Fantasy vs Reality in a Midsummer Night’s Dream
In A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Shakespeare easily blurs the lines of reality by inviting the audience into a dream. He seamlessly toys with the boundaries between fantasy and reality. Among the patterns within the play, one is controlled and ordered by a series of contrasts: the conflict of the sleeping and waking states, the interchange of reality and illusion, and the mirrored worlds of Fairy and Human. A Midsummer Night’s Dream gives us insight into man’s conflict with characteristics of human behavior.
The play begins in the City of Athens representing the logical side of human interaction with it’s flourishing society. The forest is representative of the wilder, irrational side where nothing seems to follow a normal path. All characters involved in the forest transcend the strange interconnectedness of the fairy (forest) world and the human (city) world. Like most classic folktales, the time and place of transformation is elsewhere and must be forgotten by the conscious mind. The audience gains a sense of travel, of leaving the court and entering a very different world.
Theatre-goers attend shows to be deceived. As an active member of the audience, attendees are asked to suspend disbelief. The role of the audience is just as important as that of the actor, in that without the other, there is no production. From the moment the audience is transported into the realm of the play, there is not a clear picture of the “real” world and the fantastical. When we fall in love, or go crazy, go to the theatre or fall asleep and dream, we enter the realm of the imagination.
This happens even when we choose to look beyond performance at intention. If we shadows have offended, Think but this, and all is mended: That you have but slumbered 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. ” (Shakespeare 5. 1. 25)
The most interesting part of this excerpt is that Puck (Oberon’s henchman) says that he and the fairies are only a figment of the imagination and that he and his fairy world do not exist at all. The audience is asked to look beyond the performance at the intention of the actors. This passage allows the audience to break their character. The show is over and the reality of their own life is now. This monologue by Puck slowly unravels the reality and fantasy world from one another. The play lies in transformation and the forest is the setting of change.
Puck invites the audience to think of the play as nothing more than a dream, a midsummer night’s dream. Here, it is clear that Shakespeare is commenting on the reality of plays. Like midsummer dreams, plays aren’t real. All of the characters are hung in the audience’s suspension of disbelief. They are the product of imagination and fantasy and also involve the momentary suspension of reality. One of the key passages in the play is Theseus’s speech on “the lunatic, the lover, and the poet”(Shakespeare 5. 1. 7) Lunatic’s hallucinate, lovers may view ugly as beautiful, and poets craft words from nothingness into something.
Throughout A Midsummer Night’s Dream, these words resonate throughout the text and are consistently reinforced by the thematical relevance. Theseus says that even the best theatrical productions are “shadows”, and that imagination can “amend” a bad play so it seems good. This dramatic world where dreams are a reliable source of vision and insight, consistently truer than reality, seek to interpret and transform. The vivid imagery establishes a fantastical dreamy state in A Midsummer Night’s Dream. The day time evokes realistic, matter-of-fact life whereas the night creates a mystery.
Shakespeare paints a harsh, colorless world of responsibility and obligation, the opposing suggesting a world of illusion where almost anything is possible, a place where all conflicts are created and magically resolved. While the reader can easily see the fairies in this play, they are a mystery to the more serious human characters, making their ethereal. All of the fairies and supernatural entities in A Midsummer Night’s Dream are shadowy creatures that only come out to play in the night. In some senses, because they operate under the blanket of night and without care for the well-being of the humans.
In Act 1, Shakespeare introduces the “daylight” queen and king, Hippolyta and Theseus. In Act 2, he introduces the “nighttime” queen and king, Titania and Oberon, who can be seen as doubles of the first pair. Hermia and Helena mirror each other in many ways. They are best friends who have been brought up together, and are both frustrated in love. Even their names sound alike! Also, between their companionate-lover characters there is very little difference. Demetrius and Lysander both are simply young men in love. Characters are not the only element being mirrored in the show, though.
Shakespeare also mirrors the situations within the forest lovers with the problems of the city-turned-forest lovers. “Help me, Lysander, help me; do thy best To pluck this crawling serpent from my breast. Ay me, for pity! What a dream was here! Lysander, look how I do quake with fear. Methought a serpent eat my heart away, And you sat smiling at his cruel prey. (Shakespeare 2. 2. 145)” Hermia’s dream is an illusion of reality. While Hermia is sleeping, Lysander deserts her and renounces his love for her. In the dream, Hermia is abandoned and also she is also betrayed by her love, Lysander. The dream is foreshadowing for what’s about to come.
In her dream and also in the actual wood (Hermia is battling her foe Helena) Although Helena has not physically hurt Hermia, Hermia still sees Helena as her enemy. Through mirrored characters and situations, Shakespeare achieves a sense of skewed reality and double vision. His use of awake vs. asleep consciousness is a testament to the title, A Midsummer Night’s Dream. The dream-state is constant and the audience doesn’t wake up from the dream until the lights in the theatre come on. Finally, illusion and reality are both prevalent in the text, though not always understood as a definitive.