I need an explanation of some important passages in William Shakespeare's A Midsummer Night's Dream.

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thanatassa eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Two of the most important passages in William Shakespeare's A Midsummer Night's Dream occur in Act V and are essentially meta-theatrical, commenting on the nature of the play itself. 

Theseus responds to the story of the two pairs of lovers by suggesting that poets, madmen, and lovers, all under the influence of strong emotions and imagination, believe things that are not literally true. In particular, he describes the poet as follows:

The poet's ...  imagination bodies forth 

The forms of things unknown ... and gives to airy nothing

A local habitation and a name. (Act V Scene I)

Since the audience listening to this is watching a play, the work of the imagination of a poet, what the lines suggest is that the play, including the behavior of the lovers, should not be mistaken for reality, or even an actual guide to conduct, but should be watched as a form of pure entertainment.

This view of the play is reinforced in the concluding lines spoken by Puck, which refers to the players as mere shadows:

If we shadows have offended,

Think ... you have but slumber'd here  ...

These lines suggest that the play is meant to be dreamlike and fantastical rather than realistic, and that its mingling of ancient Athens and the land of the fairies is intended to be dreamlike, the sort of beautiful vision one might have when falling asleep in a meadow after a picnic, rather than following rational logic, and that the point of the play is aesthetic beauty and entertainment rather than moral commentary.

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A Midsummer Night's Dream

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