Although A Midsummer Night’s Dream opens with Theseus and Hippolyta, Shakespeare does not focus the action of the play solely, or even primarily, from the point of view of the Athenian rulers. Instead, the point of view alternates between three storylines: the Mechanicals preparing to put on a play, the fairies making mischief, and the lovers quarrelling, with Theseus and Hippolyta returning at the end. Throughout the play, the point of view shifts from scene to scene, so we get equal insight into the motivations of all the characters. The audience alone understands the action from every side. For example, we know that Puck has enchanted Bottom and replaced his head with a donkey’s head. The other Mechanicals, however, don’t know about the enchantment, so react with fear when they see Bottom. And Bottom himself doesn’t know he now looks like a donkey, so is puzzled when his friends run away from him. This device, where the audience knows more than the characters, is called dramatic irony. In A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Shakespeare often employs dramatic irony, so that the audience understands the action better than any of the characters.
Shakespeare shares the point of view equally among all the characters, so that all characters appear equally sympathetic to us. Almost all of the characters suffer as a result of fairy enchantments in one way or another. At the same time, because one character’s point of view is not privileged over any other, the audience doesn’t identify with any one character. The action remains distanced, and the audience never becomes deeply emotionally invested in the characters’ fate. The distancing effect enables us to remain amused by the action and laugh, even when the characters themselves are deeply distraught. By comparison, in Shakespeare’s tragedy Romeo and Juliet (which the play-within-the-play in Midsummer alludes to), the point of view privileges Romeo and Juliet’s experience. The audience comes to care deeply about these characters, and feels devastated when bad things happen to them. By moving the point of view rapidly between a large cast of characters, Shakespeare keeps Midsummer rooted firmly in the comic genre, and prevents us from caring too deeply about any of the characters or taking the action too seriously.