeus’ preference for Demetrius may be motivated by homoerotic desire. Lysander mockingly suggests to Demetrius: “You have her father’s love, Demetrius: Let me have Hermia’s; do you marry him.” However, neither Hoffman nor Reinhardt makes any clear reference to this reading in their films. He is reduced to a disapproving father acting as plot mechanism, in the vein of Capulet, Brabantio and Polonius. Is it then possible to describe his motivations as justified, as he is represented in the films? In my opinion, he is but only in part. In this role, Egeus draws attention to the distinction between legalistic justice and moral or ‘true’ justice. He is certainly opposed to the system of ‘true’ justice that draws the play to its conclusion. However, unlike Reinhardt’s Hippolyta, Egeus claims a justice that is not alternative but simply false.There is potential for a similar reading of Shylock in ‘The Merchant of Venice’. Whether the character is played “as a repulsive clown or … as a monster of unrelieved evil”, he extols false justice. Palmer suggests that even at his most desperate, there is always potential for grotesque comedy in Shylock’s lines. The concept of legality as an obstacle to justice is recurrent theme in the play. Portia’s chests prevent her from marrying as she chooses and Antonio’s bond threatens to undo a happy, comedic ending. Legalism in the play is always overcome through conceit, justified only by the play’s comedic tone. Portia provides a hint to Bassanio through rhyme in the music and settles Antonio’s bond through a questionable loophole. In these interpretations of the play, Shylock is comparable to Egeus: erroneous and vindictive rather than justified. There is always the possibility, however, of a sympathetic reading of Shylock. It is hard to imagine an interpretation of his “Hath not a Jew eyes?” speech that fails to evoke some degree of sympathy. Radford’s filmic adaptation of the play adopts a variation on this interpretation. In this film, Shylock’s potential as a comedic villain is ignored and he is repositioned as a tragic figure. The film begins with a montage that demonstrates the cruelty of the Christian population towards the Jewish inhabitants of the city. Palmer notes that all characters in ‘The Merchant of Venice’ exhibit questionable moral judgement. Bassanio and Antonio appear to exist in an unhealthy state of co-dependency. Portia’s harsh treatment of Shylock contradicts her earlier references to the benefits of mercy. Radford chooses to emphasise these elements of the play and complicate the vicarious happiness of the main characters, therefore. In this film, Shylock’s justice is not a false justice like that of Egeus. Neither is it an alternative justice competing for validity as with Reinhardt’s Hippolyta. In Radford’s film, it is Shylock’s justice that can make the best claim to validity, despite being uncomedic.In the films discussed above, the directors explore characters’ conflicting notions of justice and resolve this conflict in different ways. Reinhardt’s Hippolyta is an example of a character whose subversive justice repressed and realigned with the justice of the play. Teasdale’s presentation of the character bears little resemblance to the dark Amazon of the film’s opening scene. She appears content with her situation and no longer appears uncomfortable at Theseus’ side. Her change of heart is further represented by her change in costuming. Whereas her initial dress emphasised her violent ‘otherness’, her billowing wedding dress makes her appear more congruous with the other characters. With both breasts apparently intact, she openly engages with the other characters in their mockery of the workers’ play. By the end of the film Hippolyta and Theseus become just one of “all the couples three”. Little is made of this Hippolyta’s drastic change in behaviour. If it runs contrary to principles of psychological realism, we can accept it because it is dramatically correct. This is not to say that a radical interpretation of Hippolyta as a tragic figure is impossible. Reinhardt simply chooses to do something different; the comedic nature of the film requires Hippolyta to submit and so she does. However, her character has already allowed for the possibility of an alternative justice, neither false nor dominant. This Hippolyta conforms but may still say like Laertes, “I can rant as well as thou”. In a reversal of roles, Hoffman requires not Hippolyta to submit but Theseus. The conflict between Hippolyta and Theseus is reduced to a foil for the lovers’ plight. In this film, it is suggest that Theseus subverts legal custom as a concession to Hippolyta. Whatever tension that exists between the two evaporates and the comedic demands of the narrative are fulfilled. Both Hoffman and Reinhardt end the film with three analogous relationships. Despite sharing a similar outcome, the different representations of Hippolyta create two entirely different processes. Hoffman’s Hippolyta subverts legality rather than conforms to it and acts as a champion of the films ‘true’ justice. The film therefore creates a homogenised single system of justice that denies the possibility of Reinhardt’s alternatives. T.S. Eliot states that unity in Shakespeare can be found in its lack thereof: “Unity in Shakespeare but not universality”. For its own purposes, this film creates universality of justice