A Midsummer Night’s Dream is a dramatic comedy written by William Shakespeare in 1595. It’s a play about characters who confuse reality and illusion. The themes of the play are dreams and reality, love and magic. The whole play takes place in Athens- and around ‘the cradle of civilisation’. In the play Athens represent the world of reality where people are under rule of order, sanity and enlightenment, whereas the Woods is the home of illusion. The fairies inhabit the moonlit forest where irrational things happen.
The words in the title ‘night’s dream’ suggest that everything happens at night, when the moon is dominant. The moon was significant during the Elizabethan era, since it represented the world of mystery and was associated with magic. The moon affected people’s behaviour turning them into ‘lunatics’ who cannot distinguish reality from illusion. Most of the actions in the play are performed at night by the moonlight. The moon has different images throughout the play. It has both positive and negative imagery. The moon’s power is mysterious and often people become bewitched by its influence.An example of this is how Egeus believes that the love of Lysander is induced by magic.
This man has bewitched the bosom of my child:
Thou, thou Lysander, thou hast given her rhymes,
And interchanged love-tokens with my child: (Act 1, Scene 1)
People in Athens believed in charms and other paranormal things. Egeus complains about the influence of Lysander on his child. He suggests that the ‘interchanged love-tokens’ between his daughter and Lysander are brittle, since he bewitched her with his rhymes and physical appearance by the moonlight. Egeus is aware that the love is influenced by the moon rather than normal feelings.
Lysander unlike Theseus and Egeus imagines the moon as goddess Phoebe.
Tomorrow night, when the Phoebe doth behold
Her visage in the watery glass,
Decking with liquid pearl and bladed grass. ( Act 1, Scene 1)
To Lysander the moon’s appearance is also different. She has a ‘silver visage’. He plans to elope with Hermia as the moon approaches. To him the moon transforms the world of separation into the world of magnificence where nothing can stop his pure love. The moon makes the fulfilment of his desires possible.
Notwithstanding that soon Theseus will marry. His reference to the moon is negative.
Like to a step-dame or a dowager,
Long withering out a young man’s revenue. (Act 1, Scene 1)
In this quotation Theseus creates negative image of the moon. Personification is used to compare the moon to a ‘step dame or a ‘dowager’. The ‘step-dame’ and ‘dowager’ make the time drag slowly lingering the desires of a young. As a man Theseus lacks patience which Hippolyta encourages him to be until their marriage. Then the moon will resemble ‘the silver bow’ and it will witness the happy celebration of the couple, as if giving them permission to marry.
At night the Woods are full of magic and illusion. At night eyes are incapable of seeing properly and people have to use their senses . In the Elizabethan era the Woods were considered as a place of madness and discord. In the Woods, the night is a time for paranormal events or supernatural beings. The fairies and other ‘merry wanderers’ of the night rule the world of illusion and create memorable dreams for people while they’re asleep.There is often truth in the dreams inflicted on the sleepers.
The jaw of darkness do devour it up.
Their choice of lovers can be changed in the course of the magical night time. Although the love-tokens between Lysander and Hermia are strong, still the bright hopes may fade away, leaving sense of emptiness in the young hearts of lovers. Personification is used for the word ‘jaws of darkness’ this describes how powerful the dark night in the middle of the Woods can be.
In Midsummer Night’s Dream four people are in love, however only two of them have real feelings and the other two do not. Lysander and Hermia have real feelings but their love is not acceptable according to the laws of Athens. Helena’s love is mature whilst her lovers; eyes are still infantile.
And therefore is Love said to be a child. (Act 1, Scene 1)
Helena suggests that Demeitrius’ love to Hermia is immature, since Hermia doesn’t have any feelings for him. Also Helena claims that Demetrius appreciates Hermia for her physical appearance and for no other feelings. Whereas Helena has true feelings in addition to physical attraction. She is alone and feels betrayed by the man she loves so much. Helena’s soliquoy expresses the woe of her heart that she is compelled to keep inside, due to her feeble relatinships with Demetrius.
