In A Midsummer Night’s Dream some of the main themes are magic, dreams, illusion and reality. It is a play about four worlds which combine and create a magical, yet creepy atmosphere where love is overpowered by the magic of the faeries.
The whole play is based around the idea that there is a greater force out there that can step in a change how we think and what we do. This idea is intriguing to us because we want to learn more about this other world, but at the same time it is scary to think that there is something else out there that we don’t know about and yet we don’t want to know about as we don’t like to think that there is something more powerful that can control us.There is a great deal of confusion going on in the play which is at its peak in the middle section when the lovers are made to fall in love with the wrong people. Bottom is given an ass’ head and Titania is made to fall in love with him so that Oberon can have his fun.
Oberon is the main character in this play, mainly because he is the reason for most of the magical things happening. He orders Puck to go out and collect the flower that is used to perform the spell “Fetch me this herb; and be thou here again ere the leviathan can swim a league” and then tells him to look for the people to put the spell on “You shalt know the man by the Athenian garments he hath on”. But low and behold, Puck finds the wrong person and ends up making two men love one women while the other woman is left out.This ties in with the theme of magic and although we see people all the time saying that they are magicians and pulling rabbits out of their hats, there is nothing quite as extreme as this and it is hard for us to believe.
Although it is something that we all wish we could do, to make someone we love, love us back. This is why we find it so irresistible to wonder about it, thinking about how nice it would be if we were actually able to make it happen.But at the same time we are glad it can’t because in the case of the play, they have no say over who they fall in love with. Especially in the case of Hermia who has two men who love her and then in an instance they aren’t interested at all in her but in her best friend.
For Helena she thinks that the two men are playing a practical joke on her and refuses to believe what is happening, as much as it is unbelievable even to her “I see you are all bent to set against me for your merriment…Can you not hate me, as I know you do.
..”. This is part of the reason we are glad that such things cannot happen in real life because if they did, no one would be happy and things would end up being worse than they were.
Also we would have no say in who we were to fall in love with which is an strange thing to think about as if these things did happen in real life and we knew about them, then we would never know whether we truly loved someone or whether it was just the result of a spell by a faerie and vice versa whether the person we loved really loved us. We may wake up one day and the spell would have worn off leaving us disoriented and confused, just like the lovers, except their confusion was for different reasons and thought of it as a very weird dream in which they all shared.Bottom is another story as he is given an ass’s head and someone is made to love him instead. He took full advantage of this and was fed exotic fruit by faeries and laid in a bed of flowers “Come, sit thee down upon this flow’ry bed.
..”all so that Oberon could get his hands on the Changeling boy that Titania would not let him have while she was preoccupied with Bottom, “And now I have the boy, I will undo this hateful imperfection of her eyes”. Titania was left disoriented as well when she woke up and Bottom and Titania both thought it was a dream “I have had a most rare vision.
I have had a dream…”When we read this play, we begin to wonder what Shakespeare was thinking when he came up with it and that he must have had a very vivid imagination to come up with it.
When it comes to the theme of illusion and reality, it is hard to think whether these sorts of things do really happen and that is why Shakespeare wrote this play, to tell people about his experience without seeming barking mad. Or maybe he wrote this play because of an illusion or dream that he had and decided to write about. It make us wonder whether the play is based on fact or fiction because people are always talking about strange things happening, perhaps it is the work of faeries. Or the little cherubs that we see painted and carved in churches and on walls.
When in fact in the play, things are a lot more sinister and things happen because of greed and jealousy. It scares us to think that there are supernatural things out there that can control us just for the hell of it or because they don’t like us.When we wake up in the morning, we remember some the dreams we had the night before and sometimes they are scary but sometimes they are good. We never stop to think though that perhaps these things really did happen but we were just mad to think that they were dreams so that we wouldn’t suspect that anything unusually was happening.
It is something interesting to think about but no one likes to think it could actually be real because that would mean that there is something out there that is far greater that the human race and that we are just here to provide entertainment for them. This is a scary thought which is why no one likes to question it, but when we read A Midsummer Night’s Dream we are forced to think about even if we don’t want to. We prefer for it to stay that there are things we don’t know, and things we don’t generally want to find out about or believe exist.Another key theme in the play is dreams.
The title, A Midsummer Night’s Dream, is a clue to this theme and it is carried out throughout the play as an excuse for the strange things happening, perhaps this is what happens when something strange happens to us, we pass it off as a dream. When the lovers wake up to find that Demetrius loves Helena and Lysander loves Hermia, it is all well but they are totally different to how things were to just one night before when both men had been running after Hermia with Helena following after Demetrius who hated her “I love thee not, therefore pursue me not.Where is Lysander and fair Hermia?” They decide that it must have been a dream but find it suspicious that they all had the same one “But all the story of the night told over, and all their minds transfigur’d so together, more witnesseth than fancy’s images..
