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 Dualistic Nature of Supernatural
As critic Ronald Miller so eloquently declared, “The complex and subtle intellectuality of Shakespeare’s comic art was never better illustrated than by A Midsummer Night’s Dream and, in particular, by Shakespeare’s employment of the fairies in that play” (Miller 486). It may be added that the employment of this type of supernaturalism, in general, is what distinguishes A Midsummer Night’s Dream from any other Shakespearean work. Though many critics of Shakespeare’s time thought this work to be a “piece of fluff,” modern critic Miller suggests that it “is now more likely to be read as a study in the epistemology of the imagination” (486).
Overall, Shakespeare’s use of supernaturalism masterfully portrays joviality. The tone is filled with mystical and whimsical elements of fantasy that produce a very happy and sprightly atmosphere. The only hint of the darker side of the supernatural world is his mention of ghosts in the third act:
…Yonder shines Aurora’s harbinger;
At whose approach, ghosts, wandering here and there,
Troop home to churchyards: damned spirits all,
That in crossways and floods have burial,
Already to their wormy beds are gone;
For fear lest day should look their shames upon,
They willfully themselves exile from light,
And must for aye consort with black-brow’d night.
Critic Cumberland Clark suggests that in this passage, “Shakespeare’s thought wandered back to the malicious, inimical fairies of folk-lore, who were held by some to be the departed spirits of men and women, and for this reason were often confused with ghosts” (Clark 400). Clark compared the somewhat negative use of supernaturalism in A Midsummer Night’s Dream to Hamlet and Macbeth. Immediately after this haunting passage, Oberon, the King of the Fairies, “dismisses the shadow on their careless joy” by stating that they are spirits of another sort (400). In contrast, veteran educator, scholar, and theater director James Bush suggests that the actual sets used during Shakespeare’s stage production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream is the best representation of the atmosphere the playwright intended to create. In the opening of the play, Shakespeare creates a feeling of lightness by staging the first scene in the bright early morning. Bush concludes that when the lovers run off to the woods and the fairies appear darkness sets in, both literally and figuratively (Bush).
Indeed, the fairies are at the heart of creating the atmosphere that is portrayed throughout the comedy. The fairies that are a part of Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream are more than simply fictitious and fantastic characters that meander through the action. As E.K. Chambers stated, they are “irresponsible creatures, throughout eternal children. They belong to the winds and the clouds and the flowers, to all in nature that is beautiful and gracious and fleeting” (Chambers 396). Chambers notes that, above all, the primary characteristics that men possess and that the fairies do not is “the sense of law and the instinct of self-control” (396).
Perhaps this lack of self-control and sense of law is best illustrated by the character Puck. As the fairy jester, Puck takes nothing seriously, even his own error when following Oberon’s orders regarding the administering of magical love potion. Not only does he seem not to take any situation seriously, he seems to thoroughly enjoy bringing “perplexity upon hapless mortals” (396) more simply put, “he enjoys creating chaos, particularly among humans” (Greenhill 17).
Jim Bush argues that it is not a matter of the fairies having not sense of law and self-control, but rather just a different type. “Fairies are totally involved in self-gratification,” Bush stated. “Human law is aimed at the common field culture because what works best for the group is proper. Society must be protected. Oberon is Atlantic fringe culture like the Irish and Welsh and even the residents of Appalachia. The basic premise underlying Atlantic fringe culture is ?whatever is best for me is best, and to hell with society’” (Bush). According to Bush, this is the main element that causes so much conflict between the fairies and the humans in this work.
Puck is again used to substantiate Bush’s claim of the self-gratification element. “Puck is by far the most interesting, I think because he is so obviously designed to be the instigator of sexual passion,” Bush noted. “He is the controller of although Shakespeare kept it G rated the sexual and human relations of mixing up the couples.” But above all, Puck is under Oberon’s control. This factor of control represents a mythological tie to the Zeus-Pan relationship (Bush).
The best representation of the mythological connection to Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream is with the character Oberon. Bush compares Oberon to Zeus: “His punitive actions and his anger against his queen are very reminiscent of Zeus’s anger with Hera.” He also explained that like Zeus was portrayed as a god, Oberon is portrayed as a jealous king (Bush).
Most striking, according to Bush, is the fact that Shakespeare’s use of historical and mythological beings and occurrences are very scattered and unstructured. Bush credits the disorganization of facets of history and mythology to Shakespeare’s main goal in writing A Midsummer Night’s Dream to entertain. “Too often people see more in the work than what Shakespeare intended.” According to Bush, there is no “evangelism for any cause and no satanic agenda,” though many critics argue that there is. Shakespeare’s main purpose was to write “an acting vehicle for a stage company to make money” (Bush). “He wants to give the audience a cheap thrill and by bringing in all the characters and realms, he achieves entertainment” (Bush).
