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A Midsummer Night's Dream Theme of Transformation

Transformation is a theme that appears throughout the play, and may appear jointly with synonyms such as translate, turn into, transpose… “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” focuses on the manifestation of physical changes like an animal physical change, Nick Bottom’s case; and also changes at a psychological level of the character, which is the case of the lovers and Titania. That is, a character will undergo a metamorphosis: a physical or personal transformation during the story. The central points of the play are based on the changes that the characters goes through, mentioning transfigurations in their appearance, perception of reality and feelings.

However, this essay will focus much more on Bottom’s conversion; it will be discussed the meanings the metamorphosis has in the play, emphasizing the physical transformation; but it will also discuss other non-physical changes that have occurred.

First, it seems metamorphosis works throughout the comedy as a humorous counterpoint. The comic essence of the play is mainly sustained by Bottom’s animalization or even Nick’s character in general along with the craftsmen who create an aura of fun in the play, and that is seen in Act III and in the play-within-a-play.

We can see the transformation being done by Oberon and Puck that causes a comic effect on the character:

QUINCE: Bless thee, Bottom! bless thee! thou art translated. [exit]
BOTTOM: I see their knavery: this is to make an ass of me…(3.1.84-85)

This scene contains a comic essence, which is described by Shmoop Web: “He is clueless that he’s been transformed, Bottom declares that his friends have run away from him in fear because they’re trying to “make an ass” out of him”.

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With this interpretation it could be said that there is a wordplay and Nick, unaware of his change, he thinks his friends are making fun or joking about him. This seems to me a comical situation, and, not only because his head turns into that of an ass, but also because there is a look of irony from my point of view, when Bottom at the beginning of the play was an “ass” for wanting to play all the parts in “Pyramus and Thisbe”, like if he wanted to have all the attention in the play, and then after his transformation he finally got attention: he caught the attention of his friends (with his ass head he scared them) and also of the queen of fairies, who under spell and being him the first creature she sees, she falls in love with his donkey face.

Another meaningful point is that transformation is central to the play, especially Bottom’s transformation into an ass-headed creature that contrast the Athenian lovers’ changes. On the one hand, the lovers didn’t notice they were under spell, since after the enchantment, they seem not to realize what happened: for them it was that they fell asleep and dreamed. And then to describe that Demetrius has fallen in love with Helena, he does so saying “my love to Hermia melted as the snow” (4.1.158-159) and not because it as product of a spell, since he is not aware of it. On the other hand, Nick finds himself confused and lost (sign that he is aware that something is happening) someone has fallen in love with him, a fairy queen: two opposite characters, emphasizing de comical and absurd relation, where Titania is even capable of performing another metamorphosis on Nick:

TITANIA: […] I will purge thy mortal grossness so / That thou shalt like an airy spirit go. (3.1.119-120)

Bottom’s head is the only part of him physically transformed, but referring to this line Titania is capable to use her magic to physically transform Bottom’s mortal body into that of an “airy spirit.” She will turn him into a spirit or a magic creature as her, so he won’t die as humans do. Plus, of the group of craftsmen, all the rest but Bottom have no place in the world of passions. Bottom is the only one lucky in love, but loses it by losing his donkey head. But going back to contrast the couples spell and Nick’s… The latter after removing his metamorphosis, he wakes up having a suspicion of something happened. Just like the lovers, he feels it has been a dream, but with the difference that he feels it was much more than that. He describe the dream something far beyond comprehensibility, and not just a sleep hallucination.

With the above we can relate the meaning of metamorphosis to dream world. The world of dreams is an area in which everything is subject to transformations: changes occur in dreams, changes that are out of control (which is what happened to those who were under spell). Also, the transformations in AMND are based on the alternation of appearance and reality. And mentions of the eyes and concepts about vision are constant in the play. Plus, I think in the play it has that story theme that ends with the character(s) waking up, as if it falsifies the whole journey that has just followed, because it wasn’t “real”. What I think is the transformation demonstrates that dreams really can alter reality or someone’s perception, which is what happened to Bottom. He is aware that something has happened, but what? For him it will be an indescribable dreaming:

BOTTOM: […] left me asleep! I have had a most rare vision. I had a dream, past the wit of man to say what dream it was. (4.1.197-198)

And lastly… Topic of transformation related to Elizabethan Era. In that period, according to the book Understanding AMND: sources and historical documents transformations had literary and folk origins, and it was common to believe in the supernatural and witchcraft. The book source points out that subject:

The transformation could be the result of witchcraft. The Elizabethan period of English history was a time fraught with witch hysteria, anxiety, and superstition. […] When experiences happen beyond human control and natural explanation, there seemed to be two believable causes: a witch using magic to impose the misfortune for wicked and spiteful reasons, or God punishing individuals for their sins by bringing tragedy or deformity upon them. (103-105)

Those thoughts from that period could have been an inspiration for the theme of transformation in the play, mainly Bottom’s, whose change could be described as physical deformity.

In conclusion, Bottom’s character has undergone a change throughout the novel, in which he has been able to see different perspectives: that of reality (his vision at the beginning of the work) and the enchanted one (when he is physically bewitched). He had interacted with the human and fairy worlds, and is the most “aware” that he has entered a magical universe in which incredible things happened: from transformation into an ass to love filters. And the metamorphoses happened in the story acted as a central topic, as well as the key for the fun essence of this comedy play. Plus the topic “metamorphosis” could have been influenced by the dream world, since in the play the awake-asleep visions interact. Shakespeare could have been inspired and taken the idea of the common concept that people dream during sleep; and also be influenced by the situation in the Elizabethan era.

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A Midsummer Night's Dream Theme of Transformation. (2020, Sep 17). Retrieved from

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