How does Shakespeare use play within a play to express many of the important ideas and themes of the main plot in A Midsummer Night's Dream?

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litteacher8 | High School Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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In A Midsummer Night’s Dream, the play of Pyramus and Thisbe demonstrates what tragedy can befall lovers, especially with misunderstanding.

It is somewhat ironic that the craftsmen choose a play about ill-fated lovers to present at a wedding.  The play has a plot similar to Romeo and Juliet.  Two young lovers are forced apart—talking to each other through a wall.  One day, Pyramus finds a shawl belonging to Thisbe, covered in blood.  He assumes that she was mauled by a lion, when in fact she was just frightened away by it.  Pyramus kills himself out of grief, and Thisbe finds him and does the same.  The themes that misunderstanding can have tragic consequences, and young lovers sometimes act pre-emptively, highlight themes of A Midsummer Night’s Dream in general. 

For some reason, Quince names his version of the play The Most Lamentable Comedy and Most Cruel Death of Pyramus and Thisbe.  The play is funny, but it shouldn’t be.  After all, it’s a tragedy.  This is quite similar to the idea behind A Midsummer Night’s Dream.  It’s a very funny play, but our laughter often comes from others’ misfortune.

Irony and the oxymoron are also prevalent.  For one thing, when Bottom asks if Pyramus is a “lover” or a “tyrant,” Quince replies that he is a lover who “kills himself most gallant for love” (Act 1, Scene 2).  It is ironic that a lover would kill himself for love.  He supposedly killed himself out of grief, but this is the irony of it—because his love is not really dead.  She finds him dead, and kills herself.


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