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A MIDSUMMER NIGHTS DREAM

William Shakespeare

Context

The most influential writer in all of English literature, William Shakespeare was born in 1564 to a successful
middle-class glove-maker in Stratford-upon-Avon, England. Shakespeare attended grammar school, but his
formal education proceeded no further. In 1582 he married an older woman, Anne Hathaway, and had three
children with her. Around 1590 he left his family behind and traveled to London to work as an actor and
playwright. Public and critical success quickly followed, and Shakespeare eventually became the most popular
playwright in England and part-owner of the Globe Theater. His career bridged the reigns of Elizabeth I (ruled
15581603) and James I (ruled 16031625), and he was a favorite of both monarchs. Indeed, James granted
Shakespeares company the greatest possible compliment by bestowing upon its members the title of Kings
Men. Wealthy and renowned, Shakespeare retired to Stratford and died in 1616 at the age of fifty-two. At the
time of Shakespeares death, literary luminaries such as Ben Jonson hailed his works as timeless.

Shakespeares works were collected and printed in various editions in the century following his death, and by
the early eighteenth century his reputation as the greatest poet ever to write in English was well established. The
unprecedented admiration garnered by his works led to a fierce curiosity about Shakespeares life, but the dearth
of biographical information has left many details of Shakespeares personal history shrouded in mystery. Some
people have concluded from this fact that Shakespeares plays were really written by someone elseFrancis
Bacon and the Earl of Oxford are the two most popular candidatesbut the support for this claim is
overwhelmingly circumstantial, and the theory is not taken seriously by many scholars.

In the absence of credible evidence to the contrary, Shakespeare must be viewed as the author of the thirty-seven
plays and 154 sonnets that bear his name. The legacy of this body of work is immense. A number of
Shakespeares plays seem to have transcended even the category of brilliance, becoming so influential as to
profoundly affect the course of Western literature and culture ever after.

Written in the mid-1590s, probably shortly before Shakespeare turned to Romeo and Juliet, A Midsummer
Nights Dream is one of his strangest and most delightful creations, and it marks a departure from his earlier
works and from others of the English Renaissance. The play demonstrates both the extent of Shakespeares
learning and the expansiveness of his imagination. The range of references in the play is among its most
extraordinary attributes: Shakespeare draws on sources as various as Greek mythology (Theseus, for instance, is
loosely based on the Greek hero of the same name, and the play is peppered with references to Greek gods and
goddesses); English country fairy lore (the character of Puck, or Robin Goodfellow, was a popular figure in
sixteenth-century stories); and the theatrical practices of Shakespeares London (the craftsmens play refers to
and parodies many conventions of English Renaissance theater, such as men playing the roles of women).
Further, many of the characters are drawn from diverse texts: Titania comes from Ovids Metamorphoses, and
Oberon may have been taken from the medieval romance Huan of Bordeaux, translated by Lord Berners in the
mid-1530s. Unlike the plots of many of Shakespeares plays, however, the story in A Midsummer Nights
Dream seems not to have been drawn from any particular source but rather to be the original product of the
playwrights imagination.

Plot Overview

Theseus, duke of Athens, is preparing for his marriage to Hippolyta, queen of the Amazons, with a four-day
festival of pomp and entertainment. He commissions his Master of the Revels, Philostrate, to find suitable
amusements for the occasion. Egeus, an Athenian nobleman, marches into Theseuss court with his daughter,
Hermia, and two young men, Demetrius and Lysander. Egeus wishes Hermia to marry Demetrius (who loves
Hermia), but Hermia is in love with Lysander and refuses to comply. Egeus asks for the full penalty of law to
fall on Hermias head if she flouts her fathers will. Theseus gives Hermia until his wedding to consider her
options, warning her that disobeying her fathers wishes could result in her being sent to a convent or even
executed. Nonetheless, Hermia and Lysander plan to escape Athens the following night and marry in the house
of Lysanders aunt, some seven leagues distant from the city. They make their intentions known to Hermias
friend Helena, who was once engaged to Demetrius and still loves him even though he jilted her after meeting
Hermia. Hoping to regain his love, Helena tells Demetrius of the elopement that Hermia and Lysander have
planned. At the appointed time, Demetrius stalks into the woods after his intended bride and her lover; Helena
follows behind him.

