W. Shakespear's "Midsummer Night's Dream"

Critical estimation of the play. Compositional Structure of the play and its scene-by-scene analysis. The idea and composition of the play. The introductory significance of the first act. Depicting of opposition and controversy of humans standing.




The English and Literature department

Sufieva Zamira’s qualification work on speciality 5220100, English philology on theme:

The Theme: W. Shakespeare’s comedy “A Midsummer Night’s Dream”

Supervisor: Tojiev Kh.



I Introduction

1.1. General aims and purposes of the qualification work

2.1. Some words about William Shakespeare and his play “A Midsummer Night’s Dream”

3.1. Critical estimation of the play.

II Main Part.

1.2. Chapter 1. Compositional Structure of the play and its scene-by-scene analysis.

1.1.2. The idea and composition of the play

2.1.2. The introductory significance of the first act

3.1.2. Depicting of opposition and controversy of humans standing

4.1.2. Theme of love and its interpretation in the third act

5.1.2. The approaching of climax

6.1.2. The Post-climax of the comedy

2.2. Chapter 2. The brilliant majesty of the Shakespearean language.

1.2.2. The language of William Shakespeare

2.2.2. Verse forms and prose dialogues of he play

3.2.2. Rhetoric, patterning and word play examples

3.2. Chapter 3. The analysis of the main themes and characters.

1.3.1. Order and disorder

1.3.2. The young lovers

III. Conclusion.

1.3. The results and conclusions of investigation

2.3. Some words about William Shakespeare and his comedy “ A Midsummer Night’s Dream”

IV. Bibliography.


1.1. The theme of my qualification work sounds as following: “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” This qualification work can be characterized by the following:

The actuality of this work caused by several important points. We seem to say that Shakespeare always remains actual for us because his works, even written three centuries ago his immortal poems, tragedies , chronicles and comedies tell about the modern things and phenomena which are happen to be in our lives, such as humans’ qualities, the problems of war and peace, love, revenge, etc. And our work becomes much more actual because of the reason that this year we remembered the 1390th anniversary passed after his death so the significance of our work can be proved by the following reasons:

a) William Shakespeare for the British literature is of the same value as Pushkin for the Russians, Navoi for the Uzbeks, Abai for the Kazachs, Balzac for the French, etc.

b) “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” is one of the latest plays of Shakespeare which was written not long before the author’s death. That is why this comedy can demonstrate us the way of mental thinking of the late Shakespeare.

c) Though having written about the ancient Greek life, this comedy reflects the real state of affairs happened in Anglia of the period of the 16th century.

d) The book also worth studying for its brilliant language, cast of the personages, ideas and dialogues within the scenes.

Having based upon the actuality of the theme we are able to formulate the general goals of our qualification work.

a) To study, analyze, and sum up the play from the modern viewpoints.

b) To analyze the major scenes in the play and to show their significance for the plot.

c) To prove the idea of modernity in Shakespeare’s “A Midsummer Night’s Dream”.

d) To mention and compare between themselves the critical opinions concerning to the play.

If we say about the new information used within our work we may note that the work studies the problem from the modern positions and analyzes the modern trends appeared in this subject for the last ten years. Mainly, the newality is concluded in a wide collecting of internet materials dealing with the play. The practical significance of the work can be concluded in the following items:

a) The work could serve as a good source of materials for additional reading by students at schools, colleges and lyceums.

b) The problem of difficult reading of Shakespeare’s language could be a little bit easier to understand, since our qualification work includes the chapter concerning the question mentioned.

c) Those who would like to possess a perfect knowledge of English will find our work useful and practical.

d) Our qualification work is our little gift to memory of the outstanding English writer.

Having said about the scholars who dealt with the same theme earlier we may notion T. Shcepkina-Kupernik and A.Lozinsky, who made a great input to the popularization of the great English in our country, A.Anikst, who prepared the first “Russian Follio” of Shakespeare’s works, J.Coleridge, Dr.Jonson, Alfred Bates and many others.

If we say about the methods of scientific approaches used in our work we can mention the method of general analysis was used.

The newality of the work is concluded in including the modern interpretations of the play.

The general structure of our qualification work looks as follows:

The work is composed onto three major parts: introduction, main part and conclusion. Each part has its subdivision onto the specific thematically items. There are three points in the introductory part: the first item tells about the general characteristics of the work, the second paragraph gives us some words about the author of the play and the history of his work “A Midsummer Night’s Dream”, while the third part of introduction analyzes the critical works dedicated to the immortal comedy of William Shakespeare.. The main part of our qualification work consists of four chapters which, in their turn, are subdivided into several thematically paragraphs. The first chapter of the main part discusses the compositional structure of the comedy, its plot and main idea. Here we also gave the particular attention to the description and further analysis of the most meaningful scenes in each act of the play. The second chapter thoroughly takes into consideration the peculiar features of Shakespeare’s language. In this chapter we tried to make our conclusions to the points of verse and prose correspondence, rhethoric, patterning and wordplay talent of the “Avon Bard”. The third chapter takes into consideration the main themes touched upon the play, and their correspondence to the described epoch from the one side, and their actuality in the 21st century from the other. The last chapter of the main part observes the characters of their play and their interrelations in respect to the society, mental and age status. In conclusion to our work we gave our ideas got in the result of our investigation and appreciated the future perspectives of the latter. At the very end of our qualification work we supplied our work with the bibliography list and the internet materials.[1]

2.1. William Shakespeare, born in 1594, is one of the greatest writers in literature. He dies in 1616 after completing many sonnets and plays. One of which is “A Midsummer Night’s Dream.” They say that this play is the most purely romantic of Shakespeare’s comedies. The themes of the play are dreams and reality, love and magic. This extraordinary play is a play-with-in-a-play, which master writers only write successfully. Shakespeare proves here to be a master writer. Critics find it a task to explain the intricateness of the play, audiences find it very pleasing to read and watch. “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” is a comedy combining elements of love, fairies, magic, and dreams.

“A Midsummer Night’s Dream” is more or less contemporary with Romeo and Juliet, and dates from the mid 1590s. In it, Shakespeare is painstaking in his attention to details of language (as in the early Love’s Labors Lost), but the play also shows the maturity of his best later work in its stagecraft. It is one of a group of plays known sometimes as festive comedies – the others being “As You Like It and Twelfth Night’s”. The plays are associated with festive seasons and traditional celebrations. “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” is more democratic than many of Shakespeare’s plays – rulers, nobles, workmen and spirits all dominate the drama at different points. As a term to describe a category (kind) of play, tragedy (which means “goat song” in classical Greek!) originates in Athens in ancient times. Aristotle (a philosopher and scientist, but no playwright) describes rules or principles for the drama which tragedians should follow. These rules have proved helpful as a working description, but should not be seen as absolute: Shakespeare, in practice, ignores them more or less. Comedy is a term applied to the humorous plays of Greek (e.g. Aristophanes) and later Roman (e.g. Terence) dramatists. For Shakespeare, a comedy is a play with a happy ending – it may or may not be comical in the modern sense of being humorous. In trying to arrange Shakespeare’s work into categories (as for publication in book form) editors have produced a third category, of histories. More recently critics have noted that Shakespeare’s latest plays do not fit any of these categories easily. Thus we have problem plays (or tragicomedies) in Measure for Measure and All’s Well that Ends Well and pastoral plays or romances in Pericles, Cymbeline, The Winter’s Tale and The Tempest. We should know that these labels were not consistently or even commonly applied in Shakespeare’s time. Plays classed as tragedies (such as Macbeth) may have a clearly historical subject. Some of our “histories” (such as Richard II and Richard III) were advertised as tragedies at the time of their performance. Shakespeare wrote plays to be seen in a complete performance which would, for “A Midsummer Night’s Dream”, last about two and a half hours. The play would be performed by daylight (between about two and four o’clock) in the purpose-built open air theatres, or with artificial light (lanterns and candles) in private houses of wealthy patrons (The Tempest may well have been originally written for private performance: many of the special effects work best indoors and under artificial light; both Hamlet and “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” show plays-within-the-play which are performed indoors, at Night’s). The plays were not written to be read or studied and (hand-written) copies of the text were originally made only for the use of the performers. It is important to remember this when you study the play as a text (with extensive editorial comment) on which you will be examined. Shakespeare’s company was the most successful of its day, and his plays filled the theatres. Many (most?) of the audience in a public performance would lack formal education and be technically illiterate (this does not mean that they were unintelligent). But these were people for whom the spoken word was of greater value than is the case today: they would be more attentive, more sensitive in listening to patterns of verse and rhyme, and aware of imagery (word pictures).

The intervals between Shakespeare’s “scenes” represent changes in time or place, but not of scenery, which would be minimal or non-existent. Basic stage furniture would serve a variety of purposes, but stage properties and costume would be more elaborate and suggestive. A range of gestures and movements with conventional connotations of meaning was used, but we are not sure today how these were performed.

3.2 Critical opinions on the play

“I am convinced,” says Coleridge, “that Shakespeare availed himself of the title of this play in his own mind, and worked upon it as a dream throughout.” The poet, in fact, says so in express words:

If we shadows have offended,

Think but this (and all is mended),

That you have but slumber’s here,

While these visions did appear.

And this weak and idle theme,

No more yielding but a dream,

Gentles, do not reprehend.

But to understand this dream–to have all its gay and soft and harmonious colors impressed upon the vision, to hear all the golden cadences of its poesy, to feel the perfect congruity of all its parts, and thus to receive it as a truth, we must not suppose that it will enter the mind amidst the lethargic slumbers of the imagination. We must receive it

As youthful poets dream

On summer eves by haunted stream.

No one need expect that the beautiful influences of this drama can be truly felt when he is under the subjection of literal and prosaic parts of our nature; or, if he habitually refuses to believe that there are higher and purer regions of thought than are supplied by the physical realities of the world. If so, he will have a false standard by which to judge of this, and of all other high poetry–such a standard as that of the acute and learned critic, Dr. Johnson, who lived in a prosaic age, and fostered in this particular the ignorance by which he was surrounded. He cannot himself appreciate the merits of “A Midsummer Night’s Dream”: “Wild and fantastical as this play is, all the parts in their various modes are well written, and give the kind of pleasure which the author designed. Fairies, in his time, were much in fashion; common tradition made them familiar, and Spenser’s poem had made them great.” And thus old Pepys, with his honest hatred of poetry: “To the King’s theatre, where we saw “A Midsummer Night’s Dream”, which I had never seen before, nor shall ever again, for it is the most insipid, ridiculous play that ever I saw in my life.”[2] Hallam accounts “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” poetical more than dramatic; “yet rather so, because the indescribable profusion of imaginative poetry in this play overpowers our senses, till we can hardly observe anything else, than from any deficiency of dramatic excellence. For, in reality, the structure of the fable, consisting as it does of three, if not four, actions, very distinct in their subjects and personages, yet wrought into each other without effort or confusion, displays the skill, or rather instinctive felicity, of Shakespeare, as much as in any play he has written.”

