Ritual Performances in A Midsummer Night’s Dream Term Paper
Running back to the 14th century, ritual performances played great roles in people’s lives because they believed in the results therein. Rituals and festivities underscore Shakespeare’s works.
For instance, the celebrations that characterize the concluding setting of A Midsummer Night’s Dream, is a rite of passage, a ritual that seeks to induct Hippolyta who must become an Athenian for she is from Amazon which is outside Athens. However, Shakespeare employs his conventional marks of scripted-ness to achieve his objective.
Courtships and play-within-play stand out conspicuously in this comedy; moreover, Shakespeare uses omens to make the contrived and the masterminded to appear natural.
In A Midsummer Night’s Dream, courtships are not easy. As Lysander observes, “The course of true love never runs smooth” (Shakespeare 134). Lysander’s relationship with Hermia is one that is full of misfortunes. Hermia’s Father chooses Demetrius and yet his daughter is in love with Lysander. The Duke rules in favor of Demetrius ordering Hermia to marry him or undergo execution or lifetime chastity to the goddess Diana. Helena’s love for Demetrius is not reciprocated.
In the fairies’ world, the queen Titania is estranged to her husband because she cannot give him her Indian changeling. The situation becomes so complicated to an extent of Oberon ordering Puck to administer a spell on Titania to supposedly to make her fall for anything she sees upon her waking up provided it is a living creature.
In this play, love is balanced with imbalances. At the beginning of the play, two men love Hermia and yet she loves only one, Lysander. On the other hand, Helena is crazily in love with Demetrius who does not carry even the slightest feeling for her.
After Puck administers the love portion to the two men, first to Lysander who he had thought was Demetrius and later to Demetrius, the men’s attention goes to Helena. Even her lover, Lysander, abandons Hermia. In the case of Oberon and Titania, imbalance comes in when Oberon’s desire for the Indian changeling overweighs his love for Titania.
He casts her on a spell that makes her fall in love with the ass-headed Bottom. This demonstrates an imbalance in nature and appearance (Nostbakken 70). How can a queen of the fairies fall in love with an ass-faced Bottom? Well, the love portion perhaps works. Nevertheless, any mature person conversant with the play will disagree with the idea of the queen of fairies falling for the ass-faced Bottom.
Use of comedy that revolves around the problems that confront the characters involved in relationships in the play shields the audience from the emotions that these problems could generate. Instead, use of humor assures the audience a successful conclusion maybe with the individuals marrying the love of their lives.
The audience is protected from the tension that comes with uncertainty. When writing this play, Shakespeare’s aim was to make people laugh, as it is a comedy. This has been well achieved through blending of human afflictions with humor. Shakespeare invented this style of writing to catch the audience’s attention and it works very well in achieving that purpose.
The craftsmen’s play that is meant to entertain the duke and his newly wed queen is a play-within-a- play. The play, based on Pyramus and Thisbe’s story, represents the most important ideas and themes of the main plot though in a condensed form (Nostbakken 87). Pyramus and Thisbe’s parents do not approve their wedding, an element that compares with that of Hermia and Lysander. This play-within-a-play reflects the confusion in the main play.
On the eve of the wedding, the fairies’ love portion drama results into romance confusion. Demetrius and Lysander love Helana at the same time. The queen of the fairies, Titania, falls in love with the ass-headed Bottom. The craftsmen’s play brings out the themes and ideas of the main play clearly and in a hilarious way. The play is meant to make the audience understand the main play well and it does exactly that.
Once more, Shakespeare used this style of writing to achieve his conventional scripted-ness that underlines his dramatic performances that characterise his plays. The play-within-a-play element portrayed in this piece fits well in the content of the whole play.
The theme of dream has been used extensively in the play to explain many of the bizarre happenings that if taken as reality would not be comprehensible to the human mind. “I have had a dream, past the wit of man to say what / dream it was. Man is but an ass if he goes about t’expound this dream” (Shakespeare 37).