In these same woods are two very different groups of characters. The first is a band of fairies, including Oberon,
the fairy king, and Titania, his queen, who has recently returned from India to bless the marriage of Theseus and
Hippolyta. The second is a band of Athenian craftsmen rehearsing a play that they hope to perform for the duke
and his bride. Oberon and Titania are at odds over a young Indian prince given to Titania by the princes mother;
the boy is so beautiful that Oberon wishes to make him a knight, but Titania refuses. Seeking revenge, Oberon
sends his merry servant, Puck, to acquire a magical flower, the juice of which can be spread over a sleeping
persons eyelids to make that person fall in love with the first thing he or she sees upon waking. Puck obtains the
flower, and Oberon tells him of his plan to spread its juice on the sleeping Titanias eyelids. Having seen
Demetrius act cruelly toward Helena, he orders Puck to spread some of the juice on the eyelids of the young
Athenian man. Puck encounters Lysander and Hermia; thinking that Lysander is the Athenian of whom Oberon
spoke, Puck afflicts him with the love potion. Lysander happens to see Helena upon awaking and falls deeply in
love with her, abandoning Hermia. As the night progresses and Puck attempts to undo his mistake, both
Lysander and Demetrius end up in love with Helena, who believes that they are mocking her. Hermia becomes
so jealous that she tries to challenge Helena to a fight. Demetrius and Lysander nearly do fight over Helenas
love, but Puck confuses them by mimicking their voices, leading them apart until they are lost separately in the
forest.

When Titania wakes, the first creature she sees is Bottom, the most ridiculous of the Athenian craftsmen, whose
head Puck has mockingly transformed into that of an ass. Titania passes a ludicrous interlude doting on the ass-
headed weaver. Eventually, Oberon obtains the Indian boy, Puck spreads the love potion on Lysanders eyelids,
and by morning all is well. Theseus and Hippolyta discover the sleeping lovers in the forest and take them back
to Athens to be marriedDemetrius now loves Helena, and Lysander now loves Hermia. After the group
wedding, the lovers watch Bottom and his fellow craftsmen perform their play, a fumbling, hilarious version of
the story of Pyramus and Thisbe. When the play is completed, the lovers go to bed; the fairies briefly emerge to
bless the sleeping couples with a protective charm and then disappear. Only Puck remains, to ask the audience
for its forgiveness and approval and to urge it to remember the play as though it had all been a dream.

Analysis of Major Characters

Puck

Though there is little character development in A Midsummer Nights Dream and no true protagonist, critics
generally point to Puck as the most important character in the play. The mischievous, quick-witted sprite sets
many of the plays events in motion with his magic, by means of both deliberate pranks on the human characters
(transforming Bottoms head into that of an ass) and unfortunate mistakes (smearing the love potion on
Lysanders eyelids instead of Demetriuss).

More important, Pucks capricious spirit, magical fancy, fun-loving humor, and lovely, evocative language
permeate the atmosphere of the play. Wild contrasts, such as the implicit comparison between the rough, earthy
craftsmen and the delicate, graceful fairies, dominate A Midsummer Nights Dream. Puck seems to illustrate
many of these contrasts within his own character: he is graceful but not so saccharine as the other fairies; as
Oberons jester, he is given to a certain coarseness, which leads him to transform Bottoms head into that of an
ass merely for the sake of enjoyment. He is good-hearted but capable of cruel tricks. Finally, whereas most of
the fairies are beautiful and ethereal, Puck is often portrayed as somewhat bizarre looking. Indeed, another fairy
mentions that some call Puck a hobgoblin, a term whose connotations are decidedly less glamorous than those
of fairy (II.i.40).