The Main Part.

1.1.2 The idea and composition of the play

In order to understand a play, we have to work harder than did the Elizabethan or Jacobean audience. To see a play entire (in the theatre or on film), without interruption apart for the interval, may be needed for us to appreciate Shakespeare’s strong sense of narrative drive, and to see how the text is not the play but a (loose) blueprint for performance. On the other hand, study of text and editors’ notes may be necessary for us to appreciate some of the attitudes the contemporary audience brought into the theatre. Such notes may explain images and highlight patterns or structures which otherwise we might not “hear”. They may explain semantic change (changes of meaning) in words or phrases used by the playwright to convey important ideas to his audience.

In watching Shakespeare in performance we are not likely ever to enjoy the instant pleasure of experiencing a work of art (like a feature film or soap-opera or first-person novel) which uses conventions and a range of cultural references which we at once understand. What is amazing is that so much is still accessible, and that by adapting the delivery of lines, and giving some visual clues, performers can make the plays work today.

The division of plays into five acts is more apparent to the dramatist (to whom it gives an idea of how the play’s narrative structure will appear in performance) than to the audience (though modern audiences often know act and scene numbers). For the student (you), the numbering of acts and scenes is of enormous importance in identifying a given point in the narrative. When quoting a passage, always give act and scene number, while line numbers are helpful, too.

This play is a comedy. Shakespeare first informs the audience of the (very serious) problems of the young lovers, and of the fairy king and queen, counter pointed by the less serious (to us) problems of the mechanicals in presenting their “play”. By bringing the different groups of characters together in the wood, the author is able to show how the characters become more confused, before Puck, at the end of Act 3 separates the young lovers, the antidote to the love-in-idleness juice is given to Lysander, and in 4.1 Titania is also “cured” before the lovers are found by Theseus, and Bottom wakes with a hazy recollection of his “dream” (which may be no less articulate than the lovers’ attempts to recall what has happened in the wood).

Most of Act 5 is superfluous to the main plot, but indispensable as comic comment on the potential for tragedy in the love of passionate young couples. Act 5 is not just an epilogue, however: the action of the three principal fairies in blessing the newly-weds, and the children to be conceived is a necessary conclusion to the misunderstandings which have gone before. Here, as in Theseus’ kindly advice to Hermia in 1.1 (“Know of your youth, examine well your blood…”), in Titania’s long exposition of the results of her quarrel with Oberon (2.1) and in the joy with which the fairies “rock the ground whereon these sleepers be” (4.1), we see the play’s real and serious concern with fertility in the natural world, and in the world of men and their rulers, a concern which the Elizabethan audience would feel very strongly.

2.1.2 The introductory significance of the first act

In the beginning of the play a number of important relationships are established, and much narrative information is given. But we see some of the themes of the play examined, and there is interest in the action and language; for these reasons the scene could be chosen by examiners. The scene can be divided into a number of episodes:

· Theseus’ and Hippolyta’s preparations for marriage;

· Egeus’ complaint and Hermia’s defence before Theseus;

· the dialogue of the two lovers and Lysander’s plan for escape;

· their disclosure of the plan to Helena;

· Helena's soliloquy about love.

It will be seen that the scene is marked by various exits and entrances, so that particular groupings can be contrived. At other points, as when Theseus speaks to Hermia, others remain on stage, but are at best witnesses of something more intimate.

As the play is concerned with depicting conflict in love, in several relationships, we meet here two of the four principal pairs or groups:

· Theseus and Hippolyta: They have been at odds but are now reconciled, and their maturity contrasts with the passion of youth;

· the four young lovers who are to have such strange experiences in the wood.[3]

When we next meet Demetrius and Helena (2.1) and Lysander and Hermia (2.2) we need little explanation to know where they are and why. The wood is briefly mentioned here as a most pleasant place by day, and imagined (209 ff.) as equally pleasant by Night’s: we, and the lovers, are unprepared for the danger and activity we will later see in this wood[4] .

Shakespeare opens with a very formal, ceremonial procession, marked by the dignity, balance and stateliness of speech of the ruler and his consort; this is almost at once disturbed by the angry tirade of Egeus and the barbed exchanges of the young men. Between these, we find an intimate exchange which contrasts with the public quality of the procession and Egeus’ complaint. Here Theseus tries a very direct and honest appeal to Hermia’s judgement, keeping his authority as a means of last resort, and playing for time, though Hermia’s outspokenness almost frustrates this. We are struck by Hermia’s boldness (allowing for her sex, her youth and Theseus’ status) which Shakespeare renders more plausible by her own apology for the “power” which emboldens her. We are also struck by Theseus’ reluctance to command, his readiness to reason; while this brief exchange goes on, the others on stage are peripheral: the whole stage area could be used to show the opposition between the rivals, as Egeus commands each to “stand forth”. Theseus and Hippolyta probably occupy a central, raised position, even perhaps sitting on chairs (to represent thrones). For the exchange with Hermia, Theseus will come forward, perhaps leading her by the hand, so that their conversation is shared with the audience. Theseus’ gravity and diplomacy are in sharp contrast to the heated words which follow. In order that tempers may cool before he probes the seriousness of Demetrius’ new-found love for Hermia and dropping of Helena, Theseus leads away the angry father and his favorite. In her words to her lover, we again see Hermia in an intimate situation, but her forceful yet dignified answers to the duke are here replaced by a less restrained manner. She and Lysander speak in tones which would be comic if not delivered with such force. The arrival of Helena does not curtail this: she, too, speaks with passion and seems to lack a sense of proportion. There is some variety (but there will be more anon) in the verse form here. To achieve a mood of seriousness in the opening, the playwright uses blank verse. (Blank verse accounts for most of the text in most of Shakespeare’s plays, but is used much more sparingly in this play). This is sustained until Helena’s arrival, after which the characters speak in rhyming couplets. These are naturally more suited to comic moods and to the rapid imparting of narrative information. A number of other features should be noted. Left alone on stage, Lysander and Hermia speak in an over-wrought manner, marked by such phrases as “How now, my love” or “Ay me” (verbal sighs, almost) and the stichomythia (verbal fencing) of the six alternately-spoken lines beginning with “O” and “Or”, leading to the famous comment about “the course of true love”. This technique, with the further embellishment of rhyme, is used again when Hermia and Helena speak (194 ff.) of Demetrius. Helena’s soliloquy is notable for the repeated reference to “Cupid” (“a child”, “as boys…the boy”). She claims that love is blind, and yet seems herself “blind” to her own mistakes: she fawns on Demetrius, when she should play hard to get, and now intends to help him – for the brief benefit of sharing his company – to prevent the escape of her rival in his affections. But the most striking image in the scene, and the most touching, is that chosen by Theseus and echoed by Hermia, in lines 76 to 79, in which the theme of maternity (“the rose distilled”) is contrasted with the noble sacrifice of perpetual virginity, the “rose” which “withering on the virgin thorn/Grows, lives and dies in single blessedness”. To which the retort comes: “So will I grow, so live, so die”, rather than yield to Demetrius’ claim.

3.1.2 The opposition and controversy of human standings as the major theme of the second act

The short scene (1.2) in which we meet the “mechanicals” (workmen) has prepared us for the notion that the lovers will not be alone in the woods. In fact, they do not meet the workmen there (but in Theseus’ house in Act 5). Both lovers and mechanicals will encounter the fairies, and it is they whom we see here for the first time. In the play’s second act, we see how Lysander’s and Hermia’s attempt to solve their problems (coupled with Helena’s attempt to ingratiate herself with Demetrius, and Oberon’s actions – in his own behalf and Helena’s) leads to greater confusion, which will reach a climax in 3.2.

The scene divides effectively into two parts:

· in the first the quarrel between Oberon and Titania is presented,

· in the second, Oberon witnesses Helena’s rejection by Demetrius, and resolves to help her.

