A Midsummer Night’s Dream

by: William Shakespeare

Genre

Comedy

In telling the story of several sets of lovers who must overcome obstacles and misunderstandings before they are finally united in marriage, A Midsummer Night’s Dream is an example of Shakespearean comedy. The play’s central couples, Hermia and Lysander and Helena and Demetrius, begin the play facing two classic obstacles of Shakespearean comedy: parental disapproval and misdirected love. Hermia’s father forbids her to marry Lysander, insisting that she marry Demetrius instead. According to Athenian law, Hermia faces death or exile if she disobeys her father. Meanwhile, Helena loves Demetrius, but his love is currently directed at Hermia. These initial obstacles become confused and compounded when the couples enter the forest. The fairy Puck’s mistaken enchantments result first in Lysander loving Helena, and then in both men loving Helena, a reversal of the play’s opening. But by the next morning, the confusion has been resolved. Lysander’s enchantment has been removed while Demetrius’s enchantment remains, and the couples are for the first time happily balanced. The couples’ final barrier is overcome when Theseus overrules Hermia’s father’s wishes, and the play ends as all Shakespearean comedies do: with a wedding.

Like other Shakespearian comedies, Midsummer focuses on the characters’ situations rather than their emotions. For example, in the play’s first scene, rather than dwelling in despair because they are forbidden to be together, Hermia and Lysander focus on a solution and make a secret plan to escape. Later, the fairy king Oberon witnesses Helena pledging her devotion to Demetrius and immediately decides to intervene when Demetrius harshly rejects her. Both the lovers’ decision to go into the forest and the fairies’ decision to intercede in the lovers’ lives create situations that confuse and trouble the lovers. However, as audience members we are never seriously worried that the outcome will be anything but happy because the play’s fantastical situations and overwrought language distance us from the lovers’ pain. Secure in our knowledge that the magical mistakes will eventually be repaired and that order will be restored, we can enjoy watching the drama unfold.


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