The Play: A Midsummer Night’s Dream, by William Shakespeare offers awonderful contrast in human mentality. Shakespeare provides insight into man’sconflict with the rational versus the emotional characteristics of our behaviorthrough his settings. The rational, logical side is represented by Athens, withits flourishing government and society. The wilder emotional side isrepresented by the fairy woods. Here things do not make sense, and mysticalmagic takes the place of human logic. Every impulse may be acted upon withoutand forethought to there outcome.
The city of Athens represents the epitome of civilized man. Ruled bythe laws of man and kept in check by society’s own norms. The human struggle tosuppress its unrestrained and irrational tendencies, still being undertakentoday, discourages the civilized’ man from making rash and foolish actions.
Thus every action should have a sound and logical purpose, based on the socialnorms.
In the play, Egeus, the father of Hermia, has thoughtfully chosen whathe considers an acceptable mate to wed his daughter. Egeus most likely basedhis decision on economic, political, and social factors in his choosing ofDemetrius. He is making a reasonable decision based on Hermia’s future in theirsociety. Unfortunately Hermia is smitten by Lysander and vice versa. Althoughher father may have made his decision with every good intension, keeping withthe traditional customs of his day, and even perhaps taking into considerationsuch things as attractiveness, he failed to foresee the desires of his daughter.
The young Lysander, who like most young men, cares little for the rules ofsociety, is willing to break tradition and flee Athens to obtain Hermia.
Therefore they must leave the rational Athens to enjoy their irrational love.
Theseus, the king of Athens, is the highest symbol of law and order inhis kingdom. After winning a war with another kingdom, he chooses to marrytheir queen, Hippolyta. His decision may very well have been inspired by love,but the political ramifications of their marriage is a more plausible rationale.
In fact Theseus’ apparent love for Hippolyta seems almost as an added reward toan already beneficial partnership. Whether any attraction was there or notprobably would not have made a difference. As king, Theseus must place thekingdom before his own feelings. It simply comes with the position.
In short Athens represents the desire to suppress feelings and impulsesand to make decisions based on logic. Thus it does not give the power of rawemotion the true respect it requires, for man is both emotional and rational.
Love never has, and never will, be predictable.
The fairy world represents man’s undisciplined emotional quality. Herethe laws of man do not apply and things simply need not make sense. Attributeslike adventure, romance, fear, foolishness, and mockery are all thingssuppressed by Athens and welcomed by the fairy woods. The fairies respect theuntamed heart and they understand the power love holds. These creatures embracethe unruly craziness that passion brings, they live for the moment and are pureat heart. Along with love and passion the fairy world is also susceptible toother emotions running wild. Jealousy, anger, and humor at the expense ofothers are all abound here.
Oberon, king of the fairies, is the quintessential symbol of humanimpulsiveness. He obviously loves his queen, Titania, very much and isinstantly jealous of her love for a indian child. He rashly devises a plan tosnatch up the child for himself and at the same time have a little amusement atTitania expense. His plan is to cast a magic spell over her with a loveflower’ causing her to fall in love with the first person, or creature, she sees.
There is no rational reason for Oberon’s actions, for jealousy is irrationalityat it’s most basic level.
Robin Goodfellow, or puck, is Oberon’s fairy servant, and perhaps themost irrational person in the play. He is the essence of wild and untamedfoolishness. He pleases himself by performing his fairy magic on unsuspectingtravelers, and simply devotes his time to mischief. He is the one that Oberonentrusts with his plan to inflict Titania with the love spell, and also giveshim an extra chore as a bonus. This ends up to be a disastrous, yetentertaining event.
Shakespeare successfully contrasts the duality of man’s nature by usingtwo settings with opposite characteristics. Whether this was the entire purposeof the play is doubtful, but is remains an interesting and well paralleledfeature. The people of Athens, struggling to understand the illogical fairyworld, and at the same time exhibiting the same behavior. Perhaps Shakespeareseeing the era of logic and reason obtaining new highs, wished to remind us allof our other side. The emotional quality of mankind may get him into trouble,but it is also what makes life so thrilling and bearable. Like the ying-yang,one cannot live without the other.