A Midsummer Night’s Dream

by: William Shakespeare

What Does the Ending Mean?

After the craftsmen conclude their rendition of Pyramus and Thisbe and Theseus calls for all of the lovers to go to bed, the fairies offer a blessing for the three sleeping couples. Oberon utters this blessing himself, saying “Never mole, harelip, nor scar / Nor mark prodigious, such as are / Despised in nativity / Shall upon these children be.” (V.i.) Oberon’s words aim to prevent deformities among any children the Athenian lovers might conceive. Most obviously, this anxiety about deformity echoes the amorous pairing between Titania and Nick Bottom that occurred earlier in the play. Aside from its absurdity, Titania and Bottom’s coupling is also shocking for its suggestion of bestiality. With his head having been “translated” into that of a donkey, Bottom is no longer strictly human. Given the play’s implication that Titania and Bottom sleep together, Shakespeare’s contemporary audience would have believed this near-bestial union capable of producing some kind of hybrid monster, hideously deformed as a mark of their parents’ sin.

Oberon’s attempt to ward off deformities also has deep relevance to the mythical backstory of the play, and particularly to stories involving Theseus. One of the most famous myths to feature Theseus is that of the Minotaur, a monster with a man’s body and a bull’s head. The Minotaur was the offspring of Pasiphaë, who mated with the bull most prized by her husband, King Minos of Crete. Horrified by the result of this coupling, Minos employed the architect Daedalus to build a labyrinth in which to imprison the Minotaur. Part of what made the Minotaur so monstrous is that he survived on human flesh, and required a continuous supply of human sacrifices. After defeating Athens in war, Minos demanded that every nine years seven Athenian boys and seven Athenian girls be sacrificed to the Minotaur. When the third round of sacrifices came around, Theseus volunteered to be sacrificed. After arriving in Crete and navigating to the center of the labyrinth, he decapitated the Minotaur. Oberon’s blessing may therefore echo the efforts of Theseus, his counterpart in the human realm, to rid the world of monstrous deformities and keep the peace.