A Midsummer Night’s Dream Symbolism/Imagery and Themes within the play
Symbols/Imagery Theseus & Hippolyta The Love Potion The Mechanicals Play Light v. Dark & Night v. Day Moon Reality v. Illusion Themes Love: Difficulty of love, Contrasts of love, Love out of Balance Magic Dreams A Midsummer Night’s Dream
Theseus & Hippolyta • Theseus and Hippolyta appear in the daylight at both the beginning and the end of the play’s main action. • They disappear, however, for the duration of the action, leaving in the middle of Act I, scene i and not reappearing until Act IV, as the sun is coming up to end the magical night in the forest. • Theseus and Hippolyta, the ruler of Athens and his warrior bride, are used to represent order and stability, to contrast with the uncertainty, instability, and darkness of most of the play.
The Love Potion • The love potion is used by the fairies to wreak romantic havoc throughout Acts II, III, & IV. • Because the meddling fairies are careless with the love potion, the situation of the young Athenian lovers becomes increasingly chaotic and confusing (Demetrius and Lysander are magically compelled to transfer their love from Hermia to Helena), and Titania is hilariously humiliated (she is magically compelled to fall deeply in love with the ass-headed Bottom). • The love potion thus becomes a symbol of the unreasoning, fickle, erratic, and undeniably powerful nature of love, which can lead to inexplicable and bizarre behavior and cannot be resisted.
The Mechanicals Play • The play-within-a-play is used to represent, in condensed form, many of the important ideas and themes of the main plot. • Because the craftsmen are such bumbling actors, their performance satirizes the melodramatic Athenian lovers and gives the play a purely joyful, comedic ending. • Pyramis and Thisbe face parental disapproval in the play-within-a-play, just as Hermia and Lysander do • the theme of romantic confusion enhanced by the darkness of night is rehashed, as Pyramis mistakenly believes that Thisbe has been killed by the lion, just as the Athenian lovers experience intense misery because of the mix-ups caused by the fairies’ meddling. • The craftsmen’s play is, therefore, a kind of symbol for A Midsummer Night’s Dream itself: a story involving powerful emotions that is made hilarious by its comical presentation.
Light v. Dark/ Day v. Night • The plot, characters, and conflicts within the play, A Midsummer Night’s Dream, are clearly driven by the notion of contrast – specifically that of light/dark (day/night). • There are 6 key components for analysis of any literary work: • Setting, Style, Characterization, Symbol, Structure, and Conflict. • Know these terms for a good focus on future test preperation
Light (Day) Order Structure & Rules Rigidity Proper Respectable behavior Dark (Night) Chaos Lack of Structure & Rules Flexibility Bizarre and Illicit behavior As a class, brainstorm a few events which occur in the two places Using a copy of the play, meet with peers and search for evidence of your findings/connections of evidence within the play and the concepts listed above. (15 min.) Be sure to document with proper source notations: (Act, scene, line numbers) = (3.2.110-115)
Moon • The moon symbolizes love, lust, and dreaming and is seen as a powerful symbolic force that determines and affects human behavior and reactions. • The meaning of the moon is never static; it means different things to each character, depending on his or her present situation or character attributes. • The moon is not only a luminous, passive watcher in the night sky, but it is a powerful force. It has an intoxicating effect on all the characters and seems to incite bizarre and illicit behavior.
It is worth mentioning that the moon can also… • be a force of treachery and destruction. • Even though an errant fairy like Puck is just a harmless troublemaker, the fact remains that he exists to “mislead night-wanderers”. • It is easy to view Puck in a positive light, but the dark creatures and intentions lurk under the cover of night. • This possibility of unsavory ambitions by the supernatural creatures might only be helped by the moon-intoxicated susceptibility of human prey. It is as if the moon is a drug, which renders the characters into a dream-state and the fairies have rule of the night. This could be rather a frightening prospect, indeed.
Reality v. Illusion • Shakespeare balances reality and illusion when he mingles the romances, problems, and actions of mortals and spirits! • In the realm of illusion, notice several elements in which logic is suspended in favor of symbolism, as in our own dreams. • Puck describes his own helpful and harmful behavior as if it is all logically consistent. • Are the fairies large (Titania embraces Bottom) or tiny (creep into acorn cups, wrap in a snakeskin, make coats from bat fur)? • Do the spirits fly around the globe with the night, or watch the dawn and have diminished powers during the day? Shakespeare describes both.
"A Midsummer Night's Dream" breaks theatrical illusion, the rule that the players do not talk to the audience about this being a play. Oberon begins by saying, "I am invisible." The play-within-a-play is interrupted several times by explanations by the actors. Nowadays, breaking theatrical illusion is an easy laugh. For example, in "The Hostage", Brendan Behan has characters say, "Silence! This is a serious play!", "That's the kind of joke this audience understands", and "That song has just about brought the show to a standstill." In Shakespeare, even "asides" are unusual, though he uses prologues as modern movies may begin with text or voiceover giving the background.
