Deus ex machina in ‘a midsummer night’s dream’

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There are two instances in the play, “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” where the device known as dues ex machina is used. While this device is often an easy way out in seemingly un-resolvable circumstances in a play or a piece of fiction, the use of this device in this particular play seems to tie in with the story and does not seem contrived. The play has two main themes in action, one is love and the other is magic, and with these two central themes in the play, it is not strange that a device such as deus ex machina is used.

The first instance where this particular device is used is in Act 3 – Scene 2, where Demetrius takes a nap and Puck is able to place the magic flower potion on his eyes. (Shakespeare) At this point in the play, there is already widespread confusion as to who has fallen in love with whom as a result of the potion and if any complexity is introduced at this point the play would fall apart and would be devoured by the confusion that the trick Puck played on the characters has caused. Therefore, Demetrius’ taking a nap opens an opportunity for order in the play.

The fact that Demetrius decides to take a nap in the middle of the forest and amidst the confusion seems to be a jarring element in the play, hence, it may be considered deus ex machine. However, because the play is so whimsical in nature and even fantastical to some extent, the introduction of this particular circumstance in this specific act and scene comes as a welcome development in the matter of settling the confusion that had already ensued among the characters, so even when it was actually contrived, it was also necessary for the play to have continue smoothly and focused toward a singular direction.

The second instance of deus ex machina in the play is also found in the same act and scene when Oberon administers an antidote to Puck’s potion to fix the confusion situation that the said potion caused. (Shakespeare) Obviously, this is taking the concept of contraption too far because everybody could have just waited for Puck’s potion to wear off so that everybody returns to normal, the potion was temporary anyway; but to hasten resolution in this particular scene, the element of the antidote was introduced.

This might seem quite strange because it will be recalled that it was Oberon who ordered Puck to play a trick on Titania and if he was able to come up with an antidote, why not just come up with the potion himself in the first place? Anyway, the introduction of the antidote was an easy way out both for Oberon, and of course, for the confused lovers in the play. The biggest case of deus ex machina in this particular play, however, happens in Act 4 – Scene 1 when Titania’s fairies cast a spell on all the characters so they would think that what had happened the previous night was all a dream.

Here one sees how the playwright decided to just snap his fingers and resolve everything with a very convenient solution. These cases of deus ex machina in the play may not well fit comfortably in more contemporary plays, however, in this case, because of the central themes which were earlier mentioned to be love and magic, the fantastical solutions to the existing problems and conflicts did not seem as contrived as they would be in a realistic play.

Since the play was a comedy put into motion by the themes of love and magic, the antidote, the nap, and the spell of the fairies all qualify for consistency in the context of the theme. This, however, does not change the fact that the device used were really deus ex machinas. The play, nevertheless, did not become less of what it already is being written by Shakespeare, the master playwright of all time.

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