Everything is not what it seems in A Midsummer Night’s Dream, which is essentially how Shakespeare creates the plot, signifies the relationships between the characters, and accentuates various themes. The element of surprise and the play’s atmosphere of chicanery expressed through a multitude of metaphors leave the plot and relationships on uncertain terms. One metaphor, personifying the word serpent, relates to the theme of uncertainty and surprise and accentuates the vivid characters and their relationships.
The character Hermia, about her love Lysander, cries out the metaphor:
“Help me, Lysander, help me! Do thy best
To pluck this crawling serpent from my breast
Ay me, for pity. What a dream was here!
Lysander, look how I do quake with fear.
Methought a serpent eat my heart away,
And you sat smiling at his cruel pray.” (A Midsummer Night’s Dream, 2.2. ` 145-150)
Lysander and Hermia have just woken up from falling asleep together in the forest, to which Lysander had professed his love to Helena because of the love potion put in his eyes. Hermia awakes, one can guess from hearing Lysander’s profession of love for Helena and disdain for Hermia, and cries out that she had just suffered a terrible love nightmare. The element of uncertainty, as well as disorientation, is reflected in Hermia’s state as she awakes. Is she in a dream? A nightmare? Does her love truly love someone else? If she had known about the love potion, would her reaction be the same? The word “serpent” metaphorically describes the fear and sadness Hermia has felt from her “dream” of Lysander’s changing affections.
While Hermia professes, “How I do quake with fear, Methought a serpent eat my heart away, and you sat smiling ...
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...ence is offered the choice of believing and trusting Puck of being honest or deciding that it was all a dream. This aside that ends the play accentuates the purpose of this dreamy and disorienting plot, affirms the “serpentine” metaphorical references used extensively throughout the play to highlight the themes, and gives a greater purpose to the vitality of the storyline.
The play derives most of its character’s relationships from the enfolding conflict, or “serpent’s tongue”, and places value on the idea that what is shown may not parallel with what is actually happening. What one sees may not be as it seems, what the characters feel may not be real. Most of all this effect influences and engrosses the audience to pay attention to not only the surface level storyline, but to appreciate the rhetoric and dialogue that has been carefully crafted to each situation.
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