You draw me, you hard-hearted damant,
…for my heart is true as steel.(Act 2, Scene 1)
Helena lives in reality and experiences hard time. Her love for Demetrius is fragile. The ‘hard-hearted damant’ is a metaphor for Demetrius. Helena is attracted to him like a magnet, whilst he doesn’t have any feelings for her ‘steel’ ‘heart’.
Perhaps Shakspeare wants to show how often people are under the illusion of love and thus he emphasises the omnipresence of love and real feelings rather than visual beauty.The love potions are so powerful, even the magic beings can be influenced by it.
What angel wakes me from my flowery bed? (Act 3, Scene 1)
Under a love potion charmed Titania, the queen of fairies, appriciates everything Bottom says. She doesn’t control herself and her compliments are senseless. Titania calls transformed Bottom an ‘angel’. This is ridiculuous since he is far from an ‘angel’. Titania looks with the eyes of a blind person. This scene clearly illustrates to the audience the magical world of the Woods, inhabited by fairies. It also illustrates the potency of magic and its potential to create illusion and confusion.
Everything supernatural takes place in the Woods. When reality collides with illusion, confusion is the final result. However sometimes people under influence of magic become wiser than in real life and see a wider image of their entire life.
Methinks, mistress, you should have little reason for that:
and say the truth, reason and love keep little company together
nowadays .(Act 3, Scene 1)
The transformed workman Bottom becomes more wiser than in real life.In his identity he changes and even his speech has more sense. This is another example of dreams and illusion sometimes making more sense than reality in the play.The interaction between reality and illusion has an impact on everyone. For Hermia the mistake created by reality and illusion is crucial since her feelings are pure and real.
Methought a serpent eat my heart away
An you set smiling at his cruel prey. (Act 2, Scene 2)
Hermia awakens from a bad dream. In a way her dream is true. It all happens in the Woods and perhaps this influenced her dream. Unfortunately in this situation the dream reavealed the truth and it has nothing to do with reality. This also shows that sometimes the illusions and dreams may reveal the truth while in reality everything is different. In reality there are laws tryimg to separate Lysander and Hermia whilst in illusion love transforms into hatred and ruins the perfect relationship.
Helena is also a bearer of the disorders. She feels depressed by the sudden changes in her life. This is a contrast because in the real world Helena dotes from unshared love whereas in illusion she becomes the most loved person. She is convinced that both men Lysander and Demetrius are making fun of her. However Lysander isn’t aware of what is happening since he under a magic spell.
Reason becomes marshal to my will
And leadsme to your eyes, where I o’er look. ( Act 2, Scene 2)
Ridiculous statements make Lysander look artificial to audience. He makes the ‘reason’ ‘marshal’ of his will. This is humorous because in reality Lysander loves Hermia. Also it is strong evidence of confusion between reality and illusion. Shakespeare uses dramatic irony to show what the characters don’t know. This creates comical value for the audience as it is hilarious and yet a complete fantasy.
In the 16th century there were a lot of superstitions. The fairies werethought to beas evil creatures. The Woods were associated with magic and inhabited by fairies. However Shakespeare dismisses the horrible image of fairies held by the Elizabethans and populate the Woods with pleasant creatures with mythmic qualities.
Swifter than the moon’s sphere;
And I serve the fairy queen,
The dew her orbs upon the green. ( Act 2, Scene 1)
This presents the fairies as light creatures that have their own world in the Woods. The most mischievous is Puck. He is the one who confuses everything and creats the comic effect.
I am that merry wanderer of the night. ( Act 2, Scene 1)
The quotation gives a clear clue to what happens at night in the Woods. ‘Wanderer of night’ is a metaphor for Oberon’s unreliable servant Puck, since everything paranormal happens by his mistakes. There are lots of wanderers-fairies, but only Puck is the most famous ‘wanderer of the night’. Puck makes practical jokes on people and he never regrets them since he has no boundaries.
