The comedy play “ A Midsummer Night’s Dream“ , written by William Shakespeare tells the adventures of four athenian young lovers and a group of six amateur actors surrounding the mariage of Theseus, the Duke of Athens and Hippolyta, the Queen of Amazons. The lovers and actors are controlled by the fairies as they enter the forest, where most of the play is set in. The fairies don’t only control the athenians but also get involved in their love life and try to help them out in their own magical way, only to see that they cause more chaos between them that was there before.
I think that Shakespeare chose the genre of comedy wisely as he can explore and describe the theme of love and the whole play the best this way. Also love in itself has, if we take a closer look at the theme, a lot of comedic factors in it. It might not be shown to ourselves when we are in love but surely we can say that people, who are in love or who are infatuated with someone else, are capable of doing various foolish things and make therefore an “ass“ out of themselves.
By making his work a comedy play he also gets instantly the rights and the license to make fun of the human beings and explore the theme of love without anyone taking him too serious or feel offended by his play, as the play is meant to be comedic, where caricatures are often used to show the foolishness of human beings or people in paerticular.
There are 4 different major Love types, brought to us by the ancient greek. All 4 types stand for a different kind of love, whether it is the love we usually think of when we hear the word love or the kind of love parents have for their children.
Agape (?????): This kind of love stands for the love a young boy might have for a young girl. It is the love we automatically think of when someone mentiones “loving someone”. It is also described as the “romantic love” and refers to a general affection towards someone or a deeper sense of “ true love”. True Love is seen Eros (????): This kind of love stands for a more passionate love than Agape with more sensual desire and longing. The greek word “erotas”, meaning “lover” can be based on a sexual basis. Therefore this kind of love can be translated as “Intimate love”.
Philia (?????): This kind of love stands for the love someone could have for his close friend. It is not intimate at all and is therefore on a platonic basis, which means it is a relationship without “physical attraction”. It doesn’t only have to be the love between two friends. Philia can also describe the love you have towards a special hobby you “love” to do. Storge (??????): This kind of love stands for the love you have in between your family. It is often described as the love parents have for their offspring. We get to see almost all different type of loves in Shakespeare’s play.
We have the Eros kind of love in between Theseus and Hippolyta for example. We get to know right at the beginning of the play how Theseus met and “won” Hippolyta: “I wooed thee with my sword, And won thy love, doing thee injuries”(p. 33 l. 1+2). This could also have a sexually meaning, where Theseus “sword” is also refering to his genitalia. Hippolyta surrendered to him and must therefore deal with the consequences of being Theseus Wife. She is being forced to do certain actions and it seems that she has no problem with it.
She doesn’t say a lot in the play , which could indicate that she is a quite character who accepts whatever comes into her path. Another example is the love between Titania and Bottom. After Bottom is transformed into a donkey, Titania is given the love potion and she falls madly in love with Bottom. At this point I can question if the donkey was chosen randomly to be the animal Bottom would be transformed in, but it seems like Shakespeare has chosen the Donkey on purpose to show the Eros type of love.
The donkey is known to have large genitalia, which could show the sexual afection Titania has for him. Therefore their “Love” is based on intimate love which involves sensual sex. In the scene where Hermia and Lysander are preparing to sleep in the woods and hermia sleeps with some distance to Lysander, the intimate relationship that Lysander wants to have with Hermia , which she refuses to. Lysander eventually gets naked and tries to seduce hermia by trying to convince her to let him sleep next to her:” O, take the sense, sweet, of my innocence! Love takes the meaning in love’s conference.
I mean, that my heart unto yours is knit So that but one heart we can make of it; Two bosoms interchained with an oath;So then two bosoms and a single troth. Then by your side no bed-room me deny; For lying so, Hermia, I do not lie” (p. 75 l. 15 – 22). Hermia doesn’t agree with him and he sleeps somewhere else. At this point Puck is shown, where he places the love potion once again in an Athenian’s eye. This time it is Lysander. As soon as he wakes up Helena is near him and because he falls in love with who ever he sees first he falls madly in love with her.
This part is a very comedic moment, because he changes his feelings for hermia in a wink of an eye, which could also show that he is only after sexual intercourse, which means he would take any girl, that is ready to satisfy him sexually. Another different type of love is the Storge love. We see this type of love between Egeus and his daughter Hermia. He loves his daughter and wants therefore only her best, which is why he calls her to the Duke and orders, that she should marry Demetrius and not Lysander or she should die or become a nun.
Egeus obviously cares about his daughter and this shows their Storge kind of relationship they share. Aristotel sees comedy as “an imitation of inferior people”, where inferior means normal, we can say that people laugh almost every time when they witness other people’s foolish behaviour or witness their mistakes. The genre of comedy contains “no pain or no destruction” according to Aristotel, what means people enjoy watching comedy plays because there is nothing to be sad about or to be afraid of. For example the theatre mask , that represents comedy. The mask is ugly and distorted, but makes people laugh about it and not fear it.
Showing difficult situations, every one can relate to ,in a comedy play who are eventually solved in the theatre as well, could help the audience to think of solutions for their own problems. Shakespeare involves some characters, who are very important for the factor of comedy in the play. The young lovers , of course, are one big comedy factor. As said before the whole situation of the “love triangle” is funny itself but as soon as the love potion is involved in the play, the whole loves get turned upside down and the lovers change their feelings for each other in a wink of an eye, which is a hilarious moment.
