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A response on a passage from a midsummer nights dream by william shakespeare

The unfolding of his powers is evident in the early comedies, but with each artistic advance there is an apparent loss or setback, so that all the achievements are somewhat flawed if not uncertain. Love's Labor 's reaches beyond the Plautine farcing of Errors but lacks satisfying dramatic form. Two Gentlemen adds psychological complexity and subtle irony to romantic characterization but loses itself in a meandering and ultimately self-parodying plot.

The Shrew is competent and malicious hackwork. When Shakespeare's apprenticeship in comedy ended is a matter of personal judgment.

  • Ever the gentlemen, they are ready to protect Helena from Hermia's fingernails by brute force if necessary;
  • Although they bemoan their fates, they intend to live happily ever after;
  • Yet the drastic illusion holds because believing is seeing, and because on stage one need not nibble a mushroom to shrink in stature; Hermia dwindles to a mere bead once Helena and Lysander begin to slang her;
  • Such people, one thinks, should not be allowed on stage, and yet the stage is their natural habitat because only in a Shakespearean comedy will one find a joiner like Snug, who wants the lion's part writ out because he is slow of study;
  • And are you grown so high in his esteem, Because I am so dwarfish and so low?

Some critics find the characterizations of A Dream sketchy, except of course for Bottom, and think its flights of lyric poetry are a bit self-indulgent. Others suggest that it is too rarified in sensibility to belong to the mainstream of his work and was probably written for a special audience.

Although the Quarto announces the play as one that "hath been sundry times publicly acted," they hypothesize that it was commissioned for performance at a great wedding.

Still, it has shortcomings as a hymeneal celebration. Any bridegroom would be pleased to identify himself with the noble Theseus and could therefore ignore Demetrius and Lysander's early wrangling and unseemly treatment of their future brides.

A bride would have to have more of a sense of humor, however, to see Hippolyta, the bouncing Amazon, or Hermia or Helena as her counterpart. Both bride and groom might stir uneasily at the bitter quarreling of Titania and Oberon, who plans a nasty revenge on his refractory spouse.

Introduction

Of the bride's father in the play, Egeus, the less said the better. An aristocratic wedding is an occasion for high-sounding conventionalities, for the idealized and flattering abstractions of a court pageant or masque. As a wedding play, A Dream is too quirky and perhaps even risky.

If some noble person took umbrage at what seemed to be a satiric mock, Shakespeare's company could have lost its fee. Even today a production of A Dream may prove to be a risky aristic venture. If a director is eager for laughs, Bottom and his colleagues become buffoons, and the comedy of love in the forest scenes descends to a slapstick farce performed by antic puppets. Indeed, it is more likely that A Dream will be vulgarized in performance than that it will prove too ethereal for popular audiences.

It is a mistake to stress the delicate imaginings of A Dream when its characterizations, plotting, and humor are robust, and its true charm can be appreciated a response on a passage from a midsummer nights dream by william shakespeare by those who have a taste for very bad poetry. Compared to the mysteries of Prospero's island, the magic of the forest of Athens is homely and mundane. Puck is part mischievous child, part practical joker; Peaseblossom and Mustard Seed are a common garden variety of fairies.

Rather than a play for the esoteric few, A Dream is the very kind of play that Bottom and his companions spent their pennies to see, and Shakespeare keeps reminding us through their earnest attempts to wrestle with problems of stagecraft that they are part of the drama-loving populace that supported the public theaters. Indeed, the comedy of their rehearsal scenes cries out for performance on the bare sunlit stage of a public playhouse, in which settings are evoked primarily by language and can be instantaneously altered, expanded, and shrunk through a magic at least as artful as Oberon's.

What sets A Dream apart from the earlier comedies is not so much its richly sensuous and evocative poetry, though that is new to the comedies, as its complex and perfectly assured dramatic structure. It is as if the problems of comedic form that defied solution in Love's Labor's and Two Gentlemen no longer seem to exist, or are, of a sudden, erased by an artistic inspiration that transcends logical calculations.

A lesser dramatist would have retreated from the romantic extravagance of Two Gentlemen to a simpler, more tightly constructed comic plotting.

