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Caleb Cox
Caleb Cox

A Midsummer Night's Dream


The play opens with Theseus and Hippolyta who are four days away from their wedding. Theseus is not happy about how long he has to wait while Hyppolyta thinks it will pass by like a dream. Theseus is confronted by Egeus and his daughter Hermia, who is in love with Lysander, resistant to her father's demand that she marry Demetrius, whom he has arranged for her to marry. Enraged, Egeus invokes an ancient Athenian law before Duke Theseus, whereby a daughter needs to marry a suitor chosen by her father, or else face death. Theseus offers her another choice: lifelong chastity as a nun worshipping the goddess Diana, but the two lovers both deny his choice and make a secret plan to escape into the forest for Lysander's aunt's house, in order to run away from Theseus. Hermia tells their plans to Helena, her best friend, who pines unrequitedly for Demetrius, who broke up with her to be with Hermia. Desperate to reclaim Demetrius's love, Helena tells Demetrius about the plan and he follows them in hopes of finding Hermia.




A Midsummer Night's Dream



Having achieved his goals, Oberon releases Titania and orders Puck to remove the donkey's head from Bottom. The fairies then disappear, and Theseus and Hippolyta arrive on the scene, during an early morning hunt. They find the lovers still sleeping in the glade. They wake up the lovers and, since Demetrius no longer loves Hermia, Theseus over-rules Egeus's demands and arranges a group wedding. The lovers at first believe they are still in a dream and cannot recall what has happened. The lovers decide that the night's events must have been a dream, as they walk back to Athens.


After they exit, Bottom awakes, and he too decides that he must have experienced a dream "past the wit of man". At Quince's house, he and his team of actors worry that Bottom has gone missing. Quince laments that Bottom is the only man who can take on the lead role of Pyramus. Bottom returns, and the actors get ready to put on "Pyramus and Thisbe".


The final scene in the play, Theseus, Hippolyta and the lovers watch the six workmen perform Pyramus and Thisbe in Athens. The Mechanical performers are so terrible playing their roles that the guests laugh as if it were meant to be a comedy, and everyone retires to bed. Afterwards, Oberon, Titania, Puck, and other fairies enter, and bless the house and its occupants with good fortune. After all the other characters leave, Puck "restores amends" and suggests that what the audience experienced might just be a dream.


It is unknown exactly when A Midsummer Night's Dream was written or first performed, but on the basis of topical references and an allusion to Edmund Spenser's Epithalamion, it is usually dated 1595 or early 1596. Some have theorised that the play might have been written for an aristocratic wedding (for example that of Elizabeth Carey, Lady Berkeley), while others suggest that it was written for the Queen to celebrate the feast day of St. John, but no evidence exists to support this theory. In any case, it would have been performed at The Theatre and, later, The Globe. Though it is not a translation or adaptation of an earlier work, various sources such as Ovid's Metamorphoses and Chaucer's "The Knight's Tale" served as inspiration.[2] Aristophanes' classical Greek comedy The Birds (also set in the countryside near Athens) has been proposed as a source due to the fact that both Procne and Titania are awakened by male characters (Hoopoe and Bottom the Weaver) who have animal heads and who sing two-stanza songs about birds.[3] According to John Twyning, the play's plot of four lovers undergoing a trial in the woods was intended as a "riff" on Der Busant, a Middle High German poem.[4]


Maurice Hunt, former Chair of the English Department at Baylor University, writes of the blurring of the identities of fantasy and reality in the play that make possible "that pleasing, narcotic dreaminess associated with the fairies of the play".[19] By emphasising this theme, even in the setting of the play, Shakespeare prepares the reader's mind to accept the fantastic reality of the fairy world and its happenings. This also seems to be the axis around which the plot conflicts in the play occur. Hunt suggests that it is the breaking down of individual identities that leads to the central conflict in the story.[19] It is the brawl between Oberon and Titania, based on a lack of recognition for the other in the relationship, that drives the rest of the drama in the story and makes it dangerous for any of the other lovers to come together due to the disturbance of Nature caused by a fairy dispute.[19] Similarly, this failure to identify and to distinguish is what leads Puck to mistake one set of lovers for another in the forest, placing the flower's juice on Lysander's eyes instead of Demetrius'.[19]


