A Midsummer Nights Dream Essay
A Midsummer Nights Dream
What are the dramatic conventions which mark out A Midsummer Nights Dream as a comedy? What aspects of the play show that a comedy can also be serious? Comedy appears throughout A Midsummer Nights Dream. However, some aspects of comedy come across as quite serious. “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” is a play of the comic form. It is therefore intended to amuse the audience and make them laugh. It also means that there is a very specific outline to the story, i. e. normality to chaos and back to normality once the chaos has been resolved, which at the end, is signalled by the feasting, drinking and laughing.
The play comes into existence in the Athenian court. As expected there is perfect normality and the court of Athens rules with its law and order. Athens is very much a place of reason in this play. Whenever it is set around the court of Athens, the “situation” is either perfectly common, or problems are being solved there that have occurred in the chaotic woods. Dramatic conventions The main dramatic conventions that mark out A Midsummer Nights Dream are things like the chaotic ordeal of losing a partner and finding a partner.
Theseus and Hippolyta are about to be married, but Hippolyta doesn’t return the love that Theseus professes for her. This is a serious issue in the play, as Hippolyta’s apparent rejection of Theseus as a husband is signalled by the language of her response to Theseus, when she refers to the moon as a ‘bow, new bent in heaven’, a reference to Diana, the huntress, who represents Hippolyta’s own feminist side, inclining to chastity, rather than to the full moon. Helena and Demetrius used to be in love, and Helena still is.
However, Demetrius no longer loves her. He appears to be followed by her, and Helena clearly still loves him. Demetrius obviously dislikes Helena because she continues to follow him. Their relationship is now over and Helena is finding it very hard to cope with this situation. This may be seen by the reader as comical, but in real life would be quite the opposite for both people, Demetrius because he is not happy with Helena following him around all the time and Helena because she spends all her time following Demetrius and yet he constantly rejects her.
This play takes you on a roller coaster ride, from the order, sense, harmony and ultimately reality of the Athenian court to the nocturnal chaos of the exceedingly unreality of the woods and then all the way back to reality again. In this play the comic elements occur amidst the chaos and unruliness of the woods, for example the predicament of Hermia and Helena, the introduction of the mechanicals, etc. Despite these comic elements, illogic events and behaviour, there are many serious issues within this play that need to be addressed.
Many of these “serious issues” actually result in cruelty towards some of the characters. A lot of the cruelty is found within the comedy. For example, the audience is expected to chortle at the two girls having a “scuffle” in the woods but the girls are both in a very horrible predicament. Both are confused and scared and laughing at them taking their frustrations out on each other is cruel. Other cruel aspects include the fact that Hermia is not allowed to marry the man she dearly loves, Lysander. This is because her father wishes her to be the wife of Demetrius.
Athens is very much a male-dominated society. This provides the potential for a mass role reversal and an opportunity for comedy, an opportunity that Shakespeare makes the most of. Hermia and Lysander are young and in love and are obsessed with each other. However, Lysander is certainly not what one would call “a gentleman”. Hermia’s father does not like Lysander. He does not think that Lysander is the right man for his daughter to marry. This is quite a serious issue, as some people may feel that it is wrong for the father to decide who his daughter marries.
On the other hand, however, the father may be correct in thinking that Lysander would not treat his daughter the way he believes that she should be treated. Aspects of Comedy All this is changed through role reversal in the play. This is what is so comical. The play starts off by giving you the impression that a certain person may have a strong view on something, but that suddenly changes. As I have already explained above, Demetrius does not return Helena’s love. However, this changes and it is Helena who ends up running away from Demetrius.
This is almost certainly seen as comical from the audience’s point of view. All of the comic elements in this play occur in the nocturnal chaos of the woods, Bottom’s malapropism, the mass role reversal of the men chasing after the women (as opposed to the other way around). Then there are the comic events, for example the girls fighting, the funny characters which are the mechanicals and the way in which the characters act e. g. Bottom always trying to take the leading part in the play, although he doesn’t understand the play or his character.
The very first scene enters into the very controlled and very real world of Athens, ruled by the king, Theseus. An exceedingly irate father, Egeus, approaches Theseus, who is to be wed to Hippolyta in four days time. Egeus is the father of Hermia. Egeus is annoyed at the fact that Hermia is in love with Lysander, and will not marry the man he wishes her to, Demetrius. Theseus, upholding the very male-dominated law of Athens, informs Hermia that she has until his own wedding to obey her father’s wishes or either spends the rest of her life in a nunnery or risk death.
This shows the power men have over the women, and that Theseus is unsympathetic to Hermia as an individual. From these first few paragraphs, there is nothing comical occurring, only the serious fact that Hermia could be put to death because of love. Despite this, there is a clear potential for the role-reversal to become imminent and thus, comedy. This happens when fleeing lovers Hermia and Lysander scramble from the well disciplined and well run Athens to enter into the very chaotic and the very unruly woods. In the woods, everything is very much different to what happens inside the walls of Athens.
For example, Athens is male dominated, and very much a serious and lawful society. While in the woods however, it is the women that dominate the men. For example, Demetrius and Lysander both end up chasing after Helena, Hermia’s friend, who happens to be in love with Demetrius. The woods are a place that the fairies and seemingly non-existent creatures are in existence, and they are the reason for a lot of the comedy in the woods. Other aspects that make the play comical are, for example, how love is misjudged.
In the eyes of the audience, the characters’ feelings are fairly obvious. However, in the characters’ mind this is not the case. This may be seen as comical because the audience feel that because the characters are so involved in their own situation, this does not enable them to understand or appreciate what is going on around them. On the other hand the audience, being able to see the whole picture, are more aware of the whole scene. I believe this to be an important aspect relating to how serious situations can frequently be viewed as amusing.
The mishaps and the comedy begin when Oberon, the fairy king orders Puck, a fairy, to plant some ‘love juice’ on “a sweet Athenian youth”, so that the first person he sees when he is awoken, he will fall in love with. Oberon presumes that there is only one couple in the woods, Demetrius and Helena, but he does not realise that Hermia and Lysander are also present. Puck also assumes that Hermia and Lysander have fallen out as they are sleeping apart from each other. When Puck plants the ‘love juice’ on the young Athenian man, he is assuming that the Athenian will see Helena when he wakes up.
The young man is awoken to see Helena. Unfortunately, the young man happens to be Lysander, and not Demetrius. Lysander is now in love with love with Helena. Already, the reversal of the roles is underway, and the comedy is about to start. After being rejected so many times before, Helena has very little self-confidence. So when Lysander reveals he is “truly” in love with her, she feels she is being mocked. She says: “You do advance your cunning more and more. When truth kills, O devilish-holy fray! ” This is an example of comedy being cruel, the role reversal is amusing, but Helena is emotionally hurt and upset.
The “joke” is made funnier by the fact that earlier in the play, we saw Helena pursuing Demetrius just as Lysander is following her now. Meanwhile, Hermia has awoken in a real state of fear. She has just awoken from a nightmare that a snake was eating her heart out, and Lysander stood over her watching. On her awakening she finds Lysander has left. The funny characters in this play are the mechanicals, namely Bottom, Quince, Flute, Snout, Starveling and Snug. All of these characters are in the woods, practising the play they are to perform in front of the king at his wedding.
University/College: University of California
Type of paper: Thesis/Dissertation Chapter
Date: 11 July 2017
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