William Shakespeare's A Midsummer Night's Dream

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William Shakespeare's A Midsummer Night's Dream Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream can be considered an archetypal comedy due in large part to the ill-defined characters. Part of what makes this play work so well is that rather than becoming too invested in any one character’s hopes and fears or desires and struggles, the audience is simply rooting for things to work out well in general. If the audience became too attached to any one character, they might lose sight of the bigger picture in their concern over, for example, Demetrius remaining drugged at the end of the play, or the disturbing repercussions of Helena marrying a man who only a few acts earlier she had urged to “Use me but as your spaniel…” (2.i.212). The audience is not plagued by these difficulties, however, because the lovers are only one or two shades more real than the characters presented by the Athenian laborers in Pyramus and Thisbe. A couple of the lines uttered in and about the play-within-a-play are very reminiscent of the “real” lovers whose trials and travails make up the rest of the work. The most appropriate line uttered by the mechanicals is “My love! Thou art my love, I think.” (5.i.207). This pretty well sums up the situation of the four lovers. Even before any fairy drugs enter the picture, they can’t seem to keep their affections straight. Demetrius, we learn, “Made love to…Helena, and won her soul…” (1.i.109-10). This comes out as he is in court with Hermia’s father, appealing to Theseus to force Hermia to marry him. His fickleness is in fact the cause of the entire conflict, since as far as we know the two couples were perfectly happy before his affections were switched. Later in the play, once the two coupl... ... middle of paper ... ...worst are no worse, if imagination amend them.” (5.i.224-6). He refers here to theatre, but his statement can be more broadly applied to the idea of love as seen in this play. All four of the “real” lovers can be seen as “shadows” of actual people—they exist to be in love, to be in love with being in love, to talk about being in love, etc. They have no function beyond that and really are not capable of much more. The lovers of the play-within-a-play, without trying too hard, can seem to be remarkably similar to Lysander, Demetrius, Hermia and Helena. With just a little bit of imagination, they are in fact “no worse”. The play in Act 5 serves to reflect back an image of what we have just seen that is only slightly distorted, and it is in the smallness of the distortion that we can really understand how ridiculous the events that have just unfolded really are.
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