Mid Summers Nights Dream
A Midsummer Night’s Dream – Coursework
‘Explore Shakespeare’s presentation of the wood and its inhabitants’
As the vast majority of ‘A Midsummer Night’s Dream’ by William Shakespeare is set within a wood, near the city of Athens, it is important to step back and thoroughly examine Shakespeare’s presentation of the wood, as well as its inhabitants.
Shakespeare presents the main inhabitants of the wood as fairies. There are many fairy characters in the play, but the main fairies are Oberon, the fairy king, and Titania, the fairy queen. Puck, a somewhat secondary fairy character, is a servant of Oberon’s. Shakespeare presents them in individual ways, but still manages to enscapulate the ways in which they contrast to the mortals in the play.
Shakespeare presents the setting of the wood in a way that makes it seem as if it is a different world altogether from the city. He makes exceptionally good use of imagery during acts 2, 3, and 4, which helps to present the surreal environment of the wood further. Shakespeare also uses clever language techniques to help show how the mortals are affected by this new environment, as well as revealing the sta0rk contrast between the wood and Athens.
Oberon can be seen as the main fairy character. He is the fairy king, and seems to wield a lot of power. Shakespeare’s initial presentation of Oberon is of a character who is angry and jealous. The first moment that the audience sees Oberon he is engaged in a dispute with Titania, the fairy queen, as he accuses her of infidelity.To begin with, Oberon and Titania enter from opposite sides of the stage. Oberon then starts his speech by acting in a rather malevolent way: “Ill met by moonlight , proud Titania”. Here, Shakespeare is suggesting that Oberon is breeding animosity between the two of them, even before Titania has the opportunity to say a word. Oberon’s words, “Ill met” help present this especially. He is also using plosive sounds, to highlight Oberon’s anger.
Shakespeare presents Oberon as an unpleasant character at the end of his dispute with Titania, but Shakespeare only gives Oberon the line after Titania has left the stage. This shows a sense of dramatic irony, as here Shakespeare is implying that Oberon dare not say: “Thou shalt not from this grove till I torment thee for this injury” until she is out of earshot. Oberon dare not say it to her face, which shows the audience a cowardly side of Oberon. The effect of this line on the audience is shock; the audience would clearly be surprised that Oberon would be prepared to torment Titania. However, Shakespeare does use alliteration in Oberon’s closing line: “till I torment thee”; and Shakespeare’s repitition of the ‘t’ sounds suggests Oberon’s frustration with Titania and his desire for revenge.
The effect of shock and surprise is intalled into the audience when Shakespeare re-emphasizes Oberon’s anger and jealousy in scene 2 of act 2, where he has Puck do his bidding, and punishes Titania. Oberon goes about this by instructing Puck to apply the juice to Titania’s eyes. He wants her to: “Wake when some vile thing is near!”. Here, Shakespeare implies that Oberon is exacting his revenge on Titania by trying to get her to fall in love with anything ‘vile’, and indeed, she falls in love with Bottom later on in the play, and this love is made to appear even more repulsive with the addition of Bottom’s asshead.
On the other hand, Shakespeare presents Oberon in a benevolent manner, just prior to his hatred against Titania. Here, Shakespeare may be implying that despite the first impression that the audience recieves of Oberon, he isn’t presented wholly as full of evil and malice. Shakespeare presents Oberon in a benevolent manner in act 2, scene 1, where Oberon takes pity on lovestruck Helena, and tells Puck to squeeze the juice on Demetrius’ eyes, so that he will wake and fall in love with Helena: “A sweet Athenian lady is in love with a disdainful youth; anoint his eyes, but do it when the next thing that he espies may be the lady”. Shakespeare makes good use of the rhyming couplet, an appropriate technique, as Oberon’s intention here is to form a happy couple. Shakespeare’s use of the rhyming couplet gives the impression that the situation will eventually be resolved. The lovers are paired at the end of the play, and the bouncy rhyming couplet is a good indicator of that ‘happy ending’. The effect on the audience of Oberon’s sudden benevolence is that their view of Oberon is changed, from an ogre-like figure to a sympathetic king. But, as the audience soon finds out, Oberon’s kind plan fails.
As the audience is confused by Oberon’s almost split personality, this may suggest that Shakespeare is possibly implying how the wood in itself is confusing.
The fairy queen, Titania, is presented by Shakespeare as very proud. She holds her ground against Oberon, and seems like the more balanced of the pair. For example, before Shakespeare has her bewitched, he gives her lines such as: “But with thy brawls thou hast disturbed our sport”, civilised, challenging lines – as opposed to Oberon’s selfish and arrogant lines, emphasized by the use of imperatives and monosyllables, such as “Give me that boy”.
