Monday, September 10, 2012

Oppositions

Throughout the play "A Midsummers Night's Dream," Shakespeare uses opposition to his advantage pertaining to the characters, places (Athens and "the woods") and events he creates. Shakespeare portrays two different worlds in this play. The city of Athens represents law, order and power, while outside of town in the woods represents a unlawful, magical and imaginary place. The working men seem to live carefree, while the lovers act dramatic and serious most of the time. Shakespeare incorporates conflicts, competions and disagreements between his characters throughout the the five acts to establish the dominant theme of opposition and contrast especially. One of the characters that seemed to play a role that was otherwise expected was Theseus.

From the beginning of the play I found it very interesting because of the portrayal of a relaxed and understanding Duke (of Athens), Theseus. Although he wasn't seen too much in the play, he seemed to stand out to me. He the working men and the play that the later performed. In Act V Shakespeare portrays the difference in how people react towards imagination versus reality. In the beginning of Act V, Egeus is shown to be hesitant about reading the possible plays to Theseus, as he tells him that Pyramus and Thisbe (the play that is later performed) is not appropriate for Theseus to hear: "It is not for you. I have heard it over, And it is nothing in the world" (lines 77-79). Theseus thinks that is it ridiculous of Egeus to say that because unlike Egeus, Theseus understands that the play is like a dream, and is based off of the imagination of the audience, rather reality. Theseus responds to Egeus by saying, " I will hear the play; For never anything can be amiss. When Simpleness and duty tender it" (lines 82-84). Everyone else in the play seems to take life much more serious than Theseus does. Shakespeare creates a more laid back and open minded Duke, as a character that seems to be unlike any other Duke the audience may be used to.

As the working men perform the play Hippolyta finds it to be ridiculous and "silly,"  as she remarks to Theseus, "This is the silliest stuff that ever I heard." Theseus completely disagrees with her and responds by saying, "The best is this kind are but shadows, and the worst are no worse is imagination amend them." Shakespeare creates this disagreement between the two to convey to his audience the act of imagining and the importance in allowing themselves to step out of reality. Hippolyta then says to Theseus: "It must be your imagination, then, not theirs," and after he responds with, "If we imagine no worse of them than they of themselves, they may pass for excellent men..." (lines 207-213). Theseus is trying to explain to Hippolyta the strength of the imagination and the fact that both good and/or bad plays are just illusions, and to successfully experience these illusions one must put their imagination to use. Shakespeare wants us to appreciate our imaginations and the difference between that and reality.

1 comment:

Thomas Baschnagel said...

This is a very compelling post. When I read this, I couldn't help but think of the tragedy of King Lear the whole time. In your first paragraph, you mention the contrast between the city (law, order, and power) and the woods (unlawful, magical, and imaginary). In Shakespeare's works, whenever woods are introduced as part of the setting, something amiss is about to happen. I'm glad that you pointed the woods out because I immediately thought of King Lear in his hallucinogenic state while there on the outskirts of civilization, that is, his court. Lear experiences dreams in the wild, just as dreams are a prevalent aspect of A Midsummer Night's Dream which takes place largely in the wild.
Another great point you made, which I found really observant of you, is how laid-back Theseus, the Duke of Athens, is. He serves as a sufficient contrast to the other, more serious characters of the play. I completely agree with your statement, "Shakespeare creates a more laid back and open minded Duke, as a character that seems to be unlike any other Duke the audience may be used to." Again, I think of King Lear, in which the dukes of that play are much colder, distant characters, in my opinion. Those particular dukes are what I, and most readers, expect dukes to be. Theseus' relaxed demeanor allows the reader to relate to him more than they can to other dukes of Shakespeare's canon—a refreshing change of pace. I can't help but imagine an audience during Shakespeare's time watching the play and reacting to Theseus. I would assume that they would expect a duke to act typically serious and stern, so Theseus, who stands in contrast to the audience's expectations, is all the more a unique character. Great job for pointing that out!