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Reason and Love in A Midsummer Night’s Dream

Powerful Essays
Reason and love in

A Midsummer Night’s Dream

Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream is often read as a dramatization of the incompatibility of “reason and love” (III.i. 127), yet many critics pay little attention to how Shakespeare manages to draw his audience into meditating on these notions independently (Burke 116). The play is as much about the conflict between passion and reason concerning love, as it is a warning against attempting to understand love rationally. Similarly, trying to understand the play by reason alone results in an impoverished reading of the play as a whole – it is much better suited to the kind of emotive, arbitrary understanding that is characteristic of dreams. Puck apologises directly to us, the audience, in case the play “offend[s]” us, but the primary offence we can take from it is to our rational capacity to understand the narrative, which takes place in a world of inverses and contrasts. The fantastical woods is contrasted to the order of the Athenian law, and Elizabethan values of the time are polarised throughout the narrative, such as Helena’s feeling ugly even though she is tall and fair. A Midsummer Night’s Dream is thus not solely a comedic meditation on the nature of the origin or meaning of love, it also cautions against trying to rationalise the message of the play. Puck, who by his very nature cannot exist in rational society, propels the action of A Midsummer Night’s Dream. He is a manifestation of mischief and the unpredictability of nature, which governs not only the fantastical woods outside of Athens, but also the Athenians themselves when it comes to love. Yet, it is Puck, and thus nature, which rectifies the imbalance of the lovers in the beginning of the play. Rationalising, o...

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...trying to understand love by reason alone; the play would fail if the narrative is not free to be fantastical and fantasy can only exist where reality is suspended for a while.

Works cited

Burke, Kenneth. “Why A Midsummer Night's Dream?”. Shakespeare Quarterly 57. 3 (2006): 297-308. Web. 25 Apr 2014.

Hunt, Maurice. “The voices of A Midsummer Night's Dream”. Texas Studies in Literature and Language 34. 2 (1992): 218-38. Web. Apr 2014.

Miller, Ronald F. “A Midsummer Night's Dream: The fairies, Bottom, and the mystery of things”. Shakespeare Quarterly 26.3 (1975): 254-68. Web. 25 Apr 2014.

Robinson, James E. “The ritual and rhetoric of A Midsummer Night's Dream". PMLA 83.2 (1968): 380-91. Web. 25 Apr 2014.

Shakespeare, William. A Midsummer Night’s Dream. Ed. Roma Gill. Oxford: Oxford UP, 2009. Print.
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