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A Midsummer Night’s Dream is a play that explores what is universally thought to be one of the most bewitching and relatable themes present in literature: love and longing. There is something about the notion of love or romance that has the power to captivate an audience, most likely because love is something that most people want and spend much of their lives searching for. Romantic love is a human ideal, and for as long as literature has been written, authors have written about it. However, in this play, William Shakespeare uses a variety of characters, plot twists, and symbols to portray love in a different, darker light than typical romances. Conversely, he also utilizes tragedy in a somewhat comical way in many instances throughout the play, bringing light to many darker scenes. A Midsummer Night’s Dream is a play that takes traditional themes and motifs and presents them in an unorthodox fashion to the audience which makes for a truly riveting story.
Shakespeare was not attempting to write a play about true love, but rather the confusion and problems that love has the power to induce. Hermia, Lysander, Helena, and Demetrius are not archetypes of romance, but rather simple characters to be sympathized with. Love is completely out of balance in this play from the very beginning. Hermia and Lysander are in love and unable to marry because her father, Egeus, wishes for her to marry Demetrius. Helena has unreciprocated feelings towards Demetrius who, to add insult to injury, loves Hermia and does wish to marry her. The four of them are suffering as a result of romantic passion from the very beginning of the play. This serves to make the audience slightly uneasy about the situation, which creates a sense of urgency in that the audience wants something to happen immediately to rectify this. It is natural to want to see love in perfect balance and harmony, as true love is an ideal and beautiful thing to most. Shakespeare plays on this desire by creating a sense of discontent in the early scenes of the play, which, while uncomfortable, is effective in capturing the audience’s attention.
The plot thickens and the feelings of unease intensify with the introduction of the fairies into the play. Fairies are typically small mythical beings of human form who possess magical powers, and a certain charming mystical image comes to mind for most when they are mentioned. Fairies are usually thought of as pretty, colorful, and enchanting. Shakespeare contrasts this with the mischievous qualities of the fairy characters in A Midsummer Night’s Dream. He creates a mismatch between the benevolent image one typically associates with fairies and the actual personalities and motives of his fairy characters, particularly Puck and Oberon. When Oberon decides to interfere in the strange love quadrilateral that is introduced in the beginning of the play, things go from bad to worse. It gets to a point where everyone involved is in love with someone who does not feel the same way, Lysander and Demetrius are about to duel, and Helena and Hermia experience a strain on their friendship.
Additionally, the love potion made from the flower is a symbol Shakespeare uses to create something of a false sense of security in the audience. When it is first introduced, one believes that things have the potential to end well for the four Athenian lovers, but things go awry and it is established quickly that this is not the case. The potion opens up the potential for fairy mischief after initially giving the audience a false sense of security. The fairies, particularly Oberon and Puck, play an essential role in furthering the conflict in the play, regardless of the fact that people typically think of fairies as benevolent and pretty. Their mischief keeps the audience on the edges of their seats (literally or figuratively.)
Contrarily, the craftsmen’s attempt to rehearse and put on the play after Theseus and Hippolyta’s wedding is a prime example of Shakespeare turning tragedy on its head. The tale of Pyramus and Thisbe, which somewhat resembles Romeo and Juliet, is a heavily tragic play in which two lovers mistakenly commit suicide. The craftsmen, especially Nick Bottom, are crude people ill-suited for acting. Their attempt at undertaking such a dark and dismal production is actually comical because of this. Shakespeare also injects comedy into darkness in the play when it is already established that the fairies are mischievous and volatile, and Puck out of nowhere turns Nick Bottom’s head into that of a donkey. In this instance, a foreboding nuance of the play instantaneously produces something bizarre and funny which serves to hold the audience’s interest.
In A Midsummer Night’s Dream, William Shakespeare uses language, ideas, and motifs that people typically think of as beautiful or ideal and pairs them with unsettling facets. Examples of this include love being out of balance with the four young Athenian lovers, the mischievous tendencies of the fairies Oberon and Puck, and the worsening of the situation due to the existence of the love potion. On the other hand, Shakespeare also creates contrast to the darker parts of the play through the crude mannerisms and performance of the craftsmen and Puck turning Bottom into a donkey just for the sake of troublemaking. Shakespeare portrays the positive in a dark way and the negative in an amusing way in A Midsummer Night’s Dream, all of which makes for an extremely compelling story.
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