We can further divide the scene into episodes, as follows: Puck’s descriptions (of Oberon’s and Titania’s quarrel and of himself); Oberon’s confrontation with Titania, leading to his plan to take the Indian changeling from her; Demetrius’ pursuit of the lovers, and his flight from Helena; Oberon’s descriptions (of Titania’s bower and how he and Puck are to use the magical flower juice). In this scene, the language so effectively supports the action that these must be considered together. The fairy, like all of Titania’s attendants, uses short rhyming lines (spoken here, sung elsewhere) and Puck replies in rhyming couplets. This is his normal form of speech (whether in pentameters or tetrameters; the latter is more markedly rhythmic and suited to the casting of spells, though note the more musical and varied rhyme used at the end of 3.2). Puck’s speech is lively and indicates his sense of the ridiculous. It is well that the less serious passage in which he describes his pranks comes after the account of Oberon’s and Titania’s quarrel. This allows a sharper contrast from the levity of “a merrier hour” to the seriousness of “Ill met by moonlight”. (It is only with the couplets which mark Helena’s and Demetrius’ exits that rhyme is resumed.) Here the blank verse has a dignity in keeping with the status of the disputants, and with the effects of their dispute. The scornfulness of the opening exchanges resembles that of the rivals in 1.1, but the rivalry is of another kind: Titania, as Oberon’s consort, perhaps should (and ultimately will) give way, but she is a powerful spirit, certainly Oberon’s match in verbal argument; indeed, here she has the better of the exchanges, and it is Oberon’s cunning and Puck’s stealth which bring about the eventual reconciliation. The rather frenetic opening exchanges give way to fairly lengthy passages of description: of the alteration of the weather, caused by the fairies’ quarrel, and of the history of the child Oberon seeks. The lack of direct action may be partly offset by the very picturesque quality of the language, while in the first passage, the Elizabethan audience would doubtless be most concerned about the loss of fertility in field and fold: town dwellers would well imagine (and some may have experienced) what happens when the supply of food from the country is short. Some gesture and/or mimicry of the “votaress” may be provided by Titania; in any case, static positions on stage in this episode could be used to show the opposition of Oberon and Titania. Oberon’s intimacy with his confidant, Puck, allows another long description of what could not possibly be depicted on stage (how Cupid’s bolt missed its target and hit the Love-in-Idleness), after which Puck leaves to bring the magic flower to his master. The brief soliloquy explains to what use the flower will be put, thereby preparing us for Puck’s inspired elaboration on Oberon’s original plan. More important, in a way, are the three brief words: “I am invisible”. From now on either Oberon or Puck or both will be on stage for long periods of action: unseen and unheard (save when Puck mimics the young men) by the mortals they watch, they are seen and heard by the audience, whom they take into their confidence. Oberon’s tic as the unseen protector of men is as important as his solution of his own domestic problems. What he sees is this: Helena fawns on Demetrius, who spurns her. His conduct may not surprise a modern audience but is not at all gallant, in one of his social class: admittedly, he is sorely provoked, and in a situation where (he thinks) there is no third party to judge him. Desperate to rid himself of Helena, he speaks of the opportunity she has given him to ravish her; doubtless accompanying the words with menacing gestures suggestive of the deed. Helena’s response shows she has no fear of this; perhaps her actions indicate a readiness for Demetrius to ravish her, for he at once declares that he will run from her (Helena’s comments on Apollo and Daphne showing how silly this reversal of must appear). The whole of the interlude between Demetrius and Helena, considered as speech alone, is perfectly clear, but rather dull. It is obvious that it must be animated in some way, as by the actions of threatened violence, of pursuit and retreat, as well as by Oberon’s silent watching. Oberon signals his intention to punish Demetrius, and orders Puck to affect this, but this information is subordinated to the set-piece description of Titania’s bower. From a narrative point of view, this tells us where Titania is when we see her (within a few lines of this). As Shakespeare writes for a theatre in which the stage and properties are simple, the fey, magical atmosphere of the bower can only be established by such means as this word-picture, followed by Titania’s speech and the fairies’ lullaby in the next scene.

The scene 2 follows without interruption of time it seems, though we have moved to the part of the wood which Oberon has just described, as we know from Titania’s being there. The juice of the love-in-idleness is administered by Oberon: he suggests that Titania will be woken by some wild beast, but does not foresee the arrival of the mechanicals in 3.1. When they arrive, and perform so near to Titania, the audience may well guess what Puck will do. It may not at once occur to us when Oberon tells Puck that he will “know the man” i.e. Demetrius “by the Athenian garments he hath on” that Lysander is somewhere in the wood and answers the description, but when Puck finds Lysander and Hermia sleeping apart, we see that Puck makes an honest mistake. Lysander’s instant infatuation with Helena will be matched by that of Demetrius, to whom Oberon will give the magic juice in 3.2 leading to the confusion which Puck partly foresees (3.2, line 118). Lysander’s protestation of loyalty to Hermia is about to be belied. We do not blame Lysander for the suddenness of what occurs, but in a more general sense such promises, especially when made by young people, seem very rash: who knows what may happen in future? This is a relatively brief scene. A short interlude in which Titania is sung to sleep, allowing Oberon to give her the flower-juice (she sleeps on, he exits) leads to the arrival of the young lovers, who are lost, and lie down to sleep, allowing Puck to make his mistake; Helena, failing to catch Demetrius, sees Lysander and wakes him, with the predictable comic result, and he leaves with Helena (she has not seen Hermia, who wakes alone, having dreamt of a serpent). Whereas the previous scene, though marked by plenty of action, has space for much vivid description and poetic variety, this scene is more economical and swift-paced with lots of dramatic business done. The lullaby is beautiful and delicate but this brief interlude rapidly gives Oberon his opportunity; he tells us in a few lines what he is doing (we should remember, but if we do not, then the action alone may not be obvious) and at once leaves the stage to the lovers; there is no time even to change the scene, so Titania must remain on the stage. (She is woken neither by the young nobles, nor by the mechanicals; this is not improbable: Bottom wakes her because he sings so loudly, to keep his spirits up.) Although the lovers exchange some pleasantries, they lie down to sleep without any more delay than is inevitably caused by Lysander’s mild attempt to share Hermia’s sleeping-place; the appearances, first of Puck, who gives the flower-juice to Lysander, then of Demetrius, who almost at once runs off, then of Helena mark, if anything an acceleration in the already rapid pacing of the scene. This is in keeping with the swift movement through the wood of Oberon and Puck (“Through the forest have I gone”) and the breathless pursuit of Demetrius by Helena. When she declares “I am out of breath”, the audience shares her sense of the need to rest awhile. While she is doing this she notices Lysander (but does not think to enquire after Hermia; Helena is, after all, an accessory to the lovers’ plan!) Lysander’s speech to Helena (“And run through fire I will for thy sweet sake…”) is gloriously extravagant (it has a delightful counterpart in Demetrius’ words to Helena on waking in 3.2). The humour depends upon Lysander’s being wholly earnest, genuinely repelled by the thought of Hermia, and at once trying to rationalize his new love. The scene has great linguistic variety: the brief blank verse instruction of Titania to her fairies is followed by the delicate rhyme of the lullaby, which is, of course, sung. The sentinel fairy’s couplet is in the same meter (tetrameter) used by Oberon and shortly after by Puck. After an opening alternately-rhymed quatrain from Lysander, he and Hermia speak in couplets, as do Demetrius and Helena; and this metre, save for Puck’s brief speech, and are sustained for the rest of the scene. There is other evidence of verbal patterning: the fairies in the lullaby order snakes, hedgehogs and other unwelcome creatures to “come not near our Fairy Queen”; Oberon tells her to wake when some animal (he gives a list) is near, and Helena later likens herself to one of the more fearful woodland creatures on Oberon’s list – “ugly as a bear”. The verbal fencing we have seen earlier from Hermia and Lysander appears again: here Lysander uses his wit at once to suggest he is innocent of any improper intent and yet also to speak seductively. (His readiness to admit he is lost may have this ulterior motive.) In the previous scene Demetrius tries to bluff Helena with threatened seduction but she calls his bluff; here Lysander probably half intends to attempt seduction but Hermia rebukes him gently. He engages in word-games with the words “one” (lines 40, 41), “heart” (46,47) and “bosoms” (48, 49). Hermia cuts through this very effectively with “Lysander riddles very prettily”. She observes how linguistic virtuosity is used to attempt seduction. By telling him she knows what he is trying to do, she obliges him to stop! When Lysander addresses Helena in such excessive terms, the point Hermia has made is beautifully illustrated: that language may be used “prettily” but without meaning or honesty. This is shown in Lysander’s repetition of the words used minutes earlier –“bosom” and “heart” – in one line (104). The repeated use of the word “reason” (114-121) also suggests one of the themes of the play. We will hear more of “reason and love” anon. Note that while Lysander’s words, taken at face value, or applied by a mature man to a rational choice of partner (Theseus, perhaps?) might be persuasive, and while, as a matter of plain fact “reason” might well show Helena to be worthier than Hermia (though not on the evidence we have so far seen) in this case we know that Lysander’s comments are wholly free of reason. This is not to say that his earlier choice of Hermia is any more reasonable. In fact, the truly reasonable man will recognize (as Theseus does in 5.1, line 4 on, and as Bottom with unusual prescience states more succinctly in 3.1, 141-2) that love is a part of man’s experience which is never subject to reason. Finally, note how Hermia, on waking, returns to the motif of the dangerous or vile animal, in her case by dreaming of the suitably treacherous serpent.

4.1.2 Theme of love and its interpretation in the third act

We know from the short Act 1, scene 2 that the workmen have planned to tritium their play of Pyramus and Thisbe in the wood. Conveniently they come to the place just vacated by Hermia, where Titania still lies asleep. (The workmen hope that their play will be performed for Theseus, but we learn from 5.1, that there are many rival attractions: theirs will be chosen because of its amusing (contradictory) title and Philostrate’s harsh comments.)Puck, at first amused by the crudity of the acting, sees how to perfect Oberon’s plan for Titania. Titania’s instant infatuation with Bottom parallels that of Lysander (in the last scene) and Demetrius (in the next) with Helena. Oberon tells Puck (in 4.1) that Titania has readily given up the changeling boy to him. The sight of his queen’s doting on “this hateful fool” awakens a sense of tenderness in Oberon, leading to a renewal of their love, while Bottom’s strange experience leads to his puzzled soliloquy and his seeming-miraculous return to his fellows in 4.2. Pyramus and Thisbe, as performed by the mechanicals in 5.1, is a perfect commentary on how “the course of true love” has run, hitherto, for the young lovers. Structure is a fairly simple scene structurally: the workmen’s rehearsal ends when Puck gives Bottom the ass’s head; Bottom’s efforts to keep his spirits up wake Titania, who declares her love for the bemused Bottom and commands her fairies to minister to him. There is much to admire here, but especially

· the contrast between the grossness and clumsy speech of Bottom and the elegance, beauty and majesty of Titania,

· and the questions raised by Pyramus and Thisbe as to what constitutes a good play.[5]

At first the scene is rather static: the workmen honestly try to solve their own “theatrical problems”; although Bottom is overbearing at times, his essential good nature and his friends’ respect mean that the “players” (in contrast with the four young lovers and the fairy rulers) work harmoniously, though the result of their labors is fatuous. The acting of Pyramus and Thisbe requires movement on (and off) the stage. The “hawthorn brake” could well be off the real stage (so, ironically, the supposed “tiring house” of the workmen could be provided by the real tiring house in the theatre) as the ass’s head must be placed on Bottom off stage, between lines 86 and 102 (see stage directions).

