Archive for the A Midsummer Night’s Dream Category

Shakespeare’s Use of Language in A Midsummer Night’s Dream

Posted in A Midsummer Night's Dream, Shakespeare's Language with tags , , , , on April 27, 2009 by Saera

Bombast is boastful or ranting language.  In Midsummer Night’s Dream, bombast is used most often by bottom as a humorous indication of his arrogant stupidity and ignorance. He says in scene 1.2., that he will play the lion’s part and roar so convincingly that the Duke will tell him to roar “again and again.” He also uses it when he is with the fairy queen Titania by constantly boasting of his qualities. He seems to always be uttering some absurdly over-exaggerated statement! This is why his character is so funny! By using bombast so often with in the character of Bottom, Shakespeare sets the almost exaggerated tone of the whole play. Things happen so quickly, so strangely, and so unexpectedly in the play, that it seems to parallel the strange, humorous, bombastic speeches of Bottom.

Also adding much comedy to the play is the use of malapropism, which is the misuse of words. The “rude mechanicals” are the main characters who use this. One example of this element of language is the way Quince uses the wrong order of words in the sentences he speaks when introducing their play to the Duke in the final scene. By putting periods in the middle of sentences and mixing up the whole passage, using words in wrong order, thereby changing their meaning, he makes a humorous blunder of wording. There are many other instances in which both he, Bottom, and the other mechanicals use the wrong words, like when Bottom says “defect” when the correct word is “effect.”

All these misuses of words cause the mechanicals to seem significantly more ignorant than the other charcters. This is another way humor is conveyed in the play: we laugh at the absurdity of a powerful fairy queen falling in love with a stupidly ignorant, ass-headed mechanical, ignoring his misuse of language.

Ironyis the contrast of one thing in relation to another. It can be both verbal or dramatic. Verbal irony is where something is said while the speaker intends another meaning besides the obvious. Examples of this may be seen in scene 5.1 where Theseus and company frequently make fun of the mechanicals’ performance. They state the obvious, while often meaning something deeper that the mechanicals often miss.

Dramatic irony is when one scene, event, or line contrasts sharply with another. In A Midsummer Night’s Dream, there is a lot of this. The instant change in Demetrius’ attitude towards Helena is ironic – he says he cannot possibly love her, then becomes madly in love with her. Lysander likewise says he could never cease to love Hermia, then falls madly for Helena. In this example, irony is both humorous and tragic. Humorous because for Helena, the sudden change of events is good. Tragic because they are not so great for Hermia. There is also the irony of the audience knowing what is happening throughout, while the characters do not know about the fairies (Puck). When Puck mistakes Lysander for Demetrius, we know who is who, but he doesn’t. And of course, he does not realize his mistake. This is ironic because our knowledge contrasts with his ignorance (along with most of the other characters in the play) to give his actions special meaning to the audience.

Again, this use of irony is what makes A Midsummer Night’s Dreamboth comic and tragic. It is highly comical when confusion reigns, yet it is also sobering and tragic to realize the extreme chaos and randomness everything experiences in the play. When Lysander falls for Helena because of Puck’s mistake, Hermia is heartbroken and we are faced with the reality of this sudden change of fortune for the two women. Irony then gives deeper meaning to the words and events in this play. It serves to both lighten and make heavier the entire mood  of the play.

Tragic Comedy or Comic Tragedy?

Posted in A Midsummer Night's Dream with tags , , , , on March 12, 2009 by Saera

productions_amsnd_bigDuring my Shakespeare for Teachers course last semester, my instructor mentioned that Romeo and Juliet and Midsummer Night’s Dreamare similar in some ways and that Shakespeare had actually been working on both plays around the same time. I never would have thought these two plays were anything alike – wasn’t the one about love gone terribly wrong, while the other was about love gone wonderfully right? One was sad, the other was happy. how could they be alike?

After my instructor proceeded to explain some key shared elements of the two works, I began to realize that they were similar. but not until I recently was mulling the problem over in my mind, did I realize how alike they actually are.

A Midsummer Night’s Dream, as we know it, is a comedy, but what would it be without its  sudden “flip” ending that restores order and happiness to the characters? It would be a tragedy, would it not? Lovers jilted, Hermia or Lysander potentially killed, Helena doomed to rejection, and either Demetrius or Lysander denied Hermia’s love – this sounds more like a tragedy. Simultaneously, without its sudden “flip” ending, Romeo and Juliet would be a comedy. Lovers who reconciled their families and overcame all odds to be happily married is the stuff of comedies.  Without its tragic ending, Romeo and Juliet is very similar to a comedy in that it has humor (often crude), romance, and conflict. And Midsummer Night’s Dreamis very similar to a tragedy in that it has seemingly irreconcilable conflicts and a good deal of pain, sorrow, and mental torment among its characters.

