Plot Structure of A Midsummer Night's Dream

Also Read

      Various Plots and Sub-plots: Shakespeare is known for his art of writing which is layered, rooted in implicit meaning and complicated in its thematic concerns, as also discussed in the previous answer in detail. Shakespeare generally relies on various plots, especially the use of a main plot and various subplots which are tied together to form a unified whole. However, this is not to say that Shakespeare follows the idea of unity of action, time and space in the strictest sense. The unity of time, space and action is a Neo-classical concept which most of the dramatists of that Age followed. Shakespearean plays are generally free of this. A Midsummer Night's Dream is no exception. Although it is Shakespeare's early plays, it reflects the literary craftsmanship of Shakespeare. He has shown remarkable skill in combining the main plot and sub plots in this play; to the extent that there seems to be no confusion to the reader or the audience and one is able to enjoy the literary refinement contained in this play. There are four differentiated stories in the play. Firstly; we are introduced to Theseus and Hippolyta whose marriage is to take place soon. Secondly, we are introduced to the story of the four lovers;

      Lysander, Hermia, Demetrius and Helena. Their story is complicated as firstly the love relationship is imbalanced. Both Lysander and Demetrius want to marry Hermia initially while Hermia loves Lysander. Egeus, Hermia's father is adamant to get Hermia married to Demetrius. Helena is in love with Demetrius who detests her. The third story is that of the fairies, Oberon and Titania who are fighting over a changeling who is Titania's attendant. Oberon wants him to have his attendant but Titania is not willing to give him up. The fourth story is that of the Athenian craftsmen who have gathered to prepare a play on the love story of Pyramus and Thisbe for the wedding of Theseus and Hippolyta. Shakespeare shows his craftsmanship as he ends the play with the wedding of Theseus and Hippolyta, the event which he begins the play with. However, it is the story of the four lovers which captures our attention and it is their reunion which seems to be the most awaited event in the course of the play.

      The Sub Plot of Pyramus and Thisbe: refers to the artisans who have gathered to perform the play on the love story of Pyramus and Thisbe. This story forms one of the sub plots in the play; A Midsummer Night's Dream. The most obvious thread of linkage between the sub plot and the main plot is their association or inter dependability on one another. The mechanicals have gathered together to rehearse for this play which they intend to perform for the wedding of Theseus and Hippolyta. This sub plot also gets linked with another plot, that of Titania and Oberon. Bottom is an artisan who is rehearsing for the play with the other company of actors. It is related to the story of the four lovers as they bear some resemblance to each other. However literary critics have remarked that the association of the sub plot with the other main plots in the play is superficial and that if the sub plot was removed, the main plots would not suffer any damage. They have further asserted that the main purpose for the inclusion of the sub plot is the element of comedy which it brings in.

      The artisan's play as a parody: The sub plot can also be understood as a 'burlesque'. Burlesque is a literary; dramatic or musical work with the main purpose of causing laughter by caricaturing the manner or spirit of serious works, or by a ridiculous treatment of their subjects. The word derives from the Italian burlesco, which in turn, is derived from the Italian burla - a joke, ridicule or mockery. The very characters involved in the sub plot and the main plot have been juxtaposed in a very amusing way. The mechanicals are crude Athenians who engage in manual labor to earn their livelihood. They do not engage in any kind of intellectual activity. In all probability; they are not educated at all. Needless to say; these mechanicals are unrefined and uncivilized in their personality and their mannerisms. In their direct contrast, are the royals who are to watch this performance. Theseus and Hippolyta are no ordinary nobles. Theseus is the king of the entire city of Athens. Hippolyta was the queen of Amazons, too and is equally heroic and powerful as Theseus. She is also a force to be reckoned with. The direct juxtaposition happens when the uncivilized perform a play for the civilized. The difference between the groups becomes so much more observable and prominent. The very title of this play to be performed is absurd, "The Most Lamentable Comedy and Most Cruel Death of Pyramus and Thisbe". The title seems ironic and does not make much sense. It verges on the border of sounding ridiculous. A play which has been described as lamentable cannot be a comedy simultaneously. A title also does not register in the mind when it is too long. It is ironic that the play is so short while the title of the play in itself is so long. Through this Shakespeare also parodied the crude way in which theatre companies at that time worked. The subplot caricatures and satirizes the deficiencies of amateur actors and the strangeness of the drama at that time.

