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What is a central question that arises from A Midsummer Night's Dream by William...

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brandih | eNotes Employee

Posted July 30, 2013 at 9:20 PM via web

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What is a central question that arises from A Midsummer Night's Dream by William Shakespeare? 

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booboosmoosh | High School Teacher | (Level 3) Educator Emeritus

Posted August 1, 2013 at 10:04 PM (Answer #2)

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Love is a central question arising from Shakespeare's A Midsummer Night's Dream. Imagination, and therefore perception, is another focus of the play.

Hippolyta is to marry Theseus, ruler of Athens—not because they love each other, but because Theseus defeated Hippolyta in battle.

Hippolyta, I woo'd thee with my sword,

And won thy love doing thee injuries;

But I will wed thee in another key,

With pomp, with triumph, and with revelling. (I.i.20)

Theseus vows to change things between them with celebration, but does not speak to his perception of her as a "spoil of war"—a woman forced to accept a man who has bested her, the queen of a warrior race...but he changes.

By the end, Hippolyta's perspective seems to have softened. She acknowledges that while the lovers' stories are amazing, they seem genuine—and something splendid:

But all the story of the night told over,

And all their minds transfigured so together,

More witnesseth than fancy's images,

And grows to something of great constancy,

But howsoever strange and admirable. (V.i.24-28)

Also in Act One, Egeus enters with his daughter Hermia, Demetrius and Lysander. Hermia loves Lysander, but Hermia's father refuses. He is convinced of the merit of Demetrius, though both men seem equally disposed. Egeus tells Theseus:

I beg the ancient privilege of Athens:

As she is mine, I may dispose of her;

Which shall be either to this gentleman

Or to her death... (I.i.42-45)

Whereas Theseus honors Egeus' right to choose his daughter's husband at the start, Theseus' perception of the match is changed by the story's end, and Egeus is amenable to the Duke's decision that the young people wed.

When Puck puts the potion on Titania's eyes, she wakes to perceive that she loves Bottom, who has the head of a donkey:

I pray thee, gentle mortal, sing again.

Mine ear is much enamored of thy note;

So is mine eye enthralled to thy shape;

And thy fair virtue's force perforce doth move me...

...to swear, I love thee. (III.i.129-133)

When the spell is lifted, Titania shudders to think she had ever "loved" this thing:

O, how mine eyes do loathe his visage now! (V.i.79)

Though manipulated by magic, Titania's perception has changed. This happens again when, mistakenly, both of the young lovers end up loving Helena (once again with Puck's magic); Helena is disgusted with both men (thinking it a joke at her expense), and Hermia believes Helena has done something to change their minds. Once the Lysander is freed from the power of the magic potion, he sees Hermia as his one true love yet again.

Perception is even seen in the players who win the opportunity to perform for the Duke and his bride. The Philostrate tells Theseus that the play (based on his own perception) is terrible and none of the players are talented:

A play there is, my lord, some ten words long,

Which is as brief as I have known a play;

But by ten words, my lord, it is too long,

Which makes it tedious; for in all the play

There is not one word apt, one player fitted. (V.i.65-69)

However, despite the Philostrate's words, Theseus wants to see it. He fondly calls his wife "gentle sweet." He says:

Love, therefore, and tongue-tied simplicity

In least speak most to my capacity. (110-111)

Despite what appearances indicate, he notes that love—goodness—can find its way through the poorest presentation to bring a message of true value. Perception may be altered if one will only look beyond appearances. 

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wordprof | College Teacher | (Level 3) Senior Educator

Posted July 31, 2013 at 1:07 AM (Answer #1)

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Of the many themes available in discussing MND in an essay, the most fruitful is an examination of the kinds of “love” expressed and dramatized in the play.  From the actual wedding ceremony coming up, which gathers everyone together – a “royal” wedding with all the etiquette and protocol -- to the farcical “rustics” acting out the Pyramus and Thisbe legend, to the mistaken identities and disguises in the forest, to the troubled marriage of Titania and Oberon, the themes of true vs. false love, of temporary infatuation vs. lasting affection, are fruitful areas of inquiry for the essayist.  Of course, stating a strong thesis statement, and then carrying out a convincing defense of your point of view, are essential elements for a successful essay.

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