Both plays have romantic love as their central theme, and not only romantic love, but impossible romantic love. Romeo and Juliet are from feuding families; Hermia and Lysander love each other, but Demetrius and Hermia’s father oppose the match, and Helena loves Demetrius, but he does not at all return her love. Both plays main characters have parents who try to prevent them from loving whom they wish to love.  Then there is the realm of control that becomes a prominent factor in both plays. Powers outside of the humans’ control combine to produce either joyful or tragic endings to these plays. In Midsummer Night’s Dream, there is the fairy world mainly consisting of Oberon, Puck,  and Titania. If it were not for the fairies, the lovers never would have been happily restored to their right minds, and events would not have worked out for their love to succeed. In spite of the humans’ actions, they cannot right their plights by themselves, neither can they change what the fairies did.

And while the controlling powers in Romeo and Julietare definitely not fairies, they are certainly not human.  Fate seems to be the overarching destiny in this play. No matter what the (human) characters do, they cannot change their fate. The terrible ending of this play is like a fluke –  a product of fate over which the humans had no control. They tried to take action to better their circumstances (both Romeo and Juliet, the priest, and Romeo’s comrade) but all their plans went unexpectedly awry and failed completely.  Just like the unexpected happy ending in Midsummer Night’s Dream was almost a fluke (that is, it was entirely independent of the characters’ actions and the logical probability of the way events would conclude), the tragedy in Romeo and Juliet was unexpected.

There are other ways these plays are similar as well.  Plot lines seem somewhat the same. The young lovers attempted to go behind their parents’ backs and marry (Romeo and Juliet actually did marry, while Hermia and Lysander merely attempted eloping) in both.  Secrecy and dependence on friendships and loyalties are present in both plays. And thematically, the subject of love is very prominent in both, they probe and explore the various ways that love manifests itself, what love does to people, what love really is, and how love is shown.

One other similarity between Midsummer Night’s Dream and Romeo and Juliet is that in both plays, there are strong central female characters. Juliet is arguably a stronger character than Romeo is, and more constant, while Hermia and Helena (not to mention Titania) are both stronger and more constant in their love than their male counterparts are.

Charming Characters

Posted in A Midsummer Night's Dream with tags , , on February 24, 2009 by Saera



A Midsummer Night’s Dream is the first Shakespeare play that I ever read. And because of the play’s charming characters (pun intended), it was not the last!  Fairies, enchantments, the complicated plot, and Puck’s sarcastic, rabble-rousing nature completely disarmed me. I thought Shakespeare dramas were supposed to be  nobly tragic and righteously boring, especially concerning the “Old English” language that I assumed he wrote in.

“What fools these mortals be!”      

Just when I had resigned myself to the unlucky fate of reading Shakespeare, the insufferable, I was quickly shown that Mr. William Shakespeare was not at all what he had at first appeared to be. I quickly realized that this play was going to be fun.

As the plot thickened, I delighted in the comic mistakes, the hilarious confusion, and the prominent Puck. Who else is there like Puck?

You cannot help but love him, even though he scares and annoys you at times. Second in power only to Oberon, he is loyal to something only if it proves potentially catastrophic. Maybe that is why I so enjoy him; he always adds to the general craziness of life. He possesses a certain benevolence although his specialty is wrecking havoc on the earth (the small sphere of which he is able to girdle ’round in 40 minutes). He actually restores order to the world of the woods by completely ruining that order. And his wit! Of all the characters in MND, he commands the most respect and perhaps the most goodwill, precisely because he doesn’t need it.

Then, of course there are the bumbling “rude mechanicals,” also some of the chief sources of humor in the play. Their mispronunciation, complete loss of touch with reality, and lack of self-awareness make them highly entertaining, to say the least!

The first time I read MND, I was able to laugh at their unbelievable inability to act. But it wasn’t until the third time that I read the play (and had developed a better familiarity with the story they were trying to renact) that I really understood the complete mess they made out of their misquotes and their mutilation of the story of Thisbe and Pyramus.

Then, of course, there is Titania: strong, beautiful, and brilliantly stubborn. She made the play seem like an elaborate fairy tale. Enchanted woods, fairy servants, elves, hobgoblins, all seem to be held together by her somehow.  For some reason, she vividly stuck out in my mind as I read the play for the first time. Although it seems like Oberon and Puck control her, I suspect that it is really she who controls them by going along with their fun and games. Come on! She’s the Fairy Queen – can she really not be familiar with the “love potion” or ways to combat its spell?

Finally, there are the human lovers – poor, unfortunate souls! They are quite amusing also, but only once the fairies have intervened in affairs a bit. I think my favorite human aristocrat would have to be Helena. She is the only one to remain fairly constant in love. Lysander makes a good show of constancy, but what can stand in the way of fairy spells? After all, Demetrius too claims constant love, but is shown to have little constancy when the magic reaches him.  Hermia too remains constant, and she is lovable, but she has never been as sympathetic to me as Helena is.

There are so many more things I could say about the characters – I would love to go more in-depth and look at their motives, actions, or qualities, but I am alas, like Helena wishing that sleep would “Steal me a while from mine own company.”

Rather like the play did.  It stole me from mine own company long enough to recognize the brilliance of another’s and to desire to return once more to Will’s world, where there are always wordy enchantments and where a dream seems more like reality than reality does!