Identify the significance of the setting, including the major shifts in locale that take place, and when they occur in A Midsummer Night's Dream.
In A Midsummer Night's Dream by William Shakespeare, the settings of the different scenes reflect the "realities" of the world the characters inhabit during the play. The Elizabethans believed that the world of the fairies came to light after dark, when these mystical creatures inhabited the woods.
The audiences of Shakespeare's time, therefore, would know that no wise person would ever venture into the woods once the sun went down. Shakespeare is perhaps the one author most responsible for presenting fairies in an entirely different light than had been done so before his time. Up until this point, people believed that fairies could be more than mischievous, but also malicious and nasty. For instance, at one time they believed that fairies would steal their children, leaving a changeling in their baby's place.
However, Shakespeare presents the fairies in this play as playful sprites who would entertain themselves at the expense of humans, but make things right by the end of the evening. The audience would have had no doubt that what transpired in the play would actually happen to them if they were in the woods after dark.
With this in mind, the world of the fairies existed for man to see during the night in the forest. The woods during the day belonged to human beings. And if an unsuspecting human trespassed into the fairy realm after dark, mischief was afoot and strange occurrences would be witnessed.
When the Nick Bottom and his fellow thesbians go into the woods to practice the play they want to perform at the Duke's wedding, they take the risk of being the evening's entertainment for the fairies. In fact, a good deal of the play's humor revolves around the spell Puck puts on Nick to turn him into an "ass."
When the young lovers (Lysander and Hermia) plan to run away together, and others (Demetrius and Helena) come to "stop" them, Oberon (King of the Fairies) and Puck (his faithful "henchman") also get involved: Oberon wants the lovers to end up in "happily-ever-after" with the right person, and so he plays the matchmaker with Puck's assistance.
Major shifts of locale take place between the human world (the woods during the daytime where the lovers first plan to elope) and when the lovers leave the civilized world to travel through the forest (the fairy realm) at night. "Sanity" returns when the young people leave the woods at daybreak, thus making their experiences feel like a "dream."
When the sun is up, the world reverts to the control of the humans, and all is "right with the world."