Nick Bottom

Whereas Pucks humor is often mischievous and subtle, the comedy surrounding the overconfident weaver Nick
Bottom is hilariously overt. The central figure in the subplot involving the craftsmens production of the
Pyramus and Thisbe story, Bottom dominates his fellow actors with an extraordinary belief in his own abilities
(he thinks he is perfect for every part in the play) and his comical incompetence (he is a terrible actor and
frequently makes rhetorical and grammatical mistakes in his speech). The humor surrounding Bottom often
stems from the fact that he is totally unaware of his own ridiculousness; his speeches are overdramatic and self-
aggrandizing, and he seems to believe that everyone takes him as seriously as he does himself. This foolish self-
importance reaches its pinnacle after Puck transforms Bottoms head into that of an ass. When Titania, whose
eyes have been anointed with a love potion, falls in love with the now ass-headed Bottom, he believes that the
devotion of the beautiful, magical fairy queen is nothing out of the ordinary and that all of the trappings of her
affection, including having servants attend him, are his proper due. His unawareness of the fact that his head has
been transformed into that of an ass parallels his inability to perceive the absurdity of the idea that Titania could
fall in love with him.

Helena

Although Puck and Bottom stand out as the most personable characters in A Midsummer Nights Dream, they
themselves are not involved in the main dramatic events. Of the other characters, Helena, the lovesick young
woman desperately in love with Demetrius, is perhaps the most fully drawn. Among the quartet of Athenian
lovers, Helena is the one who thinks most about the nature of lovewhich makes sense, given that at the
beginning of the play she is left out of the love triangle involving Lysander, Hermia, and Demetrius. She says,
Love looks not with the eyes, but with the mind, believing that Demetrius has built up a fantastic notion of
Hermias beauty that prevents him from recognizing Helenas own beauty (I.i.234). Utterly faithful to Demetrius
despite her recognition of his shortcomings, Helena sets out to win his love by telling him about the plan of
Lysander and Hermia to elope into the forest. Once Helena enters the forest, many of her traits are drawn out by
the confusion that the love potion engenders: compared to the other lovers, she is extremely unsure of herself,
worrying about her appearance and believing that Lysander is mocking her when he declares his love for her.

Themes, Symbols, & Motifs

Themes

Themes are the fundamental and often universal ideas explored in a literary work.

Loves Difficulty

The course of true love never did run smooth, comments Lysander, articulating one of A Midsummer Nights
Dreams most important themesthat of the difficulty of love (I.i.134). Though most of the conflict in the play
stems from the troubles of romance, and though the play involves a number of romantic elements, it is not truly
a love story; it distances the audience from the emotions of the characters in order to poke fun at the torments
and afflictions that those in love suffer. The tone of the play is so lighthearted that the audience never doubts that
things will end happily, and it is therefore free to enjoy the comedy without being caught up in the tension of an
uncertain outcome.

The theme of loves difficulty is often explored through the motif of love out of balancethat is, romantic
situations in which a disparity or inequality interferes with the harmony of a relationship. The prime instance of
this imbalance is the asymmetrical love among the four young Athenians: Hermia loves Lysander, Lysander
loves Hermia, Helena loves Demetrius, and Demetrius loves Hermia instead of Helenaa simple numeric
imbalance in which two men love the same woman, leaving one woman with too many suitors and one with too
few. The play has strong potential for a traditional outcome, and the plot is in many ways based on a quest for
internal balance; that is, when the lovers tangle resolves itself into symmetrical pairings, the traditional happy
ending will have been achieved. Somewhat similarly, in the relationship between Titania and Oberon, an
imbalance arises out of the fact that Oberons coveting of Titanias Indian boy outweighs his love for her. Later,
Titanias passion for the ass-headed Bottom represents an imbalance of appearance and nature: Titania is
beautiful and graceful, while Bottom is clumsy and grotesque.

Magic

The fairies magic, which brings about many of the most bizarre and hilarious situations in the play, is another
element central to the fantastic atmosphere of A Midsummer Nights Dream. Shakespeare uses magic both to
embody the almost supernatural power of love (symbolized by the love potion) and to create a surreal world.
Although the misuse of magic causes chaos, as when Puck mistakenly applies the love potion to Lysanders
eyelids, magic ultimately resolves the plays tensions by restoring love to balance among the quartet of Athenian
youths. Additionally, the ease with which Puck uses magic to his own ends, as when he reshapes Bottoms head
into that of an ass and recreates the voices of Lysander and Demetrius, stands in contrast to the laboriousness
and gracelessness of the craftsmens attempt to stage their play.