Quince’s comments indicate how the play is being performed:

“This be, stand forth…he goes but to see a noise that he heard, and is to come again…you must not speak that yet…Pyramus, enter». Puck’s “I’ll follow you…” speech is apparently not heard by Bottom, otherwise “Why do they run away?” makes no sense. The speech is evidently to inform the audience and invites mimicry, both in sound and movement, of the animals Puck names. Titania’s promise to make Bottom move “like an airy spirit” is not likely to prove true (as Oberon’s and her own comments in 4.1 shows). The regal, graceful movement of Titania and the delicacy of her fairies contrast with the robustness and “mortal grossness” of Bottom. Bottom is soon at ease in his strange situation, and speaks to Titania and the fairies with the same familiarity he shows to Theseus in 5.1. For different reasons neither ruler takes offence, but Shakespeare’s audience would feel a frisson of danger at the seeming impertinence. The proper (appropriate) attitude to someone of Titania’s or Theseus’ status is awed reverence of the kind the duke describes in 5.1, 93-105. Only a fool would fail to see this. When the fool wears an ass’s head, the impertinence seems greater. Here are some reasons why this will amuse the audience:

· The ass’s head is a visible symbol, and so, theatrically effective;

· “Ass” and “ass-head” are both used as synonyms of stupidity in the 16th century;

· the ass is obstinate and (thought) clumsy and ugly;

· it is a beast of burden, suggestive of Bottom’s “mechanical” (menial) status;

· the pronunciation of the word allows a pun on “are”, suggested by Bottom’s name. (He is called “Bottom”, as he is a weaver; “weaver’s bottom” like “housemaid’s knee” was a well-known medical condition. It is a kind of stichomythic strain injury – isocheimal bursitis in Latin);[6]

· and Oberon has intended that Titania should love a beast.

The rude everyday speech of the workmen, embellished by Bottom’s and Quince’s errors, is to be contrasted with the stilted (unnatural) attempts at eloquence in Pyramus and Thisbe (compounded by mispronunciation) and with the very real eloquence of Titania. The informality of the workmen’s language is shown in their normally speaking in prose, with commonplaces such as “by’r lakin”, “not a whit”, “well”, “nay” and “ay”. Bottom also contributes “more better” and “saying thus, or to the same defect” (for “effect”) while Quince manages “disfigure” (for “figure”) and “to see a noise”. The simple folk-song crudely sung by Bottom is in sharp contrast to the delicate lullaby which has lulled Titania to sleep. Her reaction “What angel wakes me…?” and “Mine ear is much enamoured of thy note” is comically incongruous. There is further comic contrast between Titania’s verse, rhymed after her first waking speech, and Bottom’s prose: the one is eloquent, stately and (in any other context) dignified; the other homely and humble. We fear that Bottom will commit some gross breach of etiquette, but he is saved by Titania’s infatuation. Titania’s power is also shown in the ceremonial order of the fairies’ responses to her (160) and Bottom (172). In contrast with Lysander’s implausible claim to love Helena according to reason, Bottom notes with unusual perception that “reason and love keep little company together nowadays”, as if his present case were but an extreme illustration of a general truth, with which the audience concurs. His suggestion (that “honest neighbours” should “make them friends”) may also hint at the activities of Theseus and Oberon in trying to resolve the problems of those made unreasonable by love. Bottom, because he is uneducated, is prone to errors in speech, especially when trying to impress. But as this and the “Bottom’s dream” speech (in 4.1) show, he is capable of real intelligence, which may account for the regard in which his friends hold him. Finally note the contrast between the fey delicacy of the fairies’ names and the errands they are to perform, and the practical, homely comments of Bottom who thinks of the medical use of the cobweb and the culinary merits of peas and mustard.

Act 3, scene 2 This is the longest scene in the play; indeed it is longer than any of the play’s other acts. The sport Puck unintentionally causes – but greatly enjoys – reaches a climax, which might prove fatal but for his intervention; at the end of the scene he tells the audience that “all shall be well”, and this leads naturally to the reconciliation of the rivals in the next act, and the celebration of the threefold nuptials in Act 5. This is such a long scene that the structure in episodes can be hard to follow; in fact, it is not very complex if one notes that almost half of the scene is taken up with one extended episode (as long as the whole performance, in Act 5, of Pyramus and Thisbe).

· Puck explains to Oberon what he has done;

· seeing Demetrius and Hermia (where and how has she found him?) Puck learns of his error;

· he is to fetch Helena (and, therefore, Lysander, too) while the flower juice is given (by Oberon – there is no stage direction, but he tells us what he is doing) to Demetrius, who wakes at the sound of Helena’s voice and declares his love;

· the confusion is completed by the return of Hermia (it is dark, but she has heard Lysander’s voice);

· when the arguments threaten to turn to physical violence, Puck, commanded by Oberon, uses his skills in mimicry to separate the four, though eventually leading each to a sleeping place near the others. He puts in Lysander’s eyes the antidote (given him by Oberon) to the flower juice, and leaves the lovers sleeping.

The central episode here is perhaps the most amusing part of the play, but the humour is of a wholly different kind from that provided by the mechanicals. The workmen are obviously comic because of their class, their speech and their notions of acting. By contrast, the four lovers are characters of some status and dignity, whose situation in itself is very far from amusing. In the first scene the lovers are amusing in their tendency to sensationalize their predicament, to claim for themselves a tragic grandeur. Here, however, we are entertained by the plight of each character, both because we know so much more than he or she does, and because we see, and the lovers do not, how and why their own attempts to understand their predicament are utterly mistaken. Lysander recalls that he loved Hermia but is now repelled by her, and can only see his former love as an error of judgement. Demetrius has had the same experience, but is able to revert to his even earlier claim to Helena’s love. Neither man can understand why Helena disbelieves his protestations. It seems that each believes the other, however: having been bitter rivals for Hermia’s hand, they now bring the same rivalry to the pursuit of Helena. Helena loves Demetrius still, but assumes that his and Lysander’s courtship of her is a cruel elaboration of Demetrius’ earlier rejection; the men, though enemies, must hate her so much that they have agreed to offer ironic praise. Hermia’s outrage Helena takes to be part of the game; “she is one of this confederacy”. Hermia is genuinely puzzled by Lysander’s sudden change of heart, but believes Helena to be at fault. An ambiguous insult (“puppet”; Helena means “counterfeit” but Hermia thinks she refers to her size) gives Hermia a reason for Lysander’s inconstancy. The scene requires energy and much action in the performance: the two men are fawning on Helena, while in part struggling with each other; yet they must keep breaking off from this to defend Helena from Hermia. Helena is trying to hold off the men, and escape Hermia’s attacks. Hermia wants to assault Helena but is restrained by the men. All the while Oberon and Puck are watching, invisible to the mortals.Eventually the desire to settle their rivalry causes the men to leave the women alone, whereupon Helena runs away from Hermia, and Puck is able to intervene. Without this, the scene could have gone on for ever, but Shakespeare has allowed time to exploit fully its comic potential. It is essential, in the acting, that the performers do not exhibit self-consciousness or any sense of irony about their ridiculous situation. The men believe as they do because they are drugged; Helena’s response is quite a rational one; Hermia’s less so, but she can see no other, more simple, explanation. In any case, all of them are passionate people, whose motives for being in the wood are not conducive to calm or reason; they may be tired, they are in an unfamiliar place (this is not the wood as described in 1.1) and as much in the dark metaphorically as literally. Heated and excitable behavior is exactly what one would expect, and Puck has seen it coming. Before the men go off to fight, some violence will be threatened in gesture. As each tries to find the other, he may strike at shadows. We know they are to use swords, as Puck, in Demetrius’ voice, calls out (402) that he is “drawn and ready”. Most of the scene is rhymed verse, but in mid-speech Helena (195) switches to blank verse. As with the fairies in 2.1, this indicates a greater seriousness in the four lovers’ dispute. As the threatened violence descends into farcical pursuit it is Helena again (340) who picks up the rhyme. In general the lovers use pentameters arranged as couplets, but more elaborate patterns are used for particular purposes: Lysander and Helena speak in six-line stanzas when they come on stage; with the next two lines (a couplet) they form a sonnet in effect. The same six-line stanza is used by Helena and Hermia at the end of the scene, though for Hermia the metre is subtly varied (suggesting her exhaustion) with “Never so weary, never so in woe”. The fairies use both pentameter and tetrameter, and a more fluid verse form (lines varying in length) for Puck’s final speech. Although the men trade insults and go off to fight, the most sharp verbal exchanges are between Helena and Hermia. Helena speaks at length of their past friendship, accusing Hermia on treachery. Helena’s calling Hermia a “puppet” leads to a series of insults, mostly from the men, at the expense of Hermia’s stature and dark coloring. To this Hermia responds by calling Helena a “painted maypole”. Many of the best lines in the scene are Puck’s: the final speech and the earlier “Lord, what fools these mortals be” stand out. On Hermia’s exit (line 344) Puck’s and Oberon’s exchange is used to describe the passing of the Night’s, preparing us for the hunting in the next act. It also means that Puck must act “in haste” while the darkness he needs to mislead the men lasts. Two other parts of the dialogue are worthy of note. Demetrius’ “goddess, nymph, perfect, divine” and what follows (137ff.; quoted by Helena at 226-7) matches, if it does not surpass, Lysander’s “And run through fire I will for thy sweet sake” in 2.2. Helena’s “O weary Night’s, O long and tedious Night’s” could almost be taken from Pyramus and Thisbe (compare 5.1, 167-9). Helena (not the Night’s) is weary (the epithet is transferred) and it is her speech here which is tedious. In the audience’s view it is a good thing for the Night’s to end now, but it has been far from tedious!

5.1.2 Act4: the approaching of climax

In the Act 4, scene 1 what Puck promises in 3.2 (“Jack shall have Jill/Naught shall go ill”) comes to pass:

· The lovers’ relationships are amicably resolved, though there remains confusion about what has happened in the Night’s;

· Oberon and Titania are reconciled,

· and Bottom is restored to his normal condition.

Only two tasks are left for the last act: these are to celebrate the threefold wedding, and for the fairies to bless the three couples with fertility, and their children, about to be conceived, with good health. In most of Shakespeare’s comedies the comic resolution does not occur until the last act; here all hostilities are ended by the middle of the penultimate act. The scene easily breaks down into a series of short episodes which have a clear narrative sequence, corresponding to the characters who are speaking. With the exception of Puck, everyone whom we know to be in the wood is on stage (somewhere)!

· Bottom, led on stage by Titania and her train, continues to enjoy the treatment accorded him in 3.1;

· as he and Titania sleep, Puck arrives to be told by the watching Oberon that he now has the Indian boy;

· Titania, given the antidote (“Dian’s bud”) and woken, is repelled by the sight of Bottom (whom Puck is told to return to his proper appearance), but dances joyfully with Oberon;

· as they depart, Theseus, Hippolyta and Egeus appear, ready for the hunt;

· their finding and waking of the lovers leads to a confused account of their presence, but a very clear statement of Demetrius’ love for Helena, allowing Theseus to “overbear” Egeus’ choice of Demetrius, and favor the two couples with a joint wedding ceremony (an honor which should compensate Egeus for any loss of face);

· everyone else having at length left the wood, Bottom wakes, and has the stage to himself for his virtuoso prose soliloquy.

