Appearance vs. Reality
Critics have long noted a dichotomy between appearance and reality in Shakespeare's plays. Many of these works depend on the power of language and rhetoric to corrupt the truth, or on the fallibility of human perception: Iago deceives Othello, Macbeth and Lady Macbeth hallucinate, and the real and mythical worlds of A Midsummer Night's Dream intersect in a self-aware theatrical performance. Such dichotomies have been important touchstones in critical discussions of Shakespeare's oeuvre. Modern critics contend that Shakespeare delved deeply into the reflexive effect of language on the shaping of reality.
Commentators have also explored the ramifications of Shakespeare's plays as originally performed, considering the Elizabethan period and theatrical conventions. For example, the fact of male actors playing female characters, sometimes disguised as males, renders problematic issues of sexual identity and the nature of gender. Such role-playing also brings into question the nature of power and social status—whether power and status are dictated by a natural order or are discursively constructed. Shakespeare's plays thus manipulate appearance and reality to advance plot and character, and also to comment on broader issues of gender and power.