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English Literary Themes
Setting Two worlds Apart
A Midsummer Night’s Dream offers a unique blending of styles, characters, and realms of experience into a unified work of art. From the prose to the characters, Shakespeare was again brilliant in offering great riches of the imagination and language throughout this romantic comedy. What separates Shakespeare from any other author is his ability to not have an excess of useless information in is writings. Everything Shakespeare brings into the play is there for a purpose. For example, the setting in A Midsummer Night s Dream is far more than a backdrop where the plot occurs. Nature constantly is used for symbolism and imagery in each setting. Therefore, throughout the play, Shakespeare shows how nature (the setting) plays an important role towards society and the characters.
The real exploration of setting in this play has not so much to do with place as with realms or dimensions of experience. There are two main settings that occur through the play. The first is in the town with daylight and the other is in the woods with moonlight. The two settings bring about the recurring theme of reason (daylight/town) virsus imagination (moonlight/woods) or as put by C.J. Gianakaris:
The court, or city, represents stability, common sense, and
sophistication. But formalized structures and attributes
rarely help in matters of love which typically are irrational.
So, often the scene in a comedy alternates between court
and forest. The natural setting seemingly provides the
innocence and healing ethos which allow the solving of
the problems, particularly those concerning love. ( Gianakaris, 2)
The beginning and the end of the play take place in the city, in the courtly urbane atmosphere of the palace of Theseus, the duke of Athens. It is daylight, and the mood is one of social order and reason. Theseus is continually aligned with reason. Sometimes he seems to be held up as a model for social man. The community looks to Theseus for the answers to problems. For example, when Hermia was in love with Lysander and wanted to go against her father s wishes, which were to marry Demetrius, Egeus summoned none other than Theseus. Egeus brought his love triangle problem to Theseus. Theseus is the man of order and reason and the townspeople believe that he can fix any problem and of course he does come up with a solution. Theseus resolves all the love conflicts by stating Hermia shall marry Lysander while Helena will be wed to Demetrius. The fact that these scenes took place in the town in the midst of day was no accident. Shakespeare purposely made a contrast between the two main settings. His intention was undoubtedly for the reader to recognize the recurring theme of reason virsus imagination.
Theseus intentionally sets himself in opposition to the imagination when he compares the lover, the lunatic, and the poet to each other. Their similarity, he says, comes from the fact that they are all swayed by their imaginations. Another way he separates himself from imagination is that he is one of the few main characters that never enter the woods. The woods are filled with magic, potions, and disorder (everything Theseus isn t). The love conflicts, magic fairies, and other sorts of disorder never occur in the daylight in the town. The town and Theseus conversely contain the answers to the conflicts. This indubitably is an example of order in the presence of daylight and the town. Therefore, nature being the daylight and the town has played a significant role toward the characters and society.
The whole middle of the play, however, takes place in the woods, during a moonlit night. The atmosphere here is one of disorder, of emotional indulgence and magic. When the characters enter the woods, their emotional lives become chaotic. Despite many characters protestation of rationality (Lysander, for example, pleads that he loves Helena for real and it is a natural feeling), it is the irrational, romantic side of their natures that is revealed. All the lovers get confused about the their irrational feelings and thus feud over each other due to the magic potion. Helena still loves Demetrius and is confused with everyone s sudden change of feelings. Nature again through the flower/potion is playing a role toward the society and each of the characters.
Oberon makes it clear that night is the fairies’ time. The fairies, with all the midsummer madness they set in motion, work their magic at night. Moonlight thus symbolizes emotions, as contrasted to reason, and is the favored meeting time of lovers. Puck refers to Oberon as the king of shadows, and the shadowy night world he rules is one of mysterious glimpses and strange behavior.
Another example of disorder portrayed through the woods is with Bottom. Bottom is basically one of the highest peasants in town. In town, he lives an orderly normal life. He is simply preparing to present a play with other common men. However, once they decided to go to the woods all order had disappeared. The fairy Puck decided to pull a prank and turn his head into an ass. This ass makes Bottom a victim of disorder and imagination. Such an event of magic would never have occurred in daylight and in the town or a world filled with reason and order.
All in all, the two main settings are not just backdrops for the action. They
symbolize two different realms of the world. One filled with order and reason and one filled with disorder and imagination. Each setting indubitably portrays how nature plays an important role toward both the characters and society. Such use of nature and other literary elements has truly made A Midsummer Night s Dream a play for the ages!
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