A Midsummer Nights Dream
The Concepts of Myth, Magic and Madness in the Play
In a fine example of Shakespearean irony, scholars have suggested that A Midsummer Night’s Dream was originally written as entertainment for an aristocratic wedding. The Lord Chamberlain’s Players provided the noble bride and groom, the ultimate symbol of harmony and true love, with a delightful comedy about gender conflict, transformed emotions, myth, and magic. Shakespeare avoids the social conventions of the civilized world by introducing a ‘green world’ ( Introduction, MND, 808) where the fairies rule. It is within this metaphysical world, and its associated suspended disbelief, that he calls on the fancy of myth and magic as a means of exploring the idiosyncrasies behind human behavior. More importantly, it is only through accepting the possibility of Puck’s love juice or the power of Cupid’s arrow that we can understand and forgive the intolerable behavior between Demetrius, Lysander and their scorned lovers.
As each man changes his affections from one woman to the other, he flings brutal verbal insults toward his past love. These irrational and undeserved rebukes build a relationship of ‘engagement and detachment’ with the audience, which is critical to the mechanics of the comedy. Audience engagement is invited with the sharing of Lysander and Hermia’s elopement secrets in Act 1.1; however the gratuitously cruel statements that follow in 2.1, 2.2, and 3.2 force the audience to detach or distance themselves from the painful insults, and in doing so, laughter is generated (” Introduction” to MND, 810 ). The words themselves, despite their disturbing nature, are not of primary importance. It is the tone established between the characters and the resulting sense of injustice that shocks the audience into this powerfully manipulative relationship.
The biting remarks made by Lysander and Demetrius highlight several areas of conflict that drive the comedy. To begin with, it is essential that the audience accept that such wicked words are the direct result of the power of the metaphysical world. The hierarchy of creation is upside-down in this ‘green world’, and the caustic words and irrational actions of the mortals are a direct result of fairy mischief. Social conflict is evident by a loss of decorum which occurs when Lysander and Demetrius, gentlemen in the city of Athens, become unjustifiably ruthless in their treatment of their past lovers. The social courtesy expected between a gentleman and a young maiden is called into conflict by Lysander’s rude and gratuitous name calling when he refers to the innocent Hermia as an Ethiope, a cat, a burr, and a dwarf (3.2). To be deemed positive, male dominance must be in balance with his role as a protector. When Demetrius threatens to “do [her] mischief in the wood” (2.1.237) when the love-sick Helena follows him into the forest, the relationship appears irrevocability damaged. This remark, shared with other thinly veiled threats, forces the audience to explore the gender conflict.
Not only limited to the stage, secondary conflict is created between the players and the audience. When the powerful arrow of Cupid causes Demetrius to fall in love with Hermia and abandon Helena, the tone established by his stinging words ensures audience sympathy is generated. Likewise, the transformation of Lysander when under the influence of Puck’s love juice is dramatic and powerful. His dreadful and prolonged rebuke of Hermia in Act 3.2 equates him with Demetrius in the audience’s mind. Creating a character type, it becomes difficult to tell the two men apart, and the audience is in conflict when searching to define their identities. The blurring of the characters not only emphasizes action over the character, but is an effective tool in reducing blame. This confusion forces the audience to refrain from choosing one character over another, and to look to the bigger picture: unresolved conflict, the trials of romantic love, and the power of the metaphysical world.
This complex and delightful comedy takes a fanciful look at the power of the metaphysical world. Oberon, Puck, and Cupid are ultimately responsible for the dramatic changes in Lysander and Demetrius. The golden tip of Cupid’s arrow and Puck’s powerful love juice need only a moment to send the mortal world into chaos. The intense passions triggered by the fairies’ misadventures can hardly be blamed on the men themselves, and therefore the portrayals of Demetrius and Lysander do not show psychological verisimilitude. As quickly as Puck’s potions can turn the world upside down, his antidote can right it. Confirmation of this is found in Act 4 when Lysander, explaining himself to Theseus, admits confusion, saying “Half sleep, half waking. But as yet, I swear, I cannot truly say how I came here,” ( 4.1.144-145). Likewise, Demetrius explains his change of heart as being “like in sickness” (4.1.170), but now restored “in health” (4.1.171).
The mechanics of a comedy require disorder and happy resolution. The tone set by the men’s cruel and gratuitous remarks created much of the conflict that drove the plot and incited laughter. By the play’s end, the audience is able to forgive the harsh words as harmony is restored and the metaphysical mischief-makers assume responsibility for the unnatural chaos they have created. Although at times uncomfortable and unjust, perhaps the power of this comedy is built by the extreme discord. As Puck reminds us in the Epilogue, harmony is essential to the fulfillment of a comedy.
Greenblatt,Stephen, et al.,eds. The Norton Shakespeare. New York: Norton,1997.
The Interpretation of Puck’s Character
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 offended
Think but this, and all is mended:
That you have but slumb’red here
While these visions did appear.
And this weak and idle theme
No more yielding but a dream
Gentles do not reprehend: If you pardon, we will mend.
And, as I am an honest Puck
If we have unearned luck
Now to scape the serpent’s tongue
We 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.
The Idea Of Happy Wife Happy Life In A Midsummer Night’s Dream By William Shakespeare
There is a saying that floats around modern society that all of human race is familiar with. This saying “Happy Wife Happy Life” is based around societal norms that portrays; if your female partner is happy (with anything really) the male in the relationship has a great life filled with less nagging. This statement sets up the gender roles we see in everyday life. In marriages, the Wife role normally has the final say and tend to be that hardest to please. On the other hand, there are the husbands who do just what they are told to accomplish and go with the flow with no arguing. Now if life was that simple we would be a well-oiled machine. Even to this day that saying doesn’t always hold true. In the 16th Century gender roles were different and unfortunately, not all relationships/ marriages are the best love story or work out in the best way possible. This can be seen in the play “A Midsummer Night’s Dream, ” by William Shakespeare.
