Comment on the dark comedy in A Midsummer Night's Dream.

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One of the excellent aspects of this brilliant comedy is that it is very easy for an audience to watch it and just regard it as a frivolous, light-hearted comedy and be blind to the way in which the comedy and its nature is actually very disturbing and should force us to ask some very harsh questions of ourselves and our tendency to fall in and out of love. The dark comedy in this play therefore relates to the way in which Shakespeare uses this play to hold a mirror up to his audience. We laugh at the chaos that ensues when Puck misuses the magic flower and the Athenian lovers fall in and out of love with each other, but we never think for one moment that Shakespeare is actually making a profound comment about human constancy and the way that our emotions can suddenly overwhelm reason and cause us to behave in such a similarly foolish way. For me, a key text to understand this play is Helena's quote in Act I scene 1 when she bemoans the way in which Demetrius is in love with Hermia and has rejected her:

Things base and vile, holding no quantity,

Love can transpose to new form and dignity.

Love looks not with the eyes, but with the mind,

And therefore is winged Cupid painted blind.

Love has the amazing ability to completely overwhelm our reason and what we think we know to be true, as the steadfast declarations of love that Lysander and Demetrius make show, only to be quickly changed at the drop of the hat. The dark comedy in this excellent play therefore relates to the way in which, whilst we have a hilarious time watching it, it is Shakespeare who has the last laugh, because we laugh at behaviour that we think is ridiculous, ignorant to the fact that we behave in exactly the same way.

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