A Midsummer Night’s Dream is a comic play written by Shakespeare. It is set in the ancient times. The play begins and ends in the Greek city of Athens, but most of the action takes place in a nearby wood. This is a magical place where a series of tricks are played on several of the characters by a group of fairies and spirits. The play is about the nature of love. The theme of love provides opportunities for comedy, and serious social comment.
Shakespeare portrays a clear difference between the natural state of genuine love and the illusion generated by love that has no substance. Nothing can stand in the way of true love, even if ‘the course of true love never did run smooth.’
A Midsummer Night’s Dream takes place in three groups. The groups contrast vividly: the sophisticated yet earth bound Theseus and Hippolyta; the homespun vulgarity of Bottom and the workmen; and the ephemeral delicacy of the fairies. The first to come forth on stage are the Athenian nobles, which sub-divide themselves into four lovers and the rest of the court. Next, are the fairies; the fairies embody the force of nature. The effect of this personification is to make the cosmos seem a place, which, though it may be unpredictable and dangerous, is ultimately friendly to the humans, and finally the Athenian craftsmen. The play-within-a play that makes up most of act 5 scene1 it is used to represent, many of the important ideas and themes of the main plot.
There are four interwoven plots. The wedding of Theseus and Hippolyta, the tangled love affairs between Hermia, Lysander, Demetrius and Helena, the quarrel between Oberon and Titania (which gives rise to the fairies’ plot), and finally the workmen’s planning, rehearsal and performance of the play ‘Pyramus and Thisbe’. Each of the four strands of the play inevitably crosses and links with each of the others as the groups come into contact with one other, knowingly or unknowingly.
Shakespeare’s use of language is a strong indication of the themes of the play, as well as of the characters. Theseus the ruler of Athens, and Hippolyta, Queen of the Amazons, speak in a lyrical way about love and marriage, and introduce this as a major theme of the play. When Hermia and Lysander decided to elope, a plot, which seemed to be heading in the direction of tragedy, is turned back so that lightness is emphasised by Shakespeare’s use of rhyming couplets from line 171 to the end of the scene.
Helena’s entrance shows another kind of suffering that of someone whose love is not returned. Helen’s confusion and lack of self-confidence about her appearance is made clear in her first words. She makes a pun on the word ‘fair’ since Demetrius thinks that Hermia’s dark complexion and hair are more fair than Helena’s natural fair colouring. The way Helena and Hermia respond to each other’s words (lines 194-201) echoing them, reversing them shows the audience their friendship. The closeness of their relationship is made clearer when Helena is told about the plan to run off. Helena’s soliloquy at the end of the scene makes it patent that love is unreliable. It shows blind and irrational nature of love, ‘ love looks not with the eyes, but with the mind’.
Blank verse is the language of the courtiers, Theseus, Hippolyta Oberon and Titania, shows their high status. The courtiers mainly speak in unrhymed iambic pentameter. Each line contains ten syllables divided into five pairs of syllables. As the fairies make particular use of rhyming when completing spells and charms or carrying out supernatural actions.
The language of Bottom and the workmen reflects their low status by speaking in prose.
The craftsmen are bumbling actors; their performance satirizes the melodramatic Athenian lovers and gives the play a purely joyful comedic ending. The play Pyramus and Thisbe is written in poetic verse. Verse that should signify the aristocratic nature of Pyramus and Thisbe actually emphasises that the workmen are pretending to be what they are not. It is crudely written in poor verse using some poor rhymes, unnecessary repetitions, exaggerated use of alliteration and such ridiculed similes, as ‘his eyes were green as leeks’.
The malapropisms in the play Pyramus and Thisbe brings more humour in the play. Bottom says ‘call them generally’ when he means ‘call them individually’; he says ‘I will aggravate my voice’ (line76) when he means ‘moderate it’. The ‘Pyramus and Thisbe’ play-ends the play with Pyramus and Thisbe in the centre, next is the nobles watching the play, then the fairies and finally the audience.
Even though the path of true love may never be smooth; Hermia and Lysander are prepared to leave friends, home and family in order to be married, and Pyramus and Thisbe die for the love of each other and Romeo and Juliet also ended in a tragedy.
Theseus and Hippolyta is a mature love forged in early conflict and adversity, it is a bond between sensible and mature adults. Such a love, enshrined in marriage, should produce harmony but when fickle lovers quarrel as Oberon and Titania do, that quarrel will create a wider discord. The friendship between Helena and Hermia is also fickle in the way they were friends before, and then fall out over love between Lysander and Demetrius. Just in the way Romeo fell out of love with Rosaline and fell into love with Juliet. The play suggests that the emotion of love needs to be balance by reason.
One of the main focuses on the play is on the tangled relationship between the four Athenian lovers. Before the play begins Demetrius and Helena were in love, and so were Lysander and Hermia. The relationships in effect turn a full circle. When Egeus arrives at the court he admits that he is ‘full of vexation’ at Hermia’s refusal to marry Demetruis. Theseus will see both sides of the view has he is in both situation, but Egeus is unlikely to comply with Hermia’s desires ‘I would my father looked but with my eyes’. Egeus was also accusing Lysander of winning Hermia’s affection with underhanded tricks. Egeus’s entrance strikes a discord. His manner is sharp and he refers to Hermia as if she is simply one of his possessions: ‘she is mine’.
