Themes of The Play A Midsummer Night's Dream

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      Themes are the fundamental and often universal ideas of perennial importance, which are explored in literary works. The purpose of reading any literary work is to critically analyze it as a commentary on larger issues which resonate with the audience or the reader. Shakespeare's plays are generally known for being extremely literary in nature. This means that his plays are not just a string of loosely connected plots, scenes, acts or characters. This play is no different and has multiple themes which emerge out of a close reading of the text.

      Love Theme: "The course of true love never did run smooth," comments Lysander, in the play. This is the most legendary and famous line spoken by Lysander in this play. The play is based on the story of two couples; Lysander and Hermia as well as Demetrius and Helena. Most of the conflict, tension and even the comical elements which arise in the play are a consequence of the love story of these two couples. However love is only an undercurrent in the play. It is the primarily the complications which arise due to the consequence of love that emerges as the implicit theme in the play. The tone of the play is so lighthearted that the audience never doubts that things will end happily; and they are therefore free to enjoy the comedy without being caught up in the tension of an uncertain outcome.

      The theme of the path of love and its difficulty is often explored through the motif of love, which in this case, out of balance—that is, romantic situations in which a disparity or inequality interferes with the harmony of a relationship. The biggest imbalance which is evident in the play is initially Lysander and Demetrius are in love with Hermia. Helena is in love with Demetrius while Hermia loves Lysander. This imbalance is continued further with Puck's folly of squeezing the magical juice on Lysander and Demetrius. Then they both fall in love with Helena. It is only at the end that a balance is restored when Lysander is united with Hermia and Demetrius is united with Helena. This situation has suggestive undertones that love can only be simplified through a divine intervention, which in this case is initiated by the fairy world. Similarly, in the relationship between Titania and Oberon, an imbalance arises out of the fact that Oberon's desire of laying hands on Titania's Indian boy which even outweighs his love for her. Later, Titania's passion for the ass-headed Bottom represents an imbalance of appearance and nature: Titania is beautiful and graceful, while Bottom is clumsy and grotesque. Their union seems impossible to even the most creative and imaginative of minds.

      Magic Theme: The fairies' magic, which leads to hilarious situations in the play, thereby adding to the comical flavor is another element central to the fantastic atmosphere of A Midsummer Night's Dream. 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. Additionally; the ease with which Puck uses magic to his own ends, as when he reshapes Bottom's head into that of an ass and recreates the voices of Lysander and Demetrius, stands in contrast to the laboriousness and gracelessness of the craftsmen's attempt to stage their play. Shakespeare is known to create a fantastical atmosphere in most of his comedy plays. This is evident in another comedy by him, As You Like it.

      Marriage Theme: A Midsummer Night's Dream asserts marriage as the true purpose and destination of any romantic love. The play begins with the proclamation of Theseus' marriage to Hippolyta. Theseus is in a cheerful mood and also cannot wait any longer to get married. However, the atmosphere towards confusion as an imbalance is created between the couples. But by the end of the play, normality and a balance have been restored. Lysander has reunited with Hermia and Helena is reunited with Demetrius.

      The triple wedding at the end of Act IV marks the formal resolution of the romantic problems that have befallen the two young couples from the beginning, when Egeus attempted to force his daughter to marry the man he had chosen to be her husband.

      The mature and stable love of Theseus and Hippolyta is contrasted with the relationship of Oberon and Titania, whose squabbling has such a negative impact on the world around them. Only when the marriage of the fairy King and Queen is put right can there be peace in their kingdom and the world beyond it. Therefore, by the end of the play; Titania and Oberon have also reunited and happiness has been restored in their marriage.

      Appearance and Reality: Shakespeare uses a recurring theme which becomes a motif in his works. The concept of a difference between illusion and reality or imagination and reality or fantasy and reality is one such recurring theme in his work. The idea that things are not necessarily what they seem to be is at the heart of A Midsummer Night's Dream, and in the very title itself.

      An atmosphere is consciously created in the play which has a dreamlike quality. Characters frequently fall asleep and wake having dreamed different things. Even for the reader, it is difficult to differentiate between reality and dream. Much of the play takes place at night, and there are references to moonlight, which changes the appearance of what it illuminates. Darkness in its own significance lends an ambiguity to the atmosphere and certain darkness as well.

      The difference between appearances and reality is also explored through the play-within-a-play, to particularly induce an comic effect. The "rude mechanicals" completely fail to understand the magic of the theatre, which depends upon the audience being allowed to believe that what is being acted out in front of them is real. Hippolyta's first words in the play are testimony to the significance 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 absurd events in even more absurd ways: "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, unable to comprehend the surreal happenings that have affected him as anything but the result of slumber.

      Shakespeare is also interested in the actual workings of dreams, in how events occur without explanation, time loses its normal sense of flow, and the impossible occurs as a matter of course; he seeks to recreate this environment in the play through the intervention of the fairies in the magical forest. The readers themselves find it ambiguous and difficult to ascertain the difference between imagination and reality.

University Questions

Bring out the important thematic concerns in A Midsummer Night's Dream.
Discuss the theme of imagination versus reality in A Midsummer Night's Dream.
Substantiate the concept of illusion versus reality in A Midsummer Night's Dream.

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