What is the parallelism between A Midsummer Night's Dream and the play within it, Pyramus and Thisby? What function does a play within a play serve in terms of dramatic significance and thematic relevance?

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The dramatic and thematic function of a play within a play varies from play to play—there is no one formula as to why such a vehicle is used—but in A Midsummer Night's Dream it does fulfill a typical function: it points to the fictive or illusory quality of all that has been performed. In French, a play within a play is called a mise en abyme, or being "placed in the abyss," but this does describe the distorting-mirror effect of a play like Pyramus and Thisbe (that the mechanicals perform). It reinforces a theme articulated by Puck, which is that perhaps all we have seen, even the main play, is a dream or illusion—as is perhaps love itself.

Shakespeare uses the "play within the play" concept in the same way in The Taming of the Shrew. Because Shakespeare understood the fantastic, fictive nature of a plot in which a strong willed woman is brought to heel by her husband, he created it as an open fiction from the start. In A Midsummer Night's Dream , Shakespeare uses the comic treatment of the...

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