What is Shakespeare's view or outlook of the world, as portrayed in A Midsummer Night's Dream ?

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Tamara K. H. eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Shakespeare uses A Midsummer Night's Dream to point out social injustices and also to portray the foolishness of mankind. However, Shakespeare also gives us a happy ending for the play, making it a jovial comedy, and showing us that his outlook on the world is not entirely negative. While Shakespeare recognizes that the world has its flaws, A Midsummer Night's Dream portrays his outlook as being generally positive, so long as the world has a guiding, intervening hand, like the fairies.

We see Shakespeare portray one social injustice in the very first scene. Egeus is petitioning Duke Theseus for the right to enact the "ancient privilege of Athens" in order to punish his daughter for refusing to marry Demetrius (I.i.43). "The ancient privilege" grants a father permission to either kill a disobedient daughter or to send her to a convent. It's noteworthy that while having her sent to a convent is an option, Egeus is specifically asking for the right to "dispose" of Hermia in the matter he sees fit. Specifically, he is asking for the right to either dispose of her through marriage to Demetrius or through death, as we see in his lines:

As she is mine, I may dispose of her;
Which shall be either to this gentleman
Or to her death, according to out law. (43-45)

Shakespeare is using Egeus to point out the social injustice of treating a daughter as a slave; he is also using Egeus to point out the social injustice of a male dominant society.

Shakespeare also uses both the Athenian couples and Puck to point out the foolishness of mankind, especially the irrationality of love. Shakespeare first uses Demetrius to point out the foolishness of both man and love by having Helena reveal that there really is no rational, conceivable reason for Demetrius to have stopped loving her and chosen Hermia above her, especially because she is recognized as being just as fair as Hermia. Also, when Lysander becomes enchanted into falling in love with Helena, he declares that it is his reason that is guiding his decision, when in actuality he is being influenced to act irrationally by the magic flower. Finally, when all four mixed-up lovers begin quarreling, Puck points out the foolishness of mankind in his famous lines, "Shall we their fond pageant see? / Lord, what fools these mortals be!" (III.ii.115-116).

However, while mankind is portrayed as being socially unjust, irrational, and foolish, at the end, all four lovers are happily united due to Oberon's and Puck's use of the magic flower. Not only that, Oberon and the fairies bless their marriages so that they will remain ever true. Shakespeare's ending shows us that while the world has its flaws, with a guiding hand, things can come out alright in the end.

newenglishrose | Student

I think he was showing us that love is blind, no matter who you are in love with. When the fairies interfered with Demetrius, Lysander, Hermia and Helena's hearts, their objects of affections shifted quite confusingly. But their love always moved them beyond reason, to doing things they might not do otherwise, especially the girls! Helena followed lysander around without shame while Hermia was willing to die for her love for Demetrius. At the end everybody loves the right person but it seems superficial, as they so easily changed from one sweetheart to another.  Shakespeare may have been mocking young 'love' and how seriously it is taken.

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A Midsummer Night's Dream

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