A Midsummer Night’s Dream: Contrast In Human Mentality
The Play: A Midsummer Night’s Dream, by William Shakespeare offers a
wonderful contrast in human mentality. Shakespeare provides insight into man’s
conflict with the rational versus the emotional characteristics of our behavior
through his settings. The rational, logical side is represented by Athens, with
its flourishing government and society. The wilder emotional side is
represented by the fairy woods. Here things do not make sense, and mystical
magic takes the place of human logic. Every impulse may be acted upon without
and forethought to there outcome.
The city of Athens represents the epitome of civilized man. Ruled by
the laws of man and kept in check by society’s own norms. The human struggle to
suppress its unrestrained and irrational tendencies, still being undertaken
today, discourages the civilized’ man from making rash and foolish actions.
Thus every action should have a sound and logical purpose, based on the social
In the play, Egeus, the father of Hermia, has thoughtfully chosen what
he considers an acceptable mate to wed his daughter. Egeus most likely based
his decision on economic, political, and social factors in his choosing of
Demetrius. He is making a reasonable decision based on Hermia’s future in their
society. Unfortunately Hermia is smitten by Lysander and vice versa. Although
her father may have made his decision with every good intension, keeping with
the traditional customs of his day, and even perhaps taking into consideration
such things as attractiveness, he failed to foresee the desires of his daughter.
The young Lysander, who like most young men, cares little for the rules of
society, is willing to break tradition and flee Athens to obtain Hermia.
Therefore they must leave the rational Athens to enjoy their irrational love.
Theseus, the king of Athens, is the highest symbol of law and order in
his kingdom. After winning a war with another kingdom, he chooses to marry
their queen, Hippolyta. His decision may very well have been inspired by love,
but the political ramifications of their marriage is a more plausible rationale.
In fact Theseus’ apparent love for Hippolyta seems almost as an added reward to
an already beneficial partnership. Whether any attraction was there or not
probably would not have made a difference. As king, Theseus must place the
kingdom before his own feelings. It simply comes with the position.
In short Athens represents the desire to suppress feelings and impulses
and to make decisions based on logic. Thus it does not give the power of raw
emotion the true respect it requires, for man is both emotional and rational.
Love never has, and never will, be predictable.
The fairy world represents man’s undisciplined emotional quality. Here
the laws of man do not apply and things simply need not make sense. Attributes
like adventure, romance, fear, foolishness, and mockery are all things
suppressed by Athens and welcomed by the fairy woods. The fairies respect the
untamed heart and they understand the power love holds. These creatures embrace
the unruly craziness that passion brings, they live for the moment and are pure
at heart. Along with love and passion the fairy world is also susceptible to
other emotions running wild. Jealousy, anger, and humor at the expense of
others are all abound here.
Oberon, king of the fairies, is the quintessential symbol of human
impulsiveness. He obviously loves his queen, Titania, very much and is
instantly jealous of her love for a indian child. He rashly devises a plan to
snatch up the child for himself and at the same time have a little amusement at
Titania expense. His plan is to cast a magic spell over her with a love
flower’ causing her to fall in love with the first person, or creature, she sees.
There is no rational reason for Oberon’s actions, for jealousy is irrationality
at it’s most basic level.
Robin Goodfellow, or puck, is Oberon’s fairy servant, and perhaps the
most irrational person in the play. He is the essence of wild and untamed
foolishness. He pleases himself by performing his fairy magic on unsuspecting
travelers, and simply devotes his time to mischief. He is the one that Oberon
entrusts with his plan to inflict Titania with the love spell, and also gives
him an extra chore as a bonus. This ends up to be a disastrous, yet
Shakespeare successfully contrasts the duality of man’s nature by using
two settings with opposite characteristics. Whether this was the entire purpose
of the play is doubtful, but is remains an interesting and well paralleled
feature. The people of Athens, struggling to understand the illogical fairy
world, and at the same time exhibiting the same behavior. Perhaps Shakespeare
seeing the era of logic and reason obtaining new highs, wished to remind us all
of our other side. The emotional quality of mankind may get him into trouble,
but it is also what makes life so thrilling and bearable. Like the ying-yang,
one cannot live without the other.