Dreams

As the title suggests, dreams are an important theme in A Midsummer Nights Dream; they are linked to the
bizarre, magical mishaps in the forest. Hippolytas first words in the play evidence the prevalence of dreams
(Four days will quickly steep themselves in night, / Four nights will quickly dream away the time), and
various characters mention dreams throughout (I.i.78). The theme of dreaming recurs predominantly when
characters attempt to explain bizarre events in which these characters are involved: I have had a dream, past the
wit of man to say what / dream it was. Man is but an ass if he go about texpound this dream, Bottom says,
unable to fathom the magical happenings that have affected him as anything but the result of slumber.

Shakespeare is also interested in the actual workings of dreams, in how events occur without explanation, time
loses its normal sense of flow, and the impossible occurs as a matter of course; he seeks to recreate this
environment in the play through the intervention of the fairies in the magical forest. At the end of the play, Puck
extends the idea of dreams to the audience members themselves, saying that, if they have been offended by the
play, they should remember it as nothing more than a dream. This sense of illusion and gauzy fragility is crucial
to the atmosphere of A Midsummer Nights Dream, as it helps render the play a fantastical experience rather than
a heavy drama.

Motifs

Motifs are recurring structures, contrasts, and literary devices that can help to develop and inform the texts
major themes.

Contrast

The idea of contrast is the basic building block of A Midsummer Nights Dream. The entire play is constructed
around groups of opposites and doubles. Nearly every characteristic presented in the play has an opposite:
Helena is tall, Hermia is short; Puck plays pranks, Bottom is the victim of pranks; Titania is beautiful, Bottom is
grotesque. Further, the three main groups of characters (who are developed from sources as varied as Greek
mythology, English folklore, and classical literature) are designed to contrast powerfully with one another: the
fairies are graceful and magical, while the craftsmen are clumsy and earthy; the craftsmen are merry, while the
lovers are overly serious. Contrast serves as the defining visual characteristic of A Midsummer Nights
Dream, with the plays most indelible image being that of the beautiful, delicate Titania weaving flowers into
the hair of the ass-headed Bottom. It seems impossible to imagine two figures less compatible with each other.
The juxtaposition of extraordinary differences is the most important characteristic of the plays surreal
atmosphere and is thus perhaps the plays central motif; there is no scene in which extraordinary contrast is not
present.

Symbols

Symbols are objects, characters, figures, and colors used to represent abstract ideas or concepts.

Theseus and Hippolyta

Theseus and Hippolyta bookend A Midsummer Nights Dream,appearing in the daylight at both the beginning
and the end of the plays main action. They disappear, however, for the duration of the action, leaving in the
middle of Act I, scene i and not reappearing until Act IV, as the sun is coming up to end the magical night in the
forest. Shakespeare uses Theseus and Hippolyta, the ruler of Athens and his warrior bride, to represent order and
stability, to contrast with the uncertainty, instability, and darkness of most of the play. Whereas an important
element of the dream realm is that one is not in control of ones environment, Theseus and Hippolyta are always
entirely in control of theirs. Their reappearance in the daylight of Act IV to hear Theseuss hounds signifies the
end of the dream state of the previous night and a return to rationality.
The Love Potion

The love potion is made from the juice of a flower that was struck with one of Cupids misfired arrows; it is
used by the fairies to wreak romantic havoc throughout Acts II, III, and IV. Because the meddling fairies are
careless with the love potion, the situation of the young Athenian lovers becomes increasingly chaotic and
confusing (Demetrius and Lysander are magically compelled to transfer their love from Hermia to Helena), and
Titania is hilariously humiliated (she is magically compelled to fall deeply in love with the ass-headed Bottom).
The love potion thus becomes a symbol of the unreasoning, fickle, erratic, and undeniably powerful nature of
love, which can lead to inexplicable and bizarre behavior and cannot be resisted.

