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A Midsummer Night's Dream

by William Shakespeare

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What is the moral lesson of A Midsummer Night's Dream?

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The moral lesson of A Midsummer Night's Dream may be to point out the fickle nature of human relationships. Shakespeare uses comedy and the magic of fairies to demonstrate the failure of humans to form constant and steady romantic relationships. However, the lighthearted and farcical nature of the play means that it is ultimately not very moralizing.

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Because it is a comedy, this play doesn't weigh as heavily as some of Shakespeare's other works in a consideration of deep moral lessons. It is quite entertaining in a light and farcical way.

The play centers around various romantic relationships. Through various conflicts, romance is portrayed as complicated and subject to the whims of other influences—from fathers to meddling fairies. Hermia and Lysander are in love, but this relationship is forbidden by Hermia's father, Egeus, because he finds Lysander unsuitable. Speaking of his daughter, Egeus proclaims,

As she is mine, I may dispose of her—
Which shall be either to this gentleman
Or to her death—according to our law
Immediately provided in that case. (act 1, scene 1, lines 44–47)

Here, Hermia's father exerts his authoritative control over her, trying to force her to marry Demetrius. Hermia doesn't seem to have much say in the decision.

Romantic control is also subject to the whims of fairies and magic. Human emotions are easily manipulated through Puck's magical potion, and both Lysander and Demetrius end up proclaiming their love for Helena rather than Hermia. Helena is so shocked by this turn of events that she thinks they are making fun of her. After all, she has continually tried to win the favor of Demetrius, who has told her,

Do I entice you? Do I speak you fair?
Or, rather, do I not in the plainest truth
Tell you, I do not, nor I cannot love you? (act 2, scene 1, lines 199–201)

Although Demetrius makes his initial inability to love Helena quite clear, he is easily swayed by just a few drops of magic potion at the whim of a fairy. The power of the fairies to so completely sway human emotions and relationships seems to point to a lack of depth in the connections humans form with each other.

All of the romantic conflict in this play seems to point to a somewhat troubling moral lesson: The romantic relationships of humans are fickle and easily manipulated. Through comical conflicts, Shakespeare seems to be chiding humans for the ways in which they fail to demonstrate an unfailing and constant love for each other.

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What is the main moral of A Midsummer Night's Dream?

This is a difficult question to answer. A Midsummer Night's Dream certainly is a play of a more farcical nature than a moralistic one. Without question, the main theme in the play is one of love; however, it often portrays the ugly side of it. For example, Demetrius is so revolted by a woman who loves him unconditionally that he cannot even bear to look at her. The characters all show signs of pettiness and selfishness, abandoning their duty for selfish desires.

However, if I were to have to apply a moral lesson to the play, it would probably be a warning not to meddle in affairs that are none of your concern. The meddling of the fairies causes Titania, their queen, to fall in love with a literal ass, or at least a man with the head of one. Though it seems that Puck's meddling with the love potion makes everything work out in the end, Demetrius and Helena are together only because of it. This rings as a sad commentary on the loss of free will.

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What is the main moral of A Midsummer Night's Dream?

I'm not sure plays - particularly plays as complicated as Shakespeare's - ever have a "main moral". The play is about all sorts of things: dreams, sex, acting, fairies and spirits, magic, love, "true love", pagan rituals (of which "midsummer" was actually one) - and I'm not sure you can argue that it was only trying to say one thing.

But if I had to argue that? I'd argue that it's a play largely about change and transformation. The lovers go into the forest sure of who they love and don't love, and - with a little interference from Puck - everything soon changes. Even at the very end of the play, Demetrius - still under the influence of the flower - marries Helena, whom earlier he hated with such passion that he claimed to be sick when he saw her.

The mechanicals, who are anyway engaged in the business of amateur dramatics (and what could be more transformative than the process of becoming a character?) are broken up by Bottom's transformation into a half-donkey.

And, as many critics argue, Theseus and Hippolyta could be seen in some way to "become" Oberon and Titania in the setting of the magical forest: the parts are often double din production. Not forgetting Puck, who transforms himself (read his first speech!) into stools and cups in order to trick the mortals.

So the main moral of the Dream ... in my reading? Everything, even love, changes. Is that the only interpretation? Definitely not.

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