This represents gender, which is a universal theme. Throughout the play to some degree the play seems to be an assertion of male authority. Shakespeare’s audience would also have seen in their story an affirmation of the dominant role of the husband over the wife, an idea that they saw as part of the natural law. Theseus himself makes his physical superiority over Hippolyta clear when he says, ‘ Hippolyta, I wooed thee with my sword/And won thy love doing thee injuries.’ This is a similar theme found in Romeo and Juliet. Puck intends to reassure the audience when he says:
‘Jack shall have Jill;
Naught shall go ill.
The man shall have his mare again, and all shall be well.’
Theseus’s first speech shows he has little faith in the story the lovers had told him (act5). He dismisses stories of fairies, labelling them ‘antique fables’ and ‘fairy toys’. His argument that lovers, madmen and poets are all victims of overactive imaginations and a quiet sensible person would not.
Bizarre love is shown in the play when Titania falls in love with an ass’ head. The discord between Oberon and Titania not only results in the destruction of crops and the misery associated with un-seasonal
Weather but also set of the harmful chain of events in which the humans find themselves entangled.
When at the beginning of the play Helena was in a situation in which she had unrequited love. This was what made her betray Hermia and tell Demetrius about Lysander and Hermia’s elope.
Love can create jealousy. The jealousy between Oberon and Titania has caused disruption in the world. The jealousy between the four lovers has caused a problem in which Hermia and Helena abandon their lifelong friendship, betray each other and argue in a spiteful and abusive way.
Puck causes chaos and confusion among the Athenian lovers. He loves playing practical jokes on human beings, and regards their confusion and bewilderment as spectacle to be enjoyed. His attitude is summoned up in a line,
‘Lord, what fools these mortals be’
Although the play is a comedy, it contains elements, which hint potential danger and tragedy. At the very start of the play we are reminded about the previous conflict between Theseus and Hippolyta. The arguments between Egeus and Hermia right away show up the rifts in the family life. Helena betrays her close friend and arguments break out between the four lovers that lead to threats and violence. The bicker between Oberon and Titania is used as a springboard for the complex events that follows.
Even that quarrel which has terrible consequences for humankind, leads not to bloodshed but a humorous situation of Titania falling in love with ass-headed Bottom. So the play progressed from the happy thoughts of the royal wedding to a series of conflicts and confusions. The conflicts are not out of place in the comedy, as the conflict is an essential part of life and universal theme.
Puck causes bewilderment by having the ‘Love-of-idleness’ flower, he puts the juice of Lysander’s eyes so he fall in love with Helena, he then puts the juice onto Demetrius’s eyes and so falls in love with Helena. This causes a great problem within the group and extreme changes in men’s affections make them look silly and ridiculous. Demetrius becomes from being a horrible and a mean man, to becoming sweet. Yet Lysander becomes from being kind hearted to Hermia to becoming threatening and violent.
The women’s feelings are more constant, but the show their immaturity in other ways: Hermia, for example with her obsession with her lack of height. By the end of the play Demetruis is the only one with the constant spell on, which shows the reality about love, if it is real or not. Hermia and Lysander become their normal selves, and a re back in love together and Demetruis and Helena are together. Helena was the main victim who was filled with confusion, about how this came about.
The exaggerated language of when Titania and Bottom were under the love spell shows how irresponsible and irrational their behaviour is. Titania tells Bottom that she has been moved ‘on the first view to say, to swear, I love thee’. It is Bottom who reminds us that ‘reason and love keep little company together nowadays’. The love-juice influences the behaviour of the characters, and shows the fickle nature of infatuation, unreasoning, and the powerful nature of love that can lead to inexplicable and bizarre behaviour.
The play can be presented with different interpretations. In the two modern films that I studied, I feel the stage play was the most effective one. The same actor played Theseus and Oberon and the same actress played Hippolyta and Titania. The boy in the film represented the audience. This gives and insight to the audience watching and make them more involved. The boy is going through the dream. The director chooses to set out the film more like a stage play. He also emphasises more on the humour factor of the play.
The text of ‘A Midsummer Night’s Dream is dogmatically stated; this idea stays with the film too. The umbrellas in the play represent the two different worlds- the fairy world and the mortal world. The modern play, which is not set out as a stage play, is portrayed differently. The characters are more posh. The stage play presents the actors with more violence and tension. The characters involve the audience in the play. The play Pyramus and Thisbe can have alternative interpretations, the stage play presented the play with more humour and joy.
The atmosphere of the play is magical, which Shakespeare creates by the mixture of the two worlds. This play could be a weakness to the modern audience in our time as the rate of people falling in and out of love has increased and there is a higher chance of a marriage ending in a divorce.