Where is the theme of illusion and reality used in A Midsummer Night's Night Dream and The Taming of the Shrew?

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Noelle Matteson eNotes educator| Certified Educator

The two plays have somewhat different uses for illusion. In A Midsummer Night’s Dream, the fairies are the primary cause of delusions. Puck and Oberon use a love potion to taint the perceptions of Titania, Demetrius, and Lysander. Oberon chants these words as he puts the juice in Titania’s eyes:

What thou seest when thou dost wake,
Do it for thy true-love take…
When thou wakest, it is thy dear:
Wake when some vile thing is near.

It works. She falls in love with Bottom, a fool whose head has been transformed into a donkey’s. When he sings a silly song, Titania declares, “Mine ear is much enamour'd of thy note; / So is mine eye enthralled to thy shape.” After the spell wears off, Bottom thinks the experience has been a fantasy, “a most rare vision.”

Under the love potion, Demetrius and Lysander also transfer their affection from Hermia to Helena. In reality, the two women are probably equally beautiful (Helena says, “Through Athens I am thought as fair as she”), but the magical juice, which is as arbitrary and illusory as love, make Demetrius and Lysander hate Hermia. Lysander exclaims, “Out, loathed medicine! hated potion, hence!”

The Taming of the Shrew begins with deception. A lord enlists the help of his servants and a number of actors to trick the drunken Sly into believing that he is a nobleman. They tell him that he has suffered from a “strange lunacy” which confused his memory. He even has a lovely wife (who is, in fact, a disguised boy). This farce is all for the lord’s amusement, a jest to mock Sly for being so drunk and slovenly.

Other examples of illusion comes from Petruchio. He contradicts and mistreats Katharina while he claims to love her. Petruchio finally breaks her by making her admit that the sun is the moon. She relents, “And be it moon, or sun, or what you please: / … Henceforth I vow it shall be so for me.” In A Midsummer Night’s Dream, illusions can be dangerous, but they largely represent the madness of love. The Taming of the Shrew includes classic cases of gaslighting, where the deceptions are often meant to control.

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A Midsummer Night's Dream

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