Dreams Vs Reality in A Midsummer Night’s Dream
Cari Gilkison, English 220: Shakespeare
Does the play A Midsummer Night’s Dream lean toward reality or dreams? There are many ways to look at this play, but one cannot help but wonder if the magic that takes place is meant to be seen as real or just a dream. In the end, the world of dreams wins.
The first act begins with a fairly realistic tone as it opens with Theseus and Hippolyta talking. Throughout the play they represent daylight—the mature reality of love. Theseus has just won Hippolyta’s hand in marriage through war. There are no foolish whims are jealousy between them. The realism continues with Egeus interfering with his daughter Hermia and Lysander. It appears to be a rather typical situation that one would find even in today’s society. How many times have heard about that girl or boy who simply couldn’t let go of their crush? Hermia sums it up when she says, “That more I hate, the more he follows me. The more he follows me that hateth me.” (Hermia 1.1.198-9) And we all know someone like Bottom, who is an obnoxious and pushy fellow.
Then things change in Act 2 when the dream world enters into the story. Fairies are invisible to mortals, yet we mortals are allowed to see them for the sake of the play. Not only do we get to peer into the seemingly invisible world beyond reality, but we get to hear them speak poetry. The switch from prose to poetry is to signal the change from reality to dreams as well.
There are a lot of references to the mystical and magical moon. The play begins in the light of day—the light of reality. When night falls the moon comes up and all the magic and mystery begins. It is considered the time of shadows, when anything is possible.
And like in most dreams where things are hazy and confusing, it is difficult to be sure of what is going on. Puck pours love potion into the lover’s eyes and they then fall in love with the person they see first. This is a great opportunity for Shakespeare to explore the whimsical nature of love and people’s fickle hearts. Bottom acts like a Jackass, so he is given the head of one to show his true nature. Even so, Titana falls in love with him at first sight. Though a strange sight to behold, it did hold a metaphorical truth about how blind love can be. We see our beloved through the haze of the magic of love and often do not realize their true nature.
In Act 5, we find a play within a play. This takes the play yet further into the world of fantasy. Hippolyta comments on how silly the play is and Theseus explains its purpose by saying, “The best in this kind are in shadows; and the worst are no worse if imagination mends them.” (Theseus 5.1.210-11)
And when the play ends that line between the fairy world and the real world is crossed, as is the line between the actor and the audience. Puck speaks directly to the audience when he says, “If we shadows have offended, think but this and all is mended. That you have slumbered here.” (Puck 5.1.418-20) It is as if Shakespeare wants to draw the audience in and have them question rather the play was real or whether it was all a dream.
It is clear that A Midsummer Night’s Dream leans more toward the world of dreams than reality. Even the title has the word dream in it. Theseus’s comment about the lover’s dream encompasses the whole play. “The lunatic, the lover and the poet are of imagination compact.” Although we live in a world that does not have magic in it, A Midsummer Night’s Dream is filled with fantasy and imagination. It reminds us of how intertwined dreams and reality are and how sometimes our love and our dreams can win over reason and make us do the craziest things.