The Craftsmens Play

The play-within-a-play that takes up most of Act V, scene i is used to represent, in condensed form, many of the
important ideas and themes of the main plot. Because the craftsmen are such bumbling actors, their performance
satirizes the melodramatic Athenian lovers and gives the play a purely joyful, comedic ending. Pyramus and
Thisbe face parental disapproval in the play-within-a-play, just as Hermia and Lysander do; the theme of
romantic confusion enhanced by the darkness of night is rehashed, as Pyramus mistakenly believes that Thisbe
has been killed by the lion, just as the Athenian lovers experience intense misery because of the mix-ups caused
by the fairies meddling. The craftsmens play is, therefore, a kind of symbol for A Midsummer Nights
Dream itself: a story involving powerful emotions that is made hilarious by its comical.

PLOT ANALYSIS

Most good stories start with a fundamental list of ingredients: the initial situation, conflict, complication, climax,
suspense, denouement, and conclusion. Great writers sometimes shake up the recipe and add some spice.

Initial Situation

Hermia loves Lysander, Lysander loves Hermia, Demetrius loves Hermia, Helena loves Demetrius, and no one
loves Helena. Oh, and Egeus wants his daughter killed if she doesn't follow his plan of marrying Demetrius.

About twenty lines into the play, we hear Egeus's complaint against his daughter Hermia, and we know the
initial situation is a conflict itself. The play will definitely be about resolving this pickle.

Conflict

Titania and Oberon quarrel. Lysander and Hermia run off together and get lost in the woods, and Demetrius and
Helena follow them.

Further conflict arises in yet another set of main characters: Oberon and Titania. The fairies' fight (over a
relatively small thing) has very serious consequences on the entire natural world. In contrast, the young lovers
are worried about a serious thing (love), but the way they deal with it only matters to themselves and their
families. The scene is set for our Athenian heroes to get involved in this other conflict. As Titania and Oberon
announce that the natural world is all mixed up, the four lovers go wandering into that very natural world, with
predictably zany results. We're all set for the young Athenians' problems to become even more
complicated, reflecting the conflict that brews in the wood around them.

Complication

Puck puts love potion on Lysander's eyes by accident, causing him to fall in love with Helena and forsake
Hermia. Oberon enchants Demetrius and he too falls in love with Helena. Puck has turned Bottom's head into
that of a donkey.

Puck's mistaken enchantment of Lysander further complicates an already difficult situation. True love has
betrayed itself (Lysander leaves Hermia) and, with the addition of Demetrius's enchantment, false love appears
to be true (Demetrius claims to love Helena). Now the pendulum has swung from loving Hermia to loving
Helena. Elsewhere in the forest, Puck has interfered with the Mechanicals' rehearsal by transforming their main
character into a beast and sending the others off screaming into the woods.
Climax

Lysander and Demetrius fight; Hermia and Helena fight.

This is an ugly resolution to the whole love-juice situation. Demetrius and Lysander would've fought over
Hermia anyway, but now they fight over Helena, which inspires Hermia to try to fight Helena. During this row
in the woods, some pretty harsh words are thrown around, and ugly things get brought up from the past (like
how Helena thought Hermia was a vixen when they were younger). It's especially hard to hear the girls say
things like this when you know they aren't under any kind of spell (only the guys are). Titania's love for Bottom
is climactic insofar as it lets us know there will be a turning point. Eventually, Oberon will have Titania released
from the spell (once he gets the Indian child) and likely he'll have everything fixed with the lovers by then, too.
Until then, we can enjoy the madness at the peak of the play.

Suspense

Puck leads Demetrius and Lysander in opposite directions; Hermia and Helena's fight seems irreparable.

This part of the play would be a bit worrisome if we didn't know already that comedies end nicely. Demetrius
and Lysander haven't resolved their quarrel and, even as they fall asleep, they're vowing to kill each other. Even
more frightening is the emotional quarrel that's occurred between two formerly dear friends, Hermia and
Helena. Helena runs away from a fuming Hermia, and the Jerry Springer-esquethings they said to each
other leave open the distinct possibility that, no matter what, their friendship might never recover.

Denouement

Oberon releases Titania from the spell. Puck gives Lysander the remedy juice. Demetrius declares that he's in
love with Helena. Theseus announces that the couples will be married. And Bottom awakens with his own head
back.