The world of fairies also has some rules and is commanded by Oberon and Titania. However due to their magical abilities they command the life of characters and it brings confusion to them. People are affected and their behaviour is immoral at the time when they are under influence of illusion.
We are their parents and original. ( Act 2, Scene 1)
In this conversation Titania and Oberon compare themselves to gods. The ofsprong of evil come from their quarells and disagreements. Their behaviour leads to change in weather and ruins the good mood of people in Reality. As the rulers of magic they are responsible for the results.
A Midsummer Night’s Dream is play within a play. The workmens prepare a scene for Theseus’ wedding. The play is ment to be a tragedy. Unfortunately they destroy the dramatic illusion by misunderstanding the genre which produces comic effect. As a group, the workmen represent the clumsy sincerity of ‘the rude mechanicals’.
Let me play Thisbe too.
Let me play the lion too. (Act 1, Scene2)
The workmen over estimate their abilities especially Bottom. He thinks he can perform more than one part, which is absurd. They also find it hard to grasp the difference between appearance and reality. When they realise that there is no wall, Bottom says someone should perform.
Some man or other must present wall. ( Act3, Scene 1)
Their irresponsible actions ruin the whole theme and the play all together, but their labourious literal-mindedness is also genuine and touching.
Language is also important in Shakespeares’ play. He used lots of puns, e.g. ‘Wood within this wood’ in his play to make a comic effect.
The fairies are light and fast and speak in rhymed verse.
Over hill over dale,
Through bush, through briar,
Over park over pale,
Through flood, through fire,
I do wander everywhere. ( Act 2, Scene 1)
These fast and light verses show the audience the image of fairies, fast and light.
Oberon’s speech is in chanting quality.
Flowere of this purple dye,
Hit with Cupid’s archery ,
Sink in apple of his eye.
Whrn his love he doth espy,
Let her shine as groriously
As the Venus of the sky. (Act 3, Scene 2)
In the Elizabethan times people were superstitious and Shakespeare uses seven syllables in seven lines to create the magic effect. This effect makes Oberon sound like a powerful wizard.
There is a contrast to the workmen’s use in language because they speak in prose and their sentences are simple.
You were best to call them generally , man by man, according to the scrip. ( Act 1, Scene 2)
The workmen speak straight forward, non poetically, and in normal sentences.
Lysander and Demetrius use arficial and exaggerated language. This emphasises their artificial feelings.
O Helen, o goddess, nymph, perfect divine. (Act 2, Scene 2)
Both Demetrius and Lysander are charmed by the magic juice. They express their false feelings in exaggerated language. The audience would be laughing at this comical situation. Shakespeare also uses dramatic irony to show that the audience know something the characters don’t.
Everything changes in the end of the play and so do the final words of the characters. Their blind eyes finally find the way to light. They are able at last to see clear.
These things seem small and undistinguishable,
Like far-off mountains turned into clouds. ( Act 5, Scene 1)
This implies that everything becomes clear as the clouds diminish like the fantasy does. The people involved are those from Athens where for the first time law and order were introduced. This means that even the people with high intellects may face the disorder of illusion that causes confusion. Although the illusion confuses people, sometimes it reveals the truth and changes the way people think.
And this weak and idle theme,
No more yielding but a dream.( Act 5, Scene 1)
In the end Puck- the mischievous fairy breaks the bond with reality and disorder which evaporates ‘like far-off mountains’ when turn ‘into clouds’.
Shakespeare’s play A Midsummer Night’s Dream refers on Elizabethan Chain of Being. The chain of Being represents conception of the order of the universe, which chief characteristic is a strict hierarchical system. One does not abandon one’s place in the chain; it is not only unthinkable, but generally impossible. In Shakespeare’s play the disorder in the chain causes destruction and brings confusion to characters’ lives. However Shakespeare shows that the world of subconscious manifests its own kind of true and sense. Also his play demonstrates that it is ludicrous to do everything by logic and reason. The peoples behaviour and the way they think changes by the moon light. On someone the effect is possitive. While others experience the fierce love.