What is the power of dreams in a Midsummer Night's Dream?
A Midsummer Night's Dream is one of Shakespeare's most famous, and funniest, plays. As the title suggests, dreams and dreaming play an important role in the narrative, and so dreams are probably the single most powerful force at work within Shakespeare's world.
Much of the action revolves around a rotating cast of lovers and the disastrous love potion that causes the wrong people to fall in love with each other. The fairy king Oberon, along with his mischievous assistant, Puck, devise a potion that, when given to a sleeping person, will make him or her fall in love with the first thing he or she sees. Puck administers this love potion to three people - Lysander, Demetrius, and Titania - when he finds them sleeping in the fairy wood beyond Athens. Upon waking, they fall in love with the first people they see: Lysander and Demetrius with Helena, and Titania with the bumbling weaver, Bottom. What follows is a hilarious comedy of errors taking place entirely in a magical wood beyond the borders of civilization. Thus, the whole play takes on a dreamlike quality, as characters seem to drift through events taking place in an alternate universe, a made-up dream world of the mind.
Additionally, Shakespeare suggests that, in watching the play, his audiences are actually dreaming themselves. For example, Puck arrives at the end of the narrative to say:
If we shadows have offended,
Think but this, and all is mended,
That you have but slumb'red here
While these visions did appear
And this weak and idle theme,
No more yielding but a dream... (412-18)
In this otherworldly address, Puck suggests that the whole production has been a dream, and the characters were nothing more than shadows flitting across each audience member's subconscious. As such, Shakespeare tests the fabric separating dreams from reality, and it is unclear exactly where we are at the end of the play. It is this quality, more than anything else, that gives dreams such staggering power in Shakespeare's fairy world.