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A Midsummer Night's Dream

by William Shakespeare

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What is the significance of Shakespeare's presentation of magic, madness, fairy folklore, and the resolution of conflict in A Midsummer Night's Dream?

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1. Magic: Shakespeare uses "magic" in the play to represent the inexplicable events that seem to occur in the lives of human beings for no apparent reason. Magic "explains" the state of mental and emotional chaos that typifies the state of being in love.

2. Madness: Madness is the outward manifestation, in this play, of the unstable conditions existing within those who have fallen under Cupid's influence. Theseus compares the "madness" of love to the madness of poets, thereby defining love as a state of creativity that is out of the ordinary.

3. Fairy Folklore: In Elizabethan England, there was a rich tradition of fairy stories and tales, particularly among country folk. Shakespeare appealed to this tradition for the pleasure of these people and in order to explain the state of otherworldliness experienced by people who have fallen in love.

4. Resolution of Conflict: Shakespeare uses all the above devices like an alchemist's mortar and pestle, in which all the lovers are tumbled about until, because of these devices acting on them, all obstructions to true love are ground away and love is victorious. This is typical of his romantic comedies. Love always wins in the end.

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After observing the humans who have wandered into the forest, Puck says to his master, Oberon, "Lord, what fools these mortals be!" Though this is a story that is focused on exploring how humanity functions in times of love and loss, the fairy world provides us with a foil that allows us to see humanity from a new perspective. 

In this play, magic is used to take advantage of humans and their essential humanity or to reveal humanity in the magical creatures. When Oberon gives Titania a love potion, for example, she closely resembles the obsession and passion of one of our four lovers, though she is in love with Bottom, who doesn't even resemble a human once he is given a donkey head. The love potion given to the lovers only heightens their fundamental humanness. The love Demetrius and Lysander feel for Helena is powerful, but this love leads to jealousy, hatred, and revenge as well. Hermia feels betrayed by her lover and her best friend and the men are out to destroy one another for Helena's hand. Underneath magical influences, the magic only works to enhance what makes them so human to begin with -- their emotional ties to one another. 

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