Opening Scene in A Midsummer Night's Dream

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      It is true to say that Shakespeare is known to be a master storyteller. He is also considered to be a master at writing opening scenes. He gives us a rough idea about what is due to come in the forthcoming acts. But Shakespeare is careful in not giving too much information as that would not motivate the reader to read further. The opening scene in most Shakespearean plays begins on a high note. By a high note, one means that Shakespeare introduces the main characters and also an important event. This serves the purpose of piquing the interest of the reader for the future acts.

      Occurrences in the First Scene: The first scene of the play A Midsummer Night's Dream is a dense scene like most first scenes of Shakespearean plays. It is dense in terms of action. The first major event to which we are introduced is that of the wedding of Theseus and Hippolyta. This is an important event which binds the stories of the sub plots together. It also introduces us to the characters of Theseus and Hippolyta. The first scene also gives us a glimpse into the personalities on Theseus and Hippolyta. Theseus is very impatient about his wedding and wants the wedding day to approach faster. Hippolyta is more patient than him and comforts him by saying that eventually, the wedding day will approach and then they will get married. It also introduces us to the characters of Hermia and Lysander who are in love with each other. Egeus, Hermia's father does not approve of their relationship. He complains about this to Theseus who is the king of Athens, the place where the play is set. We see Theseus' judgment when he gives four days to Hermia to reconsider her decision and get married to Demetrius, the man who Egeus has approved for her. If Hermia does not accept Demetrius as her husband, she would have to abandon worldly pleasures and become a nun.

      Significance: The significance of these events in the first scene is that it introduces the major characters to us, it introduces the personality traits of these characters to us, the scene also presents the central problem, that of Hermia and Lysander's impending separation to us and it also introduces the event of Theseus' wedding to us. It is the event of this wedding that the play will later close with. There is a multitude of things going on in the first scene of the play but it is Shakespeare's literary genius that this multitude does not lead to any kind of confusion in the mind of the reader or the spectator. The first scene is also beautiful because of its reliance on imagery and metaphors. Theseus uses the image of a widow who keeps on living thus robbing a young heir the time to enjoy his fortune. The first scene is also essential from the point of view of setting the atmosphere, the tone and the tenor of the play which is mainly established through the linguistic usage of Theseus. He uses important words such as 'dream', 'night', and 'moon' in different contexts in the first scene. These words set the dream-like quality of the play in motion. It also adds certain darkness to the atmosphere of the play. This darkness is representative of the impending danger and confusion which is about to follow. However, all is not dark and gloomy in the first scene. The third speech of Theseus in the first act is about Theseus' orders to prepare a plan of entertainment for his wedding. He orders his attendants to rejoice and prepare for merriment. This is important as it prepares the audience for a sub plot which is due to develop. The mechanicals or rustic Athenians gather to prepare for a play on Pyramus and Thisbe. We also observe the use of words such as ’pomp' and 'merriment'. The use of these words tells us that while there will be darkness in the play, there will also be some elements of happiness in the play.

      The first scene of the play is significant from the point of view of introduction to plots. Three of the main four plots are revealed, to some extent in the very first scene itself. Egeus enters the scene "full of vexation" which introduces us to the plot of Lysander and Hermia along with Demetrius and Helena. Egeus therefore becomes an important character who links the story of the four lovers with that of Theseus and Hippolyta. The third sub plot which comprises of the entertainment program being prepared by the artisans which is also hinted at by Theseus in his third speech.

      The first scene is also important from the point of view of the thematic thrusts which emerge out of it. The theme of love and its fulfillment through marriage are important themes which are evident from the very opening speech of Theseus. The theme of love's difficulty also emerges as an important theme through the character of Egeus. Lysander also makes a speech about the path of love which is often difficult. He tries to console Hermia who seems disillusioned with Egeus' complaint. Lysander explains her that the path of love is difficult and must be traversed as a union of two lovers may be difficult but is not impossible. This difficulty is increased by Demetrius ignoring Helena. He was earlier in love with Helena but later deserted her. Helena is saddened by this and is willing to go to any length to win the love of Demetrius back. Lysander also comments that Demetrius has been an inconsistent lover. Although Lysander uses this reason to ensure that he is not allowed to marry Hermia, this also is true to some extent.

      Therefore we see that the first scene is important due to many reasons. The introduction of the main plots, sub plots, characters and the theme, all occur in this very first scene of the play. The tone and the tenor are also set in the first scene of the play. Coleridge, a master storyteller himself, has commented that Shakespeare in his opening scenes sows gems which later develop into full-fledged plots.

University Questions

Discuss the significance of the opening scene in A Midsummer Night's Dream.
Shakespeare has been known as a wordsmith or a master storyteller. Critically analyze this in reference to the opening scene of A Midsummer Night's Dream.

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