In the Play “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” we are first introduced to Theseus, Duke of Athens and Hippolyta, Queen of the Amazons. Hippolyta is on path to wed the king of Athens, not by choice, but after the defeat of the Amazons. ”Hippolyta, I woo’d thee with my sword/ And won thy love doing thee injuries…” The amazons were ruled by women and Theseus genuinely thinks he won Hippolyta over by taking her by force from her home/kingdom in the Amazons. When thinking about gender roles Hippolyta and Theseus are the perfect example of what a classic male-female role are in the 16th Century societal and current societal relationships. Theseus took over a female dominated sanctuary and took the queen to become his wife, a prisoner, shows men should be portrayed as a dominant force and women serve a less powerful servant role to the male they are married to. This type of forced relationship goes against todays saying of “Happy Wife Happy Life” because it doesn’t matter to Theseus that Hippolyta isn’t happy, and she is not allowed dictate her own life.
The Next two couples we get introduced to are Hermia and Lysander and Demetrius and Helena who get caught up in a love triangle. These couples get complicated and are the main driving force to keep the play moving forward. Hermia and Lysander are in love, but Hermia’s father wants Hermia to marry Demetrius who was once engaged to Helena. Helena still loves Demetrius, but he wants Hermia meanwhile Hermia is interested Lysander. Hermia and Lysander are the most real relationship in the play. They both reciprocate the same feeing’s towards each other however Hermia’s father, Egeus wants to mess up a perfect love story. He believes Lysander “hath bewitch’d the bosom, ” or tricked Hermia into being disobedient towards him as well as “thou hast given her rhymes, ” and has “interchanged love tokens” with Hermia. Because of this Egeus is willing to have his own daughter killed which then forces Lysander and Hermia to run away into the forest to try to live their life. Unfortunately, the couple hits an obstacle that causes confusion of love but eventually find their way back to each other. We can tell Lysanders true love for her by saying ”Love takes the meaning in love’s conference. / I mean, that my heart unto yours is knit/ So that but one heart we can make of it;/ Two bosoms interchained with an oath;/ So then two bosoms and a single troth. ”
This profession of love proves that Lysander wants to do and will do whatever he can to make Hermia happy. Even though the saying “Happy Wife Happy Life” wasn’t prominent in the 16th Century Lysander was abiding by it without actually knowing it existed. With this love story you can also see the gender roles start to change and bring into question the family’s roles in a young women’s life. At first, we see Egeus trying to control Hermia’s life and threatening her with death for disobeying him. He believes he is supreme ruler and sine he is the male in this situation he has the authority to dictate how his daughter lives the rest of her life. Then we see something new, when many girls would obey their fathers especially after being threatened with death, Hermia stands up for herself and challenges the consequences before her. Hermia is trying to take control of her own life and live with a person she loves. Meanwhile, Lysander is by her side supporting her every step of the way and not controlling her every move. I believe this is the first couple of steps to women gaining rights to themselves.
In Shakespearian plays I believe that everyone will interpret the meaning in their own ways depending on what they have been through in life as well as based off of their personal morals and belief systems. The same thing relates to a Marriage Ceremonies. At the end of the story when all is restored Shakespeare leaves out the marriage ceremonies. For what reason? Well I think it’s up for interpretation for me marriage means something different for everyone. Some it’s the gathering of friends and family or being within a church if your religious, and something just as simple as a courthouse marriage. It doesn’t matter which one you do as long as it has a strong bond in your heart for the other person. This is what I think Shakespeare was trying to convey the bond you share with your loved one and that bond is different for everyone.
In conclusion, when you compare the relationship of Theseus and Hippolyta to Hermia and Lysander you have two different relationships that got started on two different moral and belief systems. Hippolyta was forced into a marriage by a man that took her from her home land after he destroyed it. Hermia by choice wanted to spend the rest of her life with Lysander but had her dad controlling her life which caused an issue. They both had a heavy male presence who thought they could always control the situation. If you take the saying “Happy Wife Happy Life’ and apply it to the two couples within William Shakespeare’s, “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” which one is going to have a great life and a great marriage? Not everything will work out perfectly, but Lysander and Hermia will most likely have a prosperous life filled with joy, laughter, and equal respect. While, Hippolyta and Theseus may have a long marriage they may not have a happy overall life together.
The Two Connecting Worlds of A Midsummer Night’s Dream
In Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream, it is during Act IV that the four “lovers” awaken along the boundary of the woods in which they spent the prior evening and attempt to explain and understand the previous night’s happenings. This particular moment in the play exemplifies a transcendental moment, where we as the audience observe the youths trying to make sense of their experiences despite their nonsensical nature. It is in this process that the four characters make comment that lead us to consider further why Shakespeare has juxtaposed the two worlds, what their significance is in relation to each other, why they appear so drastically “apart” (yet physically border each other), and why he has chosen to merge them in the way that he has: by thrusting the young men and women of Athens into chaos as a result of otherworldly fairy magic.
Because this play works in such a dividing way, it is only sensible that to capture the lovers’ true, natural reactions they must physically straddle both worlds. They do so mentally as well, as they awaken to what they perceive as reality yet remain perplexed by the events that have occurred in the recent hours in the night world. For example, Demetrius had been awake and raging for blood over his lust but but awakes transformed – claiming to have found reason, but not knowing how. He says, “My good lord, I know not by what power— / But by some power it is—my love to Hermia, / Melted as the snow, seems to me now / As the remembrance of an idle gaud” (IV.i.167-170). Demetrius’s attempt to explain himself clearly falls short by way of Athenian reason, yet he speaks perfectly rationally as far as we, the audience, know. He does not know the power that has changed him, and the explanation that fairies did it would not be useful to him anyway because it lacks logical sense.
We are also met with a number of comments that imply a half-awake, half-sleeping (or half-dreaming) consciousness. Hermia says, “Methinks I see thing with parted eye, / When everything seems double” (IV.i.191-192). Helena’s response is, “And I have found Demetrius like a jewel, / Mine own, and not mine own” (IV.i.193-194). Demetrius then concludes this with “Are you sure that we are awake? It seems to me / That yet we sleep, we dream” (195-196). Earlier, Lysander uses the phrase “Half sleep, half waking” (IV.i.150). In these statements, the lovers share an experience of uncertainty and double consciousness. They simultaneously understand, in some capacity, that they have just encountered some strange sequence of events, yet also that they are awake in the “real world” which does not allow for any of those events to occur. Thus they descend into rationalization—that these events were merely a dream—and return to the castle. Here, the lovers do not exercise the wisdom we saw Demetrius channel when he admitted ignorance as to why he felt as he did toward Helena. The only character that does this regarding the night world is Bottom, later on. The “split” they encounter directly parallels the split between the two worlds and the inability to bridge them, yet in this moment in the play they are as close as they can ever be to doing so as humans.
