A Midnight Summer’s Dream is play that was written by William Shakespeare toward the end of the 1950s. It is one of the most popular plays showcased around the world and has been adapted into various films and musicals. The play is cloaked around the marriage of the duke of Athens, Theseus and the queen of the amazons, Hippolyta (Kiernan, 1993: 42). Other characters in the play include a group of amateur actors who are deceived by a group of fairies and four young Athenian lovers. The play is set majorly in a forest and also in the realm of a fairyland. In the first act an Athenian noble man named Egeus arrives in the king’s courts for the wedding accompanied by his daughter hermia and two Athenian young men, Demetrius and Lysander. Hermia’s father wants her to marry Demetrius but she refuses because she in love with Lysander. Upset by this, her father seeks the counsel of the king and his presence, Egeus speaks by quoting from an Athenian law that declares thata daughter must marry the man chosen by her husband and if she refuses she is to be punished by death.
However, Theseus offers her another solution to worship the goddess Diana for the rest of her life as a nun in a convent. Hearing of this, she and Lysander plan an elopement to marry in his aunt’s house which is a distance from the city. In their quest to see this through, they confide in Hermia's friend Helena (Kiernan, 1993: 59). Helena was once set to marry Demetrius who had later left her after he met hermia. She is still in love with him and in an effort to try and win back his love, she reveals the escape plans that Hermia and Lysander had told her. Disgruntled he follows hermia and Lysander into the forest with Helena also closely following behind. In the forest are a group of fairies led by their king Oberon, and his fairy queen Titania. Theyhave come to witness the marriage of Theseus and give their blessing. Their marriage however is on shaky ground due to the fact that they are arguing over a very handsome boy presented to Titania by his mother. The boy is so handsome that the king Oberon wants to make him a knight but his wife strongly refuses his wish. This angers the king and he plans a revenge scheme that will ensure Titania is shamed into giving him the boy.
In the forest too, are a group of amateur actors who are rehearsing a play titled Pyramus and Thisbe. This they hope to present to the king during his ceremony. However, are not good actors are clumsy at it. In his quest for revenge, Oberon calls upon his jester puck to perform the task. He asks him to go into the forest and find a flower known as the love in idleness and extract its juice which is said to contain magical power such that when applied onto the eyelids as one is asleep, the first person they meet they will fall hopelessly in love with them. Puck does as asked. The king is determined to shame his wife for her disobedience and is certain that the first thing she will see in an animal in the forest and this would be her punishment (Kiernan, 1993: 97).
The king had also observed how rude Demetrius had acted toward Helena and he orders puck to apply some onhim as well. Puck mistakes Lysander for Demetrius and applies the juice on him. Helena comes across him and when she is checking if he was okay, he opens his eyes and immediately falls in love with her. Discovering his mistake, puck proceeds to charm Demetrius and now both men are in love with Helena who in turn does believe this to be genuine in their pursuit of her love, they arrange for a duel to prove who loved Helena the most. Oberon orders puck to keep the two apart long enough for them to lift the spell. Puck is also instructed to make it seem to have been a dream to the young lovers when they woke up.
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The spell is lifted from Lysander but not from Demetrius, meanwhile after achieving his (Oberon) goal, the spell is also lifted from titania who had met nick bottom one of the actors and had fallen in love with him. Demetrius is now in love with Helena and when they all return to the king’s court; Theseus retracts his order and arranges for a group wedding for the lovers. The actors then perform the play in such a terrible manner that the crowd mistake for a comedy instead of the tragedy it is intended. Once the fairies bless the king’s marriage and their house, puck takes to the audience and tries to make amends by asking them not to be offended but only remember it as if it were a dream.
Analysis of major Character
There are a variety of characters in the play. Some have very significant roles while others have minimal roles to play. This character analysis will focus on some of the major characters and traits that are brought out in their interaction within the play setting.
Many critics of the play have it that puck is a character that is most important in the entire play. He may be regarded as the plays protagonist. He is involved with keeping the audience intrigued with his magic tricks and he attempt at pleasing his master by doing his will. His terrible mix up for mistaking Lysander for Demetrius set the play in motion. As a character, his behaviour is unpredictable and his spirit is wild. There is a form of contrast in much of the play between the rugged actors and the graceful fairies. Puck succeeds at bring these contrasts into the limelight. As a jester he is meant to be of fun loving character but he is also subjects to make pranks at times for his own enjoyment. Such is the reason he turns nick bottoms head to that of a donkey. He is capable of showing gracefulness but is found not to be as sentimental; he is good natured but as a jester to the king Oberon, he is allowed a certain callous nature and this show when he turns Bottom’s head into a donkey. In the second act, one of the fairies reveals that puck is referred to by some as a hobgoblin which is taken to mean that he is not as striking and ethereal like the other creatures (Evans and Tobin, 1997).