Shakespeare takes the opposite tack, and by weaving together three separate but intersecting strands of action achieves an apparently effortless, harmonious design that can bear comparison with the splendid double plotting of 1 Henry IV. The earlier comedies expand the dimensions of Roman farce by mingling clowns and caricatures with romantic heroes and heroines. A Dream has the expansiveness of the later comedies that is created by the presence of multiple dramatic worlds; the interplay between the lovers, the fairies, and the rude mechanicals points toward the interplay between Venice and Belmont in The Merchant, Olivia's household and Orsino's in Twelfth Night.

By all the conventional rules of artistic decorum, the three worlds of A Dream cannot be part of the same dramatic universe. Theseus, mythic demigod and epic hero, should be battling minotaurs, not arbitrating a family dispute; the fleeing Athenian lovers should encounter Macedonian outlaws, Persian pirates, or Turks, not an English hobgoblin and the king of the fairies; and neither Theseus, nor the Athenian lovers should make the acquaintance of Bottom and his fellow artisans, who daydream of tragic art in their Cheapside shops and patronize the Theater, not the Theater of Dionysius.

Beaumont will burlesque bourgeois taste for romance and melodrama in The Knight of the Burning Pestle.

  • If Demetrius has slain Lysander for her love, she says, Being o'er shoes in blood, plunge in the deep, And kill me too;
  • Incredulous, Hermia asks what change is this in Lysander, her sweet love;
  • Indeed, the comedy of their rehearsal scenes cries out for performance on the bare sunlit stage of a public playhouse, in which settings are evoked primarily by language and can be instantaneously altered, expanded, and shrunk through a magic at least as artful as Oberon's;
  • It is as if the problems of comedic form that defied solution in Love's Labor's and Two Gentlemen no longer seem to exist, or are, of a sudden, erased by an artistic inspiration that transcends logical calculations;
  • O hated potion, hence!
  • Although they bemoan their fates, they intend to live happily ever after.

Shakespeare does not allow us to patronize any of the characters in A Dream even though much of the comic effect of the play depends upon the incongruity of the high-flown passions they self-consciously express, either in their own person or in the role of Pyramus, Thisbe, and Wall.

For nothing is exaggerated, nothing in the responses and behavior of the characters is made to seem ridiculous. If the comedy of A Dream depended on the transformation of personality by magical enchantment, Shakespeare, not Quince, would be the mechanical playwright. The chief source of delight is the refusal of those who are enchanted to change their customary way of behaving or even admit that they are enchanted despite the curious lengthening of Bottom's ears and the instantaneous reversals of Demetrius and Lysander's passions.

Although their circumstances radically change, they remain stubbornly the same, their feet firmly planted on the floor even when the floor becomes the ceiling. Lacking confidence in the high comedy of the forest scenes, directors sometimes play them as slapstick farce. This approach reduces the enchantment of Demetrius and Lysander to a tiresome gag of B-movies—the push-button hypnotic trance.

In such films the hero is at one moment his ordinary self; the next moment a telephone rings or a special word is spoken and the shy retiring bank clerk becomes an irresistible lothario; an incompetent athlete, a superstar.

  • Since Oberon cannot settle his own marital problems, it is not surprising that his intervention creates additional difficulties for the lovers;
  • Unlike Romeo and Juliet, they have no need of a tragic chorus, because they gloss their own story in a high rhetorical vein;
  • Because jealousy is foreign to her nature and she is absorbed in her own problems, she does not seem to notice the feline pleasure Hermia takes in describing Demetrius's infatuation with her;
  • The entire section is 15,720 words.

Oberon's magic may alter the object of the heroes' affections or change Bottom's physiognamy, but it does not alter their essential natures. Despite Oberon's ministrations and manipulations, these characters never become marionettes, and since they are always in their right minds, they have no difficulty in rationalizing the irrational.

Demetrius and Lysander are no more astonished by their changed desires than the lords of Navarre are dismayed to learn that they prefer love to monastic discipline. They know, as Orsino does, that men are not as steadfast in affection as women and that their quest for the ideal may require the jilting of one woman for another as they see more clearly into the neoplatonic mystery of love. If Proteus and Romeo can change loves, why cannot Demetrius abandon Helena for Hermia, and rediscover Helena, and think that all the time he is ascending the ladder of love?

