A Midsummer Nights Dream Shakespeare’s treatment of illusion and reality
in the play
A Midsummer Nights Dream is a comedy written by William Shakespeare,
it is a play about lovers and includes madness, mayhem, magic and
illusion. The title tells us of the inevitable confusion to come, as
in Elizabethan times ‘A Midsummer Night’ was a festival linked with
mayhem and chaos, and the fact it is a ‘dream’ conjures up ideas of
illusion and fantasy.
The play has two settings, Athens which represents reality, order and
daylight and the woods, the world of the fairies, which symbolize
illusion, magic, and a place of darkness.
There are three main groups of characters the courtiers, the workmen
and the fairies whose actions form four different plots within the
1. The wedding of Theseus and Hippolyta
2. The love affairs between Hermia, Lysander, Demetrius and Helena
3. The workmen’s play, its planning, rehearsal and performance
4. The quarrel between Oberon and Titania
A Midsummer Nights Dream itself is an illusion, and to enjoy it you
must temporarily suspend reality.
Love is an important theme in the play, whether it is true love or
induced by magic; it inhibits people’s ability to distinguish what is
real or simply an illusion.
The play begins in Athens, with the preparations for the forthcoming
marriage of Theseus, Duke of Athens, to Hippolyta Queen of the
Amazons. The use of these characters at the beginning of the play
gives it a real sense of importance. Egeus enters with a complaint
against his daughter Hermia; she refuses to wed Demetrius who has her
father’s consent to marry her, but Hermia is in love with Lysander.
Egeus believes his daughter could not possibly truly love Lysander, of
her own free will and that ‘with cunning hast thou filched my
daughter’s heart’. Egeus refers to the love as induced by magic, and
believes Lysander and his gifts charmed her ‘Thou hast by moonlight at
her window sung’, ‘with feigning voice verses of feigning love’, the
word ‘feigning’ also implies the love is false. ‘This man hath
bewitched the bosom of my child’. This speech introduces the idea that
people’s feelings can be induced by magic, poetry and moonlight so
they cannot tell the difference between illusion and reality.
The young lovers decide to elope and arrange to meet each other in the
woods. Hermia confides in her childhood friend, Helena of her and
Helena is envious of Demetrius’s feelings for Hermia, and even though
Hermia tries to put Helena’s mind at rest that she has no feelings for
Demetrius, she is still jealous.
Helena’s soliloquy of unrequited love, is an important scene in the
play as she speaks of ‘Things base and vile, holding no quantity’,
‘Love can transpose to form and dignity’. She is explaining how the
power of love, can transform what we would normally consider as
undesirable into something quite beautiful. She decides to tell