Free Essays on A Midsummer Night’s Dream: Lessons of the Darkness

Free Essays on A Midsummer Night’s Dream: Lessons of the Darkness

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Lessons of the Darkness in A Midsummer Night’s Dream

The physical darkness impairs normal vision: the dark is intense enough for characters to fear being alone. Helena cries out to Demetrius not to abandon her "darkling," or in the dark (2.2 l. 93). Hermia seems certain that her abandonment in the dark by Lysander could lead to her death: "Speak, of all loves. I swoon almost with fear. / No? Then I well perceive you are not nigh. / Either death or you I'll find immediately" (2.2. ll. 160-2). The dark forest is far from hospitable to Hermia's imagination, but Shakespeare's night actually protects and instructs the lovers. Hermia's line give a clue to how they must learn to cope without their eyes: she does not see that Lysander is not near, but rather "perceives"-her hearing is the sense on which she comes to depend. Hearing and sight operate quite differently: while sight can be controlling (consider Foucault's panopticon, and the use of observation as power), listening requires openness. The temporal element of listening necessitates patience (Tu Wei-ming, 2/11/99). Hermia is able to find her lover eventually by using her hearing to its full potential:

Dark night, that from the eye his function takes,
The ear more quick of apprehension makes.
Wherein it doth impair the seeing sense,
It pays the hearing double recompense.
Thou art not by mine eye, Lysander, found;
Mine ear, I thank it, brought me to thy sound. (3.2 ll. 178-183)


Here is the power of night to transform the gaze. The eye's power is taken, but the ear's is augmented. This Hermia seems far more confident than the Hermia of only a few scenes ago, who was certain she would perish without her lover. She speaks with a kind of triumph about her own ability to improvise: her ear paid "double recompense" has been more than adequate to the task. The night "pays," rewards, gives gifts in place of what it takes away. Hermia, thrilled to see her lover and to discover her own ability to improvise, goes so far as to thank her own ear. Relying on different kinds of perception leads Hermia to Lysander, just as the night world brings all four lovers to a truer understanding of themselves and their loves, making possible a happy ending for everyone by the end of the play.

In A Midsummer Night's Dream, the nighttime forest, by disrupting and transforming vision, forces introspection and improvisation that help the four lovers on their way to self-understanding.

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A dream can be interpreted, and skills learned are not forgotten. The experience of the night will not fade with dawn. Oberon assures Puck that they are a special kind of fairy, whose magic does not evaporate with the coming of light (3.2, ll. 389-96). The act of interpretation also ensures a lasting relationship with their nighttime vision. In daylight, the four go on to recount their dreams together, struggling to make sense of the night (4.1 l. 195). Demetrius calls attention to the permeability of the barrier between night and day, and the ability of night visions to carry over into the daylight hours: "It seems to me / That yet we sleep, we dream" (4.1 ll. 189-91). In his speech to Egeus, Demetrius speaks with wonder about his new understanding. Daylight, rather than cause his love for Helena to vanish, has seemed to strengthen it. In reference to Helena, gone is the word "dote," which connotes shallow feeling (Garber 10/13); the word "dote" is instead reserved for description of his former feelings about Hermia (4.1 ll. 163-73). His feelings for Hermia are the ones that have metaphorically been snuffed out by the dawn, "melted as the snow" before the sun (4.1 l. 163). What began in night as magic, as introspection and improvisation, has in daylight solidified into deep feeling. Although he speaks of Helena being "the object and pleasure" of his eye, the visual metaphor is accompanied by a proclamation of the faith and virtue of his heart's devotion (4.1 ll. 166-7). Introspection allows keener observation; new ways of looking enrich more ordinary types of sight. Night teaches the four lovers how to see more clearly during the day.
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