      Incapable actors: The actors who are preparing to perform this play about Pyramus and Thisbe do not deserve to be called actors. They are Athenian rustics who are involved in manual labor. Their lack of talent in the field of theatre is reflected when these actors gather together to rehearse for the play. The first step they take is to allocate the roles to different actors. Their process of role allocation is completely haphazard and devoid of any logic. There is absolutely no consideration which they keep in mind and randomly assign roles to each other. Then Bottom who has to play the role of Pyramus starts boasting that he could have played the role of a tyrant better than anyone else. He also proclaims that he would have moved the audience to tears had he played the role of a tyrant. Bottom is proved to be a ridiculous man when we see Puck playing a prank and placing the donkey's head on Bottom's shoulders. While rehearsing they realize that there are some scenes in the play which might be terrifying for the ladies to watch. Therefore they carefully write a prologue to warn the audience that they will see a lion on the stage, but this lion is not a real lion. Therefore we see that their rehearsal, just like their play is rough, unpolished and unrefined. They also mispronounce many words like 'Ninny' for 'Ninus' and do not pay any attention to the punctuation marks while reading the prologue. The audience, including Theseus and Hippolyta, are unable to understand a word of this prologue. Since they do not have any understanding of stage props, they give a person the role of a wall. This actor now goes on stage carrying a bucket of roughcast hoping that the audience would understand that he is a wall. This is also mentioned in the prologue but
the audience does not understand it, therefore the actor representing the wall looks preposterous and nonsensical. While performing we see that the actors playing the role of Pyramus and Thisbe use transposition of characteristics. When Thisbe is looking for Pyramus, she uses characteristics generally associated with women for him. She says that Pyramus has lily lips and a nose which resembles a cherry. This description evokes laughter even though a serious incident has just occurred, that of Pyramus death.

      A critic says that the concept or the idea of a play within a play has been excellently portrayed by Shakespeare. It also lends shades of ambiguity to the play thereby increasing its chances of eliciting multiple interpretations. Critics have suggested that the play within a play symbolizes a big vision. The reader or the spectator of the main play is left wondering as to whether what they read or saw was reality or a blurred and cloudy vision. The line between illusion and fantasy is blurred which also emerges as a powerful theme in the play.

      Contrast: Shakespeare employs contrast to pit the various characters and plots against each other. Shakespeare often uses both noble characters and characters from the lower socio-economic strata. Theseus, Hippolyta, Oberon and Titania are noble characters while the mechanicals represents the worker class. In the end, the play is a picture of the society (with top and lower orders). There is a gradation in that social order: from the Duke to the normal people. This gives Shakespeare the power to make a critical social commentary on the way society works in relation to harmony and social order. The noble class may not necessarily embody perfection. The introduction of Bottom has a farcical dimension, linked to the Duke and his lover. Fairies The introduction of the responsible for a break in the tone of the play. Fairies take us into the realm of fantasy and magic. There is a balance between couples: the Duke and the future Duchess, Theseus and Hippolyta, Oberon and Titania.

      Opposition between mortals and immortals also functions as an instance of contrast employed by Shakespeare. Oberon and Titania argue over a changeling. They are supposed to be invisible to the mortal eye which also leads to a lot of chaos for these mortal beings. Theseus and Hippolyta are flesh and blood mortals. Oberon and Titania fall in love at first sight have exaggerated demands and quarrel like any ordinary couple: they behave like old mortals. Therefore a similarity has also been struck between the fairy world and the human world.

      Play within a play: The play has a multilayered structure, with a flash of literary genius which is a chief determining factor for the success of A Midsummer Night's Dream. Shakespeare also introduces a foolish, clown-like character, Bottom, whom Titania would fall in love with. Pyramus and Thisbe are parallel to the main subject. The forest is like an uncharted territory which the characters must traverse and explore to come out of the ruckus.

      The tone of the subplot turns into comedy and verges on farce. These actors are unfit to be actors: this creates a discrepancy between the main plot and the subplot, which is very funny to read or watch, as the case may be.

      It is easy to perceive the subplot as a parody of the main plot. The play is very complex, and parallels the complexity of themes and tones, and so many disconnected elements fit in so nicely in the end: that can account for the success of the play.

      Underlying A Midsummer Night's Dream is the simple three-part plot structural characteristic of most comedies by Shakespeare, the first part shows the situations going wrong, the second part focuses mainly on the humor which arises out of these funny situations and the third part is about the resolving of these conflicts leading to the restoration of a state of normalcy in the lives of the characters. Shakespeare builds a more elaborate structure on this foundation, however, by telling three stories and developing them alongside each other: the misadventures of the four lovers, the conflict between Titania and Oberon, and the craftsmen's struggles to stage Tyramus and Thisbe'. The tension between Hippolyta and Theseus is a less prominent, plot element which helps to link the other three situations.

      To conclude, we can assuredly say that Shakespeare dexterously weaves these four worlds together, by having characters waltzing in and out of each other's world, by employing the techniques of similarity and contrast. For example, the themes of love and its difficulty, its complexity echo throughout the play and through the lives of all characters. Coherence is also produced by the play's emphasis on time. The action is associated with two traditional festivals Midsummer Eve and May Day synonymous with magic, mayhem, and merriment.

      Shakespeare is regarded as a wordsmith and a literary craftsman. A Midsummer Night's Dream is a perfect example of his literary genius and capabilities.

University Questions

Comment on the plot of A Midsummer Night's Dream.
How does Shakespeare tie the main plot and the sub plots in the A Midsummer Night's Dream?
Critically analyze Shakespeare's art of writing from the vantage point of plot structure and development with reference to A Midsummer Night's Dream.

Previous Post Next Post