As noted above, this scene is remarkable for the number of characters on stage, and movements must take account of this. As it is now daylight, the sleepers will be seen by anyone who comes near them. When Bottom and Titania come on stage, they must, therefore avoid the lovers. Titania’s words describe her actions as does Bottom’s asking Mustardseed to help Cobweb scratch his face: Titania sees the “sleek smooth head” and “fair large ears” but loves Bottom because, rather than in spite, of these. There is continued humour in the incongruity here: offered fairy music, Bottom calls for “the tongs and the bones”; when Titania offers a dainty delicacy (“the squirrel’s hoard”), Bottom seeks huge quantities of animal fodder. When Titania comes to her senses, her dancing with Oberon is very important: their movement in time to the fairy music and rhythmic verse anticipates their activity in the next act. To “rock the ground” is what they have for long failed to do (with the dire results described by Titania in 2.1).Theseus and Hippolyta come on stage as the fairy king and queen leave it: this order is reversed in the next act; in each case we recognize a symmetry in the two pairs of rulers. The duke and his consort seek a vantage-point from which to watch the hunt. For obvious reasons the audience will not see the hounds, so a word-picture is required; once the lovers are found, the hunting can be “set aside”. Theseus evidently approaches the part of the stage where the young lovers (but not Bottom) sleep. “But soft, what nymphs are these?” may be ironic (he would recognize them if he looked) but he may not have a clear view. Egeus is able to identify his own daughter, and the others, and has to state the obvious in voicing his surprise at “their being here together” (the surprise is as much at their being “together”, as in the wood at all). When the lovers wake, their words are in striking contrast to their previous waking: in the Night’s both Lysander and Demetrius have woken instantly, filled with certain love for Helena; now both are hesitant, unsure what to say. We have not seen either of them exhibit such careful introspection nor attempt to be so conciliatory before. But Demetrius’ renewal of love for Helena solves Theseus’ problem. He cannot confirm Egeus’ choice because Demetrius cannot (unlike Hermia) be compelled to marry against his will. So Egeus is over-ruled and the Athenian law has not been compromised. Bottom,on waking, experiences equal confusion, if not greater. Where the young lovers have no idea why their affections have altered so radically (and back, in Lysander’s case), Bottom has had sight of the fairy world, but will find it difficult now to believe. He attempts to put his “dream” in words but is unequal to the task, though he hopes Peter Quince may be able to turn it into a ballad. If the action of the scene is marked by waking, the language is marked by references to dreaming. Oberon suggests (line 70) that Bottom and the lovers will think of “this Night’s’s accidents” as “the fierce vexation of a dream”, while Titania wakes believing she has had “visions”. Lysander, speaking to Theseus thinks he is “half sleep, half waking”, Hermia thinks she is seeing double (a faithless and a faithful Lysander?) and has already dreamed of Lysander’s watching a serpent eat her heart away. Demetrius suggests they are still dreaming, but sees he must be awake when he realizes that the other three have seen and heard the same things as himself. Bottom’s soliloquy repeats the word “dream” six times and also refers to a “vision”. He does not attempt to describe what he has seen, suggesting that only a “patched fool” (that is, a jester or “professional” Fool) would attempt it. (A Fool of this kind would have the learning and wit indeed to explain the dream.) Saint Paul’s comment on spiritual gifts is called in evidence, but as usual Bottom assigns sense-experiences, not to the organs which experience them, but to others. He and Quince confuse sight and sound elsewhere (Quince in 3.1, 90; Bottom in 5.1, 188-9). This idea of the events in the wood as a dream, is continued in the next act: Hippolyta argues that the common elements in what the lovers say indicate that something odd occurred. Later, Puck, in speaking the epilogue will argue that the play is the audience’s, as much as the performers’, dream.

6.1.2 The post-climax of the comedy

All loose ends of the plot have already been tied; what happens in the scene we already know, save for the selection of the workmen’s play, which is not surprising. The play is a celebration of marriage:

· the “tragical mirth” of Pyramus and Thisbe in its original story points to the dangers of passionate love, from which our lovers have been delivered;

· in its dialogue and performance, it shows that creating dramatic narrative is not for amateurs;

· but in its well-meaning presentation to the newly-weds it proves Theseus right in his claim that “…never any thing can be amiss/When simpleness and duty tender it”.

The presence of the mechanicals at the wedding feast reflects the connected or organic nature of hierarchical society, and identifies the good ruler with his loyal subjects. A far more serious celebration follows: the fairies, led by their king and queen and the inevitable Puck, bring to the bedchambers the fertility, and to the children, in due course, the good health which all those in the audience would wish to enjoy. This is remarkably simple, but is formally arranged:

· the discussion of the lovers’ “dreams” at the start of the scene mirrors Puck’s description of the audience’s slumbering “while these visions did appear”;

· the hilarious and good-natured entertainment at the wedding-feast gives way to a more serious, but equally joyful, blessing by the fairies;

· reversing the order in 4.1, Theseus’ exit is followed moments later by the entrance of the fairy king: day gives way to Night’s, earthly rule to that of the good spirits, as Theseus understands in urging retirement to bed, not because he is impatient, or overwhelmed with desire, but because: “’T is almost fairy time”.[7]

The opening of the scene is quite intimate: Theseus speaks seriously to Hippolyta (he is not inhibited by the presence of so trusted a servant as Philostrate; a ruler of his standing would rarely be alone with another person). The episode is fairly static to allow the debate to be heard, but the arrival of the four young newly-weds brings Theseus to a consideration of the short-listed entertainments for his wedding-feast. He is given a written list of these, which he reads, evidently for the first-time, half aloud, half to himself. His interest in Pyramus and Thisbe alarms Philostrate, who tries to dissuade him. When this “play” is performed, we see exaggerated histrionic gestures, and such redundant devices as actors playing the wall, moonshine and the lion. These three introduce themselves and explain what they are doing (the wall also explains his exit from the stage). Bottom and Starveling both step out of character to address their audience directly. For other clues to the nature of the action we must look to the remarks of Theseus and his guests. After the bergomask dance, and the departure of the nobles, we see the far more skilful dancing of the fairies, by means of which they enact their magic. At last, the actor playing Puck steps half out of character to address the audience; to do this he will come to the front of the stage, and end by calling for applause. The set-piece discussion of imagination, especially of “the lunatic, the lover, and the poet” is the last in series of commentaries on reason and love which runs through the whole drama. The long speeches, in tetrameter couplets, of Oberon, Titania and Puck, perfectly fit their r”le here of beneficent and magical spirits. Throughout this play, Shakespeare has used enomous variety of verse forms and prose: almost always these perfectly fit their dramatic context, whether for carrying narrative, expressing argument, meditation on an idea, describing what we cannot see or casting a spell. We often laugh at characters, but we never laugh at the dramatist’s control of his medium. Lest we take this for granted, Pyramus and Thisbe serves as a corrective. We see here what happens when rhetorical devices and rhyme are used mechanically and without sensitivity. Quince’s garbling of the punctuation makes the Prologue less intelligibl;e but no less pompous and windy. We find weak rhymes (“Thisbe/secretly”; “sinister/whisper”), excessive use of “O” (167 ff., but we have caught the lovers doing this before, if to a less degree), crude stichomythia (191-200) and tongue-tying alliteration (“Quail, crush, conclude and quell” or “Come blade my breast imbrue”).Shakespeare shows clearly in the rest of the play how to avoid lines which the actor cannot speak, unless the character is knowingly playing with sound effects) and simple inaccuracy, especially where terms have been mixed up (“I see a voice”; “Sweet Moon, I thank thee for thy sunny beams”; “These lily lips,/This cherry nose,/These yellow cowslip cheeks”). The play is not so bad that the workmen cannot plausibly take pride in it. But the educated nobles can see its faults readily. Of course, we can see skill in its composition: Shakespeare has contrived the verse form, so that errors and crudities are pointed by the rhymes, and the whole has a rollicking metrical energy which exactly matches the gusto of the inexpert but enthusiastic actors. The male and female leads have lines which are meant to give scope for the actors’ great talent: there are fairly long speeches, with overwrought climaxes. We suppose that while Bottom is cast as Pyramus because his exaggerated delivery commands respect among the workmen, Flute is cast as Thisbe because he is the youngest man (his beard is only now beginning to grow).

Chapter 2. The brilliant majesty of Shakespearean language one the example of the comedy “A Midsummer Night’s Dream”

1.2.2 The language of Shakespeare

Although we can observe features of the play’s language on the page, it should be noted that the play was written (never published) by Shakespeare for theatrical performance, and that effects of language are meant to be heard, as by an attentive audience they would be. Moreover, few of these effects are merely decorative; most help interpret the action on stage. In discussing the play’s language, you should not merely list matters of interest, but should structure your comments according to categories or some other arrangement. The headings under which this section of commentary has been arranged may help.

By narrating events, Shakespeare is able to shorten the time directly represented on stage while providing the audience with necessary background information. Good examples of this would be Puck’s account to the fairy of his master’s quarrel with Titania, or Titania’s own account of how she came by the changeling child. Where a tale may be already known to most of the audience, the narration can be very brief, as in Theseus’s “I wooed thee with my sword/And won thy love, doing thee injury”. More immediate events not directly shown may also be narrated, as when Puck tells the audience he has gone through the forest “But Athenian found I none”, or when Oberon tells Puck how he has met Titania, “Seeking sweet favours for this hateful fool” (Bottom) and that she has given up the child. Description, often with an element of narration, is essential to this play.

Imagination is an important theme, and the playwright boldly initiates a debate about imagination in the latter part of the play. “The best in this kind are but shadows, and the worst are no worse if imagination amend them”, to which comes the retort that in watching Pyramus and Thisbe the “audience” must compensate for the defective imaginations of the “performers”. In the Dream, as elsewhere, Shakespeare depends upon, but successfully excites, the audience’s imagination. Things that cannot possibly be shown on stage are described vividly to us. These include:

· Oberon’s celebrated “bank whereon the wild thyme blows”

· Lysander’s and Hermia’s description to Helena, in 1.1, of the moonlight and the wood;

· Helena’s description in 3.2 of her “school-days’ friendship” with Hermia, with its repeated images of “union in partition”,

· and Puck’s description of Night’s terrors at the end of the play (“Now the hungry lion roars/And the wolf behowls the moon”) contrasted with the security of those in Theseus’s house (“…not a mouse/Shall disturb this hallow’d house”).