Oberon has gotten the Indian child that he wanted from Titania, so he no longer has any beef with his wife.
When she wakes up from her enchantment, the couple goes back to normal, which restores harmony to the
natural world. Puck solves the problem of Lysander loving Helena by putting the potion's remedy on Lysander's
eyes. He solves the problem of Demetrius not loving Helena by leaving the pansy-juice on Demetrius's eyes.
Thus, when everyone wakes up, the couples have neatly paired off. Finally, the transformation and return of a
normal-headed Bottom to Athens solves the Mechanicals' worry that they couldn't put on the play.

Conclusion

The three couples are married in Athens. Pyramus and Thisbe is performed. Oberon, Titania, and Puck bless the
house and the couples.

All the Mechanicals' hard work finally pays offthey get to perform a play that touches on the severity of
what could have happened to two doomed lovers (Pyramus and Thisbe here serve as a tragic reflection of the
happier Lysander and Hermia). While the humans leave the play in party hats, the fairies come out and close the
play, saying matters in the world are really more serious than all this might suggest. Puck reminds us that
everyone will die, which is a nice conclusion. Oberon and Titania offer the real conclusion by promising that the
characters are all busy (even while they speak) making babies, which is a good way to preserve yourself from
death. Also, Oberon promises the couples will be happy and in love for the rest of their lives.

SETTING

Where It All Goes Down

Athens in Antiquity; A Wood Outside of Athens; Midsummer


The play begins in (ancient) Athens, where Duke Theseus and Hippolyta are preparing for an elaborate wedding.
Despite the upcoming nuptials and festivities that surround a nobleman's marriage, Athens is also a place for law
and order. Here, a father can demand the death penalty for a disobedient daughter who refuses to marry the man
of his choosing (1.1).
It's no wonder, then, that the young Athenian lovers hightail it into the enchanted wood, where fairies reign over
a gorgeous and lush natural world of magic, wonder, and mischief. The wood is the perfect space for the
suspension of man-made rules: Bottom, a lowly workman, can cavort with the Queen of the Fairies; the
Athenian lovers can fight and love as lovers do; and, most importantly, fairy magic (not the rule of law) can
reign supreme.
Still, the human characters can't make a permanent home in the wood and so they all return to Athens in the end.
Once everyone is back at Theseus's pad in Act 5, the setting looks less like an ancient Greek palace than an
Elizabethan nobleman's estate. After their elaborate wedding, Duke Theseus and Hippolyta enjoy the kind of
courtly entertainments that Elizabethan nobles and royals would have experienced.
We also want to talk about the time of year during which the action of the play is supposed to take place. Like
we've said before, the play's title suggests that things go down some time around Midsummer's Eve. Go to
"What's Up With the Title?" for more on this.

