Midsummer Night’s Dream
Questions and Answers
1. What does Shakespeare accomplish by setting most of the action at night and in the wood? Explain thoroughly. Use examples.
Setting most of the action at night and in the woods creates a dreamlike world. There is no other place that holds more myth than the forest. Obernon makes clear that nighttime is fairies’ time. Theseus, who is present during the daylight, represents reason.The visions of fairies and magic are all related to the nighttime forest setting. Shakespeare was interested in how dreams worked, in how the events in the play transpired, and how time seems to change and loses track. Throughout the entire play, the young lovers are overcome by the magical power of the woods. They are put into a situation that is unrealistic which leads to bizarre mishaps. Even uncanny incidents happen to the fairies of the woods. Titania is put under a love spell and falls in the love with the ass-headed Nick Bottom. Puck reminds us in the end that if the play has offended anyone, they should simply remember it as being a dream. This helps make the play an incredible occurrence, rather than an intense drama.
2. Explain how Theseus represents the voice of reason and moderation. Be specific. Use examples and quotes (include act and line numbers)
Theseus represents the voice of reason and moderation in the play because he seems to be the only normal character left. He only appears in the play during the daytime, when nothing magical occurs. He is the only character who shows complete sanity in the dreamlike fantasy world around him. He is the Duke of Athens so many people come to him with their problems. When Egeus comes to Theseus about the problem he is having with his daughter, Hermia, Theseus takes power over the situation. He explains to Hermia that if she goes against her father’s rules, by his words, she will be sentenced to death or sent to a convent. (Act 1, Scene 1, Pages 4 and 5, Lines 30-34). He states, “For you, fair Hermia, look you arm yourself to fit your fancies to your father’s will; Or else the law of Athens yields you up,- which by no means we may extenuate,- to death, or to a vow of single life.” Hermia is so in love that she can not make a reasonable decision, so she runs off into the imaginative woods with Lysander. After Theseus finds the young lovers and listens to their crazy story of mishaps, he does not readily believe them. Hippolyta tries to reassure him that they are telling the truth. Theseus states, “More strange than true: I never may believe these antique fables, nor these fairy toys. Lovers and madmen have such seething brains, such shaping fantasies, that apprehend more than cool reason ever comprehends (Act V, Scene 1, Page 54, lines 2-5). He believes that the darkness of love has a way of exciting the imagination, making things hard to follow and undoubtedly insane. He does not believe in fantasy, but takes things from knowledge of truth, and for him, seeing is believing.
3. What precipitates the quarrel between Obernon and Titania? How does their quarrel affect the outside world? Be specific. Use examples and quotes (include act and line numbers)
The quarrel between Obernon and Titania begins when Titania refuses to let Obernon make a henchman out of an Indian Prince (Act II, Scene 1). When he sends Puck into the woods to find the love-potion flower, Puck cast a spell over the young lovers in to woods (Act II, Scene II, Page 23, Line 9 and 10). Puck states, “Churl, upon thy eyes I throw all the power this charm doth owe.” This causes Lysander and Demetrius to fall in love with Helena accidentally. Helena is utterly confused when Lysander falls in love with her for she cries, “Do not say so, Lysander; Say not so. What though he love your Hermia?” (Act II, Scene II, Page 24, Line 6 and 7.) Lysander replies, “Not Hermia, but Helena I love.” (Act II, Scene II, Page 24, Line 11) Believing she is being ridiculed, Helena says, “Wherefore was I to this keen mockery born?” (Act II, Scene II, Page 24, Line21.) Puck does the same thing to Demetrius, causing him to fall in love with Helena (Act III, Scene II.) “O Helen, goddess, nymph, perfect, divine! To what, my love, shall I compare thine eye,” (Act III, Scene II, Page 35, Line 26 and 27). This is what Demetrius says to Helena after he discovers his love for her. Helena, again feeling she is being made fun of says, “O spite! O hell! I see you all are bent in merriment to set against me for you merriment. But you must join in souls to mock me too?”(Act III, Scene II, Page 35 and 36, Line 34, 35, and 3). This causes most of the difficulty in love during the play for it sends the young lovers on a wild goose chase after each other in the woods. Near the end of the play Theseus and Egeus must all go into the woods to search for the young lovers. However, the quarrel also affects Titania and Nick Bottom. When Puck turns Nick Bottom’s head into that of an ass (Act III, Scene 1), Titania awakes to him and having been cursed with the love potion, immediately falls in love with him. She says, “On the first view to say, to swear, I love thee” (Act III, Scene 1, Page 30, Line 1.) After this occurs, Bottom’s fellow thespians are in desperation when they can not find him.” This leads to most of the comical sense of the play.