The amateur actor's concern about the lion frightening the ladies probably refers to an episode in which actors who were to impersonate lions were omitted from James of Scotland's parade, out of fear of frightening the audience. The actors decide the lion must be played with a half-mask, so people will realize it's really a person.
The reality! • The key passage in the play is Theseus's speech on "the lunatic, the lover, and the poet" (V.i.5-22). • Mentally ill people hallucinate, lovers see ugly people as beautiful, and poets create an imaginary world to give life to ideas ("giving to airy nothing a local habitation and a name"). • Fear can make even a normal person, in dim light, mistake a bush for a bear.
Samples from the play • Egeus accuses Lysander of being insincere, and using evil magic to win Hermia's love (I.i.27-32). Actually, it's Egeus who's fantasizing. • Hermia says, "I wish my father looked but with my eyes", to which Theseus replies "Rather your eyes must with his judgment look" (I.i.56-57). No two people see the world in the same way. • Helena knows Demetrius is a jerk, says he has bad taste in women, etc., etc. But Helena loves him anyway (I.i.226-233). She reflects on love's blindness and sudden changeability (234-245). • Demetrius, who remains under the influence of the love juice, remarks after talking with Theseus in the woods that he doesn't know what he dreamed, and what really happened. • Theseus says that even the best theatrical productions are "shadows", and that imagination can "amend" (mend, repair) a bad play so it seems good. Notice that Theseus is himself a character in a play. • At the end, Puck invites the audience to believe that, if they didn't like the play, they just dreamed it.
The Paradox!(How R&I blend together) • In "A Midsummer Night's Dream", imagination makes impossible things into reality. • Theseus woos Hippolyta "with his sword". On opposite sides in battle, they fall in love. Enemies become friends (the mismatched lovers, the families of Pyramis and Thisbe.) • Helena's affection for Demetrius seems to make him hate her. Hermia's hatred seems to make him love her. • In the dream world of the forest, deer chase tigers as Helena pursues Demetrius. • Like Demetrius's whipped spaniel, Helena grows fonder from mistreatment. • Pyramis is white as a lily, red as a rose. • Theseus and Hippolyta, describing the hunt, with the hounds sounding random, discordant notes, celebrate the wild, free beauty of chaos. • The play-within-a-play is "tragical mirth, merry and tragical, tedious and brief."
Difficulty of Love • Lysander and Hermia – sexual tension and social etiquette • Outside interventions • Betrayal of lovers/friends: Hermia and Helena, Lysander and Hermia, Demetrius and Helena, Titania and Oberon • Jealousy: Oberon and Titania, Helena and Hermia
Contrasts (Love) • Titania and Bottom • Bottom and the Lovers • Oberon and Puck • Dedication levels of lovers to one another
Love out of Balance • Pyramis and Thisbe parallel real life for Lysander and Hermia • In the woods the lovers are out of balance of “normal” states of love
Magic • The fairies’ magic brings about many of the most bizarre and hilarious situations in the play • In the play this magic embodies the almost supernatural power of love (symbolized by the love potion) and to create a surreal world • Although the misuse of magic causes chaos, as when Puck mistakenly applies the love potion to Lysander’s eyelids, magic ultimately resolves the play’s tensions by restoring love to balance among the quartet of Athenian youths
Dreams • “I have had a dream, past the wit of man to say what dream it was: man is but an ass, if he go about to expound this dream.” -- Bottom • As the title suggests, dreams are an important theme in A Midsummer Night’s Dream; they are linked to the bizarre, magical mishaps in the forest. • Hippolyta’s first words in the play evidence the prevalence of dreams (“Four days will quickly steep themselves in night, / Four nights will quickly dream away the time”)
The theme of dreaming recurs predominantly when characters attempt to explain bizarre events in which these characters are involved: “I have had a dream, past the wit of man to say what / dream it was. Man is but an ass if he go about t’expound this dream,” Bottom says this as he is unable to fathom the magical happenings that have affected him as anything but the result of slumber.
Dreams also… • occur without explanation, time loses its normal sense of flow, and the impossible occurs as a matter of course. • Shakespeare recreate this environment in the play through the intervention of the fairies in the magical forest • At the end of the play, Puck extends the idea of dreams to the audience members themselves, saying that, if they have been offended by the play, they should remember it as nothing more than a dream.
How do the two structures vary and why? 5 Act Play vs. 3 Act Play
5 Act Play Overview 5 Act Play
5 Act Play Breakdown ACT ONE ACT TWO ACT THREE ACT FOUR ACT FIVE
3 Act Breakdown – an overlay of the 5 Act mapping ACT ONE ACT THREE ACT TWO