A Midsummer Night's Dream: Act 5, Scene 1 - Summary & Analysis

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      Summary: The hour of Theseus wedding has finally come, much to the relief of Theseus and he discusses the planned festivities with the four lovers and his master of revels, Philostrate. Philostrate hands over a list of activities to him, on which is "a tedious brief scene of young Pyramus/And his love Thisbe". The master of revels pleads with the duke to forego the play from the agenda, but, when Theseus gathers the knowledge that a group of common workmen have worked hard over the production, he decides to keep it on the roster, for "never anything can be amiss/When simpleness and duty tender it." And so the play is finally performed and the audience finds the performances of Bottom and his colleagues very amusing and entertaining. Hippolyta asserts, "This is the silliest stuff that ever I heard disregarding their hard work, but Theseus is more forgiving: "If we imagine no worse of them than they of themselves, they may pass for excellent men". By the time the performance is over, it is already past midnight, and the newlyweds, performers, and guests retire for the evening. When all is quiet and hushed, Puck and the fairies come out of the shadows to bless the marriages.

      Critical Analysis: This final act of this play is very interesting in that it seems completely unnecessary to the complete the story of the play. In Act Four, we not only witness all the lovers getting married, but there has been a happy resolution to the conflict. Thus, the immediate question which arises in our minds is the reason behind Shakespeare's inclusion of this act.

      The answer, in all probability lies in the fact that Shakespeare is trying to emphasize or theorize about theatre and the art of writing. He wants to make it very clear that the ending to this play could just as easily have been a tragedy and not comedy, which is how this particular play ends. The final act also serves the motive of challenging the audience's ideas about reality and imagination, which emerges as a major theme in the play. Seeing the pathetic acting of the artisans, Theseus remarks that, "The lunatic, the lover, and the poet / Are of imagination all compact". It is important to understand that the play can fully be enjoyed only if one reads it with their imaginative faculty. If we get preoccupied with rationality about the story, then we would not be able to appreciate the play's literary excellence. Hippolyta also comments about this and says, "This is the silliest stuff that ever I heard." Theseus comes to her rescue and remarks that, "The best in this kind are but shadows, and the worst are no worse if imagination amend them". Thus, the human imagination can create literary Creative or artistic miracles and resolve all conflicts.

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