GENRE

Comedy
A Midsummer Night's Dream is a classic example of Shakespearean comedy. What, you don't believe us? We'll
prove it to you. We've got a checklist that details all the typical conventions and features of the genre so you can
see for yourself:
Light, humorous tone: Check. The play features fairy magic (like Oberon's love potion), silly pranks (like the
transformation of a guy's head into that of a jackass), and the botched performance of a play-within-a-play by a
bunch of wannabe actors. Need we say more?
Clever dialogue and witty banter: Check. Shakespeare is a huge fan of puns and snappy wordplay, so
naturally his characters know how to get their witty repartee on. Shakespeare reserves some of the best dialogue
for his warring lovers, especially Oberon and Titania, and even the "rude mechanicals" manage to wow us with
their clever banter.
Deception and disguise: Let's see Hermia and Lysander try to sneak away from Athens to elope (behind
Egeus's back). Also, Titania and the young lovers have no idea they've been drugged by Oberon and his magic
love juice. So, check.
Mistaken identity: Check... sort of. In most of Shakespeare's other comedies, someone usually runs around in a
disguise to mask his or her identity. (Sometimes, a lover is even tricked into sleeping with the wrong person by
mistake.) This isn't necessarily the case in A Midsummer Night's Dream, unless we count the fact that the love
juice causes Titania to fall head over heels in love with an "ass." In other words, Titania mistakesBottom for a
creature who is worthy of her love and affection. The same can be said of the other lovers who are dosed with
Oberon's magic love potion.
Multiple plots with twists and turns: Check. There are several lines of action in A Midsummer Night's
Dream and Shakespeare invites us to sit back, relax, and enjoy the ride. The first plotline involves Theseus and
Hippolyta's upcoming wedding. The second plotline involves the young Athenian lovers who run around the
wood in confusion. The third follows Oberon's tiff with his wife, Titania. And as a fourth plotline, Shakespeare
works in a bunch of craftsmen (the Mechanicals), who plan to perform a play at Theseus's big, fancy wedding.
Love overcomes obstacles: Check. From the play's very beginning,Shakespeare beats us over the head with this
idea. Seriously. The only reason Theseus is even engaged to Hippolyta is because he conquered her people (the
Amazons) and basically won her in battle. Just a few moments after we hear about Theseus and Hippolyta, we
learn that Hermia and Lysander must also overcome a major obstacle if they want to be together because
Hermia's dad wants her to marry someone else. Never mind the fact that we've got a bunch of mischievous
fairies running around the wood sloshing magic love juice into the eyes of hapless humans, causing them to fall
in and out of love with the first creature that comes into view. In the end, though, love wins out and Theseus and
the four young lovers all hook up with a steady partner. Keep reading...
Marriage: Check. This is important so pay attention, Shmoopsters. No matter what else happens, Shakespeare's
comedies ALWAYS end with one or more marriages (or the promise of marriage). This is Shakespeare's way of
restoring social order to the world of his plays (after turning order on its head for a few hours). At the end of A
Midsummer Night's Dream, Theseusfinally gets to marry Hippolyta and spend the night with her (which he's
been talking about since the play's opening lines). As for the four humans who have been chasing each other
around the forest and falling in and out of love, they finally settle down and hook up with a steady partner:
Hermia weds Lysander and Demetrius gets hitched to Helena.
Family drama: Check. If you read the very first scene, you know thatHermia and her dad Egeus go toe-to-
toe about whom she should and shouldn't marry. Egeus is so worked up about his daughter's disobedience that
he wants Duke Theseus to uphold the Athenian law that says daughters have to do what their fathers say or else
they get sentenced to death. Yeesh. It's a good thing A Midsummer Night's Dream isn't a tragedy, otherwise this
ugly little domestic dispute would end badly. How badly? Think Romeo and Juliet badly.
(Re)unification of families: Check. Like we said earlier, Egeus would rather see his daughter dead than witness
Hermia marry Lysander. Still, A Midsummer Night's Dream is a comedy so Egeus eventually backs down and
gives in to the idea that Hermia is going to marry for love. We should point out that Egeus only changes his
mind after Duke Theseus orders him to back off (4.1), but still, Egeus sticks around for his daughter's wedding,
so we're counting that as a family reunion.

TONE

Humorous
When we talk about "tone," we're referring to the author's and/or the play's attitude toward its subject matter.
At the beginning of A Midsummer Night's Dream, the tone is pretty dark, wouldn't you say? After all, Hermia
faces the death penalty or life as a nun if she doesn't obey her father and marry the man of his choosing. This
suggests a bleak outlook, don't you think?
Still, this darkness quickly gives way to a lighthearted tone that reveals Shakespeare's sense of humor about the
pitfalls of love. Case in point: When the young lovers (some of whom have been drugged by Oberon's magic
love potion) go chasing each other around the wood, falling in and out of love at the drop of a hat (or the drop of
some magic love juice),Shakespeare pokes fun at how erratic and foolish we can all be when it comes to
romance. Just ask Titania, who falls head-over-heels in love with a (literal) jackass.
P.S. If you're feeling all emo and want to read one of Shakespeare's darker, more cynical plays, check
out Measure for Measure, where a wannabe nun faces the death penalty if she refuses to sleep with a corrupt
deputy.

WRITING STYLE

Iambic Pentameter; Rhymed Verse; Catalectic Trochaic Tetrameter; Prose


A Midsummer Night's Dream contains a fair amount of regular old prose (how we talk every day), but it's
famous for its dazzling displays of verse, or poetry. The three most common types of verse in the play are:
1. iambic pentameter
2. rhymed verse, and
3. catalectic trochaic tetrameter.

