What is the metatheatricality found in Shakespeare's A Midsummer Night’s Dream ?

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Tamara K. H. | Middle School Teacher | (Level 3) Educator Emeritus

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Metadrama, or metatheatricality refers to a play in which the content intentionally breaks up the illusion of reality that the author creates in the play(Dr. Wheeler, "Literary Vocabulary"). Often Shakespeare does this by reminding the viewer that he/she is watching a play by referring to the actors, the stage, or even the play itself. Shakespeare accomplishes this in A Midsummer Night's Dream by placing a play with in the play.

Referring to the mechanicals, or players, who are preparing the play The Most Lamentable Comedy and Most Cruel Death of Pyramus and Thisbe to perform before Theseus and Hippolyta on their wedding day makes the audience reflect that they themselves are actually viewing a play as well. Also, when the play is being performed in the final act, the other characters comment on the players artistic abilities, which also breaks the illusion of reality in Shakespeare's own play. We see Theseus, Lysander, and Hippolyta criticizing Quince's recitation of the Prologue, referring to his delivery as that of a "rough colt," meaning an "untamed," uneducated colt (V.i.126). Hippolyta even likens Quince's delivery to that of a child playing on a recorder, lacking "in government," meaning "control" (129-130). The criticisms continue throughout the production until finally Theseus cuts the players short of delivering their epilogue and tells them that their play has been "very notably discharged," meaning very well performed, which the audience knows is a lie. Therefore, even this lie breaks the illusion of reality in Shakespeare's drama. Hence, we see that the poorly performed play within Shakespeare's play is one element of metatheatricality, making A Midsummer Night's Dream metatheatrical, or a metadrama.


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