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

A Midsummer Night's Dream

by William Shakespeare

Start Free Trial

In A Midsummer Night's Dream, does the court represent chaos and the woods order, or vice versa?

Expert Answers

An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

This is an interesting prompt because traditionally most critics believe the opposite: that the Athenian court represents order and the enchanted forest represents disorder. In Northrop Frye's classic Anatomy of Criticism, he defines the term "green world," a place that represents an upturning of civilization, usually represented by a forest. Shakespeare's comedies feature several such green worlds, and A Midsummer Night's Dream might be the most famous example in his work.

It makes more sense that the Athenian court represents order. Within the court, Hermia and Lysander are forced to obey the wills of the patriarchal system that would tear them apart or else face death. When they, Helena, and Demetrius go into the forest, they encounter a world where the rules no longer apply. The intervention of the faeries turns their romantic entanglements upside down. Even systems of class are upturned when the royal Titania falls in love with the lowly Bottom. Irony permeates these romantic complications: the lovely Titania dotes on the foolish and transformed Bottom, while the two men who previously swore love only for Hermia now arbitrarily swap their affections to Helena.

However, one might make the case that there is order in the woods as well in the royal fairy court of Oberon and Titania. This order is disrupted when Oberon is angry that Titania will not give him the foundling Indian child, a reluctance that overrides the respect he feels she owes him as his wife ("Tarry, rash wanton: am not I thy lord?"). The chaos comes from his vengeful use of the love potion to humiliate Titania as well as his benevolent use of it to "help" Helena. Once he is through with the mischief caused by the potion and Robin's blundering does Oberon desire order to return to the woods. On the other hand, this means that chaos exists in the Athenian court. While this is not necessarily a legal chaos, it is an emotional one, with Hermia and her father at odds, and Helena longing for Demetrius, who foolishly chases after a woman who does not want him back.

As for which quality, chaos or order, is deemed of greater value by the end of the play, order is the likelier candidate. The lovers benefit from their time in the woods in that the love square between them is resolved in a way that makes everyone happy, but they must return to the world of order represented by Athens. So it might be said that while chaos is transformative, a better order is the desired end.

See eNotes Ad-Free

Start your 48-hour free trial to get access to more than 30,000 additional guides and more than 350,000 Homework Help questions answered by our experts.

Get 48 Hours Free Access
Approved by eNotes Editorial