How does the world of Athens compare and contrast with the world of fairies in A Midsummer Night's Dream?

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The two settings of Shakespeare's A Midsummer Night's Dream are the city of Athens and the forest that exists outside of the boundaries of Athens. The world of the fairies who reside in this forest is vastly different from the organized approach to life of the city-dwellers; in the forest,...

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The two settings of Shakespeare's A Midsummer Night's Dream are the city of Athens and the forest that exists outside of the boundaries of Athens. The world of the fairies who reside in this forest is vastly different from the organized approach to life of the city-dwellers; in the forest, chaos and disorder characterize personal interactions, while in the city, law and order are the guiding principles of society.

The mischievous nature of the fairies and the confusion they deliberately create contrasts with the legal-minded, rule-abiding city folk. The juxtaposition of such vastly different approaches to life heightens the differences that exist between the two societies, but Shakespeare adds an interesting twist in places that leads the audience to wonder which society is the more orderly after all.

For example, though the fairies cause trouble with the knowledge that they are making life difficult for others, there is an playful innocence that implies their intereference is more of a game than a malicious gesture. In contrast, Athenians like Theseus seem to take dark pleasure in meting out punishment to others and in ruling according to rigid and patriarchal expectations, which leads to disorder on a personal and emotional level. As well, the ending of the play is perhaps the best example of the similarities in the two communities. Though disorder appears to be the norm in the forest, when the lovers come together, calmness and order result.

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The settings of Shakespeare's comedy A Midsummer Night's Dream are extremely important to the plot and themes of the play.

The story begins and ends in Athens, the world of men, a city governed by Theseus and Hippolyta. In the context of the play, Athens represents civilization, order, and the rule of law.

The middle of the story takes place in the woods, a fairyland governed by the feuding spirits Oberon and Titania. Because of their fight, the natural and supernatural worlds have been thrown out of whack and everything is topsyturvy. The four mortal lovers, Hermia, Lysander, Helena and Demetrius, who steal away into the woods to escape the oppressive rule of Athenian society, are completely at the mercy of the fairies' whims and pranks. Thus, the woods represent freedom, chaos, and magic.

Despite the obvious differences, the two settings are actually more similar than they might at first appear, which productions of the play often emphasize by double-casting the parts of Theseus and Oberon and Hippolyta and Titania so that the same actor plays both roles. Both settings are ruled by a powerful couple and in both settings, the male member of that couple interferes significantly in the lives of the young lovers: Theseus by ruling that Hermia must marry Demetrius or become a nun, and Oberon by sending Puck to rearrange their affections with magic.

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As with many of Shakespeare's plays, including King Lear and As You Like It, the wilderness represents a freedom that the city does not afford.

The Athenian forest is no exception. The lovers Hermia and Lysander flee to the forest in order to carry on their affair. In addition, the forest contains elements of magic that the city does not. This shows that the forest is a place in which things can happen that would be impossible or implausible in the heart of the city.

As the other educator post states, both the forest and Athens have a king, and the main characters in the play can travel between the two locations. This is where the similarity ends, though.

Because of its magical qualities, the forest stands in sharp contrast to the civilized order of Athens, which likely represents the rational world.

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The world of Athens and the world of the fairies mirror each other as monarchies. Both Theseus and Oberon are wise, if patriarchal, rulers. Each has a strong consort (or soon-to-be consort). Titania willingly stands up to Oberon over the Indian boy and Theseus has to conquer Hippolyta, queen of the Amazons, to earn her hand. Both rulers "win" against the women they love: Theseus wins Hippolyta as his bride and "jealous" Oberon wins the Indian boy and wins as well by regaining the attention of Titania. 

Love matters in both worlds. In Athens, Lysander and Hermia are in love, Demetrius loves Hermia and Helena loves Demetrius. This spills over into the forest. In the forest, Titania falls in love with Bottom and Oberon's jealous love of Titania motivates him to want to take possession of the Indian boy she dotes on. 

Nothing like the fairies exists in Athens, however, and Shakespeare does not afford us lush descriptions of Athens, as he does of the fairy realm, where the tiny creatures flit and fly. Athens is more representative of order and rationality than the forest--after all the lovers head for the forest to escape this restrictive order--and the forest more representative of the poetic, lunatic (after all, the action unfolds at night, under the moon) and imaginative.

One might argue, however, that the Mechanical are a comic parody of the fairies. If Puck bungles the love potions, disturbing the "script" of the love story that Oberon wants to enact, so the mechanicals bungle their lines. In both worlds, comedy, broadly construed (ie, nothing tragic happens) reigns. 

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