Though they seem as entertainment, the supernatural elements that Shakespeare incorporated into the main action and plot of his play do not bring about anything that would have been impossible or improbable without their presence. The play’s main course of action is clear: the tale of the unraveling of the love relationships of four Athenian youth. The plot is merely enhanced and corroborated by the presence of supernaturalism.
E. K. Chambers noted in his book Shakespeare: A Survey that “the magical love in idleness really does nothing more than represent symbolically the familiar workings of actual love in idleness in the human heart.” Chambers continued, “Boys in love change their minds just so, or almost just so, without any whisper of the fairies to guide them.” The interaction with love and the inevitable results of that interaction is the function of the various supernatural elements used throughout the play (Chambers 396).
His use of magic, the dream world, and fairies stemming from ancient folklore are simply ingredients that he uses to give people an entertaining production. Bush compared Shakespeare’s romantic comedy to Neil Simon’s Broadway works: “The reactions are real. There is nothing unreal except the fairy overlay of magic.”
What is so special about Shakespeare’s fairies that they would inspire 400 years of their stories and pictures and even create the now-famed Disney fairies? (Friedlander, www.pathguy.com). Though many credit Shakespeare as having created a fairy frenzy that has lasted since the first performance of A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Bush argues that the credit belongs to the sources. Bush suggests that the commonality of the fairies in A Midsummer Night’s Dream and those of famed stories, pictures, and now Disney films, is due to the sources that they all have used. Ancient sources of whimsical, pint-sized winged creatures date back to Shakespeare’s time and have undoubtedly been used numerous times since, including in the work of J. R. Tolkein.
The fairies in A Midsummer Night’s Dream are, according to Ronald Miller, simply “literary ornamentation” (Miller 487). The way that Shakespeare presents the fairies, whose “very artificiality of their language keeps us from ever being truly caught up in Titania and Oberon as dramatic characters,” suggests that they are merely stage-figures with artful speech (487).
According to Miller, the fairies also appear to possess a mysterious element as well. “The intellectual implications of the fairies…have scarcely been exhausted once the puzzle of their metaphysical status has been explored,” Miller commented. “No doubt,” he continues, “there is [emphasis Miller’s] a certain fugitiveness to these beings.” According to Miller, Shakespeare “lets us have our fairies and doubt them too” (487).
Miller also noted that Shakespeare’s art, though allegorical, is not as much about the fairies per se as “the mystery [emphasis Miller’s] of the fairies the very aura of evanescence and ambiguity surrounding their life on stage that points to a mysteriousness in our own existence, and specifically in such ambivalent earthly matters as love, luck, imagination, and even faith” (487). These earthly matters, all of human experience, seem to occupy the fairies’ attention throughout the play. Shakespeare’s use of the combination of supernaturalism and mystery cause the reader to continually ask unanswerable questions as to the existence of such supernatural beings and their role in the moral experiences with which the fairies of Shakespeare’s play are linked.
With the enormous volumes of fantasy and science fiction available even today, it is clear that something in human nature wants magic, possibly an innate subconscious human desire to create and ponder the effects of the supernatural world. Bush stated, “[People] need the marvel of a unicorn, the wonder of giants and beanstalks. I think Shakespeare recognized consciously or subconsciously that basic need.”
One of the most interesting components of Shakespeare’s use of the supernatural creatures in A Midsummer Night’s Dream is the manner in which they interact with the human characters. Cumberland Clark noted that unlike the Weird Sisters in Shakespeare’s Macbeth, his “light and aery beings” are not kept separate from his moral characters (Clark 400). Rather, the fairies mix freely among the mortals though they live in two separate worlds governed undoubtedly by different laws.
G. Wilson Night notes that not only the fairies but also the fairyland “interpenetrates the world of human action” (Wilson 401). Furthermore, the fairies’ action is not limited to only one location or to one group of mortals. Rather, they intersperse themselves among the courts of Athens, the woods where the craftsmen are rehearsing, and the deeper woods where the young Athenians found themselves for the night. Though they are considered creatures of the woods whose primary existence is of and in the natural world, they are not limited to any boundaries established by mortals, whether physical or social (Greenhill 17).
Another remarkable and usually unnoticed aspect of Shakespeare’s fairies is their individual meter and form of verse. The fairies seem to have their own pattern trochaic tetrameter. This light, skipping quality creates the feeling of joviality that is idiosyncratic of the fairies themselves. Puck, in the final scene (two) of the final act (five), enters with a jolly statement representative of the trochaic tetrameter:
Now the hungry lion roars,
And the wolf behowls the moon;
Whilst the heavey ploughman snores,
All with weary task fordone.
Now the wasted brands do glow,
Whilst the scritch-owl, scritching loud,
Puts the wretch that lies in woe
In remembrance of a shroud.