The shared nature of this experience is further notable. The characters in this brief part of the scene all remark that they feel the same way about what has happened, yet fail to collaborate enough to reach the truth. It will be mentioned again, but perhaps it is so that no amount of discussion or collaboration, as Demetrius will later suggest as they return to the castle, can bring the lovers to truly understand what has happened. As Demetrius remarks, “These things seem small and undistinguishable, / Like far-off mountains turned into clouds” (IV.i.190-191). Of course one cannot touch clouds, so these distant mirages will remain just that even in their unified attempt to discover the truth, just as in the greater view of the play, it may not be possible for the lovers to truly grasp the truth about other ideas (love, for example) no matter how hard they struggle.
As they depart, Demetrius suggests that “by the way let us recount our dreams” (IV.i.202) as though the lovers plan to carry with them the events of the night and continue to investigate them, however they have been completely unable to do so since they exited the woods. It is this moment that can transition us to understanding this scene in the larger context of the play. The characters cannot apply the “rules” of one world to the other. Athenian law is invalid in the wood and its visitors lay in the hands of the fairies. The effects of the fairy magic cease by day, forcing a return to normalcy. It is impossible for the lovers to ever come to terms with what has actually happened because now they fully reside in the Athenian world, having lost any attempt at grasping the tangible events of the night the moment they departed from the wood’s edge. Later the lovers have discarded the events as dreams completely, and only Hippolyta lends any true meaning to the dreams. As mentioned earlier, she too demonstrates wisdom and understanding by saying that their story “grows to something of great constancy” (V.i.27), as though it may not be purely coincidence that all of the lovers have shared identical dreams on the same night.
The play also speaks of wisdom and logic, which, as explained earlier, the lovers exercise only on rare occasions. The “love” the lovers speak of is often not so much love, but rather lust or infatuation. It is not until they have been processed through the machine that is the forest and its trials can they begin to understand love. Of course, Shakespeare understands that in real life one will not actually experience the forest, yet it exists as a placeholder for the flurries of emotion, lust, and romance that will undoubtedly contend with in their youth as they too try to reach wisdom and the true meaning of love. The characters in A Midsummer Night’s Dream that enter the forest must cope with the whirlwind of emotions in a single evening, so this amplifies our understanding of and experience with these themes. Yet, when the lovers finally awaken, it is worth questioning whether they have actually learned anything. They do return to the castle, they are married, yet the dreams are dismissed and given only a passing thought by Hippolyta.
This moment in Act IV is unique in the play. It is the only moment where the lovers are capable of comprehending both worlds at the same time. It is also the only moment where the lovers exercise wisdom and demonstrate that they may begin to understand the “love” that they felt so strongly about in Act I. The entirety of the experience and the “double vision” that accompanies it is a direct parallel to Shakespeare’s establishment of the two worlds and the stark contrast between them. Throughout the play we can relate scenes back to this one – where the lovers exist on two planes at once, then leave one forever.
The Independence of Helena’s Character
In William Shakespeare’s Midsummer Night’s Dream, Hermia seems to be the strong woman, while Helena is seen as weak and easily dominated. In Gohlke’s article, for example, she describes the “exaggerated submission of Helena to Demetrius” (151), thereby voicing an opinion that is common throughout literary criticism. My concern, however, is with the opposite side of the coin; Helena is actually a far stronger woman than she seems upon initial observation.
Our first introduction to Helena, the pale, tall, and slender maiden, is quite in keeping with “the traditional emblem of forlorn maiden love” (Charlton 115) as she laments over Demetrius, her lost love. We quickly discover that Demetrius has begun to fancy himself in love with Hermia, Helena’s best friend, a situation which brings much woe unto Helena’s heart, as is evident when she begs of Hermia, “O, teach me how you look; and with what art/ You sway the motion of Demetrius’ heart” (155, Act I, Scene I). The extremely desperate lover is played very convincingly here, but Helena’s character comes into question before the scene is over. As Loeff puts it, “she [Helena] does show some measure of initiative when she betrays her best friend so that she can gain her own ends” (72). In her marvelous and character-revealing monologue at the conclusion of Scene I, Helena resolves that
I will go tell him of fair Hermia’s flight;
Then to the wood will he to-morrow night
Pursue her; and for this intelligence
If I have thanks, it is a dear expense:
But herein mean I to enrich my pain,
To have his sight thither and back again (155, Act I, Scene I).
In these lines, we clearly see that Helena is quite capable of being her own woman, making her own decisions, and taking control of her own life. Although these actions are taken for the sake of romantic happiness, they are not at all in keeping with the pitiful little love-forsaken women whom we might have previously imagined Helena to be. This is a very bold action for the woman who was just previously whining in concern to “[h]ow happy some o’er other some can be!” (155, Act I, Scene I). In risking any future trusting relationship with the woman into whose confidence she has been taken, Helena shows that she is willing to take the chance of living in a state of complete and utter friendlessness for the chance at recovering her “true love.”
A much later example of this same boldness comes in her confrontation with Hermia while the four lovers are wandering through the woods, while, “with both men claiming to love her she [Helena] becomes suspicious and suspects that they have contrived a joke at her expense” (Quennell 121). Although she fails to comprehend any of the mysterious causes for these sudden infatuations, Helena does take another huge step in becoming her own, independent person when she essentially defies all three of her companions (Hermia, Demetrius, and Lysander) and runs off on her own, uttering this final curse to Hermia:
I will not trust you, I;
Nor longer stay in your curst company.
Your hands than mine are quicker for a fray;
My legs are longer, though, to run away (165, Act III, Scene II).
As she literally runs away from her friends and into the unknown by herself, she figuratively makes her departure from the dependent life that she has been leading under the shelter of her friends and enters the world of independent life. Leoff sums up this scene quite nicely when she states that “[t]his abandonment of her initial role is a step forward toward an individual personality” (72).
A final example of Helena’s independent nature is imbedded in the wariness with which she finally accepts the love of Demetrius. As is traditional of Shakespeare’s comedies, A Midsummer Night’s Dream concludes with a myriad of happy marriages, but it take Helena some time to believe that Demetrius’s love for her is true. As he and Lysander fight for her favor, she insists upon believing that each are joking with her and that neither one means what he says. Before she departs, she exclaims, “To Athens will I bear my folly back,/And follow you no farther” (165, Act III, Scene II). Her experience with love has at least taught her that she must be more careful before setting her affections on any one thing or person. So, although by Act IV, Scene I, she is willing to accept the love that Demetrius offers her, she is now experienced enough “to demand effective guarantees before accepting it” (Charlton 116), finally describing their relationship by stating that she has “found Demetrius like a jewel” (168, Act IV, Scene I).