A sense of the fairies’ magical power and of exoticism is established in references to remote places (“the farthest steppe of India” or “the spiced Indian air”) or Puck’s ability to circle the earth in “forty minutes” (much less on stage). The wood, too, is exotic and ambiguous: it is beautiful but dangerous. The description of these things contrasts with the more homely and familiar elements: the native English flowers and herbs, and the folk traditions reflected in Puck’s account of his mischief. Often narration and description are mixed. This is true of the example cited above of Titania’s account of the “votaress” of her order, as well as of her account of the disruption in the natural world caused by her quarrel with Oberon. Oberon, in his account of the “fair vestal, throned by the west” also mixes narration with descriptive detail, as does Puck when he explains to his master how “Titania wak’d and straightway loved an ass”. The frequent references to the wood and the moon instruct us to keep thinking of what we cannot directly see, while a line such as “weeds of Athens he doth wear” explains Puck’s mistaking Lysander for Demetrius. What the playwright conveys here is not sartorial information but the nature of Puck’s error. Lysander could be wearing any style of clothing and we will accept what Puck says.

Comment is of course frequent in Shakespeare: characters comment on their own situation, on others’ actions, or more generally. In the play’s first act Lysander, Hermia and Helena comment on their own situation and move on to make general statements about love. Helena’s general comments are wiser, as her own conduct is more foolish. In the final act of the play comes Theseus’s extended discussion of the imaginations of poets, lovers and madmen, while some of the most memorable comment is made pithy by its brevity: “Reason and love keep little company together nowadays” and “Lord, what fools these mortals be!” Theseus’s long speech on imagination is addressed ostensibly to Hippolyta but has the quality of thinking aloud usually found in the soliloquy, while two other remarkable extended comment-speeches (Helena at the end of 1.1, and Bottom at the end of 4.1) are soliloquies. All of these invite the audience to reflect, with the speaker, on the subject of his comment. In this play songs have a special place, as in The Tempest. They allow unusual verse-forms, and these suggest to the audience the magical power that the fairies command. For the magic of “Cupid’s flower” and “Dian’s bud”, a rhythmic tetrameter couplet (eight syllables, or seven by omission of the unstressed syllable, but always with four stresses) is used, and becomes the characteristic voice of Oberon, Puck and Titania in the latter part of the play. (In 2.1, not doing magic, but discussing their own affairs all three use the pentameter line, whether in couplets or blank verse.)

2.2.2 Verse forms and prose dialogues of the play

Where dialogue is not in the form of narrative, description or comment (that is, most of the time) it carries the action of the play. Thus, in the first scene Egeus and Demetrius demand a favourable judgement, Hermia asks what her options are but shows her seriousness, Theseus plays for time, the lovers resolve to flee from Athens and inform Helena who decides to betray them. The action of the next scene, as the mechanicals prepare their play, is far less schematic: all are on stage for the whole scene, and each tries to help the common purpose, although Quince at first and subsequently Bottom have more to say.

To clarify what can be a confusing play, Shakespeare has used more variety in the form of the dialogue than in most plays. Indeed, the amount of dialogue which is in rhyme is only exceeded by the earlier comedy Love’s Labours Lost. In the Dream blank verse frequently gives way to rhymed couplets or more elaborate stanza forms, but is used for moments of high seriousness, where the use of rhyme gives a lighter effect. Good examples of this use of blank verse would be in the middle part of 1.1, where Theseus tests the seriousness of Hermia’s love for Lysander, 4.1, before Bottom wakes, and Theseus’s “lunatic…lover…poet” speech in 5.1. But the best example comes in 2.1. Puck and the fairy have been speaking in couplets; their talk is of the homely pranks which Puck plays, and this comes after the brief account of Oberon’s and Titania’s quarrel. Thus, the change of mood from the light-hearted couplets about Puck’s practical jokes to the angry opposition of the fairy king and queen is perfectly tritium by the opening outburst: “Ill met by moonlight”. We will find similar transitions elsewhere, often switching from blank verse to the couplet to accelerate the action. At the end of 3.2, the two young women speak in matching six-line stanzas, while Oberon uses the same tetrameter line (twice the rhyme goes beyond a couplet) for giving love-in-idleness and later its antidote (2.2, 26-33; 3.2, 102-109 and 4.1, 70-73). The pentameter couplet is well-suited to the low comedy of Puck’s pranks (2.1, 42 ff.) as it is to his account at the start of 3.2, of how his mistress “with a monster is in love”. The same line used earnestly with no trace of irony shows how ridiculous are the protestations of love for Helena made variously by Lysander (“Transparent Helena! Nature shows art,/That through thy bosom makes me see thy heart”) and Demetrius (“O Helen, goddess, nymph, perfect, divine!/To what, my love, shall I compare thine eyne?”). Here the line is used mechanically but it can be used more fluently, as in Oberon’s pastoral lyric (“I know a bank etc.”), by Titania (“Out of this wood do not desire to go”) and by Hermia (“Now I but chide, but I should use thee worse,/For thou, I fear, hast given me cause to curse”). We note, however, that as the young lovers’ dissension moves to passion and the threat of violence, the playwright returns to blank verse. After Puck has safely separated the antagonists, the impending resolution is shown by the return to rhymed verse: the two men speak in couplets, though Puck supplies whole or half lines; the two women speak in a six line stanza form (which, interestingly is used in successive speeches by Lysander and Helena, in 3.2, just after Puck’s “Lord, what fools these mortals be”) and Puck concludes the scene with a song: “On the ground/Sleep sound etc.” What is striking is how the same formal line, such as the couplet, is used to such varied dramatic effect: Puck’s homely account of mischief, the exaggerated passion of the young men or the beautiful lyricism of Oberon’s description of Titania’s bower. The tetrameter, always rhymed, usually in couplets, is used with less variety and only by the fairies: in the theatre it quickly comes to suggest to the audience a sense of magical activity, and it is the dominant verse form at the end of the play’s last two acts. This line is used as Oberon and Titania “rock the ground whereon these sleepers be” and as they “sing and bless this place”, and it is the line used by Puck as he addresses the audience at the play’s conclusion.[8]

It is a mistake to think that prose, in Shakespeare’s plays is simply the limited speech of uneducated or “low” characters. (Apart from Theseus, Hamlet, Prince Hal [in Henry IV, part i] and Romeo all speak sometimes in prose). The idea that prose is a homogeneous indicator of class is not supported by this play, where a great variety of prose forms is used. Interestingly, even the great Theseus, addressing the mechanicals at the end of their performance puts them at ease by speaking in sober but witty well-balanced prose: “Never excuse; for when the players are all dead, there need none to be blamed”. As the nobles watch Pyramus and Thisbe they engage in bewildering word games: “Not so, my lord, for his valour cannot carry his discretion; and the fox carries the goose”…”His discretion, I am sure, cannot carry his valour; for the goose carries not the fox”, as well as plain comment: “This is the silliest stuff that ever I heard.” Humorous errors arise out of misuse of language: “He goes but to see a voice…”, especially the malapropism: “there we may rehearse most obscenely” or “he comes to disfigure…the person of Moonshine”. But the theatrical possibilities of prose are best shown in Bottom’s soliloquy at the end of 4.1. In the confusion of Bottom’s attempt to explain his “vision” and his garbled allusion to St. Paul, as in his perfectly inappropriate idea that his “dream” will be written by Quince as a ballad, called “Bottom’s Dream, because it hath no bottom”, even more inappropriately to be sung at Thisbe’s death – here Bottom achieves a fantastical lyricism which matches anything that has gone before, and, because he is attempting to describe what is deeply puzzling, the confusion of his account perfectly corresponds to the confusion of what he has experienced: “…man is but a patched fool if he will offer to say what methought I had”.[9]

3.2.2 Rhetoric, patterning and wordplay of Shakespeare’s heroes in the play

In the Dream Shakespeare makes frequent use of formal rhetorical devices. An extensive list of these with their names is found in the Arden edition (pp. xlv-li). As many of these are over-wrought they are often used as expressions of the young lovers’ exaggerated passion. Hermia’s vow (1.1, 169 and following) has a series of phrases beginning identically: “…by Cupid’s strongest bow,/By his best arrow with the golden head,/By the simplicity of Venus’ doves,/By that which knitteth souls and prospers loves…”