Bottom uses these words to explain the ass-headed person the fairy has turned him into in the past. It is not in the laws of nature for a human to acquire an ass-head one minute and in the other is back to the normal human. Bottom could only see this as a dream. Hippolyta compares their wedding days as a dream, “Four days will quickly steep themselves in night, / Four nights will quickly dream away the time” (Shakespeare 8).
Four wedding days may seem unnatural in nature and to make them seem less, Hippolyta makes it lighter to the audience by comparing the four days to a dream that is short-lived. The victims of the events that take place on that fateful night perceive the events as mere dreams. Demetrius and Lysander conflict over Helena and Titania’s short-lived love affair is not comprehensible to the humans.
To protect them from this unearthly reality, the fairies make the humans believe that it was nothing less of a dream. At the end of the play, Puck advice to the audience is to take the play as a dream if it did not impress them. Shakespeare uses this dream theme to bring out the comic nature of his play and ensure that the unusual happenings in the comedy serve to entertain the audience as opposed to depressing it.
Good and bad omens come with what a society believes. During the time when the play was being written, disobedience to one’s parents or/and husband were considered as a bad omen and they would result in misfortunes. Shakespeare’s work reflects this myth in Hermia and Titania’s cases.
When Hermia declines her father’s choice of husband, several misfortunes befall her. The duke rules against her, condemning her to an execution or lifetime chastity to the goddess Diana. When she elopes with Lysander, the fairies’ love potion diverts Lysander’s love from her to Helena. When Titania refuses to give her husband the Indian changeling, the couple become estranged to each other.
The husband feels so offended that he seeks revenge by ‘bewitching’ her into loving the ass-headed Bottom; she even offers sexual favours to show her affection for the newly found love. This act humiliates Titania and at the same time, she loses her Changeling that had been entrusted to her by the Indian mother. Even though these instances are only masterminded in the play, they appear natural because in many cases when one fails to heed authorities or parents usually turn out to be like Hermia and Titania in the story.
In the comedy, Shakespeare employs symbols to represent various aspects of nature. Leaders are associated with stability. Theseus and Hippolyta appear in the first act of the play but disappear for a long time after the darkness sets in. They later appear in act four when the sun rises.
Theseus and Hippolyta are highly respected leaders and can only be associated with order and stability. Their long disappearance during the acts that represent the night events shows the effect of their absence as chaos and disorder rule the scenes during their absence. Their reappearance after sunrise sets things in order. The confused couples are able to recognize their right partners.
The duke and the queen later allow them to marry. Surely, as the old adage goes, ‘love is blind’ and the love potion used here underscores this great but often-neglected fact. It is the source of all the bad things on that night. Demetrius and Lysander fall for Helena to the chagrin of Titania. The careless administration of the potion by the fairies causes great harm to many people. This symbolizes the harm that unplanned and uncontrolled love can cause to the involved parties.
This play is a great display of Shakespeare’s peculiar dramaturgy. In his work, Shakespeare used human experience to create his plays. He blended this with humour and poetry that gave it a timeless flow. In A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Shakespeare uses an experience that was common back in that time.
Parents choosing partners for their children, husbands dominating over their wives and rulers ruling in favour of old-fashioned laws stand out in this play. In addition to the experience, Shakespeare uses humour and poetry to give it a light touch. The play is timeless and it has earned Shakespeare great respect over time.
Characteristic of Shakespeare’s works, performances underline A Midsummer Night’s Dream. Two performances are well expressed in the play. These include courtship and play-within-a-play. The use of these two performances brings out the desired effect to the audience. Play-within-a-play ensures that the audience both in the play and out of the play understand the ideas and the themes of the play clearly.
The play is also ridden with humour and since this is a love comedy, the effect is well felt by the audience. Courtship episodes represent real-life experiences and bring out humour as well. Finally, Shakespeare employed use of omens to present the orchestrated scenario as if they were natural.
Nostbakken, Faith. Understanding A Midsummer Night’s Dream: A Student Casebook To Issues, Sources, And Historical Documents. New York: Greenwood Publishing Group, 1964.
Shakespeare, Williams. A Midsummer Night’s Dream. Philadelphia: J.P Lippincott Company, 1895.
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