It is very simple to understand Helena as a weak and dependent character who sits around waiting for her beloved to love her back, but it is clear, upon an analytical reading of the play, that she is, in fact, the stronger woman of the two main characters.
Charlton, H. B. Shakespearean Comedy. London: Methuen, 1961.
Gohlke, Madelon. “‘I wooed thee with my sword’: Shakespeare’s Tragic Paradigms.” Eds. Carolyn Ruth Swift Lenz, Gayle Greene, and Carol Thomas Neely. Chicago: U of Illinois P, 1980. 150-70.
Leoff, Eve. William Shakespeare’s “A Midsummer Night’s Dream”. New York: Simon and Schuster, 1964.
Quennell, Peter and Hamish Johnson. Who’s Who in Shakespeare. New York: William Morrow, 1973.
Shakespeare, William. “A Midsummer Night’s Dream.” William Shakespeare: The Complete Works. New York: Random House, 1975.
Charlton, H. B. Shakespearean Comedy. London: Methuen, 1961.
Godfrey, Howard. “Some puns on musical terms in ‘A Midsummer Night’s Dream.’” Notes and Queries 40.2 (1993): 179-80.
Gohlke, Madelon. “‘I wooed thee with my sword’: Shakespeare’s Tragic Paradigms.” Eds. Carolyn Ruth Swift Lenz, Gayle Greene, and Carol Thomas Neely. Chicago: U of Illinois P, 1980. 150-70.
Leoff, Eve. William Shakespeare’s “A Midsummer Night’s Dream”. New York: Simon and Schuster, 1964.
Quennell, Peter and Hamish Johnson. Who’s Who in Shakespeare. New York: William Morrow, 1973.
Watkins, Ronald and Jeremy Lemmon. In Shakespeare’s Playhouse: “A Midsummer Night’s Dream”. Totowa, New Jersey: Rowman and Littlefield, 1974.
The Misogynic Perspective in Midsummer Night’s Dream
As members of a patriarchal society, the women in A Midsummer Night’s Dream are obligated to be subservient to the men. Power is only extended to women in the fictional world of Fairyland. This exemplifies the misogyny of the time, where women had no significant societal role in the real world. However, once in the Fairyland, the women are able to make their own choices and demonstrate their true power. Although the males in A Midsummer Night’s Dream are oppressively misogynistic in the “real world,” the supposedly submissive females prove to be the most powerful once they are given the chance to be so in the Fairyland.
Egeus, the father of Hermia, is the most misogynistic male in A Midsummer Night’s Dream. He dehumanizes his daughter Hermia by objectifying her and stripping her of her human rights and dignity. As her only parent, Egeus takes responsibility of Hermia and makes all of her choices for her, regardless of her consent: “As she is mine, I may dispose of her” (Shakespeare 5). Egeus’ constant possession over Hermia proves he only sees her as his property, not as a human being. By objectifying his own daughter, he has no qualms with forcing his decisions on her. The most prominent decision Egeus forces upon Hermia is his choice of who she will marry: “She is mine and all my right of her I do estate unto Demetrius” (Shakespeare 6). Not only does Egeus wrongfully give ownership of Hermia to Demetrius, he does not take into account Hermia’s opinion on this matter. Hermia, who is not interested at all in Demetrius, is in love with Lysander.
In this society, marriage is political tool used to elevate the social status. Because Lysander is below Hermia’s social class, Egeus refuses to consider him as an eligible choice: “Oh hell to choose love from another’s eyes” (Shakespeare 8). Hermia is torn between being the obedient daughter she has been raised to be, and longing to marry the man she is in love with.“I would my father looked but with my eyes” (Shakespeare 5). In saying this, Hermia wishes her father would look through her perspective before making decisions for her. Although Egeus insists on choosing her future husband, Hermia desperately tries to convince him otherwise. “Hermia [… is] thwarted in [her] choice in defiance of the men socially positioned to deny the matches,” (Buccola para 8). Because A Midsummer Night’s Dream is set in a society based on male supremacy, it is seen as unlawful for Hermia to defy her father’s wishes. While Egeus demonstrates the most common form of misogyny, male supremacy, other characters demonstrate different variations of prejudice of women.
Although Demetrius may act in a loving way towards Hermia, he is still openly demeaning and cruel to other women in the play. He constantly degrades Helena, Hermia’s friend, refusing to even treat her as a human being. Helena pleads, “What worser place can I beg in your love And yet a place of high respect with me Than to be usèd as you use your dog?” to which Demetrius responds, “Tempt not too much the hatred of my spirit For I am sick when I do look on thee,” (Shakespeare 8). His treatment of Helena reflects on his view of women: he does not see them as equals, let alone human beings. Regardless of Helena’s feelings, Demetrius is relentless in hurting her.
Demetrius displays sexist behavior towards Hermia by trying to force himself upon her. He is in “love” with Hermia, based off of her look and social class, not her character. In A Midsummer Night’s Dream, when Demetrius is describing Hermia, he uses words such as “sweet” and “fair”.This demonstrates his lust, not love, for her. His motive of marrying her to gain power is evident in his dire attempts to sway Hermia: “Relent, sweet Hermia And, Lysander, yield Thy crazèd title to my certain right,” (Shakespeare 4). He is desperately trying to get Hermia to give into him. Frustrated with the fact that Hermia is being anything other than obedient and agreeable with him, Demetrius exemplifies himself as a result of the patriarchal society he is a part of.
Another example of this patriarchal society is Oberon, the king of the fairies; he does not see his wife, Titania as his equal. As soon as the couple appears onstage during the play, they immediately begin to argue. “Ill met by moonlight, proud Titania,” (Shakespeare 19). He greets her with hostility and contempt as she enters. Oberon is jealous of the small Indian boy Titania has been caring for and demands that she give him up. “For Oberon is passing fell and wrath Because that she, as her attendant hath A lovely boy stolen from an Indian king. She never had so sweet a changeling. And […] Oberon [is jealous],” (Shakespeare 18). Oberon sees Titania as his property and does not think she should be caring for anyone other than himself. He becomes jealous when she cares for someone other than himself.