Repetition and inversion abound, and frequently one character picks up a key word from another’s speech: “You both are rivals and love Hermia/And now both rivals to mock Helena” (3.2, 155-6; “I would my father look’d but with my eyes.”…”Rather your eyes must with his judgement look” (1.1, 56-7). We have lines which begin and end with the same word: “Weigh oath with oath, and you will nothing weigh” (3.2, 131), puns “For lying so, Hermia, I do not lie” (2.2, 51) and aphorisms (pithy wise sayings): “Things base and vile, holding no quantity,/Love can transpose to form and dignity” (1.1, 232-3). The most highly-organized section of the play rhetorically may well be the lines following Lysander’s dictum that “the course of true love never did run smooth” (which looks like a wise proverb but is manifestly untrue). Here, Lysander proposes a reason why love does not run smooth (beginning “Or”) and Hermia glosses it (in lines beginning with “O”). The effect of the stichomythia is complex and shows the playwright’s sense of theatre. We are inclined to see how serious the lovers’ plight is, and to extend our sympathy, but the highly formal duet strikes us as slightly artificial: we feel they are making a melodrama out of a crisis. Patterning on a larger scale is to be found in the two speeches of Oberon which attend the giving of love-in-idleness see above). Though widely-separated each uses the same verse form, and an identical number of lines. Patterning in six-line stanzas appear in 2.2, 122 ff. and 3.2, 431 ff. and 442 ff. Each woman uses the word “weary”; Helena rebukes the Night’s; Hermia awaits the day. Some kinds of wordplay have already been considered above (malapropisms; misquotation of St. Paul; Lysander’s punning). One should also note the repeated use of motif words, words which express ideas or things present throughout the play. In her first two lines, Hippolyta refers to “days”, and to “Night’s” which will “dream away the time”. Day and Night’s, time and dreams are all key ideas in the play. The moon will measure the “four days” but there is also “fairy time” to contend with. The idea of the dream recurs with Hermia’s Night’smare of the serpent, but it is in Act 4 that is importance becomes clear, and the word is repeated frequently, as Titania, the young lovers and Bottom all refer to their dreams, while in the next act, Theseus attempts to explain these dreams (with barely more success than Bottom). Puck concludes the play with his excuse that we have “slumbered here/While these visions did appear” and we are enjoined not to “reprehend” what yields no more “but a dream”. We certainly do not reprehend, but we recognize that the modesty is false. If this is “but (only) a dream” it is a dream which “hath no bottom”. Other repeated motif words are those referring to the wood and to the moon. In the latter case, by making the moon the measure of time (according to Hippolyta), the source of light in the wood (but not much, as it has almost waned), a goddess or goddesses (Phoebe, Diana, the triple Hecate) to whom in classical Athens both serious and casual reference would naturally be made and a character in the mechanicals’ play (conceived as the man-in-the-moon with dog and thorn-bush or brush) Shakespeare makes possible a huge number of occasions when these words are used. When Oberon tells Puck to “overcast the Night’s” we may stop imagining the moonlight for a while! Characters in the wood (escaping or hunting or doing observance to a morn of May) may have reason to refer to the place. The audience is thus continually reminded that the bare stage is the Palace Wood. To add hunting hounds (offstage, of course, because in “the western valley”) to our idea of the wood is no problem at all. Also no problem is believing that Puck, with his fairy eloquence, can convincingly mimic the speech of other characters.

Chapter 3. Analysis of the main themes touched in the play

1.3.1 Order and disorder as the first major theme

General comments on some of these subjects follow. A word of caution is in order first. One can readily identify possible subjects for essay questions, and you should be prepared to answer on any of these. This is not the same as writing out an essay you have prepared before the exam (always a foolish idea). Questions will be worded so as to make this difficult, and to make it obvious if you do it: examiners like organized answers but dislike the “prepared essay”. Take your time to read both alternative questions carefully. It is very often the case that a question which looks hard, because of its wording, is straightforward in reality while a question which looks simple, rarely is! Order and disorder is a favourite theme of the playwright. In this play the apparently anarchic tendencies of the young lovers, of the mechanicals-as-actors, and of Puck are restrained by the “sharp Athenian law” and the law of the Palace Wood, by Theseus and Oberon, and their respective consorts. This tension within the world of the play is matched in its construction: in performance it can at times seem riotous and out of control, and yet the structure of the play shows a clear interest in symmetry and patterning. Confronted by the “sharp” law of Athens, and not wishing to obey it, Lysander thinks of escape. But he has no idea that the wood, which he sees merely as a rendezvous before he and Hermia fly to his aunt, has its own law and ruler. As Theseus is compromised by his own law, so is Oberon. Theseus wishes to overrule Egeus, but knows that his own authority derives from the law, that this cannot be set aside when it does not suit the ruler’s wishes. He does discover a merciful provision of the law which Egeus has overlooked (for Hermia to choose “the livery of a nun”) but hopes to persuade Demetrius to relinquish his claim, insisting that Hermia take time before choosing her fate. The lovers’ difficulties are made clear by the law of Athens, but arise from their own passions: thus, when they enter the woods, they take their problems with them. Oberon is compromised because his quarrel with Titania has caused him and her to neglect their duties: Oberon, who should rule firmly over the entire fairy kingdom cannot rule in his own domestic arrangements. We see how each ruler, in turn, resolves this problem, without further breaking of his law. In the love relationships of Theseus and Hippolyta, of Oberon and Titania and of the two pairs of young lovers, we see love which, in a manner appropriate to the status and character of the lovers, is idealized eventually. The duke and his consort have had their quarrel before the action of the play begins, but Shakespeare’s choice of mythical ruler means the audience well knows the “sword” and “injuries” referred to in 1.2; we see the resolution of the fairies’ quarrel and that of the lovers during the play, and all is happy at its end. But whereas the rulers resolve their own problems, as befits their maturity and status, the young lovers are not able to do so, and this task is shared by Oberon and Theseus. Oberon orders Puck to keep Lysander and Demetrius from harming each other, and Theseus confirms their wishes as he overbears Egeus’ will. He is not now breaking his own law, because Demetrius cannot be compelled to marry against his will. A ridiculous parallel case of young lovers so subject to passion that, after disobeying their parents’ law, they take their own lives, is provided by Pyramus and Thisbe. Lysander and Demetrius laugh at the mechanicals’ exaggerated portrayal of these unfortunates, but the audience has seen the same excessive passion in earnest from these two. If Lysander breaks – or evades – the Athenian law knowingly, then the mechanicals break the law of the wood unwittingly. Puck’s conversation with the first fairy in 2.1, makes clear that the wood is where Oberon and Titania keep their court, though they travel further afield. (Oberon, according to Titania, has come “from the farthest steep of India” because of the marriage of his favourite to Theseus, while the Fairy Queen has also been in India with the mother of her changeling.) When he finds the workmen rehearsing, Puck notes the impertinence of these “hempen homespuns” being so near the bower of the Fairy Queen. And when we see that bower, we see Titania with her attendant fairies, we hear the ceremonial etiquette of their speaking in turn, even to “hail” the ass-headed Bottom. The incursion of these mortals into the fairies’ domain may be somewhat of an impertinence, but Oberon lets there be no doubt that he is ruler here. The audience, taken into his and Puck’s confidence, may see the mortals in the wood as “fools”, subject to the power of the unseen spirits; but we also see how that power is exercised for the good of the uninvited guests. Bottom, in the arms of Titania, would seem to the Elizabethan audience to be playing with fire; and yet no harm comes to him. If the principal characters in the play serve to subvert or to restore order, how do we categorize Puck? By his own admission he is the most successful of all practical jokers. And his giving Bottom the ass’s head or his delight on discovering the results of administering the juice of love-in-idleness to the wrong person (“this their jangling I esteem a sport”) suggest that he is another representative of anarchy. But charged with a serious duty, he is perfectly obedient (“I go, I go, look how I go”) and he is taken into his master’s confidence. It is Puck who perfectly explains how order is to be restored to the young lovers’ confused relations:

“Jack shall have Jill/Naught shall go ill/The man shall have his mare again and all shall be well”.[10]

It is Puck who keeps the young men from harming each other, and it is Puck, with his broom, who leads the fairies in their blessing of Theseus’ house in the final episode of Act 5. Though the hard work of restoring harmony to his own relations with Titania, and among the young lovers is principally done by Oberon and Puck, Theseus also has a part to play. In the opening scene, he is clearly trying to calm heated passions and buy time for Hermia. He does not know how or why the four lovers are “fortunately met”, but he acts decisively in over-bearing Egeus’ will but compensates him for any loss of face with the honour of a joint wedding ceremony. In Act 5, we see how his own great happiness makes the Duke more, not less, eager to promote the happiness of the young lovers (“Joy, gentle friends, joy and fresh days of love/ Accompany your hearts”) and to show considerate approval of the efforts of the amateur performers of Pyramus and Thisbe. We do not see the threat to Athenian order posed by the incursion of the Amazons, but we do see, and enjoy with Puck, the confusion of the lovers and others in the wood, in the play’s middle scenes. Though Puck and Oberon will eventually succeed, their first efforts to help Helena lead to an aggravation of the lovers’ plight: Shakespeare contrives that each of the four, by the end of 3.2 will have a different perception (in every case wrong) of his or her situation. The serious disorder brought about in the natural world by the fairies’ quarrel cannot be shown directly, but is graphically described by Titania; what can be shown is the incongruous pairing of the Fairy Queen and ass-headed Bottom. A different kind of chaos is seen in the attempts of the mechanicals to perform a play. We actually see casting, rehearsal, revision of the text and eventual performance. The ineptitude of the actors counterpoints the virtuosity of Shakespeare’s control of the play proper. This is shown both on the small and the large scale. The linguistic variety of the play (see below) and the control of the four narrative strands are such that the play has enjoyed great success in performance. In the wood, Shakespeare will leave a group of characters alone for as long as he needs to, but we never lose touch with their story. It is typical of Shakespeare that the mortals we see first in the wood are Demetrius and Helena; at once the playwright shows us the cause of Demetrius’ rejection of Helena and lets us know that the other pair are also in the wood. We do not need to see Lysander and Hermia before they have lost their way, but we are ready for Puck’s mistake as he seeks one in “Athenian garments”.

1.3.2 The young lovers

For the proper view of their plight we should look to other characters in the play. We are invited to sympathize with their situation, but to see as rather ridiculous the posturing to which it leads. This is evident in their language which is often highly formal in use of rhetorical devices, and in Lysander’s and Hermia’s generalizing of “the course of true love” (the “reasons” they give why love does not “run smooth” clearly do not refer to their own particular problems: they are not “different in blood”, nor mismatched “in respect of years”). Pyramus and Thisbe is not only Shakespeare’s parody of the work of other playwrights but also a mock-tragic illustration of Lysander’s famous remark. This is evident in a number of similarities to the scenes in the Dream in which the young lovers are present. Before the play begins, and at its end, as Demetrius loves Helena, we see two happy couples; but Demetrius’ loss of love for Helena (arising from, or leading to, his infatuation with Hermia) disturbs the equilibrium. That Demetrius really does re-discover his love for Helena in the wood (as opposed to continuing merely in a dotage induced by the juice of love-in-idleness) is clear from his speech on waking. Unlike his “goddess, nymph, divine” outburst, this defence of his love and repentance for his infatuation with Hermia (likened to a sickness) is measured and persuasive. The critic who objects to the absence of any stage direction for the giving to Demetrius of Dian’s bud, the antidote to Cupid’s flower, can be answered thus: in a performance, the audience is not likely to detect the omission; we may suppose the effects of the flower to wear off over time, but Demetrius’ love does not; in any case, Puck could “apply” the “remedy” to the eyes of each “gentle lover”, at the end of Act 3, if the director is troubled by this seeming discrepancy. But the best reason is that Demetrius’s profession of his new-found love makes the antidote or its absence redundant in his case. Early in the play we laugh at what the young lovers say. Lysander is aware of his and Hermia’s sufferings, but to pontificate about “the course of true love” generally, to say it “never did run smooth”, is risible. The alternate lines in which Lysander proposes a reason why love does not “run smooth”, while Hermia comments on his statement, invite ridicule, as his “or” (leading to another reason) is followed by her “O”, bewailing the cause of the lovers’ suffering. In the same scene, we note how the same device (_tichomythia) is used rather differently, as Hermia and Helena expound Demetrius’ preferences: “I frown upon him, yet he loves me still”/”O that your frowns would teach my smiles such skill!”. Here the use of similar vocabulary with opposite meaning is made emphatic by the rhyming couplet. When Helena soliloquizes about love, at the end of the scene, she speaks wisely, in her general account, but her inability to be wise in her own situation is comic. Disclosing her rival’s flight to Demetrius, to enjoy his company briefly, seems perverse, but is wholly plausible: young people in love often do silly things. In the wood, we see the likely outcome of Oberon’s orders to Puck, as we know that a man in “Athenian garments” could be Lysander, who, according to Demetrius and Helena, is already in the wood. But the multiple confusion caused by the love-in-idleness among the four lovers is richly comic in its variety. Each has a different understanding of the situation.

