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Analysis On A Midsummer Night's Dream By William Shakespeare

1459 words - 6 pages

Like any religious society of the past, life in Elizabethan England was ordered based on the Great Chain of Being. This hierarchy, with God and royalty at the top, man in the middle above women, and animals near the bottom, was the basis of status. Deviation from the established order was considered absurd and created chaos. In A Midsummer’s Night Dream, Shakespeare uses the juxtaposition of contrasting people and settings to explore the effects of disorder in Elizabethan society while revealing character flaws for comic effect.
The antagonistic setting of Theseus’ Athens and the surrounding woods drive much of the chaotic action in the play and set the stage for the comical attitude of the production. Athens, representing an ordered society of law and social strata, is directly opposed to the mystical realm of the forest ruled by fairies in which the lines of reality can be blurred. The story opens in Athens, where Egeus is asserting his right as father to choose the husband of his daughter, and Theseus as King states his intention to uphold the law if Hermia will not behave. Here society is functioning as expected, only being thrown off by the imbalance created by two suitors vying for a single maiden. This leads to the lovers, Hermia and Lysander, running off to the woods with Demetrius and Helena in pursuit. The transition from Athens to the woods reflects the break from a structured society. In the woods the usual limits of reality are disregarded. The Athenian youths are now subject to the whims of Oberon, King of the fairies and the realm of nature, and his mischievous servant Robin Goodfellow. The absurdities of the lovers’ actions are laid bare for the audience to laugh at, as well as the flaws of the rustics who attempt to practice their own play in the woods. The atmosphere of the woods is important to the construction of comedy in A Midsummer’s Night Dream because as in a dream the audience has the sense that the characters are never truly in danger. Eventually, as to be expected in a comedy, the conflicts of the play are sorted out and the lovers are rustics are returned to the order of Athens with the marriage ceremonies solidifying the reinstituted structure of society. The juxtaposition of Athens and the woods serve primarily to allow Shakespeare’s exploration of a chaotic society.
Many of the characters in A Midsummer’s Night Dream play out roles which would seem unfitting of the way society should be. The lovers in particular are comically overdramatic in their courtships as Shakespeare toys with the absurdity and irrationality that characterizes love. The relationship of Demetrius and Helena is particularly volatile as each expresses intense emotions but of opposite intentions. As Helena pursues Demetrius into the woods in 2.1, she proclaims “You draw me, you hard-hearted adamant!” (2.1.201), yet he only scoffs at her attention and suggests he’ll “leave [her] to the mercy of wild beasts” (2.1.235). Not only...

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