In A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Oberon, like Egeus, treats Titania as his own property. When Titania tries to deny Oberon, he forces himself upon her. She argues, “I have forsworn [your] bed and company.” To which Oberon replies, “Tarry, rash wanton; am I not thy lord?” Titania, seeing no means of disentangling herself from this dispute, eventually gave in: “Then I must be thy lady,” (Shakespeare 19).
Although Oberon is a fairy, like Puck, he acts misogynistically towards Titania. Oberon’s egocentric attitude may be related to his title as king within the fairy community. Shakespeare’s connection between misogyny and people in political power connects a hatred of women to a fear of woman whose intellect or political prowess equals or exceeds that of men. Oberon feels threatened and his mistreatment of Titania is a byproduct of his own desire to maintain leadership in the Fairyland:“Shakespeare portrays complex layers of power dynamics, as the play depicts a back-and-forth oscillation of authority and rebellion between the two worlds of Athens and fairy land. A better acknowledgment of the folkloric views concerning the fairy queen’s authority should reorient the view of power relations in the play and offer a different model of the play’s engagement with gender and sexuality,” (Wells para 6).The degradation of Titania by Oberon reveals an attempt to stifle Titania’s leadership and allows Oberon to view her as less of a threat. Puck, merely a servant, holds no exceptional position within the royal court, giving him no reason to fear or hate women for their potential to surpass him. Oberon acts the most misogynistically in the Fairyland because he is in the greatest position of power and, therefore, feels the most threatened by opposition.
When Puck inhabits the Fairyland his actions and character reflect the ideals of the fictional world in contrast to the sexism and bigotry which plagued the “real world” in the 16th century. Puck’s character in A Midsummer Night’s Dream is a foil to Oberon’s. While Puck, the jester, is childish, cheerful, and mischievous, King Oberon is his opposite: serious, solemn, and vengeful. Of the two, Puck symbolizes the fairies more accurately:“Shakespeare rendered the fairies of A Midsummer Night’s Dream perhaps more good-natured than the devil’s kin, but still something less than kind. David P. Young, for example, asserts of the fairies that “Their benevolent presence in this play serves to emphasize the comic context only if they are recognized as potentially dangerous” (Buccola para 11).Puck has these characteristics depicted by Buccola and Young; although he is not cruel like Oberon, he is not completely good, as he plays tricks on others. Puck’s interaction with the women shows that unlike Egeus, Demetrius, and Oberon, all men of power, he does not act in a misogynistic nature.
A phenomenon unique in Fairyland is the capability of women to stand up against empowered men. Titania, the wife of Oberon, frequently asserts herself over Oberon:“She is icily haughty and insists on having her way, although, since she and Oberon are elemental forces of nature, their dispute is causing bad weather, as she vividly describes in 2.1.88–117. During Titania’s enchantment she is a vapid lover, and afterward, she merely serves a decorative role. Her chief qualities are regal pride and grand diction,” (Hudson Shakespeare Company para 19).Because Titania is the queen of the Fairyland, she is able to resist Oberon and his overbearing misogyny. Buccola characterizes Titania as: “Central among the ‘actual’ fairy characters in the play is the fairy queen. Popular belief almost universally construed fairyland to be under the sway of a female monarch, not always paired with a male consort as is Shakespeare’s Titania,” (para 9). Because Titania has power, she is able to lead without the need of a male presence.
Through her perseverance and the eventual overcome of her battle between her father’s tight grip on her and her longing to have her own life, Hermia proves herself to be one of the most powerful characters. Because this play is set in a patriarchal society, Hermia is obligated to be subservient to the males in her life. However, Hermia finds fault with this system and makes it her mission to defy it: “He no more shall see my face; Lysander and myself will fly this place,” (Shakespeare 16). Because her father is forcing her into marrying a man she is not in love with, she defies her father and marries who she truly loves. Not only does Hermia defy her father, she also denies Demetrius, something that is unheard of in this time. Hermia, after freeing herself from her father’s tightly wound grip of her life choices, is finally able to make decisions on her own. After she runs away to the Fairyland with Lysander, she is able to live freely. The Fairyland, unlike the “real world” allows her to make her own choices. With this newly awarded power, Hermia marries Lysander. Hermia, after freeing herself from her father’s tightly wound grip of her life choices, is finally able to make decisions on her own. After she runs away to the Fairyland with Lysander, she is able to live freely. The Fairyland, unlike the “real world” allows her to make her own choices. With this newly awarded power, Hermia marries Lysander.
In A Midsummer Night’s Dream, the males use their naturally given power to reign over the women. This is because of the patriarchal society A Midsummer Night’s Dream is set in. Yet, once they arrive into the Fairyland, the newly empowered women use this power to stand up against and defy the males. Such an association of powerful women with fantasy highlights the absurdity and futility of the notion.
The Play A Midsummer Night’s Dream by William Shakespeare.
In the play A Midsummer Night’s Dream by William Shakespeare. Shakespeare represents four types of love: forced love, parental love, romantic love and complicated love.
At the beginning of the play, we see a forced love between Theseus and Hippolytus, queens of the Amazons. Theseus mentions in act 1 “I have courted you with my sword, to show that he has won it with his sword as in the battle to win his love.” In Scene 1 of Act 5, Hippolyte says ” My Theseus “shows that she is ready to marry her. We, readers, are not sure if these two characters are really in love or are getting married because Theseus won a battle. Throughout the story, it seems that her love for Hippolyta had probably developed for her and had both married them, since he had understood the love of the four lovers between Hermia, Helena, Demetrius and Lysander. This probability made him vulnerable to the effects of love that people have for each other.
Another type of love that Shakespeare shows is parental love, Egeus and Hermia. Egeus seems to be very commanding and strict. His character represents that the father has the right of passage and the boss. The reason is that even though Hermia is madly in love with Lysander, he refuses to marry them. Egeus prefers Demetrius to marry him, because he thinks that it suits him best.
In my opinion, I believe that the reason why Egues might not want to marry Lysander. He probably knows better Demetrius as a character, since he knows him very well. Perhaps in the spirit of Egeus, he seems to be best suited for her. In addition, everyone wants the best for their daughter and wants them to be happy. He might think that Demetrius will bring happiness to his Lysander because of Lysander in his eyes. Even if everyone wants to be happy, they should be happy to make their own decisions.
