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Why is there a fifth act to this play?

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enotes | (Level 1) Valedictorian

Posted September 8, 2013 at 3:56 PM via web

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Why is there a fifth act to this play?

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enotes | (Level 1) Valedictorian

Posted September 8, 2013 at 3:56 PM (Answer #1)

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By end of Act IV, the narrative line of A Midsummer Night's Dream is essentially played out. Oberon and Titania are reconciled in their quarrel over the changeling, the young couples are paired correctly (Hermia with Lysander and Helena with Demetrius), Theseus has over-ruled Egeus, and a triple wedding awaits. Indeed, Acts I through IV of A Midsummer Night's Dream comprise a perfectly symmetrical pattern that moves from court to enchanted realm and then back to daylight world in which Theseus rules. The question naturally arises: Why is there a fifth act to the play. The short answer is that all of Shakespeare's plays have five acts and that the playwright therefore simply appended an "extra" act to his story for the sake of uniformity. But Shakespeare could have done this by simply stretching the plot out. Instead, he chose to insert the staging of Pyramus and Thisbe by Quince, Bottom, and their fellows. At the end of Act IV, we are reminded that there is an unconcluded piece of business to be conducted when Bottom's arrival for the hilarious staging of the play "outside" the play. Here, as in Romeo and Juliet, Shakespeare appears to have deliberately parted with convention, the addition of Act V being an experimental innovation in comic structure, taking place beyond the proper boundaries of the play itself.

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