A Midsummer Night's Dream
The role of dreams in A Midsummer Night's Dream is of primary interest to critics who wish to uncover the relationships between dreams and the reality of the play's world, as well as between dreams and the reality of Shakespeare's world. Not surprisingly, some critics approach the play from a psychological perspective in order to dissect such connections. Jan Lawson Hinley (1987) examines the role of dreams in the play from such a standpoint and asserts that Shakespeare uses dreams as a way to illuminate the psychological foundation of the sexual anxieties of the four lovers. For example, Hinley maintains that Hermia's dream of the snake attacking her while Lysander stands by, watching, demonstrates Hermia's fears of male sexuality and betrayal and also reflects her anxiety regarding the social pressures in Athens. Similarly, Hinley goes on, the "triple dream of Bottom, Titania, and Oberon" reinforces the sense of tension that appears to be inherent in creating and maintaining a sexual and romantic love relationship. Hinley concludes that the struggle of the lovers to secure a balance between their sexual desires and the requirements of society is brought to an end when stable relationships are established and condoned within a "benevolent patriarchal society." Peter Holland (1994), like Hinley, advances a psychological approach to dreams in the play. Holland begins by stating his belief that dreams in the play are better understood from a Jungian viewpoint, in that the play, as a dream, reveals more than it conceals. Holland states that Oberon and Puck create a situation in which the characters in the play, as well as the audience, are able to see the play as a "true dream experience," not simply something like a dream. In exploring the historical context of this transformative power of the dream, Holland explains how Shakespeare's audiences may have regarded dreams as a source of "true understanding." In conclusion, Holland observes that Oberon relates dreams to visions, that Puck advises the audience that it has seen visions, and that Bottom views his experience as a vision. Holland stresses that if as audience members "we have responded to the play fully" then we will share Bottom's assessment, and should therefore regard the play not as trivial but as the "revelation of another reality." Just as Holland observes the significance of visions, Marjorie B. Garber (1974) notes that in the play, visions are contrasted with dreams, and are regarded as correctly interpreted and valued dreams. Garber maintains that the view of dreams presented in A Midsummer Night's Dream is a "redemptive" one which "arises in part from a new emphasis upon transformation as a creative act." Furthermore, Garber contends that the dream state, as a transforming and creative process, orders the events of the play. The contrast between sleep and wakefulness, between reality and illusion, between reason and imagination, and between the realms of Theseus and Oberon, are all "structurally related to portrayal of the dream state," Garber explains. Similarly, Garber notices other structural analogs, including the relationship between metaphor and the dream state. Garber closes her essay by emphasizing that in this play, dreams have the power to reveal insight and truth, and to "interpret and transform" reality.
Louis Montrose (essay date 1996)
SOURCE: "Stories of the Night," in The Purpose of Playing: Shakespeare and the Cultural Politics of the Elizabethan Theatre, The University of Chicago Press, 1996, pp. 124-50.
[In the following essay, Montrose examines the mythological subtext of A Midsummer Night's Dream, claiming that Hippolyta's presence at the play's opening invokes Amazonian mythology, which Montrose describes as the "embodiment of a collective, masculine anxiety about women's power to dominate, create, and destroy men. "]
The opposed domestic emphases of Brooks and Olson—the former, romantic and companionate; the latter, authoritarian...
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