A Midsummer Night's Dream (Vol. 45)
A Midsummer Night's Dream
See also A Midsummer Night's Dream Criticism (Volume 29), and Volumes 58, 82.
The role of dreams in A Midsummer Night's Dream is of primary interest to critics who wish to uncover the relationships between dreams and the reality of the play's world, as well as between dreams and the reality of Shakespeare's world. Not surprisingly, some critics approach the play from a psychological perspective in order to dissect such connections. Jan Lawson Hinley (1987) examines the role of dreams in the play from such a standpoint and asserts that Shakespeare uses dreams as a way to illuminate the psychological foundation of the sexual anxieties of the four lovers. For example, Hinley maintains that Hermia's dream of the snake attacking her while Lysander stands by, watching, demonstrates Hermia's fears of male sexuality and betrayal and also reflects her anxiety regarding the social pressures in Athens. Similarly, Hinley goes on, the "triple dream of Bottom, Titania, and Oberon" reinforces the sense of tension that appears to be inherent in creating and maintaining a sexual and romantic love relationship. Hinley concludes that the struggle of the lovers to secure a balance between their sexual desires and the requirements of society is brought to an end when stable relationships are established and condoned within a "benevolent patriarchal society." Peter Holland (1994), like Hinley, advances a psychological approach to dreams in the play. Holland begins by stating his belief that dreams in the play are better understood from a Jungian viewpoint, in that the play, as a dream, reveals more than it conceals. Holland states that Oberon and Puck create a situation in which the characters in the play, as well as the audience, are able to see the play as a "true dream experience," not simply something like a dream. In exploring the historical context of this transformative power of the dream, Holland explains how Shakespeare's audiences may have regarded dreams as a source of "true understanding." In conclusion, Holland observes that Oberon relates dreams to visions, that Puck advises the audience that it has seen visions, and that Bottom views his experience as a vision. Holland stresses that if as audience members "we have responded to the play fully" then we will share Bottom's assessment, and should therefore regard the play not as trivial but as the "revelation of another reality." Just as Holland observes the significance of visions, Marjorie B. Garber (1974) notes that in the play, visions are contrasted with dreams, and are regarded as correctly interpreted and valued dreams. Garber maintains that the view of dreams presented in A Midsummer Night's Dream is a "redemptive" one which "arises in part from a new emphasis upon transformation as a creative act." Furthermore, Garber contends that the dream state, as a transforming and creative process, orders the events of the play. The contrast between sleep and wakefulness, between reality and illusion, between reason and imagination, and between the realms of Theseus and Oberon, are all "structurally related to portrayal of the dream state," Garber explains. Similarly, Garber notices other structural analogs, including the relationship between metaphor and the dream state. Garber closes her essay by emphasizing that in this play, dreams have the power to reveal insight and truth, and to "interpret and transform" reality.
Louis Montrose (essay date 1996)
SOURCE: "Stories of the Night," in The Purpose of Playing: Shakespeare and the Cultural Politics of the Elizabethan Theatre, The University of Chicago Press, 1996, pp. 124-50.
[In the following essay, Montrose examines the mythological subtext of A Midsummer Night's Dream, claiming that Hippolyta's presence at the play's opening invokes Amazonian mythology, which Montrose describes as the "embodiment of a collective, masculine anxiety about women's power to dominate, create, and destroy men. "]
The opposed domestic emphases of Brooks and Olson—the former, romantic and companionate; the latter, authoritarian and hierarchical—abstract and oversimplify what may be construed as potentially complementary or contradictory elements in the dramatic process whereby A Midsummer Night's Dream figures the social relationship between the sexes in courtship, marriage, and parenthood. Among the cultural materials employed in the construction of the gender system that is figured in A Midsummer Night's Dream, those of classical myth are perhaps the most conspicuous. The play dramatizes or alludes to numerous episodes of classical mythology that were already coded by a venerable tradition of moral allegorization, and its treatment of such mythographic traditions is, like the traditions themselves, far from unequivocal. In this chapter, I...
(The entire section is 10145 words.)
Marjorie B. Garber (essay date 1974)
SOURCE: "Spirits of Another Sort: A Midsummer Night's Dream," in Dream in Shakespeare: From Metaphor to Metamorphosis, Yale University Press, 1974, pp. 59-87.
[In the following essay, Garber studies the role of dreams in A Midsummer Night's Dream, arguing that dreams are a source of creative insight and have the power to transform reality. The creative, transforming process of dreams, Garber states, is not only the subject of the play, but the force which guides the play's action.]
If we shadows have offended
Think but this, and all is mended:
That you have but slumb 'red here,
While these visions did appear.
And this weak and idle theme,
No more yielding but a dream.
Puck's closing address to the audience is characteristic of the tone of A Midsummer Night's Dream; it seems to trivialize what it obliquely praises. All the key words of dream are here, as they have been from the play's title and opening lines: "shadows," "slumb'red," "visions," and "dream" itself Puck is making an important analogy between the play and the dream state—an analogy we have encountered before in Shakespeare, but which is here for the first time fully explored. For A Midsummer Night's Dream is a play consciously concerned with dreaming; it reverses the categories of...