We also have Bottom. Already the name can be a comedy factor for some people in the audience and further on in the play he is the main character influencing the play with his comdic acts and with his foolishness. Bottom is one of the six amateur actors, who also go into the woods with the four lovers and they try to rehearse their play for the marriage of Theseus and Hippolyta. In the woods , Bottom gets transformed into an “ass” by Puck, who is on his current mission to place the love potion into the Athenian’s eyes.
Bottom is transformed into a donkey and as this is not comic enough, Titania, the Queen of the Fairies falls in love with him due to the Love or Lust potion, that was placed in her eyes as well by Oberon, the King of Fairies. Oberon explains in the play to Puck what the Love potion is. The Love Potion or also called Love- In – Idleness, was originally a white flower that was struck by a cupid’s arrow, which turned the flower purple and give her its magical potion inside. This magical potion, once dripped into someones eyes, makes them fall madly in love with the next person they first see. ( p. 65 l. 63 – 172) Now we have a Queen of Fairies being infatuated with Bottom who is a donkey at that time and this is one part of how Shakespeare uses comedy in his play ( Act 3, Scene1). Shakespeare also uses plain comedy and humour ind his play, that doesn’t really need to be interpreted or explained, as it is humour we automatically laugh about, because it appears funny to us.
For example the scene where Bottom tries to get every part of the play because he things he could play anything or the part where Flute is told that he gets the Female part of the play: “ It is the lady that Pyramus must Love. “Nay faith, let not me play a woman, I have a beard coming. ”(P. 49. l. 38 – 40) He creates the mechanicals, which are obviously not intelligent at all, but desperately try to be. During the play, especially when they meet to rehearse their theatre play for the Duke, they mess up grammar, spelling and plainly everything that was originally wanted for the “Pyramus and Thisby” play. One example for the mess ups is, when Bottom says in the rehearsal “Thisbe, the flowers of odious savors sweet”(Act 3 , Scene 1, Page 87).
He was supposed to say “odours” instead of “odious” in this part of his role. Odours means “fragrant smells” and odious means “repulsive”. This might be a common mistake by someone who is low in society, but exactly this little mistake changes the whole meaning of the scentence and creates humour in this scene, because Bottom didn’t mean to say the wrong word but because he is an amateur actor and not intelligent at all, he get’s it totally wrong. Puck seems like a hyperactive little fairy, which belings to the male fairies and is one of the main followers of Oberon.
Throughout the play he is getting into a lot of trouble and mischief. His attitude towards his tasks is a light and airy one. He doesn’t really care that much about getting his tasks right and doesn’t handle handle them with care where a comedy factor can also be seen in. He doesn’t really take life seriously and only does what is fun to him. This is quite interesting as all the other characters in the play are the complete opposite from Puck. For example, when everyone is in a serious tone he just dances around and makes fun of everyone who is acting serious and also plays pranks on them.
One good example of a prank Puck played on someone is the one, where he places a donkey’s head on Bottom’s head (p. 89). It was not neccesary to do, but appeared funny to him, so he just did it. These sort of pranks and his completely different attitude from everyone else’s make him a comedy character and a big influence of the comedy factor in “A Midsummer Night’s Dream”. It seems that the problem for the four young lover’s is given to them in the day, where Egeus forbids Hermia to mary Lysander and where she has to marry Demetrius or she will become a nun or will have to die.
Hermia and Lysander run away at night, followed by Demetrus and Helena. When they are in the woods they keep having the night phase and it seems that their problem gets solved over that night phase. This shows that in the play the day phase stands for the reality, where rules , laws and the order is the most important and strongest thing but as soon as the sun goes down these factors become weaker and the disorder gets stronger. The night phase stands for a dream.
Because the young lovers were given the love or lust potion so often, they were made to believe that the whole journey in the woods was a dream : “Are you sure that we are awake? It seems to me, that yet we sleep, we dream. Do you think the Duke was here, and bid us to follow him? ” ( p. 139 l 189 – 192)The solution of the problems is found in the mystical night phase full of dreams, where fairies also exist. Shakespeare also creates comedy whilst using examples in his play, that would not appear in real life this way.
For example when Demetrius and Lysander had been led around the King’s Oak for a long time and then fall asleep ( Act 3, Scene 2) . This scene contains no logic whatsoever, because they originally were trying to kill each other and it is impossible to defend themselves while they are asleep. This makes no sense to us and that is why it appears funny to us. That is what Shakespeare intended. He uses the night and day phase to introduce us to the problem in the world full of order and law and then takes us into the mystical world of night, where everything seems to be like in a dream, including existing fairies.
The problem given in the day phase is solved in the dream phase of the night. At the end Puck holds a speech, which he adresses to the audience, explaining and apologizing to the audience for anything that might have offended them and telling them to pretend it ws just a dream, similar to what happened to the four lovers: “If we shadows have offended,?Think but this, and all is mended,?That you have but slumber’d here?While these visions did appear.
And this weak and idle theme,?No more yielding but a dream,?Gentles, do not reprehend:?if you pardon, we will mend:?And, as I am an honest Puck,?If we have unearned luck?Now to ‘scape the serpent’s tongue,?We will make amends ere long;?Else the Puck a liar call;?So, good night unto you all. Give me your hands, if we be friends,?And Robin shall restore amends. ” (p. 71/72, last paragraph).