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Most readers associate William Shakespeare with classic iambic pentameter, but Shakespeare’s plays often consist of many different writing styles. According to Kim Ballard, “A mix of these two compositional forms is unusual in much of literature, but commonplace in the plays of Shakespeare and other dramatists of his age” (Ballard). In his comedy Midsummer Night’s Dream, Shakespeare uses different writing styles for different characters. Noble characters usually speak in some form of verse, while commoners generally use prose. Titania and Oberon are an interesting case because their styles change depending on the situation. Shakespeare uses blank verse, rhymed verse, and prose for Titania and Oberon in order to evoke a sense of scene, situation, and character throughout the play.
When readers first encounter Titania and Oberon, they are quarreling over the young boy that Titania has taken into her care. In their initial exchange, Titania says, “What, jealous Oberon! Fairies, skip hence:/I have forsworn his bed and company,” to which Oberon responds, “Tarry, rash wanton: am not I thy lord?” (2.1.63-65). Because Oberon and Titania are royalty in the fairy world, they would almost certainly speak in verse to denote their nobility. However, the writing style must also fit with the situation. Therefore, both characters speak in unrhymed verse. This establishes their character by confirming their social status, but also shows that the two are throwing words back and forth rather than considering their words thoughtfully, as they might if they were expressing love rather than anger.
In 2.2, Oberon decides to use a magic potion to make Titania fall in love with the first creature she sees. As he drops the potion into her eyes, he says, “What thou seest when thou dost wake,/Do it for thy true-love take,/Love and languish for his sake:/Be it ounce, or cat, or bear,/Pard, or boar with bristled hair,/In thy eye that shall appear/When thou wakest, it is thy dear:/Wake when some vile thing is near” (2.2.33-40). At this point, Oberon uses rhyming verse. This is because he is casting a spell and trying to enchant her with a love potion. He is trying to distract her so that he can have the child, so of course he speaks somewhat sweeter to her.
Once Titania awakes and falls in love with Bottom, her language changes as well. Upon seeing Bottom, she says, “Out of this wood do not desire to go:/Thou shalt remain here, whether thou wilt or no./I am a spirit of no common rate;/The summer still doth tend upon my state;/And I do love thee: therefore, go with me;/I’ll give thee fairies to attend on thee,/And they shall fetch thee jewels from the deep,/And sing while thou on pressed flowers dost sleep…” (154-61). This time, Titania speaks in rhymed verse, which is common when a character is expressing their love to another. Titania is under Oberon’s spell, so she speaks sweetly to Bottom.
Each of these scenes uses a different writing style to distinguish between scenes, situations, and characters. All three use some form of verse, but the subtle differences can convey very different meanings. The rhyming verses indicate love and gentleness, while the blank verse is used to convey anger and impulsiveness. Noting these differences is important in understanding the full meaning of Shakespeare’s plays.
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