4. Early in the play, Lysander observes, “the course of true love never did run smooth.” Apply this observation to the love relationships between Theseus and Hippolyta, the two young lovers, Titania and Obernon, and Pyramus and Thisby. Be sure to cite examples, using quotes (act and line numbers). In other words, how does the story develop the theme that “love is unpredictable.”
In this quote, Lysander is trying to comfort Hermia in her depression. If Hermia does not marry Demetrius, her life could be at risk. This quote represents the major theme of love’s difficulty. The relationship between Theseus and Hippolyta is a very strange one. They are absent through most of the action in the play and do not return again until the end. They are romanticized in the play, but they do not belong to the magical world around them. They remain in absolute control of their emotions and actions and they drive out the dreamlike sense of the fantasy world. In the beginning Theseus states, “Hippolyta, I woo’d thee with my sword, and won thy love, doing thee injuries,” (Page 1, Act 1, Scene 1, lines 17 and 18). Theseus had to win the love of Hippolyta in battle, and was wounded and defeated. However, he will marry Hippolyta in a different key, “with pomp, triumph and with reveling.” (Act 1, Scene 1, Page 1, Line 20). For him this marriage will be victorious. Their relationship represents order and stability. For the two young lovers, Lysander and Hermia, many things occur that could perhaps jeopardize their love. Egeus, Hermia’s father, forbids her to marry Lysander. He wants her to wed Demetrius instead, and if she doesn’t, by Athenian law, she will be sentenced to death or sent to a convent. Lysander comforts Hermia and goes on to tell her that in every true love, there are many hardships to face. He mentions some of the difficulties, many of which later appear in the play. (example: Page 5, Act 1, Scene 1, Line 19- “Or else it stood upon the choice of friends.”) After they tell Helena, Hermia’s friend, of their plans to elope, Helena tells Demetrius, so he will follow them into the woods to try and stop the marriage. The previous quote goes along with this sentence in the sense that you must choose your friends wisely and watch out when you tell secrets to a “friend”. Helena did not help their plans of escape to, but she did make their rode to matrimony ever so bumpy. Throughout the entire play, Lysander and Hermia face a constant battle with Demetrius and Helena concerning concepts of love, magic, and regulation. Titania and Obernon’s relationship is at odds during Act II Scene 1 of the play. Obernon wants to knight a young Indian prince, but Titania refuses to surrender the child. To achieve retribution, Obernon sends Puck into the woods to acquire a certain love-potion flower to distract Titania. Puck turns Nick Bottom’s head into that of an ass and makes the foolish mistake of having Titania fall head over heals in love with Bottom. The love-potion is sort of a symbol of the fickle, unpredictable, erratic and ever changeable power of love. The relationship between Pyramus and Thisby is almost that of Romeo and Juliet. It entails all the love and misunderstanding of the young lovers’ relationship. It gives an even more comical view of the troubles portrayed throughout the play. The story of Pyramus and Thisby is about about two young lovers, their feuding families, and their attempts to remain together. Like Romeo and Juliet, Pyramus and Thisby commit suicide when they find that their lovers are dead. The relationship between all these characters is abstracted from the lighthearted tone of the play. The audience believes that the play will end happily, and is not caught up in the apprehension of a doubtful outcome.
5. Why is moonlight so important in the play? Again cite examples and quotes (act and line numbers).
The moon’s light is a symbol of madness, romance, and magic, which are all aspects and themes of the play. The moonlight also represents the realm of theater, where illusions take on the appearance of real life. Puck refers to Obernon as the “King of Shadows” (Act III, Scene II, Page 42, Line 2.) Puck states, “Believe me, king of shadows, I mistook.” He is talking about how he foolishly spoiled the love connection between the young lovers in the woods. Obernon says in Act II, Scene 1, Page14, Line 10, “I’ll met by moonlight, proud Titania.” Titania states, (Page16, Line 30, Same Act and Scene), “And see our moonlight revels, go with us.” The fairies work their magic at night. Moonlight represents emotions as contrasted to reason, and the shadowy night world they preside over is one of mysterious glimpses and strange behavior. For the young lovers, it is much harder to see at night, thus the moon symbolizes a cloudy light of love forming around their relationships.
