In Act V of A Midsummer Night's Dream, Shakespeare explores the subconscious world that is created in the mind of the dreamer, and how such an experience relates to the conscious world. The Act begins with Hippolyta and Theseus considering the oddness of the lovers' dream. Hippolyta says, "But all the story of the night told over,/ And all their minds transfigured so together,/ More witnessth than fancy's images,/ And grows to something of great constancy;/ But howsoever, strange and admirable" (5.1.23). In these lines, Hippoltya contemplates how unusual it is that the lovers all had the same dream. These questions therefore arise: How tied are the conscious and subconscious worlds? Are dreams just internal desires and fancies finding a way to the surface? What distinguishes the dream world from reality? Upon finishing this act, I was left dwelling on the quote "All that we see or seem, is but a dream within a dream" (Edgar Allen Poe). In the Epilogue, Robin (a dreamlike character, a faerie) relates to the audience that the whole play was "but a dream." There is therefore a level of disbelief that remains even when he is clarifying the situation because the source is in itself a figment of the imagination.
Through looking on a few websites about dream research, I found that people have been trying to make sense of dreams throughout history with little actual progress. The human mind is a mystery. The dream world in literature is therefore a place where anything can happen, and no one can claim anything absolutely false. In the play, the lovers share and later recall the same dream. There is no definitive answer to whether this experience is possible or not (even to this day). For Shakespeare, dreams become a place where people may mediate and filter their inner desires (and essentially the inner self that is constrained by societal expectations). The dream world is a place where rules of class order, gender roles, social etiquette, etc. can be put to rest, and pure chaos can ensue with no real consequences.
Although, we may usually consider a "dream ending" to be a sort of a cop-out, Shakespeare uses the dream to strengthen his plot point. In the Epilogue, Robin says, "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." In this Epilogue, Robin aims to make a nice, conclusive ending to the tale that in reality creates an unsettling feeling in the audience. Robin states that nothing in the play was meant to cause offense or confusion because the whole play was simply the journey of the subconscious, imaginative mind. The problem here is that the subconscious mind is not a simple thing, and while he suggests that the play has ended, the questions and confusion has only just begun. There is something incredibly disturbing about the mysterious nature of the dream world, and never quite knowing what is real and what is not.