What literary elements are used in Act 5, Scene 1 of 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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A few literary elements that we see in the fifth act are rhetorical schemes and different types of figurative language.

One rhetorical scheme we see Shakespeare making use of in the fifth act is wording repetition. We especially see wording repetition when we notice that Quince's prologue to the mechanicals' play within the play opens in the exact same way that Puck's closing monologue opens. Quince's prologue begins with the line, "If we offend, it is with our good will" while Puck's closing monologue begins, "If we shadows have offended / Think but this, and all is mended" (V.i.115, 418). The repetition of the word "offend" allows the reader to see that, characteristic of his wit, Puck is mocking the mechanicals while at the same time relaying a truth to make amends with Shakespeare's audience.

We also see Shakespeare using figurative language in this act by mixing up word order and meaning. Shakespeare especially uses this scheme in Quince's prologue to show us how little Quince knows about memorizing lines, delivery, or even the meaning of words. Typical of his character, Quince mixes up both word order and meaning in several of his lines. We especially see this in his lines, "To show our simple skill, / That is the true beginning of our end" (). An end is a final goal or result. Hence, what Quince really means to say is that their true goal or end is to "show [their] simple skill," and it does not make sense to refer to their goal as the "beginning of our end." If we were to reword these lines in a way that truly does make sense, we would have something like, "To show our simple skill/ That is the true end of our performance." Thus, we see that not only did Shakespeare put the word "end" in the wrong place, he gave it an entirely different meaning. Mixing up word order and meaning like this is a type of figurative language, or trope. In particular, this type of trope is a catachresis in which the wording creates impossible and nonsensical meaning (Dr. Wheeler, "Tropes").

A final type of figurative language, or trope, we see Shakespeare use in this act is simile. We see an example of a simile after Quince performs, or rather butchers, his prologue, and the other characters begin criticizing it. In particular, Hippolyta compares Quince's performance to the performance of a child playing on a recorder, or other musical instrument, who does not actually know how to play, as we see in her simile, "Indeed he hath play'd on this prologue like a child on a recorder" (129-130). In other words, this simile shows us that neither Quince nor a child actually know what he/she is doing.


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