A Midsummer Night's Dream Versions of Reality Quotes
How we cite our quotes: (Act.Scene.Line). Line numbers correspond to Folger's online edition.
More strange than true. I never may believe
These antique 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
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? (5.1.2-23)
Theseus points out that there is no single reality, but different realities depending on your perspective. In particular, the lover, the madman, and the poet all suffer from too much imagination, which distorts their versions of reality. The implication is that Theseus is without imagination, and so his version of reality is more practical and thus closer to the truth. Still, we know from Oberon's earlier speech that Titania has helped Theseus on more than one occasion, so he is as subject to magic as anyone else and might be more foolish than the lover, madman, and poet for not being able to see reality as broader than his narrow worldview would have it.
But all the story of the night told over,
And all their minds transfigured so together,
More witnesseth than fancy's images
And grows to something of great constancy,
But howsoever strange and admirable. (5.1.24-28)
Hippolyta touches on an interesting element of reality: The more a story is repeated and confirmed from multiple sources, the more true it seems, no matter how wondrous it is. On one hand, it is about the power of numbers, but on the other, it's the same justification for the belief that the Emperor is wearing new clothes. If anything, her statement is proof that no version of reality is more real than another.
"The battle with the Centaurs, to be sung
By an Athenian eunuch to the harp."
We'll none of that: that have I told my love
In glory of my kinsman Hercules.
"The riot of the tipsy Bacchanals,
Tearing the Thracian singer in their rage."
That is an old device, and it was played
When I from Thebes came last a conqueror.
"The thrice three Muses mourning for the death
Of Learning, late deceased in beggary."
That is some satire, keen and critical,
Not sorting with a nuptial ceremony.
"A tedious brief scene of young Pyramus
And his love Thisbe; very tragical mirth."
"Merry" and "tragical"? "Tedious" and "brief"?
That is hot ice and wondrous strange snow!
How shall we find the concord of this discord? (5.1.48-64)
All of the possible entertainments are art in some form or another, a retelling of "true" events for a different purpose. In this list, we see that art might also be the act of presenting different versions of reality. It is entertaining for the mind to stretch this way, to consider more than what comes naturally to one's own version of reality.