The King and Queen Fairy (Oberon and Titania) use the trochaic tetrameter as well as fuller measures when speaking of Theseus and Hippolyta. Their use of more blank verse and pentameter couplets create a more regal sound than the jovial tone of the trochaic tetrameter (Young 453). The other characters of the play have their own style and meter. In general, blank verse is associated with Theseus and Hippolyta, and the courtly world of Athens. The lovers use a couplet, especially during their dialogue in the woods. Prose is the language of the mechanicals, despite their attempts at doggerel verse. The stylistic changes that occur in the tone, pattern, and meter of the various characters allow the listener or reader to acclimate with each turn of events and with each of the rapidly changing scenes.
In addition to the buoyant meter, another component is reserved only for the fairies, primarily Titania. Much of the dialogue of the supernatural creatures is comprised of conversations of dancing and music. By including the discussion of such topics as “fairy dances and piping winds” (2.1.86-7) and “dainty songs” and the joining together of the little voices “in the soothing lullaby chorus” (2.2.9), Shakespeare creates an enchanting, visionary, and idealistic fairy atmosphere (Clark).
By implementing a world of nature-loving supernatural creatures and love-induced youth, Shakespeare creates an undoubtedly dreamlike atmosphere. Part of the fantastical atmosphere of the fairies and their magic is created by a suggestion made in the title a dream. This dream element is itself half the fantasy. Ronald Miller noted that the fairies serve as a continual and unavoidable reminder of a certain indefiniteness in the world of the play, similar to the feeling after waking from a dream. The briskness of the entire play is representative of the final suggestion made by Puck that the entire play may be best understood as nothing other than a dream: “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 than a dream…” (5.2.54-9).
The very essence of Shakespeare’s play A Midsummer Night’s Dream is a comedic look at love and the worlds that affect it. The young Athenians, the sprightly fairies, the regal Theseus and Hippolyta, and even the Athenian craftsmen are all secondary characters to the biggest fantasy of all love. Just as many critics so question the validity of supernaturalism, the same question could be asked of the very theme of the play itself: Is love a reality? Love itself, like the entire play, is a fantasy. The answer is, in the words of Puck, love and fantasies are both illusions and are “No more yielding than a dream…” (5.2.59).
Bush, James. Personal interview. 29 January 2003.
Chambers, E.K. “A Midsummer Night’s Dream.” Shakespearean Criticism. Vol. 3. Ed. Laurie Lanzen Harris and Mark W. Scott. Detroit: Gale, 1986. 495-6.
Clark, Cumberland. “Midsummer Night’s Dream.” Shakespearean Criticism. Vol. 3. Ed. Laurie Lanzen Harris and Mark W. Scott. Detroit: Gale, 1986. 400-1.
Friedlander, Ed. “Tid-bits about A Midsummer Night’s Dream.” Enjoying A Midsummer Night’s Dream. Online. www.pathguy.com. Brown University. 23 Jan. 2003.
Greenhill, Wendy. The Shakespeare Library: A Midsummer Night’s Dream. Chicago: Heinemann, 2000.
Miller, Ronald F. “The Fairies, Bottom, and the Mystery of Things.” Shakespearean Criticism. Vol. 3. Ed. Laurie Lanzen Harris and Mark W. Scott. Detroit: Gale, 1986. 486-91.
Shakespeare, William. A Midsummer Night’s Dream. William Shakespeare: The Complete Works. New York: Gramercy, 1975.
Young, David P. “The Art of A Midsummer Night’s Dream.” Shakespearean Criticism. Vol. 3. Ed. Laurie Lanzen Harris and Mark W. Scott. Detroit: Gale, 453-6.
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 Means of Shakespeare’s Theater Representation
Theatre began as a presentation of stories and ideas, mostly revolving around festival times in the calendar of the church year. This concept was carried on in Shakespeare’s times and is exemplified in his plays Twelfth Night, or What You Will and A Midsummer Night’s Dream. These plays express a “carnival” theme, implying a mixed-up time a time when “anything goes” and many things that would not be tolerated in normal life are easily overlooked and maybe even encouraged. Even though many of the ideas and emotions that occur in Shakespeare’s plays are common to everyone, it is still not representational because it does not even attempt to present it in a way that reflects real life. The language is artificial (though beautiful), the sets are sparse, the plots include illogical twists and turns we must simply accept, and the settings themselves are often fantastical.
