Archive for malapropism

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.

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