What are some effects of the literary devices used in Act 5, scene 1 of William Shakepeare's play A Midsummer Night's Dream in the passage beginning "A tedious brief scene" and ending with "of this discord"?
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In Act 5, scene 1 of William Shakespeare’s play A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Theseus reads a list of possible plays that are ready to be performed. Last on the list – and the one he chooses – is a play described as
'A tedious brief scene of young Pyramus
And his love Thisbe; very tragical mirth.'
Theseus then comments on this description:
Merry and tragical! tedious and brief!
That is, hot ice and wondrous strange snow.
How shall we find the concord of this discord?
This brief passage uses a variety of literary devices, including the following:
- oxymoron, in which adjacent words contradict each other, as in the phrases “tedious brief,” “tragical mirth,” “Merry and tragical,” and “hot ice.” The use of oxymoron here implies the incompetence of the playwright and the foolishness of the play he has produced. We can expect a play that is ridiculous and contradictory, with no coherence and no unified effect. Ironically, we can expect a play that is indeed “Merry and tragical” – tragical in the sense that it is intended to be a tragedy, merry in the sense that it is so inept a tragedy that it is actually funny.
- exclamation, as in the third quoted line, which implies Theseus’s astonishment and his sense of the ridiculousness of what he has just read. Theseus’s sense of surprise and his sense of amusement both foreshadow our own reactions when we witness the play itself.
- metrical irregularity, as in the final three lines quoted here, which do not display a rigid, predictable, predetermined pattern of accented and unaccented syllables, and which thus sound spontaneous and credible – the kinds of words a surprised person might actually use.
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