She is introduced as a friend to Hermia and Lysander. She has also been previously engaged to Demetrius who is now in pursuit of hermia. She is the only one left out of the love circle that involved Lysander, hermia, and Demetrius. She remains optimistic that Demetrius will open his eyes to the unfaithful nature of hermia and see that she is the only one who loves him. This is the reason she tells Demetrius of the plan by hermia to run away and she still follows him to the forest. She is of a caring nature since she checks up on Lysander when he is put under a spell by puck. She is also very astute in her thinking as she can tell something is wrong especially when both Demetrius and Lysander have suddenly fallen in love with her. It may be said that she of a trusting nature since hermia and Lysander confide in her of their plans to run away.
However, this becomes a contrast when she is seen to look out after her own interest by selling out their secret and thus betraying their trust in her so she is selfish as well. She is also somewhat jealous of hermias beauty in act one she proclaims that love does not look with the eyes but with the mind. Then we can assume she believes that whatever Demetrius feels for hermia is a preconceived notion in his mind that allows for him only to see the beauty that is hermia and have a blind eye to her own. This may also be the reason why he cannot understand why the two young Athenians have sudden interest in her. In the end she ends up with her love Demetrius as a result of puck not lifting the spell oblivious to her (Croce, 1999: 89).
He is the king of Athens. He is to be married to Hippolyta. He seems to be wise and revelled. He represents authority and order in the kingdom. He only appears at the beginning and the end of the play. Theseus is also superstitious since he has the fairies come and bless his wife, household, and himself to ward off evil and bad luck. He is also considerate in his judgment. When hermia refuses to marry her betrothed, which meant she was to be put to death, he instead offers her to be taken to a convent.
She is to be married to Theseus. She is a courageous woman seeing that she was in battle with Theseus. Although they are getting married as a result of her defeat in battle, she does not seem indifferent to this and showcases her respect for him as a leader and her future husband. Theseus is also very proper in his conduct and manner with her.
He is wealthy and traditional. He is of a controlling nature since he wants his daughter to marry Demetrius, fully aware that she does not love him. He is not remorseful even when his daughter is to be put to death.
At the beginning of the play he has a disagreement with his wife over a young Indian bot for which he wants to make a knight much to his wife disapproval. He is vengeful in his nature and he seems to take advantage of his position as leader. He has his placed wife under a spell for refusing his offer, and has Demetrius also placed under a spell for his rude nature towards Helena. When he introduces the magical flower to the audience he sets the stage for a variety of situations and is involved in trying to help puck make his make right. He could be said to be considerate of Helena’s situation since he does not remove the spell from Demetrius leaving him in love with her (Croce, 1999: 104).
She has very high self-esteem which is a contrast to Helena. She is seen as insecure of her height. She is very smart and possibly educated since she can easily deduce meaning from peoples words even when they do not say it right. She is financially well of due to her father’s position as a noble man. She is easily jealous and emotional. She pursues Helena when she does not understand why her husband is no longer interested in her. She is kind and good natured but has a rebellious nature. She defies her father’s wish and refuses to marry the man he has chosen for her. She does this fully aware of the repercussions. She is very much in love with Lysander and this is shown in her willingness to sacrifice her life to be with him.
In contrast to pucks humour with is subtle, his is open and hilarious. He is foolishly arrogant of himself and his capabilities. He domineers over the rest of his acting crew. This is because he believes to be the best among all of them but is always making mistakes and fumbling about. He is melodramatic and uses boastful language to attract attention to himself. He believes that he is a serious person and that everyone sees him as this. His foolishness reaches a new height when he is unaware that puck has transformed his head to resemble that of a donkey. He also is not surprised by the sudden interest showed to him by the queen Titania. He thinks that it is his acting and singing prowess has her hooked to him.
He is a young Athenian man in love with hermia. He arrives with Egeus and hermia. He strongly believes that his love will conquer all and persuades her to run away with him to the forest.
He is to marry hermia by order of her father. He was previously engaged to Helena but ditches her when he meets hermia. He is not aware of the love sick nature of Helena towards him and is rude in his behaviour of her. Even when he is informed of the escape
Plans of his betrothed he still goes after her much to the disappointment of Helena.
Themes in the play
Much of the play revolves around the theme of love and its difficulties. It is not a love story but uses humour to poke fun at the problem people is love go through. The trying nature of love is portrayed in a number of incidences. There is the love triangle involving hermia, Lysander, and Demetrius. It also has another player who is left out of the equation, Helena. This love unequal, Hermia loves Lysander; Helena loves Demetrius who loves Hermia, and Lysander who loves Hermia (Buchanan, 2005: 94). When magic is used, it causes havoc to the four. Helena ends up as the object of affection for the two men; this makes hermia jealous and even wants to fight. The play brings out a dark side to love where we see death being dealt with side by side withlove. Hermia is sentenced to death for refusing to marry Demetrius. The fairy king uses the power of a magic which makes people fall in love to get his way. His obsession with the Indian bot is more powerful than his love for her. There is also an uneven love between Titania and the donkey headed bottom. The play has a need to find a balance in the situations present. This is found at the end of the play where an even balance is realized. Lysander is now married to hermia; Helena ends up with Demetrius unaware of the darkness that surrounds their love. While Titania is restored to herself and bottoms head is turned to normal.