True love is also expressed in this game between Hermia and Lysander. Even if Egeus asks his daughter to marry Demetrius but she refuses and runs away with Lysander. Regardless of the problems the couple faced, Hermia’s father refuses Lysander to marry her and Lysander and Demetrius argue over her because they both have feeling for her. The true love of Hermia and Lysander is in this end.
The additional love that is classified in the play “A Midsummer Night’s Dream by William Shakespeare” is complicated love. In this play four young adults are madly in love with each other but there is an imbalance of the love each one has for each other. Hermia loves Lysander, Lysander loves Hermia, Helena loves Demetrius, and Demetrius loves Hermia instead of Helena. Lysander and Hermia but Helena is completely passionate about Demetrius but does not have eyes for her.
These affectionate relationships between them transform more than one young person because of the punk accidentally applies Lysander’s eyelid love potion, Helena and falls in love with her the identical love potion was applied to Demetrius’s eyelids who also falls in love with Helena once he awakes. Both being in love with Hermia confuses Helena and Hermia. Yet near the end all four young adults get what they wish for. Hermia is with Lysander and Helena with Demetrius. It looks that Shakespear is trying to expression to the reader that love could go around in circles and become complex yet if one tries you can succeed in love.
Shakespeare presents diverse types of love in “A Midsummer Night’s Dream”. His well-known quote “The race of true love never works smoothly”, expressions that love recognizes its ups and downs. The way I see what he shows us is that love is kind of tied to life because it’s very unpredictable. Just like in the room that knew if Hermia and Lysander would end up with Helena and Demetrius, but they did.
William Shakespeare’s Description of the Difference of Imagination and Realism as Illustrated in His Play, A Midsummer Night’s Dream
Dreams, we all have them. Whether they be about the love of our life or our greatest fear, when we fall asleep, we lose the ability to tell the difference between reality and fiction. It’s why we actually feel like we’re falling off a building and wake up breathless. But when we wake up, we realize we were just dreaming and we can breathe a sigh of relief. However, what would happen if we couldn’t tell the difference between our dreams and reality? William Shakespeare in A Midnight Summer’s Dream shows us just how confusing and disorienting that would be.
There are rather three and a half stories in this one large story. In the beginning, Theseus and his bride are bored and want amusement before the wedding. That is the half story. Hermia’s father brings in his daughter and her beau, Lysander. This being Shakespeare, Hermia and Demetrius are meant to be married, not Hermia and Lysander. But of course, there is the jilted fiancée Helena who is still in love with Demetrius. Hermia and Lysander plan to run off and elope, but Helena tells Demetrius who wants to go after the two, and Helena follows Demetrius into the woods. That is the first story. Next is the carpenters and their little play. This act introduces Nick Bottom, a very self-obsessed part-time actor, who is a little different. The carpenters will be preforming a play at the wedding of Theseus and his bride. This scene fades with them agreeing to meet in the woods later on that night. Then you have Oberon and Titania, king and queen of the fairy court. They’re upset with each other because of a little Indian boy. Oberon is upset and wants to humiliate his wife so he calls on Puck. Puck, aka Robin Goodfellow, is a trickster and rather careless. Those two things are never really a good combination.
What happens is rather odd, but not all that confusing. Oberon sees Demetrius treat Helena rather rudely and he gets upset, so he tells Puck to make Demetrius fall in love with Helena. Unfortunately, Puck got bored rather quickly so he saw Lysander and Hermia and put the potion on Lysander’s eyelids. Lysander woke up and saw Helena. Helena is awkward and tall and probably has never had anyone but Demetrius court her. She thinks he’s merely mocking her when he professes his love for her. When Puck goes to fix his mistake however, she believes Demetrius is mocking her as well. She has no confidence in herself. Skip to when Puck goes to find Bottom and turn him into a donkey. He gets it half right. He gives him a donkey’s head, but then Bottom doesn’t realize this and he scares off his companions, whom are the other actors. So Bottom is upset and when the fairy queen, who has also been given the potion to fall in love with whomever she wakes up to see, he is pleased with himself, still not knowing what fate has befallen upon him. Finally when Oberon taunts Titania about being in love with a donkey, she relents about the issue of the boy. Bottom is changed back and sent on his merry way, believing it was all just a dream, that he had just fallen asleep during play practice. So he goes back and all his actor buddies are so happy because they thought that he had been eaten by the donkey monster. Back to the four lovers, Hermia is very upset with Helena, because she figured that Helena had used her height to steal away Lysander. Hermia is ready to fight, but Lysander and Demetrius also want to duke it out for the love of Helena, who still believes everyone is mocking her about her loveless love life. So they all run off into the forest. Thankfully though, Puck sorts it out and Lysander is back in love with Hermia. The four lovers get married along with Theseus and his bride and the actors preform their play. All’s well that ends well.
Shakespeare sought to recreate the effects of a dream the same way we don’t know that we’re not falling until we open out eyes and we’re safe in bed. He put in a play events so bizarre that the characters that experienced them could only rationalize them by saying that it was simply a dream. A few of the characters themselves are dreamlike, such as Oberon, Titania and Puck, all of them being of the fair-folk. Magic flowers and fairies are only in dreams and Shakespeare sought to point out that the impossibilities and fantasies that we dream about are much the same. We would not in real life believe that someone’s head was changed into that of a donkey’s. Nor would we believe that suddenly two men, previously in love with one girl, could just switch to that girl’s best friend. It’s almost like déjà vu because when we see something that we know we’ve seen before, our brain registers it as odd then files it away in the “I must have been dreaming category.” Our minds have been taught that magic itself doesn’t exist except in books or in Las Vegas, therefore when something strange pops up, like a man’s head suddenly turning into a donkey’s, we rationalize it and that was what Shakespeare’s point was.
The dreams that we dream at night or during the day are merely fantasies of ours that we cannot enact during the living day. Perhaps they are impossible with the technology we have now. Maybe it’s performing a love spell on the person you like. Could it be that you want to be a ninja? “And this weak and idle theme no more yielding than a dream.” (Shakespeare, 189) This last line of Puck’s is meant to say that if your mind is so set against this play or anything that your brain decides is false, then go on and believe it nothing more than a dream, because after all we never know which is true, reality or dreams.