6. What are the four main plots of A Midsummer Night’s Dream? Explain thoroughly using examples.
The four main plots of the play are the royal wedding of Theseus and Hippolyta, the story of the young lovers, Hermia, Lysander, Demetrius, and Helena, the conflict between Titania and Obernon, and the attempts of the craftsmen to put on a play for the royal wedding. In the beginning of the play, Theseus and Hippolyta are awaiting their wedding day. Theseus is eager for the wedding ceremony to take place so he commissions for the Master of Revels, Philostrate, to find amusement to help pass the time before their marriage. Egeus comes to Theseus’s court with his daughter, Hermia, and two young men, Lysander and Demetrius. Egeus wants Hermia to marry Demetrius, but she refuses because she is in love with Lysander. Theseus tells Hermia that if she does not comply with her father’s wishes, then the Athenian law will fall on her. He gives her till his wedding night to consider her options. However, Hermia and Lysander make plans to run off into the woods to Lysander’s aunt’s house, where Athenian law can not touch them and where they can be blissfully married. They tell Helena, Hermia’s friend, about their plans to elope. However, Helena is in love with Demetrius, so by thinking that she could perhaps win his love, she tells Demetrius of their plans. Demetrius then stalks after the two young lovers in the woods, and Helena follows close behind. In these particular woods there were two very different types of groups of characters. The first group is a band of fairies, including Titania and Obernon. Titania and Obernon are queen and king of the fairies. The second group is a gang of craftsmen rehearsing a play for the royal wedding. Titania has recently returned from India to bless the marriage of Theseus and Hippolyta, and on her return she brought back with her a young Indian prince. The prince causes Titania and Obernon to be at odds with each other. Obernon wants to make the young boy into a knight, but Titania refuses to let him do so. To seek revenge, Obernon sends his servant, Puck, into the woods to acquire a magical love flower, the juice of which when spread over a person’s eyelid, makes them fall madly in love with the first creature they lay eyes upon. After Puck finds the flower, Obernon tells him to spread it over the sleeping Titania’s eyes. Earlier in evening, Puck saw Demetrius acting cruelly towards Helena, so he spreads some of the juice over his eyelids. He also encounters Lysander and Hermia, and believes that this is the young Athenian man that Obernon spoke of. Puck spreads the potion over the eyes of Lysander as well. Upon his waking, Lysander sees Helena, and falls desperately in love with her, leaving Hermia behind. Both Demetrius and Lysander end up falling in love with Helena, but she believes they are mocking her. Hermia becomes so jealous that she challenges Helena to a fight. Lysander and Demetrius also fight over Helena’s love, but Puck confuses everyone by mimicking their voices in the forest, leading them far away from each other. Titania finally awakens in the woods and the first creature she sees is Nick Bottom, one of the Athenian craftsmen. Puck has mockingly transformed his head into that of an ass. The craftsmen are in a desperate search for their lost friend, who is the lead in their play. Obernon eventually gains possession of the young Indian prince, Puck spreads the love potion back over Lysander’s eyes, and by the next morning, everything is back to normal. Demetrius now loves Helena and Lysander loves Hermia again. Theseus and Hippolyta find the young Athenian lovers and take them back to Athens with them to be married. After the wedding, they sit down to watch the craftsmen’s production of Pyramus and Thisbe. Only Puck remains on stage after everyone has gone off to bed and tells the audience to remember the play as simply a dream.
7. What is the significance of Puck’s epilogue? What does it mean for us to accept the play as a dream?
At the very end of the play Puck gives a famous epilogue. The epilogue gives reference to one of the main themes of the play, dreams, especially those pertaining to the darkness of love. Puck goes beyond the theme of dreams and puts the reality of the audience’s experience into question. He reminds the audience that if they did not enjoy the play, then they should just simply remember it as a dream. Puck captures the whimsical nature of the play by examining it as a demonstration of the subliminal.