There are points in the play, however, when there is an absence of patriarchal control. In his book Power on Display, Leonard Tennenhouse says the problem in A Midsummer Night's Dream is the problem of "authority gone archaic".[30] The Athenian law requiring a daughter to die if she does not do her father's will is outdated. Tennenhouse contrasts the patriarchal rule of Theseus in Athens with that of Oberon in the carnivalistic Faerie world. The disorder in the land of the fairies completely opposes the world of Athens. He states that during times of carnival and festival, male power is broken down. For example, what happens to the four lovers in the woods as well as Bottom's dream represents chaos that contrasts with Theseus' political order. However, Theseus does not punish the lovers for their disobedience. According to Tennenhouse, by forgiving the lovers, he has made a distinction between the law of the patriarch (Egeus) and that of the monarch (Theseus), creating two different voices of authority. This can be compared to the time of Elizabeth I, in which monarchs were seen as having two bodies: the body natural and the body politic. Tennenhouse says that Elizabeth's succession itself represented both the voice of a patriarch and the voice of a monarch: (1) her father's will, which stated that the crown should pass to her and (2) the fact that she was the daughter of a king.[31]


In 1839, the philosopher Hermann Ulrici wrote that the play and its depiction of human life reflected the views of Platonism. In his view, Shakespeare implied that human life is nothing but a dream, suggesting influence from Plato and his followers who thought human reality is deprived of all genuine existence. Ulrici noted the way Theseus and Hippolyta behave here, like ordinary people. He agreed with Malone that this did not fit their stations in life, but viewed this behaviour as an indication of parody about class differences.[36]


Also in 1849, Georg Gottfried Gervinus wrote extensively about the play. He denied the theory that this play should be seen as a dream. He argued that it should be seen as an ethical construct and an allegory. He thought that it was an allegorical depiction of the errors of sensual love, which is likened to a dream. In his view, Hermia lacks in filial obedience and acts as if devoid of conscience when she runs away with Lysander. Lysander is also guilty for disobeying and mocking his prospective father-in-law. Pyramus and Thisbe also lack in filial obedience, since they "woo by moonlight"[38] behind their parents' backs. The fairies, in his view, should be seen as "personified dream gods".[38] They represent the caprices of superficial love, and they lack in intellect, feeling, and ethics.[38]


Gervinus also wrote on where the fairyland of the play is located. Not in Attica, but in the Indies. His views on the Indies seem to Kehler to be influenced by Orientalism. He speaks of the Indies as scented with the aroma of flowers and as the place where mortals live in the state of a half-dream. Gervinus denies and devalues the loyalty of Titania to her friend. He views this supposed friendship as not grounded in spiritual association. Titania merely "delight in her beauty, her 'swimming gait,' and her powers of imitation".[38] Gervinus further views Titania as an immoral character for not trying to reconcile with her husband. In her resentment, Titania seeks separation from him, which Gervinus blames her for.[38]


In 1872, Henry N. Hudson, an American clergyman and editor of Shakespeare, also wrote comments on this play. Kehler pays little attention to his writings, as they were largely derivative of previous works. She notes, however, that Hudson too believed that the play should be viewed as a dream. He cited the lightness of the characterisation as supporting of his view.[41] In 1881, Edward Dowden argued that Theseus and his reflections on art are central to the play. He also argued that Theseus was one of the "heroic men of action"[41] so central to Shakespeare's theatrical works.[41]


In 1974, Marjorie Garber argued that metamorphosis is both the major subject of the play and the model of its structure. She noted that in this play, the entry in the woods is a dream-like change in perception, a change which affects both the characters and the audience. Dreams here take priority over reason, and are truer than the reality they seek to interpret and transform.[51] Also in 1974, Alexander Leggatt offered his own reading of the play. He was certain that there are grimmer elements in the play, but they are overlooked because the audience focuses on the story of the sympathetic young lovers. He viewed the characters as separated into four groups which interact in various ways. Among the four, the fairies stand as the most sophisticated and unconstrained. The contrasts between the interacting groups produce the play's comic perspective.[51]


Also in 1979, Harold F. Brooks agreed that the main theme of the play, its very heart, is desire and its culmination in marriage. All other subjects are of lesser importance, including that of imagination and that of appearance and reality.[53] In 1980, Florence Falk offered a view of the play based on theories of cultural anthropology. She argued that the play is about traditional rites of passage, which trigger development within the individual and society. Theseus has detached himself from imagination and rules Athens harshly. The lovers flee from the structure of his society to the communitas of the woods. The woods serve here as the communitas, a temporary aggregate for persons whose asocial desires require accommodation to preserve the health of society. This is the rite of passage where the asocial can be contained. Falk identified this communitas with the woods, with the unconscious, with the dream space. She argued that the lovers experience release into self-knowledge and then return to the renewed Athens. This is "societas", the resolution of the dialectic between the dualism of communitas and structure.[53] 041b061a72


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