Introduction of the Mechanicals and the Perception of an Audience
Almost completely opposite the beautiful, grave, and love-struck young Athenian nobles are the awkward, ridiculous, and deeply confused Mechanicals, around whom a great deal of A Midsummer Night’s Dream’s most comical scenes are centred. They are first introduced to the audience in Act 1 Scene 2, which is immediately after the introduction of the Athenian nobles. Where the young lovers are elegant and well spoken—rather appropriate given their roles as melodramatically passionate youths—the Mechanicals often fumble their words and could not be less well suited for acting. Shakespeare uses this disparity between their roles and their abilities to make the most of their comic value in the following scene.
At the beginning of the scene, the difference that would be immediately noticed by the audience would be the use of prose language by the Mechanicals. It is obviously in contrast with the usage of verse in the Athenian court, thus making it an instant shift from the previous scene. The stark contrast is further sustained by the fact that the characters introduced are clearly of Shakespeare’s time and place, and it could be Shakespeare’s way of representing the bulk of his audience (the common folk) on stage. The practical language allows these audience members to not only relate and identify with the characters but to also emotionally invest in them. Hence, the playwright can ensure that their interest in the play is maintained. The director might choose to make the Mechanicals’ identities even clearer by setting the scene in a shed, with props (serving as tools) that represent their various occupations. The director can also choose to establish the social status of these characters by having the Mechanicals wear dishevelled, baggy clothes.
Nevertheless, it is necessary to note that although physicality plays an important role, most of the characterisation of the Mechanicals relies heavily on the language used by Shakespeare. For instance, Bottom’s ignorance is showcased even in his first line in the play when he contradicts himself by saying that Peter Quince ought to introduce the players ‘generally, man by man’. The word Bottom should have used instead was ‘severally’, and at this point in the play, the audience would have gotten a hint of bottom’s burgeoning overconfidence. Bottom’s tendency to utilise incorrect words is again demonstrated through his usage of the word ‘scrip’ instead of ‘script’. This malapropism ensures the audience that the misuse of the word ‘generally’ was not a slip of the tongue, and that Bottom is actually daft. It is worth noting that although this joke would have amused Elizabethan audiences, it might be missed by a modern audience due to the reduced usage of the word in recent times. However, Bottom is not the only character amongst the Mechanicals whose wit can be deemed questionable. When Peter Quince claims that these players are the people ‘which is thought fit’ to portray the characters in their upcoming play, it sets up the audience’s expectations. Audience members who were naive to the plot might have genuinely expected a well-fitted play, which is why when the cast is announced, the audience would find the situational irony hilarious.
This particular scene in the play sees not only the introduction of the Mechanicals, but the introduction of a metatheatrical element as well. This element is cemented when Peter Quince’s reveals that the title of their play is ‘The most lamentable comedy and most cruel death of Pyramus and Thisbe’. A modern audience would find the oxymoronic title laughable, however an audience of Shakespeare’s time might have found the line to be humourous for more reasons than that. This is because it is highly likely that Shakespeare was parodying the elaborate titles of plays of the past such as A new Tragicall Comedie of Apius and Virginia. The fact that the Mechanicals have chosen to perform the story of Pyramus and Thisbe only heightens the comedy as the story itself is highly dramatic, involving suicides and tragically wasted love. Hence, the members of the audience who happen to be familiar with the plot of Pyramus and Thisbe would have recognised that the Mechanicals have created a recipe for disaster. On top of having a company of horribly unskilled and inexperienced actors (although endlessly well meaning), the Mechanicals have chosen a play that could not possibly be less well suited for them and for a wedding. Bottom even goes as far as to pronounce the play as a ‘merry’ piece of work, which provides additional evidence of his ignorance. This would have naturally evoked both sympathy and laughter from the audience.
Shakespeare then takes the roll call as an opportunity to formally introduce the Mechanicals individually to the audience. The characters were mentioned by their name, followed by their trade, and were eventually told the part that they have been assigned. Interestingly, their names either relate to their trades, their appearances or to their personalities. For instance, Bottom could suggest a bottom of thread, which correlates to his job as a weaver. After Bottom was told that he was cast as the lead, he declares that he will ‘move storms’ with his performance. His hyperbolic tone is effective in creating dramatic irony, for the audience is painfully aware of Bottom’s inadequacy as an actor, yet Bottom seems oblivious to that fact. The situation is made worse with Bottom’s egotistical tendencies, as can be seen through his repeated usage of the pronoun ‘I’. In fact, Bottom is so carried away by himself that he starts doing a demonstration of his abilities as an actor. However, this demonstration of his only makes him look more pathetic in the eyes of the audience. The iambic dimeter lines recited by Bottom create the sense of a lack of sophistication, especially when compared to the original verse from Seneca’s Hercules Oetaeus, and the simple rhythm amplifies how simple Bottom is as a person. Once Bottom’s ‘performance’ was over he declared that the text was ‘lofty’, which once again produces dramatic irony because (if the audience knew the original text) the audience would have known that the original was even more so. Hence, the audience might experience vicarious embarrassment from Bottom’s humiliating behaviour.
The audience finally gets some temporary relief from Bottom through the introduction of another Mechanical by the name of Francis Flute. ‘Flute’ could refer to the character’s piping voice, which makes him a suitable fit for the role of Thisbe. Should the director choose to have an actor with a high pitched voice play Flute, it would make Flute’s guess of his role as ‘a wandering knight’ all the more comical as the term carries the connotation of masculinity and heroism, which is the exact opposite of Thisbe’s traits. By now, the audience is laughing with glee at the expense of Flute who is desperately pleading Quince to change his mind so that he would not have to ‘play a woman’. Bottom conveniently makes a reappearance, eagerly volunteering himself to play the part that Flute is unhappily stuck with. The audience might find Bottom’s overflowing enthusiasm to be slightly overwhelming, which perhaps would allow them to empathise with Quince, the Mechanical that has to deal with all of Bottom’s antics. At this point in the scene, the tailor, the joiner and the tinker are introduced. The tailor’s name can be seen as being relevant to his appearance, for the name ‘Starveling’ points to the image of a tailor being thin and weak; whereas the tinker’s name (‘Snout’) is possibly related to his trade in mending kettles. On the other hand, ‘Snug’ can mean close fitting, which is appropriate to his job as a joiner. Even though Quince’s job was not explicitly mentioned, it is possible that Quince was a carpenter, given that his name sounds like the word quoins. Once the roll call is complete, Quince optimistically hopes that ‘here is a play fitted’. This provides dramatic irony, as the audience is now well aware of how ill-suited the players are to their roles.