In Titania’s long speech, she makes a point about the disorder in the world, using lines such as “Therefore the winds …”, containing sibilance,which gives a softness to the line; as Titania is describing nature, it helps the audience understand further the beauty of nature, and even the natural surroundings. She begins her speech with an attack on Oberon – “These are the forgeries of jealousy”. In the following speech, Shakespeare also uses plenty of imagery, and the imagery used helps to show the dramatic impact of Titania’s mood. A good example of this imagery is her description of the frost which “falls in the fresh lap of the crimson rose”. By using this natural imagery, Shakespeare is presenting to the audience Titania’s angry mood. Shakespeare cleverly presents her anger by using the word “crimson”, a colour closely related to red, which is the colour that many people associate with anger.
Puck, Oberon’s servant, is presented by Shakespeare in a different way to both Oberon and Titania. He is very mischeivous and also somewhat annoying. Puck is presented by Shakespeare as being ‘at home’ in the wood; the first time that the audience sees Puck, he is terrorising the other fairies. Shakespeare presents him as having a slightly feared reputation – “he that frights the maidens of the villagery.” But the rhyming couplets that Shakespeare uses to accompany Puck, and indeed are used for a lot of Puck’s dialogue suggests that he is not a real terror, but more of a joke. In this line (“he that frights the maidens of the villagery”), Shakespeare presents Puck as something of a local fear within the setting of the wood.
It seems that Puck’s ‘merry’ attitude is presented as being very appropriate to the setting of the wood in comparison with Oberon and Titania, as is revealed when Puck is first presented to the audience by Shakespeare: “I am that merry wanderer of the night”. Furthermore, Shakespeare’s use of the word ‘merry’ presents Puck and his actions as very light hearted.
Another important thing to note is the way that the setting of the wood seems to have a very strange effect on the mortals who go to the setting of the wood in acts 2 and 3. The first time that the audience sees Demetrius within the setting of the wood, he is very angry at Helena. He is presented by Shakespeare as quite nasty to Helena, but it becomes apparent that he is forced into his brutality by Helena’s persistence. A good example of Demetrius’ sudden anger here is: “ For I am sick when I do look on thee”. An important thing to note here is the monosyllables used by Demetrius, short, sharp words that help to present the fact that Demetrius has no intrest in Helena, he is very blunt, straight to the point. Furthermore, this line also demonstrates to the audience Demetrius’ blatant anger.
It would also seem that the confusing and magical setting of the wood has installed confusion in Demetrius. For example, in act 3, scene 2, Demetrius (thanks to the potion) falls in love with Helena. Shakespeare has Demetrius say: “O Helen, goddess, nymph, perfect, divine!” The dramatic irony that Shakespeare uses here has the effect of comedy on the audience. The hyperbole that Shakespeare uses has a largely similar effect on the audience.
Shakespeare presents both Hermia and Helena as very distressed within the wood. This may be because their behaviour adds to the strangeness and confusion of the surrounding environment, and Shakespeare’s presentation of the wood may start to give the audience a better idea of the play as a whole. For example, during act 3 scene 2, Shakespeare decides to bring the tension between Helena and Hermia to a climax, with an argument. Shakespeare presents Helena, in particular, as being very distressed, and has her say lines such as: “Injurious Hermia, most ungrateful maid”. This is clearly a blatant attack on Hermia. Words such as “ungrateful” and “injurious”, especially, present how their relationship has been ruined, and how it may be their strange surrounding environment that has fuelled it.
Shakespeare presents the setting of the wood in many different ways.
Titania’s talks of the wood’s “sweet summer buds.” This is natural imagery, which provides a link to their surroundings. Another thing to note about this line is Shakespeare’s use of sibilance – “sweet summer”. This, along with the quaint imagery, ‘softens’ the line, and here Shakespeare is revealing that the wood is a beautiful environment.
Shakespeare also uses imagery in an effective way to present the setting of the wood. He uses this imagery further to present the abject strangeness and confusion of the wood, whilst still retaining its magical air, and even giving a slightly exciting aspect to it. This presentation is especially noticeable during act 3 scene 1, where lovestruck Titania says to Bottom: “What angel wakes me from my flowery bed?” This natural imagery is a good example of Shakespeare using imagery to present the setting of the wood because Shakespeare has Titania talk about her “flowery bed”. The effect of this is that it enables the audience to see the magic, confusion and even a sensual aspect of the wood, which was Shakespeare’s intended idea.
In conclusion, it is clear that Shakespeare presents the wood in numerous different ways, with one of the main things to note being the stark contrasts between the wood and the city: the city is hectic, uptight , and overrestraining, whereas the wood is exotic, carefree, and easygoing, but in Act 5, the return to the city feels like a relief. Shakespeare presents the wood as magical and sensual, as was revealed in the Titania – Bottom episode of the play. It is also frightening, as is shown in Hermia’s nightmare, but also seems exciting.