Blank Verse or, Unrhymed Iambic Pentameter (The Nobles)

In A Midsummer Night's Dream, the noble characters often speak in unrhymed "iambic pentameter" (also called
"blank verse"). This is considered a fancy way to talk and it helps separate upper class characters from the
commoners or everyday Joes of the play. Don't let the fancy names intimidate youit's simple once you get the
hang of it. Let's start with a definition of iambic pentameter.
An "iamb" is an unaccented syllable followed by an accented one. "Penta" means "five," and "meter" refers to a
regular rhythmic pattern. So "iambic pentameter" is a kind of rhythmic pattern that consist of five iambs per line.
It's the most common rhythm in English poetry and sounds like five heartbeats:
da DUM, da DUM, da DUM, da DUM, da DUM
Here's an example from Theseus's speech to Hippolyta:
hippOLyTA, i WOO'D thee WITH my SWORD,
and WON thy LOVE, doING thee INjurIES;
Every second syllable is accented (stressed), so this is classic iambic pentameter. Since the lines have no regular
rhyme scheme we call it unrhymed iambic pentameter, a.k.a. blank verse.

Rhymed Verse

When the young Athenian lovers (also members of the nobility) speak passionately about love, their lines of
poetry tend to rhyme, like when Helena goes on about the nature of love. Notice that the rhyme scheme below
follows this pattern: AABBCC.
Love looks not with the eyes, but with the mind; (A rhyme)
And therefore is wing'd Cupid painted blind: (A rhyme)
Nor hath Love's mind of any judgment taste; (B rhyme)
Wings and no eyes figure unheedy haste: (B rhyme)
And therefore is Love said to be a child, (C rhyme)
Because in choice he is so oft beguiled. (C rhyme)
By the way, we've got three "heroic couplets" here. (Heroic couplets are just rhyming pairs of verse in iambic
pentameter.)

Catalectic Trochaic Tetrameter (The Fairies)

The fairies also speak in verse, but it's done in a way that sets them apart from the other characters. Many of
their lines are delivered in what's called "catalectic trochaic tetrameter." That's a mouthful, but, again, it's
actually pretty simple once you wrap your brain around it. Let's take a closer look.
A "trochee" is the opposite of an "iamb." It's an accented syllable followed by an unaccented syllable that
sounds like DUM-da. "Tetra" means "four" and "meter" refers to a regular rhythmic pattern. So "trochaic
tetrameter" is a kind of rhythmic pattern that consist of four trochees per line. It sounds like this:
DUM-da, DUM-da, DUM-da, DUM-da
When the last syllable of the line is cut off, it's called catalectic trochaic tetrameter. Here's an example where
Puck addresses Oberon:
CAPtain OF our FAIry BAND,
HELeNA is HERE at HAND;
Shakespeare's a big fan of using trochaic verse for supernatural beings like fairies (and the Witches in Macbeth)
because it's light and airy. Let's face it, it's also kind of fun.

Prose (the Mechanicals)

Ordinary folks like the Mechanicals (craftsmen) usually don't talk in a special rhythmthey just talk. Check out
this passage, where Bottom and his pals talk about the play they want to perform:
There are things in this comedy of Pyramus and
Thisbe that will never please. First, Pyramus must
draw a sword to kill himself, which the ladies
cannot abide. How answer you that? (3.1.9-12)
Prose makes sense for this scene, because it's a very practical way to talk. Notice, though, that when the
Mechanicals perform the play Pyramus and Thisbe, their lines are spoken in rhymed verse, which has a comical
effect. Check out these lines where Flute (playing the role of Thisbe) tries to be poetic about Pyramus's beauty:
Most radiant Pyramus, most lily-white of hue,
Of color like the red rose on triumphant brier,
Most brisky juvenal and eke most lovely Jew,
As true as truest horse that yet would never tire, (3.1.92-95)
It's obvious that Peter Quince (the guy who wrote the play script) tried really, really hard to come up with a
rhyme for "hue," but the speech just sounds silly and absurd. This suggests that Quince and the other "rude
Mechanicals" aren't actually capable of writing or speaking in verse like the nobles and fairies.