Essay, Research Paper: Midsummer Night's Dream

Shakespeare

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More strange than true. I never may believe These antic fables nor these fairy
toys. Lovers and madmen have such seething brains, Such shaping fantasies, that
apprehend More than cool reason ever comprehends. The lunatic, the lover, and
the poet Are of imagination all compact. One sees more devils than vast hell can
hold: That is the madman. The lover, all as frantic Sees Helen's beauty in a
brow of Egypt. The poet's eye, in a fine frenzy rolling, Doth glance from heaven
to earth, from earth to heaven And as imagination bodies forth The forms of
things unknown, the poet's pen Turns them to shapes, and gives to airy nothing A
local habitation and a name. Such tricks hath strong imagination That, if it
would but apprehend some joy, It comprehends some bringer of that joy; Or in the
night, imagining some fear, How easy is a bush supposed a bear! (V,i,2-22)
Theseus, in Scene V of A Midsummer Night's Dream, expresses his doubt in the
verisimilitude of the lover's recount of their night in the forest. He says that
he has no faith in the ravings of lovers- or poets-, as they are as likely as
madmen are to be divorced from reason. Coming, as it does, after the resolution
of the lovers' dilemma, this monologue serves to dismiss most of the play a
hallucinatory imaginings. Theseus is the voice of reason and authority but, he
bows to the resulting change of affection brought about by the night's confused
goings on, and allows Hermia, Lysander, Helena and Demetrius to marry where
their hearts would have them. This place where the line between dream and
reality blurs is an important theme of the play. Theseus is also a lover, but
his affair with Hippolyta is based upon the cold reality of war, "Hippolyta,
I wooed thee with my sword, And won thy love doing thee
injuries..."(I,i,16-17). He is eager to wed Hippolyta and marriage is the
place where reason and judgement rule. He wins the hand of his bride through
action not through flattery, kisses and sighs inspired by her beauty. In lines
4-6 of his monologue he dismisses the accounts of lovers and madmen on the
grounds that they are both apt to imagine a false reality as being real. When,
in I,i,56, Hermia tells Theseus, "I would my father looked but with my
eyes", Theseus responds, "Rather your eyes must with his judgment
look."(57). Theseus has a firm belief that the eyes of lovers are not to be
trusted. That the eye of the lover "...Sees Helen's beauty in a brow of
Egypt..."(11) is, to him, proof of this. It precisely by enchanting the
eyes of the lovers that the faeries manage to create so much mayhem:
"Flower of this purple dye, hit with cupid's archery, sink in apple of his
eye! When his love he doth espy, let her shine as gloriously as the Venus of the
sky."(III,ii,101-7) Puck doesn't change Helena's nature, nor does he change
her features. When Lysander wakes, he beholds the same Helena that he's always
despised and suddenly he is enthralled. For Theseus this is merely caprice and
in no means grounded in reality. Theseus doubts even the existence of the
faeries, believing the lovers have, at a loss to explain the inexplicable
changes of heart they've experienced, dreamed them up: "And as imagination
bodies forth the forms of things unknown, the poet's pen turns them into shapes
and gives to airy nothing a local habitation and a name."(14-17) A trick of
the light, an abundance of shadows, lack of sleep, an overactive imagination or
any one of these or million other causes are the most likely explanation. In
equating lovers, poets and lunatics Theseus gets into interesting territory and
serves to elevate lovers while he denounces them. The lunatic "...sees more
devils than vast hell can hold..” while the poet's eye "...Doth glance
from heaven to earth, from earth to heaven..."(9-13); thus this same
imagination is responsible for both mad ravings and great art. The concrete
reality of earth co-exists with both heaven and hell as the Faerie world
co-exists with the mortal world. A poet could, just as easily, be a lunatic
depending on the nature of his visions. That lover's are often (bad) poets, is
prime example of this interchangeability. "Such tricks hath strong
imagination, that, if it would but apprehend a joy, it comprehends some bringer
of that joy; or in the night imagining some fear, how easy is a bush supposed a
bear!"(18-22) Theseus describes the faulty and incomplete reasoning
employed by poets and lovers alike. Given evidence of some thing, conclusions
are made as to the nature of that thing. This usually incorrect conclusion,
having been reached, is followed by madcap mix-ups and hilarity- at least for
the audience. While distrusting the nature of love and its effect on people,
Theseus also recognizes the salutary effect it has, as Demetrius and Lysander,
once bitter foes, present themselves to him as friends. He allows the lovers to
marry according to their affection and betrays his own affection and
appreciation for the intoxicating draught called love, "Here come the
lovers, full of joy and mirth. Joy, gentle friends, go and fresh days of love
accompany your hearts!"(V,i,28-30)
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