A Midsummer Night's Dream: The Dream Within a Dream

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The Dream Within a Dream in William Shakespeare's A Midsummer Night's Dream

Shakespeare anticipates the Freudian concept of the dream as egoistic wish-fulfillment through the chaotic and mimetic desires of his characters in "A Midsummer Night's Dream." The play also utilizes a secondary meaning of the word "dream" - musicality - by tapping into theater's potential for sensory enchantment. Through this artificial recreation of the dream-state, Shakespeare integrates the audience, whom the solipsistic characters have run the risk of alienating, into the dream. Ultimately, the play refutes a psychoanalytic interpretation by reminding the observer that dreams, much like love, sometimes have "no bottom" (IV.i.209) and lack logical motivation.

If the dreamer's goal is always wish-fulfillment, cloaked or not, as Freud argues, then the four lovers fit his theory perfectly. Shakespeare toys with the fickleness of desire through Oberon's "love-in-idleness" flower, a symbol of debauched purity: "Before, milk-white; now, purple with love's wound" (II.i.167). Puck's haphazard "planting" of the juice in the lovers' eyes sets up a system of indiscriminate desire-attachments. The gaze becomes the only agent for desire, yet it is a manipulated gaze which destroys reasoning - as Oberon gleefully notes, Titania may not even relegate herself to her own species: "The next thing then she waking looks upon - / Be it on lion, bear, or wolf, or bull, / On meddling monkey, or on busy ape - / She shall pursue it with the soul of love" (II.i.179-182). Laura Mulvey addresses the phallocentric roots of the gaze in "Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema":

"Woman then stands in patriarchal culture as signifi...

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