In A Midsummer Night's Dream, what is the play's setting and how does it influence the characters?

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mwestwood eNotes educator| Certified Educator

“Love looks not with the eyes, but with the mind,
And therefore is winged Cupid painted blind.”    

--A Midsummer Night's Dream

Shakespeare's comedy which takes place on June 23, the Summer Solstice, is set in ancient Athens, a citadel of civilization and law, and the forest outside the city. The Summer Solstice is a time of magic and the enchanted forest is a place where the rules of man are suspended. The young lovers, Hermia and Lysander flee to the forest because it is a safe haven for them on the way to Hermia's aunt. But, in this enchanted forest, there are sprites who cast spells upon the mortals during this time known for its celebration of fertility.

So, "love is in the air," so to speak. People's libidos are energized by the magic of the Summer Solstice and by the fairy dust that is sprinkled in their eyes, or the spells cast upon them as with the character Bottom, who feels as though he has had a fantastic dream:

 I have had a most rare vision.
 I have had a dream past the wit of man to say what
 dream it was (4.1.9).

And, even though she is under Oberon's spell so that he can capture the changeling boy, Titiana seems more than enthralled with the donkey-headed Bottom as she instructs him,

Gently entwist; the female ivy so
Enrings the barky finger of the elm.
O, how I love thee! how I dote on thee! (4.1.42-44)

These passages also illustrate the theme of transformation that prevails throughout the play in both the fairy and the human world as the young people fall asleep in one temperament, then awake in a different one. With the performance of Pyramus and Thisbe, Shakespeare transforms his own play and questions his craft.

With all this confusion, Puck reappears in the Epilogue and tells the audience that if this play has caused the audience consternation, they can just consider it a dream, too:

If you pardon, we will mend.
And, as I am an honest Puck,
If we have unearned luck
Now to scape the serpent's tongue,
We will make amends ere long; (5.1.425-129) 

And, Puck will make things right as he has done with all but Demetrius, who yet remains under a spell so that he will love Helena. And, so, to use the words from another play [Macbeth], "nothing is but what is not" both when one is in love and when one acts, for in both circumstances "Lord, what fools these mortals be!" (3.2.115).

clyoon | Student

In A Midsummer Night's Dream, the play starts off in Athens but mostly takes place in the enchanted forest outside the city. Both Athens and the enchanted forest influence the characters, especially Hermia and Lysander. To them, Athens is a place that prevents them from marrying each other. But the forest is not. 

Athens is a patriarchal society, which allows fathers to choose spouses for their daughters. Hermia, by law, must marry Demetrius because her father said so. But she doesn't want to. She rebels against the law of this patriarchal society, defies her father, defies Egeus, and agrees with Lysander to run away from Athens -- a city of so many rules and regulations. 

So they run off to the enchanted forest, a place away from all the rules and regulations. A place where Hermia is allowed to be with her love, Lysander. A place where she does not have to submit to the law. 

Read the study guide:
A Midsummer Night's Dream

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