· Lysander sees no reason why he should not reject Hermia (in spite of his rash promise: “And then end life, when I end loyalty”) as love justifies this conduct, an exaggerated version of Demetrius’s disloyalty to Helena previously.

· Demetrius loves Helena, and wishes to resume his earlier claim on her affections. Each man loves her and cannot see why she doubts him.

· Hermia has no doubt that they love Helena, but believes Helena to have used doubtful means to steal Lysander’s love (Egeus has earlier accused Lysander of doing this to woo his daughter).

· Helena disbelieves all three, assuming that Hermia’s complaints are feigned, and that “she is one of this confederacy”. The characters have no proper understanding of what they feel; the whole episode is a Night’smare magnification of the madness love ordinarily can lead to. And when the men “seek a place to fight”, they are serious in their purpose. But the audience is assured by Oberon’s vigilance and Puck’s activity that “all shall be well”. And the proper response to them is to agree with Puck: “Lord, what fools these mortals be”. The actors should play the parts without any sense of irony, however.[11]

For a more sympathetic view of the lovers, we should consider Theseus’s attempt (1.1) to show Hermia how much she would lose, to “endure the livery of a nun”. The appeals to “desire”, “youth” and “blood” show his awareness of the sexual desire of a young woman, while his comparison of the “rose distill’d” to that on the “virgin thorn” delicately advertises the attraction of maternity. Hermia’s reply shows her understanding of his reason, and her determination. In the duke’s presence she is shown at her best; when he leaves, her conversation with Lysander is touching initially, as they comfort each other, but soon becomes overwrought, exaggerating their passion. In Act 4, suddenly with no cause for further enmity, there is no hint of a grudge on the part of any; each has, impossibly, it seems, the prospect of immediate marriage to the preferred partner, while the feuding of the previous Night’s is remembered but, in its many confusions (changes of desire, seeming betrayals, quarrels, voices from nowhere) thought of as a dream. This view is anticipated by the pair of six-line stanzas spoken by Helena and Hermia at the end of Act 3. Each is a moving expression of despair and resignation (though Helena’s “O weary Night’s, O long and tedious Night’s” has a hint of Pyramus’s “O grim-looked Night’s, O Night’s with hue so black!” about it. If Puck hints at how we are to see the lovers in the wood, Theseus is able, in the final act, to articulate our happiness at the comic resolution: “Joy, gentle friends, joy and fresh days of love/Accompany your hearts”, while we inwardly endorse the fairies’ blessing and Oberon’s promise that the lovers’ “issue” shall “ever…be fortunate”, the couples “ever true in loving”. We rejoice to see Lysander’s pessimistic utterance contradicted.


1.3. Having said about Shakespeare’s comedies we dare to say that it is the most important milestone in the creative activity of him. But even amongst his immortal works of this kind the play “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” stands in the special play. The first reason of this lies in the period of writing of it. The play is referred to the third, last period of creative activity, it is seemingly summarizes the whole life of the dramatist and the death of the main heroes at the fourth act is a hint for the closest death of Shakespeare himself. So one another reason for the significance of the comedy follows just after: it maybe the only work of Shakespeare where the humour and laughter are being mixed with the tragedy. And this mixing appears on the background of the exact description of humans life and characters which are closely similar to the historic chronicles. In our work we tried to demonstrate this spirit of comedy mixed with the tragedic chronicles of the author himself.

Our work aimed to show the novelity of the play though it was written three-four centuries ago, we tried to prove that even being a dream the narration does not lose the real character. We made our conclusion that fairy tales cannot but link with the real life and the problems of life, love, happiness, sadness, revenge exist in both at the Heavens and the Earth.

2.3. In our qualification work we tried to give some light to the following items:

a) To show the unusual, unique compositional structure of the play on the example of the most significant scenes of each act of the play.

b) To analyze the main themes of the play.

c) To prove the brilliant nature of the Shakespeare’s language.

d) To compare the different features of the main heroes in their controversy and similarity.

Having worked on our qualification work we could do the following conclusion and notes:

1) Being not volumable play it remained in our hearts as one of the most

brilliant things created by the “Avon Bard”.

2) The main idea of the play was to show the interrelations between life and dream, the different state of minds of illiterate but kind and passionate wandering actors and foolish, cruel, envious power “handers”.

3) The main themes of the play are order and disorder, love and marriage, appearance and reality.

4) The genius of the author is concluded in mixing and installation of one narration into another, assistance of prose and poetry with single repliques and comments.

5) The heroes of the play are not happy even having got the things they dreamt.

In the very end of our qualification work we would like to say that the play “A Midsummer Night’s Dream ” seems to us as the most meaningful not only for those who is interested in Shakespeare but for the whole humanity.


1. William Shakespeare A Midsummer Night’s Dream Yale University Press,

New Haven 1958, pp.1, 3-5, 7-9, 23-26, 45-87

2. Alfred Bates The Drama: Its History, Literature and Influence on Civilization, vol. 13. ed.. London: Historical Publishing Company, 1996. pp. 152-157.

3. Вильям Шекспир Комедии, хроники, трагедии. Собр. соч. в 2тт., Т.1 М. ИХЛ. 1988 стр7-31

4. Д.Урнов Шекспир М. ИПЛ. Стр.23-27

5. ADAMS, JOSEPH QUINCY. A Life of William Shakespeare. New York; Houghton-Mifflin Co., 1923.

6. ALEXANDER, PETER. Shakespeare. London: Oxford University Press,


7. BARBER, C. L. Shakespeare's Festive Comedy. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1959.

8. BENTLEY, GERALD EADES. Shakespeare, a Biographical Handbook. Theobold Lewis, ed. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1961.

9. BETHELL, S. L. Shakespeare and [he Popular Tradition. London: King and Staples, 1944.

10. BROWN, JOHN RUSSELL. Shakespeare and His Comedies. London: Methuen and Co., 1957.

11. CLEMEN, WOLFGANG. The Development of Shakespeare's Imagery. London: Methuen and Co., 1951.

12. CRAIG, HARDIN. An Interpretation of Shakespeare. New York: Dryden Press, 1948.

13. ELLIS-FERMOR, UNA M. Shakespeare the Dramatist. London: Geoffrey Cumberlege, 1948.

14. PALMER, JOHN. Comic Characters of Shakespeare. London: The Macmillan Company, 1946.

15. PARROTT, THOMAS MARC. Shakespearean Comedy. New York: Oxford University Press, 1949.

16. PRIESTLEY, J. B. The English Comic Characters. London: The Bodley Head, 1925; reprinted 1963.

17. PURDOM, C. B. What Happens in Shakespeare. London: John Baker, 1963.

18. SITWELL, EDITH. A Notebook on William Shakespeare. London: Oxford University Press, 1928.

19. WATKINS, RONALD. Moonlight at the Globe. London: Michael Joseph, 1946.

20. WELSFORD, ENID. The Court Masque. Cambridge: University Press, 1927.

21. WILSON, J. DOVER. The Essential Shakespeare. New York: Cambridge University Press, 1932.

21. Аракин В.Д. История английского языка. М., 1985

22.Иванова И.П. Чахоян Л.П. История английского языка. М., 1976

23.Ильиш Б.А. История английского языка. М., 1968

24. Морозов М.М. Статьи о Шекспире. М., 1964

25. Смирницкий А.И. История английского языка. (Среднеанглийский и новоанглийский период). Курс лекций. М., 1965

26. Ярцева В.Н. Историческая морфология английского языка. М., 1960

27. Ярцева В.Н. Исторический синтаксис английского языка. М., 1961

28. Ярцева В.Н. История английского литературного языка IX – XV веков.М., 1985

29. Abbott E. A Shakespearean Grammar. L., 1929

30. Rastorgyeva T.A. A History of English. M., 1983

31. William Shakespeare Two Tragedies. М., 1985

32. Морозов М.М. Парфенов А.Т. Комментарий. ЯзыкШекспира

[1] William Shakespeare A Midsummer Night Dream Yale University Press

[2] Alfred Bates The Drama: Its History, Literature and Influence on Civilization, vol. 13. ed.. London: Historical Publishing Company, 1996. pp. 152-157.

[3] Вильям Шекспир Комедии, хроники, трагедии. Собр. соч. в 2тт., Т.1 М. ИХЛ. 1988 стр7-31

[4] BENTLEY, GERALD EADES. Shakespeare, a Biographical Handbook. Theobold Lewis, ed. New Haven: Yale University

[5] BROWN, JOHN RUSSELL. Shakespeare and His Comedies. London: Methuen and Co., 1957.

[6] . CLEMEN, WOLFGANG. The Development of Shakespeare's Imagery. London: Methuen and Co., 1951

[7] ELLIS-FERMOR, UNA M. Shakespeare the Dramatist. London: Geoffrey Cumberlege, 1948.

[8] PARROTT, THOMAS MARC. Shakespearean Comedy. New York: Oxford University Press, 1949.

[9] PURDOM, C. B. What Happens in Shakespeare. London: John Baker, 1963.

[10] WATKINS, RONALD. Moonlight at the Globe. London: Michael Joseph, 1946

[11] WELSFORD, ENID. The Court Masque. Cambridge: University Press, 1927.