How does Shakespeare represent the two levels of society, nobles and tradesmen, in the play A Midsummer Night's Dream ?

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Tamara K. H. eNotes educator| Certified Educator

In A Midsummer Night's Dream, Shakespeare used such characters as Duke Theseus, his soon-to-be bride Hippolyta, and the young characters--Hermia, Helena, Lysander, and Demetrius--to all represent the noble class. He also uses the players to represent the working class.

More importantly, he portrays the four young characters as running into the woods to escape Athens and upper-class society, as if upper-class society is not the ideal life, and life in the woods offers a more ideal alternative. In addition, since the players practice their play in the woods, it can be seen that Shakespeare is also portraying the working class as escaping the noble class of Athens. In this sense, Shakespeare's play A Midsummer Night's Dream can be interpreted as being representative of classic pastoral literature, literature that represents life in the country, particularly the life of the shepherd, as being ideal and removed from the "complexities and corruption of city life" (Encyclopaedia Britannica, "Pastoral Literature").
One place in particular in which we can see the characters wanting to go into the woods to escape the corruption of Athenian upper-class life is in the opening scene when Lysander asks Hermia to meet him in the woods where they can travel on to his aunt's house in order to escape Athenian law:

There, gentle Hermia, may I marry thee;
And to that place the sharp Athenian law
Cannot pursue us. (I.i.164-65)

jalden eNotes educator| Certified Educator

As mentioned above, the division between the life of the court and the life of the woods represents a division in styles of living, but the most important difference between the two locations, court and forest, is the level of consciousness that each represents. The court world represents order, rules, and man-made governing structures, while the forest represents, in this play, not the bucolic nature of pastoral living, as in As You Like It, but the ungovernable world of the unconscious, where man-made rules not only do not apply, but are completely befuddled. It is Shakespeare's way of showing us what happens when one falls in love.

Two of the levels of human society represented, the tradesmen and nobles, are characterized by different styles of language, intelligence and behavior. The nobles, for example, speak in Blank Verse (unrhymed iambic pentameter), except for the lovers, who speak in Rhymed Couplets, as is appropriate to their natures, and the workmen speak in Prose, a more practical, less intellectual form of expression. The fourth level of consciousness, the fairies, speak in Trochaic Tetrameter, appropriate to their existence in a less material, more poetic environment.

The behavior of the nobles is restrained, the behavior of the lovers is wildly passionate, the behavior of the workman is earthy and bumptious, and the fairies are ethereally powerful. The nobles speak from their heads, the lovers from their passions, the workmen from their physicality, and the fairies from their separate-from-the-human-world abilities to see, hear, and behave without regard for the physical laws of the human world.

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A Midsummer Night's Dream

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