The theatres where Shakespeare’s plays were performed were built according to a common general design. Very briefly, there was a rather large playing area, with a trap door in the center of the stage. This was partially covered by a roof which supported a platform that served as a balcony and, possibly, as seating areas for more wealthy patrons. This may also have been used for musicians when necessary. Above this was the “hut” which allowed special effects to be performed (McDonald 116-117). There were no elaborate sets or backdrops used to create the surroundings. The setting was established using sparse furnishings, such as a table or a bed, or props that would only be used in an outdoor setting, such as torches or weapons (McDonald 110). These scanty accoutrements allowed great freedom in the pacing of the plays (because of ease of set changes) as well as requiring that the location be stated in the dialogue and substantiated through the imagination of the audience. This feature of Renaissance theatre contributed to the presentational quality of Shakespeare’s works because it did not detract from the language of the plays it did not distract the audience from the ideas and concepts that were presented. At the same time, it forced the spectator to create the missing pieces of the set in his mind, and it made it necessary for him to follow the action and dialogue very closely. Some things that were included in the production were often incorporated with the express purpose of keeping the audience’s attention. Music was used as a device to accomplish this as well as to provide a neat beginning or ending to a scene.
Shakespeare used his characters and settings to create wonderfully twisted comedic plots, but we must actively employ “the willing suspension of disbelief” in our analysis of them. In Twelfth Night, or What You Will, we are expected to believe that brother and sister, (who are twins) are, in fact identical twins and when dressed alike, are indistinguishable from each other. In The Comedy of Errors, we must not only believe that the twin brothers are identical, but that the two servants that serve them are identical as well. The action of Twelfth Night takes place in Illyria, which seems to be a place where magical things can happen. While A Midsummer Night’s Dream is set in Athens, much of the action occurs in a nearby wooded area peopled with fairies and full of darkness and mythological inferences.
One element of Shakespeare’s plays that is often unrealistic is time. This is due in part to the fact that there were no electric lights to establish the time of day or season, and the plays were performed by the light of day or (when performed at an indoor playhouse) by torchlight. Thus, it was necessary to establish the hour, as well as the scene, in the dialogue and/or the action itself. As night falls in Romeo and Juliet, torches are used to create the impression that the Montagues who pursue Romeo after the party scene are doing so in darkness, and when morning comes, Friar Lawrence remarks, “The grey-ey’d morn smiles on the frowning night” (McDonald 111).
Shakespeare is also known for manipulating time to fit the action, or to emphasize a certain point. Twelfth Night, or What You Will has an example of this when, at the beginning of Scene 4, Valentine states that Viola has been in the service of Orsino for just three days. However, at the end of the play, Orsino attests that “Three months this youth [Cesario] hath tended upon me?” (Shakespeare 470). This could, however, be more rhetorical than literal: the three days could be meant to highlight the bond that has grown between Orsino and his new servant so quickly, and the three months emphasizes the many changes that have occurred in the time that has passed. In addition to this apparent discrepancy, time seems to cease after its mention in Act II, until Act V, when Antonio is asked when he arrived. He replies, “Today?, (Shakespeare 470)” implying that all the action to that point through the end of Act V took place in one day. Another example of Shakespeare’s apparent distortion of time occurs in The Comedy of Errors, when all of the action of the play must lead to a climax at 5:00 in the afternoon. This is when Egeon is scheduled for execution, Angelo must pay the Second Merchant his money, and the meeting of Antipholus of Syracuse and the merchant is supposed to take place. This allows a great deal of comedic tension and provides for a particularly effective climactic scene when all the misunderstandings are cleared up for the audience as well as the characters.
A Midsummer Night’s Dream is possibly Shakespeare’s most fantastical play in its plot, as well as in the fact that there are actual fairies in the cast. It contains a play within a play that closely mirrors the “real” action, but differs in that it shows the tragedy that might have occurred if the fairies had not done their part to remedy the situation. It also illustrates the theme of reality versus theatre. Nick Bottom insists that the ladies will be frightened by the appearance of the lion and convinces the writers of Pyramus and Thisbe to include in the prologue an explanation of the lion as being just an actor, and also to clearly inform the audience that his suicide is not real, but is only acting. Thus Shakespeare is making a not-so-subtle point that in reality, the theatre is only acting, and is further trying to convince the public that what is presented is inconsequential because it is merely a façade; and, then again, at the end, Puck apologizes to the audience, saying, “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?”(Shakespeare 280). This is partly due to the fact that if anyone was offended who may have been particularly powerful, the possibility existed that the work may be censored, or there may have been consequences for the actors themselves, even though they were only playing a part.
While Shakespeare often mimicked life and even mirrored many things that are true in our human experience, he was always aware that he was presenting a picture. The audience always was, and still is, conscious of the fact that what they were watching was not a true representation of life as it is lived. It is theatre. Many of the ideas and emotions that Shakespeare expressed are, no doubt, common to most of us, but they are expressed in a necessarily dramatic manner. The very nature of Shakespeare’s work defines it as art, which is, was, and ever shall be a reflection and a result of, and, possibly, a changing force in the world around it.
The Irrational Nature of Theater
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 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.” (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.
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.