In Shakespeare's A Midsummer Night's Dream, what are some examples (besides the moon) of a time motif?

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booboosmoosh eNotes educator| Certified Educator

In Shakespeare's A Midsummer Night's Dream, there are references to the motif of time. There is a reference to the moon in Act One, scene one, and also a reference to days: there are four days (a passage of time) until the new moon. It refers to the slow pace of time until Theseus and Hippolyta will be married—he is anxious to wed Hippolyta.


Now, fair Hippolyta, our nuptial hour

Draws on apace; four happy days bring in

Another moon; but, O, methinks, how slow

This old moon wanes! She lingers my desires... (I.i.1-4)

Hippolyta says that the time will pass quickly enough. (Theseus has "won" Hippolyta by defeating her in war; here he is trying to woo her, and she is slow to respond.)


Four days will quickly steep themselves in night;

Four nights will quickly dream away the time... (lines 7-8)

Next, Egeus brings his daughter Hermia before the Duke to force her to marry Demetrius (who Hermia does not love). Theseus reminds her that if she does not consent to her father's wishes, she will either be put to death (as is the law of Athens, the setting of the play) or enter a convent forever. The Duke tells Hermia to take some time to think about it and gives her until his own wedding day.


Take time to pause...

In discussion, Lysander speaks to Hermia about how quickly hope ("bright things") fades (referring, again, to the passage of time), saying...

...Making it momentary as a sound,

Swift as a shadow, short as any dream...

...So quick bright things come to confusion. (I.i.145-151)

When Helena arrives, discouraged that Demetrius does not love her, Lysander and Hermia decide to share their plans to elope, in order to comfort her. Then Hermia will no longer be in the picture to distract Demetrius from Helena (and remember, he loved her once). The plan they share also involves time: that the time they have chosen to flee—under a cover of darkness—is perfect:

Tomorrow night, when Phoebe doth behold

Her silver visage in the watery glass,

Decking with liquid pearl the bladed grass,

A time that lovers' flights doth still conceal,

Through Athens' gates have we devised to steal. (214-218)

Titania and Oberon meet in Act Two, scene one; they are fighting over a changeling whose mother—a friend of Titania's—died while giving birth to him. Oberon wants the boy as a page, but his wife refuses. Oberon asks his wife how long she intends to stay in the woods where they have accidentally met.


How long within this wood intend you stay? (II.i.140)

Annoyed, Titania leaves Oberon draws Puck, his "mischievous henchman," aside to recall a time when they heard a mermaid's singing while she rode on a dolphin's back, and another time when Oberon saw Cupid fire an arrow that missed its mark and fell to the earth. In remembering, Oberon is referring to segments of time, seated deep in the king of the fairies' memory.


Thou rememberest

Since once I sat upon a promontory,

And heard a mermaid, on a dolphin's back

Uttering such dulcet and harmonious breath…


That very time I saw...

Flying between the cold moon and the earth

Cupid all arm'd; a certain aim he took

At a fair vestal throned by the west,

And loosed his love-shaft smartly from his bow (II.i.150-162)

Time can refer to what time it is, a segment of time (in the past or the future), the passage of time, etc. There are many references, but finding them can be a challenge.


Read the study guide:
A Midsummer Night's Dream

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