How does the 'play-whithin-the-play' summarize the main themes in A Midsummer Night's Dream? 

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litteacher8 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

The play Pyramus and Thisbe has the same themes as A Midsummer Night’s Dream, but condensed into a parallel plot.

The Consequences of Misunderstanding

There is plenty of drama to be found in love, but a lot of it comes from a simple lack of communication.  In the main plot line, the parental interference and the lack of honesty between the lovers results in near disaster, as Hermia might be killed and Helena becomes more and more unstable.  Yet once the fairies get involved and start trying to fix things, it gets even worse.

Pyramus reacts impulsively to finding the bloody scarf, and kills himself before he knows all of the facts.  Likewise, Egeus responds too quickly to Hermia’s love for Lysander, not stopping to really think about what he is saying.  Does he really prefer his daughter dead than marry someone other than his choice?

Believe in Happy Endings

It is true that the fictional Pyramus and Thisbe do not have a happy ending, since they both die, but the craftsmen do.  The play they worked so hard on is a success, in its own way.  They did what they came to do, and the play was enjoyed by actors and audience alike (though perhaps not as Quince intended).  Theseus is pleased (or relieved).

No epilogue, I pray you; for your play needs no excuse.

Never excuse; for when the players are all dead

there need none to be blamed. (Act 5, Scene 1)

In the same way, almost everyone ends up happy except for Egeus, because neither Theseus nor his daughter do what he wants.  Theseus and Hippolyta marry, and seem to have a good bond.  The correct lovers are paired together: Demetrius with Helena, and Lysander with Hermia.  The fairy king and queen, Oberon and Titania, make up and begin working together instead of at odds, so the forest recovers.  In the end, everything works out for the best.

Humor in Unexpected Places

One of the most striking themes from this play is that you have to find humor in the world around you, no matter how bad things get.  Puck is a good example of someone who knows how to have fun, even when there is trouble.

For example, the forest is in bad shape and Oberon has given Puck several important jobs.  As he is doing them, he sees that there is another danger—there are mortals hanging around Titania.  Rather than worry or run to Oberon, Puck decides to kill two birds with one stone and make the best of things.

What hempen home-spuns have we swagg'ring here,(70)

So near the cradle of the fairy queen?

What, a play toward! I'll be an auditor;

An actor too perhaps, if I see cause. (Act 3, Scene 1)

He makes sure that Titania falls in love with a beast and gets the craftsmen to leave the forest, all with one move—replacing Bottom’s head with an ass’s head.  He gets to solve two problems and have a good laugh at the same time.

Read the study guide:
A Midsummer Night's Dream

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