More innocent than Proteus and Valentine in their attitude toward women and romantic rivalry, they are not ambivalent about love; they do not speak cynically of the susceptibility of women to flattery or greed. Their rivalry is open and declared, not cunningly concealed and Machiavellian. Indeed, they treat one another in a gentlemanly way even when they would settle their rivalry with swords.

  1. How low am I, thou painted maypole?
  2. Love looks not with the eyes but with the mind; And therefore is wing'd Cupid painted blind. The fault must be Helena's, the "thief of love" who came by night and stole Lysander's heart.
  3. Mischance, an ancient feud, and the passions of friends and foes all conspire against Romeo and Juliet.
  4. For nothing is exaggerated, nothing in the responses and behavior of the characters is made to seem ridiculous. To say that a few words suffice to indicate setting, time, or season of year on Shakespeare's stage is not to say that audiences imagine rosy-fingered dawns when characters describe them, any more than readers of poetry "see" its "visual imagery.
  5. What Theseus and Bottom say about reason and love is well said and eminently reasonable, as reasonable as Benvolio's attempt to restore Romeo's equanimity by proving to him that Rosaline is not the only fish in the sea.

They are ungentlemenly only to women, as Bertram will be in All's Well and Posthumus will be in Cymbeline. Behind the absurdity of the heroes' behavior in the forest is the ironic truth of male egotism in affairs of love and honor. If the emphasis falls on the irrationality of love in A Dream, it does not follow that Shakespeare is advancing the cause of sobriety or moderation. What Theseus and Bottom say about reason and love is well said and eminently reasonable, as reasonable as Benvolio's attempt to restore Romeo's equanimity by proving to him that Rosaline is not the only fish in the sea.

It is dangerous to make a god of love and folly to surrender to the melancholy of unrequited desire.

The absoluteness of romantic passion can be tyrannical and destructive. Mischance, an ancient feud, and the passions of friends and foes all conspire against Romeo and Juliet.

Ultimately, however, they are not victims of circumstance; they choose to die because they will not live without each other, because, as Donne would have it, they are "one another's all," and unless they may live in each other's arms they have no wish to breathe. What could be more senseless?

Experience assures us that the misery of unrequited love fades and that people love and marry again after the deaths of beloved spouses. Yet the mystique of romantic passion insists that in this vast world there is only one Isolde for a Tristan, only one Romeo for a Juliet.

Too sensible to credit such a view, Benvolio proves to Romeo that there are women in Verona more beautiful and desirable than Rosaline. He proves conclusively that Romeo's love melancholy can be cured, but his sensible remedy leads only to Juliet and a deeper emotional commitment that costs Romeo's life. If we are to set limits to the role of passion in our lives, we must also be willing to set limits to the role of common sense and reason because the ideal of love is absolute and unbending and defined as such in marriage vows that pledge eternal devotion.

It is easy to smile at the irrationality of romantic yearnings, but there is something irrational also in the loyalty of Shakespeare's heroines to those who betray them or prove unworthy. At some point we must refuse to reason the need for love, refuse to measure out the appropriate emotional responses of those in love, and refuse to moralize the deaths of Romeo and Juliet, who are the victims of other characters' vanities, follies, and timidities, not of their own passions.

Since Hermia and Helena are equally fair and alike in gentleness and a capacity to love, there is no reason why Demetrius should abandon Helena to pursue Hermia; but then Demetrius and Lysander are so alike, there is no reason why Hermia detests the former and risks all to elope with the latter, despite the sharp penalty threatened by Athenian law.

Still Shakespeare does not present the turmoil of the lovers as much ado about nothing, and he does not make their choices seem arbitrary or capricious. For if romantic love is blind, it is less blind and irrational than the obstinate insistence of an Egeus or a Capulet on choosing his daughter's husband despite her anguished objections.

If anything, Egeus's choice of Demetrius is more irrational than Hermia's choice of Lysander because Demetrius has sullied his reputation by jilting Helena. The tyranny of Cupid is nothing compared to the tyranny of the ancient custom that allows a father to dispose of a daughter as chattel and thereby turn wedding vows into legalistic shams.