It is safe to say that the hilarity in this scene does not stop there. Snug assumes that the lion’s part involves talking, which in itself speaks volumes about Snug’s intelligence as a character. This can serve as a way of providing comfort for the audience, because the audience will be able to feel good about themselves when they compare themselves to the rather foolish characters on stage. After Quince reassures Snug that his part is nothing but roaring, Bottom interjects yet again in similar fashion by volunteering for the part of the lion. The audience would no longer find his overconfidence to be hilarious as they would have gotten tired of it, and it is highly possible that they now find it irritating instead. Fortunately, Quince attempts to put a stop to this idea by mentioning the detrimental effects of having a too ferocious lion on stage. This could have been a reference to an actual incident in Shakespeare’s time where a lion was excluded from celebrations in the Scottish court because it might have brought unnecessary fear. Hence, an Elizabethan audience would have found Quince’s rebuttal to be reasonable, whereas a modern audience would have found his rebuttal to be slightly ridiculous. Bottom is still unconvinced, and tries to appeal by assuring the company that he will ‘aggravate’ his voice so that he will roar ‘as gently as any sucking dove’. The audience would find not only his idea but his language to be absurd, thanks to the malapropism present and the confusion of proverbs. Quince finally persuades Bottom to play the role of Pyramus by putting the character of Pyramus on a pedestal through the usage of highly positive diction such as ‘proper’ and ‘gentlemanlike’. The fact that Quince had to convince Bottom as if he was a child further displays how troublesome Bottom can be as a character.
Bottom’s concerns now shift to that of his appearance. He offers Quince several choices for the colour of his beard, and in the process mentions the colour of French-crown as a viable option, which allows Quince to grab this opportunity to make fun of Bottom. Shakespeare uses the term French-crown as a double entendre, for it can mean either the golden French coins, or it can allude to the baldness produced by syphilis (which was known as the ‘French disease’ back in the Elizabethan era). Therefore, a modern audience might have missed this joke, but this joke surely would not have passed unnoticed by an Elizabethan audience. This, coupled with Bottom’s declaration that they will rehearse ‘most obscenely’ (a likely error for the word ‘seemly’) in the woods, would have made the audience raucous with laughter.
Overall, this scene reveals how clueless the Mechanicals are when it comes to a dramatic production: their speeches are full of impossible ideas and mistakes; their concerns about their parts are farcical; and their extended discussion about whether they will be executed if the lion’s roaring frightens the ladies further evidences the fact that their primary concern is with themselves, not their art. Hence, it can be said that by creating comedy out of the utter foolishness of the Mechanicals, Shakespeare has skilfully provided a refreshing moment of lightheartedness in a play with an otherwise serious nature.
Puck’s Motivation and Depiction in A Midsummer Night’s Dream
What motivates Puck in A Midsummer Night’s Dream? Also known as Robin Goodfellow, the spirit Puck is based on legend contemporary to Shakespeare (OED). His origins are as curious as his character: the Oxford English Dictionary traces the origin of Puck to “the pouke… commonly identified with the biblical devil.” In the sixteenth century Puck becomes associated with Robin Goodfellow, “[a] sportive and capricious elf or goblin believed to haunt the English country-side” or, in the words of a Fairy in Shakespeare’s play, a “shrewd and knavish sprite” (II, i: 33). Puck plays a critical role in the plot development of “A Midsummer Night’s Dream.”
True to legend and reputation, Puck carries out all sorts of mischief. He transforms Bottom into an ass-headed figure, and to witness Bottom’s face follows the metamorphosed Bottom “[t]hrough bog, through bush, through brake, through / brier” (III, i: 102). When Oberon orders him to anoint Titania’s and Demitrius’ eyes with a magical love “juice,” Puck mistakes Demetrius for Lysander and causes much confusion. He is also responsible for Titania’s misplaced love. When she awakes and falls in love, the object of her mad affection is none other than Bottom, the ass.
What are Puck’s motives? The answer is offered partially by Puck himself: he is a “merry wanderer,” attempting to create many “a merrier hour” (II, i: 43, 57). But what fuels Puck’s fundamental desire to create such merriment? This question takes a more intriguing turn if we consider Puck as Shakespeare’s on-stage representative.
First, like an author, Puck moves between worlds; he is a spirit who often interacts with mortals, just as Shakespeare bridged his fictional world and the real one around him. Second, Puck acts as the author’s voice in the epilogue:
If we shadows have offended,
Think but this, and all is mended—
That you have but slumbered here
While these visions did appear.
And this weak and idle theme,
No more yielding but a dream… (V, i: 415-420)
Here Puck accounts for the play’s title and apologizes for any offenses that the audience may have felt while watching the “shadows” perform a “weak and idle theme.” Shakespeare might well be speaking his own mind through Puck in these lines. From elsewhere in the play, we know that Shakespeare endorses the concept of an author addressing an audience by proxy. Bottom makes just such a proposition, proposing to write a disclaimer into the introduction of his play: “Let the prologue seem to say… that Pyramus is not killed indeed… tell them that I am not Pyramus, but Bottom / the weaver. This will put them out of fear” (III, i: 16-20).
Another parallel between Puck and Shakespeare occurs when Puck stumbles in upon a rehearsal of Pyramus and Thisby: “What, a play toward? I’ll be an auditor; / An actor too perhaps, if I see cause” (III, i: 74-75). Puck is an auditor by virtue of his presence and an actor in the sense of a participant, for he eventually transforms Bottom. Shakespeare is an auditor too, an avant-premiere audience of both the play and this “play within a play.” He acts vicariously through Puck, sharing the motive both to generate comedy and to further the dramatic plot.
If we consider Puck as Shakespeare and vice versa, it is easier to interpret Puck’s motives. Like Shakespeare, he wants to stage an entertaining production that is compelling to the end. Appropriately enough, the word mischief originates from the Old French meschever: mes, badly, and chever, to come to an end. Puck sustains the play to its conclusion by promoting the “entertainment value of subversion” that is so central to Shakespearean drama. If not always merry, Puck’s mischief certainly keeps the audience engaged.