What is the significance of the "play within the play" in A Midsummer Night's Dream?

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appletrees eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Shakespeare used the "play within a play" conceit a number of times in his plays, including the tragedy of Hamlet. In A Midsummer Night's Dream, the play within a play is Pyramus and Thisbe, performed for the wedding parties at the play's end. Though the play is a tragedy from Greek mythology about two doomed lovers, the production in Shakespeare's romantic comedy ends up being a farce and is usually performed with a great deal of physical and visual comedy. The significance of the tragic love story being played for laughs is to emphasize the happy ending of A Midsummer Night's Dream, in which several pairs of lovers encounter challenges to their relationships but overcome them through devotion and good humor. Also, the play within the play calls attention to itself as a form of artifice, the "rude mechanicals" that show theatre's artificial constructs and tricks, and audiences are engaged in watching the play's characters play an audience watching a play: a form of "metadrama" but also an intriguing way of breaking the fourth wall said to separate the audience from the world of the play.

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A Midsummer Night's Dream

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