.”. The same happens with Titania who waking from her bed, sees Oberon and immediately tells him of her strange dream “My Oberon! What visions have I seen! Methought I was enamour’d of an ass.” at which point Oberon tells her it was no dream and shows her Bottom “There lies your love.
” She finds this awful and does not understand how these things have happened “How came these things to pass?”Although Shakespeare applies several important aspects of the Elizabethan belief in faeries to A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Shakespeare changes the idea of faeries not only in the play, but for all time. Faeries in Elizabethan England looked a lot like humans and were also around the same size and so therefore people were often mistaken for faeries. Since Elizabethan faeries looked like humans they did not have wings. Elizabethan people also thought that faeries were beautiful and of dark complexion, which reflected their wickedness.
They often dressed in green to symbolise nature as they were part of it. Shakespeare, who was of course familiar with these ideas of faeries, presents the faeries of A Midsummer Night’s Dream as associated with nature, but this is where the physical similarities to what the Elizabethans thought ends. In the play, Shakespeare describes his faeries as tiny creatures with wings, and this is the first time in literature that faeries are described like this.Shakespeare also changes the Elizabethan idea of the behaviour of faeries.
One of the most obvious ideas of Elizabethan faery behaviour was that faeries were linked closely with the home and the farm. Elizabethan faeries loved cleanliness enough to reward humans for keeping their homes clean, and they often punished messy people. They also needed humans for beef, bread, drink, and bath water, which people, fearful of faery wrath, willingly supplied. What faeries wanted the most was milk and cream and so they would often be associated with dairy farms.
The Elizabethans also thought that faeries were either fallen angels, the souls of dead humans, or beings without souls that existed between Heaven and Hell. Therefore foolish mortals who did not appease the faeries could suffer a variety of punishments. The most popular faery punishment was pinching, which meant that often victims were left with blue bruises all over their bodies. Faeries were also known to create changelings, like Titania’s Indian Boy, which were actually babies which were as human babies but then exchanged by faeries for imps.
This version of faeries as spiteful beings is quite different from A Midsummer Night’s Dream, where faeries are harmless sprites that may play tricks on humans, but eventually help them without having to be made or bribed to do so. Titania cares for the Indian boy out of love for her priestess, and Oberon orders Puck to fix the Athenians’ love situation without any kind of reward. Both King and Queen even bless the bridal beds at the end of the play. This view of faeries was very different to what the audiences of Elizabethan times would be used to.
One feature of faeries that Shakespeare left intact was their hobbies. Shakespeare’s faeries in A Midsummer Night’s Dream enjoy dancing and music, which was the favourite hobby of the faeries of Elizabethan tradition. Puck or Robin Goodfellow was a familiar figure to the Elizabethans.His sense of humour and reputation as a prankster made him a popular character.
He was not, however, a faery, because his tricks were never serious. Only practical jokes and humorous accidents were associated with him. Shakespeare not only makes him a faery in A Midsummer Night’s Dream, but he also makes him Oberon’s jester and servant. The change of Robin Goodfellow’s name to Puck is also important.
A “puck” is a devil, not a joker, which contrasts Robin Goodfellow’s character not only in Elizabethan tradition but in the play as well.Shakespeare, then, transforms the whole conception of “faery” from wicked pranksters to harmless “shadows.” Puck tells us this in his speech at the end of the play:If we shadows have offended,Think but this, and all is mended.That you have but slumb’red hereWhile these visions did appear.
And this weak and idle theme,No more yielding but a dreamFor the first time, faeries were no longer supposed to be feared but thought of as nothing more than a dream.Shakespeare’s use of language in the play emphasises the magical feel to the play, as the language used is so different to the language that we use today. It sounds strange to us and so adds to the strangeness of the play and the magical qualities. There are also some words that are used and phrases that are not used anymore today and so are like a blast from the past of from another dimension altogether.
All of these aspects help to create the themes for A Midsummer Night’s Dream.For us A Midsummer Night’s Dream makes us think about what is real and what is not. Whether there is something else out there or whether we are it and Shakespeare just made up the play to entertain, or whether he was trying to give us a message. These thoughts are both intriguing and scary at the same time as although we like to learn more all the time, we like to think that there is nothing else out there that can control our actions apart from us.
A Midsummer Night’s Dream is very good at putting forward some opinions about this, but in a very subtle way, and as a conclusion all the lovers believe it was a dream when we and the faeries know that it was not. Shakespeare is very good at capturing the effects of the faeries actions on the lovers with his language and diction used as it is very bold and powerful but is a complicated thing to grasp from this apparently simple play. When you look into it more closely you discover more that Shakespeare is trying to say, below the surface and this is why we find it hard to figure out what message Shakespeare is trying to get across.