Illusion and Fairies in Shakespeare's A Midsummer Night's Dream

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Illusion and Fairies in Shakespeare's A Midsummer Night's Dream

The main theme of love in Shakespeare's A Midsummer Night's Dream is explored by four young lovers, who, for the sake of their passions, quit the civilized and rational city of Athens, and its laws, and venture into the forest, there to follow the desires of their hearts - or libidos as the case may be. In this wild and unknown wilderness, with the heat and emotion commonly brought on by a midsummer night, they give chase, start duels, profess their love and hatred and otherwise become completely confused and entangled in the realities and perceptions of their own emotions. What better opportunity for Shakespeare to introduce a world of fairies then this? Shakespeare's fairies live in this wild forest were they love, fight, play and helpfully sort the poor young lovers out before sending them off, back to their own civilized world. Like many of the other elements in this play Shakespeare gives his fairies a healthy mix of illusion and reality. The Fairies use illusion in their exploits and Shakespeare uses them in the Dream in such a way that one might ask: are they even real or are they themselves an illusion?

Because of Shakespeare's unique portrayal of the fairy world of A Midsummer Night's Dream it is often criticized as being contrary to the popular folk beliefs of fairies at the time. The fairies in the Dream which are described as "Diminutive, pleasing and picturesque sprites" are thought to "present themselves as a new race of fairies, as different from the popular fairies of tradition as are those fairies from the fays of medieval romances" (Latham 180). It is this "diminutive" stature of the fairies that is brought up the most often by critics who b...

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...audience, imploring them that if they wish not to believe what they have seen, then they might think of it as a dream as well (Epilogue). This from the mouth of their well-known and loved Robin Goodfellow only serves to convince even more. And Robin has been known as Puck ever since.


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Briggs, Katharine M. The Vanishing People. London: B.T. Batsford Ltd, 1978.

Hunt, Leigh Day By The Fire. Boston: Roberts Brothers, 1870.

Latham, Minor White Ph.D. The Elizabethan Fairies. New York: Columbia University Press, 1930.

Ovid Metamorphoses. Trans. A. D. Melville, Intro and Notes E. J. Kenney. New York: Oxford University Press, 1986.

Shakespeare, William "A Midsummer Night's Dream." The Norton Shakespeare: Comedies. Ed. S. Greenblatt et al. New York: Norton, 1997.
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