This is the brought out by puck the jester to the king Oberon. He uses the juice of the magical flower that makes people fall in love with the first thing they see in the morning when they wake up. Due to puck mistakes, the use of magic causes more harm than good. He has to use his own crafty means to ensure that he brings order back to the situation. The use of magic also brings about humour when puck turns bottoms head into a donkey. Magic is also the reason that Helena ends up with Demetrius and not true love as is the norm. However, they are not aware of this and seem blissfully happy. Example of the use of magic, puck uses trick to transform his voice to deceive Lysander and Demetrius, (act two, scene one l, and line 47) Titania speaks of the nature that the Indian boy came to be. It seems very magical. She also tells of the immortality nature surrounding them. This reminds the audience of the immortality nature possessed by the fairies (Bevington, 1996).
As the title, A Midsummer Night's Dream, suggests, dreams are incorporated into the lives of the characters. When the effects of the magic are lifted, the fairy king orders puck to make it all seem like a dream to the four young Athenians. Bottom also speaks of the bizarre dream he had encountered where a man was as a donkey and he could not fathom this. The magic of the flower is used when the person is a sleep. So the magic plays in to their subconscious and will come alive when they awake. Oberon whispers to his sleeping wife that when she wakes up she will fall in love with a foul creature after applying the magical flower juice to her eyelids. This is to make it seem that she heard the voice in her dreams. When they fall asleep in the forest, puck is able to separate the dreams of both Lysander and hermia and proceeds to carry out his plan. When hermia wakes up, she goes to look for her love since she needs comfort from her nightmare where she sees her heart being eaten by a serpent while Lysander sits by and does nothing (Buchanan, 2005: 111). This becomes a foreboding to the experience she would go through after Lysander is enchanted(act 2 scene 1-2) titania enters a dreamlike state when she awakes to find bottom and falls in love with him. She is not aware of the magic used on her or the fact that bottom’s head is that of an ass. Oberon also uses the state of dreams of the enchanted lot to make right of the situation and he also uses this opportunity to gain possession of the Indian boy and make him a knight. He also uses this state to ensure that Demetrius falls in love with Helena. (Act 3, scene 1-2)
Helena is jealous of the attention that Demetrius shows towards hermia. She is in love with him and tries everything to win back her love. Her jealousy causes her to betray the trust of hermia and tells Demetrius of her escape plans to the forest with Lysander. Egeus is also jealous of the man he has chosen to marry his daughter. This jealous is normal since she now has someone else to see to her needs and will no longer be fully reliant on him (act 1, scene 1-2). When Lysander has sudden interest in Helena, he abandons hermia and this causes hermia to be jealous of Helena. The manner in which she speaks to her causes her to be enraged and become frustrated. The conflict over Helena causes jealous to overcome the two men and result to have a duel to see who loves Helena most. A fight also occurs between hermia and Helena due to the attraction that hermia’s love Lysander feels for Helena (act three scene 1-2)
Motifs and symbols
A rampant motif used in the play is that of contrast. The paly has a lot of differing characters who inhibit traits that vary from each other. While Helena is insecure and tall, hermia has high self-esteem and is short. Puck the jester is prone to make pranks and tricks for his and others amusement, bottom is unaware that he is the reason for humour due to his ignorant nature. He is the target of pranks created by puck. The fairies are graceful creatures while the actors are shown to be clumsy and merry; the four lovers are very serious in the way they interact with others. Titania is a beautiful queen while bottom is hideous since he has the head of an ass. Shakespeare has incorporated the use of contrast to most of the scene in all the five acts.
Symbols used in the play are such as the magical flower with the love juice. It becomes a symbol of erratic behaviour and confusion as a result of the careless nature it is handled with. It brings chaos to the lives of Helena, hermia, Lysander and Demetrius. It results them being unable to control their emotions and their actions (Buchanan, 2005: 76). Another symbol used is the play performed during the wedding ceremony for the king Theseus. It involved the use of play within play style. Various themes found in the play in act five are also in the play. The characters Thisbe and Pyramus are faced with disapproval from their parents just as Lysander and hermia from her father. The story is a recount of the situations that are facing the characters in a midnight summers dream. The king and queen in the play are used to show order in the play. This is in contrast from the dreamlike state where people are not in control of their mental capacities. In the real world there is order and rules with consequences for breaking the rules.
The play is set in a world of magic and dreams which are major themes in the play. At the end of the play, puck tells his audience to imagine it all as having been a dream. He could mean that this is a dream that the audience has imagined, in this case the audience is no better than Nick bottom or Demetrius. It could also mean that this is Shakespeare's dream that he made up and has acted this out. Perhaps this audience has not experienced the world for what it really is since they are enclosed in. Perhaps the play is meant to show what the world ought to be and that the things that happen in it we interpret as dreams.