(The entire section is 25523 words.)
Love And Marriage
Jane K. Brown (essay date 1987)
SOURCE: "'Discordia Concors': On the Order of A Midsummer Night's Dream," in Modern Language Quarterly, Vol. 48, No. 1, March, 1987, pp. 20-41.
[In the following essay, Brown explores the relationship between the themes of imagination and love in A Midsummer Night's Dream, and argues that the play is allegorical rather than mimetic in its emphasis on the importance of love as means of knowing a higher truth.]
A Midsummer Night's Dream is concerned with marriage, relations between the sexes, creativity and imagination, fancy, and love. The themes of love and imagination are so pervasive in the play that their relation has seemed almost too obvious to merit analysis. Recent readings have tended to focus either on the theme of love and marriage (sometimes "sexual politics") or on the theme of imagination, but not on the link between the two.1 This essay will explore the connection between love and mental activity in the play and locate it in the popular Neoplatonist doctrine of love described by Edgar Wind.2 Not only does this Neoplatonist "mystery" permeate A Midsummer Night's Dream, but it also organizes the play in terms of plot structure, cast, and imagery. Analyzing A Midsummer Night's Dream in this context leads to the conclusion that the play is fundamentally allegorical rather than...
(The entire section is 17335 words.)
René Girard (essay date 1986)
SOURCE: "Bottom's One-Man Show," in The Current in Criticism: Essays on the Present and Future of Literary Theory, edited by Clayton Koelb and Virgil Lokke, Purdue University Press, 1986, pp. 99-122.
[In the following essay, Girard maintains that Bottom's transformation, as well as the world of the fairies, are products of the mimetic process acting on the mechanicals and the four lovers. Girard explores in particular how Bottom's eagerness to take on so many theatrical roles contributes to his metamorphosis.]
In A Midsummer Night's Dream, two groups of human beings spend the night in the wood. The first consists of four unhappy lovers who tear each other apart, the second of some local craftsmen who prepare a play for the celebration of Theseus's wedding.
Wretched as it is, their stage adaptation of Pyramus and Thisby remains beyond the capacities of these illiterate amateurs. But their passion for the theater is intense, especially in the case of Bottom, a born actor with an enormous appetite for impersonation.
At the craftsmen's first meeting—in act 1, scene 2—Quince, the director, distributes the various roles. Bottom gets asked first. He will play the leading man, Pyramus. He wishes it had been "a tyrant," but it is a lover and a lover will do. Bottom feigns indifference, but he is so eager...
(The entire section is 18434 words.)
Language And Structure
Jay L. Halio (essay date 1990)
SOURCE: "Nightingales That Roar: The Language of A Midsummer Night's Dream," in Traditions and Innovations: Essays on British Literature of the Middle Ages and the Renaissance, edited by David G. Allen and Robert A. White, University of Delaware Press, 1990, pp. 137-49.
[In the following essay, Halio maintains that the language of the play, in its darkness, complexity, and in the contradictions it contains suggests that, contrary to the apparently happy ending, "benevolent providence does not always or inevitably enter into human affairs to make things right."]
In an essay called "On the Value of Hamlet," Stephen Booth has shown how that play simultaneously frustrates and fulfills audience expectations and otherwise presents contradictions that belie or bedevil the attempts of many a reductionist critic to demonstrate a coherent thematic pattern in Shakespeare's masterpiece. Booth's commentary is particularly directed to the language and action of act 1 which, from the very outset, arouse in the audience a "sensation of being unexpectedly and very slightly out of step" with the drama that the players unfold. "In Hamlet," Booth says, "the audience does not so much shift its focus as come to find its focus shifted."1 The end result, though initially disturbing, is not finally so: "People see Hamlet and tolerate...
(The entire section is 14912 words.)
Absher, Tom. "A Midsummer Night's Dream." In Men and the Goddess: Feminine Archetypes in Western Literature, pp. 85-96. Rochester, Vt: Park Street Press, 1990.
Argues that both Macbeth and A Midsummer Night's Dream demonstrate methods of contacting the supernatural world and "touching the web of sacred, symbolic reality."
Arthos, John. "The Spirit of the Occasion." In Shakespeare's Use of Dream and Vision, pp. 85-110. Totowa, N.J.: Rowman and Littlefield, 1977.
Explores the theme of change in the play and argues that part of the play's appeal "is the fun in the proposition that humans are as helpless as the creatures in dreams."
Boehrer, Bruce Thomas. "Bestial Buggery in A Midsummer Night's Dream" In The Production of English Renaissance Culture, edited by David Lee Miller, Sharon O'Dair, and Harold Weber, pp. 123-50. Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1994.
Explores the play's "symbolic coupling of human erotic desire to animal objects" within the historical context of "Elizabethan theatrical decorum."
Calderwood, James L. "A Midsummer Night's Dream: A Note on the Text" and "A Midsummer Night's Dream: The Stage History and Critical Reception." In Harvester New Critical...
(The entire section is 570 words.)