Study Guide

A Midsummer Night's Dream Genre

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A Midsummer Night's Dream is a classic example of Shakespearean comedy. What, you don't believe us? We'll prove it to you. We've got a checklist that details all the typical conventions and features of the genre so you can see for yourself:

Light, humorous tone: Check. The play features fairy magic (like Oberon's love potion), silly pranks (like the transformation of a guy's head into that of a jackass), and the botched performance of a play-within-a-play by a bunch of wannabe actors. Need we say more?

Clever dialogue and witty banter: Check. Shakespeare is a huge fan of puns and snappy wordplay, so naturally his characters know how to get their witty repartee on. Shakespeare reserves some of the best dialogue for his warring lovers, especially Oberon and Titania, and even the "rude mechanicals" manage to wow us with their clever banter.

Deception and disguise: Let's see… Hermia and Lysander try to sneak away from Athens to elope (behind Egeus's back). Also, Titania and the young lovers have no idea they've been drugged by Oberon and his magic love juice. So, check.

Mistaken identity: Check... sort of. In most of Shakespeare's other comedies, someone usually runs around in a disguise to mask his or her identity. (Sometimes, a lover is even tricked into sleeping with the wrong person by mistake.) This isn't necessarily the case in A Midsummer Night's Dream, unless we count the fact that the love juice causes Titania to fall head over heels in love with an "ass." In other words, Titania mistakes Bottom for a creature who is worthy of her love and affection. The same can be said of the other lovers who are dosed with Oberon's magic love potion.

Multiple plots with twists and turns: Check. There are several lines of action in A Midsummer Night's Dream and Shakespeare invites us to sit back, relax, and enjoy the ride. The first plotline involves Theseus and Hippolyta's upcoming wedding. The second plotline involves the young Athenian lovers who run around the wood in confusion. The third follows Oberon's tiff with his wife, Titania.  And as a fourth plotline, Shakespeare works in a bunch of craftsmen (the Mechanicals), who plan to perform a play at Theseus's big, fancy wedding.

Love overcomes obstacles: Check. From the play's very beginning, Shakespeare beats us over the head with this idea. Seriously. The only reason Theseus is even engaged to Hippolyta is because he conquered her people (the Amazons) and basically won her in battle. Just a few moments after we hear about Theseus and Hippolyta, we learn that Hermia and Lysander must also overcome a major obstacle if they want to be together because Hermia's dad wants her to marry someone else. Never mind the fact that we've got a bunch of mischievous fairies running around the wood sloshing magic love juice into the eyes of hapless humans, causing them to fall in and out of love with the first creature that comes into view. In the end, though, love wins out and Theseus and the four young lovers all hook up with a steady partner. Keep reading...

Marriage: Check. This is important so pay attention, Shmoopsters. No matter what else happens, Shakespeare's comedies ALWAYS end with one or more marriages (or the promise of marriage). This is Shakespeare's way of restoring social order to the world of his plays (after turning order on its head for a few hours). At the end of A Midsummer Night's Dream, Theseus finally gets to marry Hippolyta and spend the night with her (which he's been talking about since the play's opening lines). As for the four humans who have been chasing each other around the forest and falling in and out of love, they finally settle down and hook up with a steady partner: Hermia weds Lysander and Demetrius gets hitched to Helena.

Family drama: Check. If you read the very first scene, you know that Hermia and her dad Egeus go toe-to-toe about whom she should and shouldn't marry. Egeus is so worked up about his daughter's disobedience that he wants Duke Theseus to uphold the Athenian law that says daughters have to do what their fathers say or else they get sentenced to death. Yeesh. It's a good thing A Midsummer Night's Dream isn't a tragedy, otherwise this ugly little domestic dispute would end badly. How badly? Think Romeo and Juliet badly.

(Re)unification of families: Check. Like we said earlier, Egeus would rather see his daughter dead than witness Hermia marry Lysander. Still, A Midsummer Night's Dream is a comedy so Egeus eventually backs down and gives in to the idea that Hermia is going to marry for love. We should point out that Egeus only changes his mind after Duke Theseus orders him to back off (4.1), but still, Egeus sticks around for his daughter's wedding, so we're counting that as a family reunion.

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