In A Midsummer Night's Dream by William Shakespeare, Shakespeare explores the theme of love through character and plot development, usage of literary devices as well as usage of socio-historical context. He follows literary traditions, but also develops his own style. Shakespeare introduces his theme of unstable love relationships in the first Act and uses the elements of literature to further develop his theme. The play opens up with the planning of the wedding of Thesus (Duke of Athens) and Hippolyta (Queen of the Amazons).
While this is taking place Egeus, a nobleman of Athens and Hermia's father enters Thesus court accompanied by Hermia and Demetrius and Lysander. These two men are Hermias suitors with Demetrius being her fathers choice and Lysander being the man she has fallen in love with. In the midst of this conflict Hermia is given a choice till her wedding between either obeying her father, or being sent to a convent or even being executed under Athenian law. The plot develops and Hermia and Lysander plan to escape to Lysander's aunts house outside Athens, where they would get married.
Unfortunately, they reveal their secret to Helena who tells it to Demetrius in an attempt to win back Demetrius heart. However, this only sends Demetrius behind his rival and love with Helena following him. In these very woods another conflict arises between the fairy Queen Titania and the fairy King Oberon over the use of an Indian prince. The result of this dispute takes the plot into a new direction as Oberon seeks revenge. In a blind rage Oberon sends his follower Puck to acquire a love potion to cause the Queen to fall in love with a donkey looking Bottom, and to cause Demetrius to fall in love with Helena.
Lacking knowledge of who the targeted Athenian is to be, Puck uses the potion on Lysander, leaving him with a shift in emotions directed towards Helena. From her a battle arises between the four confused lovers arises who now seek violence as their solution. Lysander battles with Demetrius over their new found love for Helena, as for Hermia she fights with Helena in an attempt to protect her love. However as Oberon wins his way in his own dispute, he soon sends Puck to resolve the conflict of these poor lovers, with Hermia marrying Lysander and Demetrius marrying Helena with all being content.
The character development that occurs in this play occurs in relation to the development of the plot. Our first character Hermia starts out as the conflicted lover who wishes to follow her heart and fears disobeying her father and the conflicts that will follow this. As the plot develops she overcomes her fears and takes a risk by running away with her father in order to satisfy her heart, with her plans being revealed to her closest friend Helena.
As her love shifts away from her we see her turn into a defiant beast battling her best friend, now her worst enemy before finally returning to her originally personality with all her problems resolved. The next character Helena is portrayed at first as the jealous friend who tries to win Demetrius over by trying to ruin his relationship with her friend. As the plot shifts to the forest she is seen as the desperate lover following Demetrius and again as the defensive character defending against Hermias attacks and the love of the two suitors, thought to be mocking.
She ends up as the content lover with her love. Lysander is seen as the romantic man who wins over Hermias love and trust with his actions to the point that she is willing to runaway with him. His love soon shifts to Helena under the effects of love potion. With this shift he becomes a defensive warrior battling for his love, finally going back to the calm lover he was. Demetrius starts out as the ill-favored lover who chases after his supposed love Hermia. His emotions shift soon to Helena as he sees her become more valued by his rival Lysander. He ends up with Helena.
Puck starts out as the mischievous fairy that soon turns into loyal follower of Oberon. He causes conflict through his mistakes but soon enough acts to resolve it when ordered too. Oberon is seen throughout as the king who to ensure his satisfaction uses his powers even if it causes others conflicts. Titania goes from powerful to a weak follower of Oberons will under the use of magic. The setting of the book also brings forth a great deal of importance to the plot and character developments. The book takes place in Ancient Greece in the city of Athens.
However, much like many of his other works, Shakespeare adds in small essences of Medieval England into the book. It is because of the ancient time period that the story takes place in that makes it a social norm for the man to be the dominant figure, hence a patriarchal society. Hermia, expected to obey her father to wed Demetrius, refuses and has to face choosing to either marry a man she doesn't love, a life of chastity or death. Egeus, the father went to duke Theseus to seek his help and council. It was Theseus that came up with the idea to make Hermia make a decision. Theseus represents the highest power presented in the book.
His wife, Hippolyta, has as much of a status as Theseus does, however, she doesn't bring forth an opinion about the matter nor does she suggest a solution to the problem. This shows that women in Ancient Greece didn't have as much of a say as men did. Also, the fact that Hermia didn't have a choice in her own marriage decision, but instead is expected to marry the man that her father wants her to marry displays the institution of a patriarchal society. There are three main themes explored in A Midsummer Night's Dream, they are love's difficulty, the supernatural, and dreams.
Throughout the play, various characters, Bottom as an example, speak of their dreams; 'I have had a dream, past the wit of man to say what dream it was. Man is but an ass if he do about to expound this dream. ' (Bottom the weaver) In short, these dreams create a light-hearted tone for the play. Another predominant theme is the supernatural. The fates of the four young Athenian protagonists are governed by the fairies. Furthermore, almost every part of the plot is driven by magic. For example, the love potion is the major force in causing chaotic relationships among the lovers.
At last, the most important theme of the play is love's difficulty. It conveys an idea that the course of true love never did run smooth. ' (Lysander) To illustrate this point, Shakespeare creates imbalance in the play. For example, there are great contrasts among different characters; Hermia is short while Helena is tall, Puck enjoys playing pranks while Bottom is a victim of pranks, Titania is beautiful while Bottom (with an ass's head) is hideous. This asymmetry brings forth the crucial theme, love's difficulty. Shakespeare uses three key literary elements to show his view on love.
One of them is motif, and the motif seen throughout the play is contrast. The three main groups of characters are all different from one another, and the styles, moods, and structures of their respective subplots also differ. It is by putting these contrasting areas into a single story that Shakespeare creates the play's dreamlike atmosphere. Almost diametrically opposite the beautiful, serious, and love-struck young nobles are the clumsy, ridiculous, and deeply confused craftsmen, around whom many of the play's most comical scenes are centered.
A Midsummer Night's Dream is a play dominated by the presence of doubles, and the fairies are designed to contrast heavily with the young lovers and the craftsmen. Whereas the lovers are earnest and serious, Puck and the other pixies are merry and full of laughter; whereas the craftsmen are bumbling, earthy, and engage in methodical labor, the fairies are delicate, airy, and indulge in effortless magic and enchantment. Shakespeare also includes another element, allusion. Queen Elizabeth never married and was celebrated in her time as a woman of chastity, a virgin queen whose concerns were above the flesh.
Here Shakespeare alludes to that reputation by describing Cupid firing an arrow 'at a fair vestal thron'd by the west'? Queen Elizabeth? whom the heat of passion cannot affect because the arrow is cooled 'in the chaste beams of the wat'ry moon. ' Shakespeare respects how Elizabeth put affairs of state before her personal life and lived 'in maiden meditation, fancy-free. ' He also uses irony to help support the theme, love's difficulty. The men who pursue Hermia, Lysander and Demetrius, suddenly fall in love with Helena because of a magic potion. Hermia who was basking all the attention lost it to her best friend Helena.
We noticed that although Shakespeare agrees with past romance writers when it comes to writing style and tries to get the same message across, but he does it in a comedic way. He develops his own writing style as well, Shakespearean sonnet, which has its own rhyme scheme. And although the writers before Shakespeare used the same meter for stress and unstressed notes, Shakespeare uses iambic pentameter. Shakespeare uses the elements of literature: characterization, setting, plot, and literary techniques to build towards the theme of the book. The theme he was building was to show the difficulty of love in humorous way.