where it is lacking in the play text.Egeus can be similarly problematic for a director who (like Reinhardt or Hoffman) seeks to end the play light-heartedly. Reinhardt seems to completely ignore Egeus in the second half of the play. Having fulfilled his function by instigating the action of the play, he disappears quietly. For Reinhardt, Egeus is more a plot mechanism than a character with any claim to psychology. Hoffman deviates from this formula only slightly. This Egeus has a character but only as a trope. He is dismissed by Theseus as the latter pardons Hermia and Lysander ; later, he expresses his disapproval by forsaking the wedding festivities. His later characterisation in Hoffman’s film only works to increase his resemblance to the father-figure archetype discussed above; he is subsequently discarded as a comic villain. However, an accentuation of the homoerotic reading discussed earlier would create an entirely different character and ending. This Egeus would be more closely comparable to Reinhardt’s Hippolya: an ‘other’ excluded from the comedic discourse of the film – in a word, ‘tragic’.It is this type of character that we see in Radford’s ‘Merchant of Venice’. While Reinhardt’s Hippolyta always threatens to undo the comedy of the film, Radford’s Shylock actually achieves it. While his justice acts in opposition to the comedy of the film it also establishes a secondary, tragic reading. The final scene brings Shylock’s tragic arc to its climax and conclusion. Lynn Collin’s portrayal of Portia-as-Balthazar is confident and comfortable. She extols the benefits of mercy, “above the sceptred sway” and begs him to “tear up the bond”. However, Collin’s Portia never seems to display any hope that Shylock will accept her terms. She knows what the outcome of the trial will be and takes a position of moral superiority. The film consistently establishes binary oppositions of opulence and comfort against decay and squalor – the ghetto of Venice against the comfort of Belmont. Never is this binary more apparent than the dialogue between Portia and Shylock in the final scene. Both characters are eloquent and present powerful arguments in their favour. In all other senses, however, their speech is quite different. Portia’s explanation of “the quality of mercy” is lofty and poetic – the repetition of the ‘s’ and ‘th’ sound pleasing and placative. In contrast, Shylock is deliberately offensive, referencing rats, pigs, urine and other distasteful subjects in his argument. Having been forced to forfeit his bond, Shylock is divested of his wealth and forced to convert to Christianity. As Shylock exits the court, there is a final shot in which members of the Jewish community remove his yarmulke and spit on him. The film’s ending removes Shylock from his own culture and raises doubts about the possibility or desirability of entering another. In one of the final shots of the film, the audience is shown a close-up of Jessica’s turquoise ring. Misinformed, Shylock’s tragic revenge becomes all the more pathetic. His disgrace is echoed even in the insulated paradise of Belmont. The justice of the comedy becomes secondary to the justice of the film. That is, the film’s character of Shylocks acts to infect and ambiguate the happiness of the ending.Together, the various adaptations of Egeus, Hippolyta and Shylock emphasise the fluidity of justice in Shakespearean comedy. Taken from a text that is entirely ambiguous regarding the nature of justice, directorial adaptation can realign, reposition and even ignore the justices of the text. Both versions of Egeus ignore his own justice and characterise him as a comic villain; his potential as a justified minor character is removed. The two different versions of Hippolyta indicate the interpretative power of the director seeking justification for a character. Hoffman’s Hippolyta is simply an extension of the dominant comedic justice. In contrast, Reinhardt’s Hippolyta retains her implicit claim to justice from Theseus. This Hippolyta retains the superpositioned justice of the playtext without explicit moralisation. Radford, on the other hand, chooses to position the dominant justice of the film against the justice of the comedy. Through his characterisation of Shylock, he emphasises the tragedy of the comedy and demonstrates the fluid justice of Shakespearean comedy.BIBLIOGRAPHY (FILMS)A Midsummer Night’s Dream (Michael Hoffman, Fox Searchlight, US, 1999)A Midsummer Night’s Dream (Max Reinhardt, Warner Bros. Pictures, US, 1935)William Shakespeare’s The Merchant of Venice (Michael Radford, Columbia Tristar, UK, 2004)BIBLIOGRAPHY (PRINT)Adler, J., A Life on the Stage: A Memoir, trans. Lulla Rosenfeld; New York, Knopf, 1999.Eliot, T. S., Selected Essays; London, Faber and Faber, 1951.Garrod, W. H., Keats; Oxford, Clarendon, 1939.Lantham, R. A., The Motives of Eloquence; New Haven, Yale University Press, 1976.Palmer, J., Political and Comic Characters of Shakespeare; London, Macmillan, 1964.Powell, B. B., Classical Myth; Upper Saddle River, Prentice Hall, 1998.Shakespeare, W., Hamlet; Harmondsworth, Penguin, 1980.Shakespeare, W., The Merchant of Venice; Cambridge, Cambridge University Press, 1987.Shakespeare, W., A Midsummer Night’s Dream; New York, Penguin Books, 1959.Zimmerman, S., Barroll, and Leeds (eds.), Shakespeare Studies New York, Fairleigh Dickinson University Press, 2004.