Illustration of a donkey-headed musician in between two white trees

A Midsummer Night's Dream

by William Shakespeare

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Student Question

What link between imagination and nature is Shakespeare suggesting in A Midsummer Night's Dream?

"If A Midsummer Night's Dream can be said to convey a message, it is that the creative imagination is in tune with the supernatural world and is best used to confer the blessings of Nature (writ large) upon mankind and marriage."

Expert Answers

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Throughout A Midsummer Night's Dream, imagination is often shown through illusions and those illusions are mostly portrayed and even exposed in nature, specifically in the woods. For example, Hermia and Lysander run off into the woods to escape Hermia's father's ruling that she must marry Demetrius because they are under the illusion they are in love. The mechanicals also go off into the woods to rehearse their play in privacy, and they are under the illusion they can put on a magnificent play. While Hermia and Lysander become disillusioned through magic once in the forest, by the end of the play, they also become re-illusioned and reunited while still in the forest. In addition, the mechanicals become disillusioned about performing a fantastic play when Bottom disappears. But once he appears again in the forest, they all become re-illusioned about performing their grand play. In fact, Bottom never becomes disillusioned about his abilities as an actor and is wholly satisfied with the mechanicals' production, despite its obvious failure.

Since it is in the woods, or nature, that the characters both become disillusioned as well as have their illusions nurtured, we can say that nature helps nurture illusions. In addition, the supernatural both breaks and reestablishes the characters' illusions, as shown through the magic flower and Puck's mix-up of the lovers. Hence we see through the play that there is a connection between the things of the spiritual world, such as love and magic, and our illusions, which stem from our imaginations. Shakespeare intentionally shows a division between the corporeal world and the spiritual world by representing the corporeal world in the city of Athens and representing the spirit world in the forest. This division shows us that it is only in the spirit world, or supernatural world, which is akin to the world of nature, that we can nurture our illusions, or imaginations.

Puck is especially used to show the relationship of the spirit world with the world of illusion, first through his mix-up of the lovers and then through correcting the situation. He especially shows the connection between the spirit world and illusion in his final speech:

If we shadows have offended,
Think but this, and all is mended,
That you have but slumber'd here
While these visions did appear. (V.i.418-20)

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