Since Hermia and Lysander thrill to the idea that they are star-crossed, we suspect that they will not suffer the tragic fates of the legendary lovers to whom they compare themselves. Like Bottom and Quince they have read tales like "Pyramus and Thisbe" and perhaps read Dido, Queen of Carthage in translationand they agree with the artisans that a bit of tragic calamity is the best beginning for a happy marriage.

Although they bemoan their fates, they intend to live happily ever after. Unlike Romeo and Juliet, they have no need of a tragic chorus, because they gloss their own story in a high rhetorical vein: Too high to be enthrall'd to [low].

Or else misgraffed in respect of years— Her. Or else it stood upon the choice of friends— Her. O hell, to choose love by another's eyes!

So quick bright things come to confusion. When Lysander asks her to join him in fleeing the severe law of Athens, she pledges 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, And by that fire which burn'd the Carthage queen, In that same place thou hast appointed me To-morrow truly will I meet with thee.

Bottom and Quince are even more literal-minded in their approach to the staging of tragic passion, but their yearning for romantic angst is as genuine as Hermia's, as genuine as the yearning of ordinary Elizabethans for tales of exotic adventure and plays filled with sound and fury. Quince was not born to write poetic tragedy any more than Bottom was born to act in it.

  1. She is vulnerable like Ophelia, her cheeks are wan and tear-stained, and she sings a plaintive willow song. She talks to herself about her situation the way tennis players talk to themselves when their game has slipped and they must regain concentration.
  2. Love's Labor 's reaches beyond the Plautine farcing of Errors but lacks satisfying dramatic form.
  3. So quick bright things come to confusion. In such films the hero is at one moment his ordinary self; the next moment a telephone rings or a special word is spoken and the shy retiring bank clerk becomes an irresistible lothario; an incompetent athlete, a superstar.
  4. What sets A Dream apart from the earlier comedies is not so much its richly sensuous and evocative poetry, though that is new to the comedies, as its complex and perfectly assured dramatic structure. If Quince says that a stage is a forest and a greensward a stage, who will argue with him?
  5. Because Bottom and his companions are unimaginative, it does not occur to them to bring in moonlight the way Shakespeare does, through poetic allusion.

They are not Marlowes or Burbages any more than Hermia and Lysander are Isolde and Tristan, and their longing for the heroic is therefore the source of a new kind of verbal comedy that is neither witty like the wordplay of Berowne and Rosaline, nor pedantic like the wordplay of Holofernes and Nathaniel. Bottom and Quince do not stumble over words because they are ignorant or out to impress their comrades.

They misuse terms and figures of speech because they are out of their depths as dramatists and dramaturges. They are earnest rather than pompous in dealing with the mysteries of aesthetic terminology, and they approach the task of presenting high tragedy with the solemnity that Hermia and Lysander bring to the adventure of elopement.

In romance a jilted maiden is wreathed in a delicate, wistful pathos.

A Midsummer Night's Dream (Vol. 29) - Essay

She is vulnerable like Ophelia, her cheeks are wan and tear-stained, and she sings a plaintive willow song. Mariana of Measure for Measure is the only heroine of the comedies to conform to this romantic archetype. She is too stubborn to accept rejection and has too strong a sense of herself to wilt before Demetrius's scorn. Refusing to abandon hope of regaining his love, she dedicates all thought and action to that goal.

Although she dwells continually on her unhappy state, she is not self-pitying and she does not want to be pitied by others. She talks to herself about her situation the way tennis players talk to themselves when their game has slipped and they must regain concentration.

She is not certain why she is losing but she knows she must not concede defeat, and she studies Hermia's success to see if she can pick up some useful hints. She is determined to understand what has happened, what cause in herself or Demetrius has made her the underdog. Ready to chase after Demetrius, she is too proud to beg for love and is inclined rather to accuse and scold him.

It is as if she long ago accepted the fact that Hermia was a bit more attractive and would always be the first one asked to dance. She does not wish that Hermia were less beautiful; she would simply like to be more fair. Because jealousy is foreign to her nature and she is absorbed in her own problems, she does not seem to notice the feline pleasure Hermia takes in describing Demetrius's infatuation with her: