Study Guide

A Midsummer Night's Dream Man and the Natural World

By William Shakespeare

Man and the Natural World

Act 2, Scene 1
Titania

TITANIA
These are the forgeries of jealousy;
And never, since the middle summer's spring,
Met we on hill, in dale, forest, or mead,
By paved fountain, or by rushy brook,
Or in the beached margent of the sea,
To dance our ringlets to the whistling wind,
But with thy brawls thou hast disturb'd our sport.
Therefore the winds, piping to us in vain,
As in revenge, have suck'd up from the sea
Contagious fogs; which, falling in the land,
Hath every pelting river made so proud
That they have overborne their continents.
The ox hath therefore stretch'd his yoke in vain,
The plowman lost his sweat, and the green corn
Hath rotted ere his youth attain'd a beard.
The fold stands empty in the drowned field,
And crows are fatted with the murrain flock.
The nine men's morris is fill'd up with mud,
And the quaint mazes in the wanton green,
For lack of tread, are undistinguishable.
The human mortals want their winter here.
No night is now with hymn or carol blest.
Therefore the moon, the governess of floods,
Pale in her anger, washes all the air,
That rheumatic diseases do abound.
And thorough this distemperature we see
The seasons alter: hoary-headed frosts
Fall in the fresh lap of the crimson rose,
And on old Hiems' thin and icy crown
An odorous chaplet of sweet summer buds
Is, as in mockery, set. The spring, the summer,
The childing autumn, angry winter, change
Their wonted liveries; and the mazed world
By their increase, now knows not which is which.
And this same progeny of evils comes
From our debate, from our dissension;
We are their parents and original. (2.1.84-120)

Titania, Queen of the Fairies, reveals that it isn't the magical realm, but the natural world that is disturbed by her quarrels with Oberon. The relationship between magic and the natural world is highlighted here. This long list of what's gone wrong in the world could very well be a list of unfortunate occurrences in the natural world: the weather is bad, hardworking farmers find their corn is rotting, and the seasons are all screwed up. It all points to the fact that things must be right in the magical world if there is to be balance in the natural world.  Man can see the effects of magic on his environment, but he is likely to interpret them as some natural failing, not a magical one.

Act 3, Scene 1
Puck (a.k.a. Robin Goodfellow)

PUCK
I'll follow you. I'll lead you about a round,
Through bog, through bush, through brake, 
through brier; Sometime a horse I'll be, sometime a hound,
A hog, a headless bear, sometime a fire,
And neigh, and bark, and grunt, and roar, and burn,
Like horse, hound, hog, bear, fire, at every turn. (3.1.107-113)

Puck lists off a group of truly fearsome things, but you'll note that none of them are magic. They are all little terrors that abound in nature.  Nature itself, without the aid of magic, can be terrifying to humans.

Titania

TITANIA
Be kind and courteous to this gentleman.
Hop in his walks and gambol in his eyes;
Feed him with apricocks and dewberries,
With purple grapes, green figs, and mulberries;
The honey bags steal from the humble-bees,
And for night-tapers crop their waxen thighs
And light them at the fiery glow-worm's eyes
To have my love to bed and to arise;
And pluck the wings from painted butterflies
To fan the moonbeams from his sleeping eyes.
Nod to him, elves, and do him courtesies. (3.1.170-180)

Again the Fairy Queen, who has access to magic, calls for the finest things of nature to be given to her lover.  These luxuries are at their best when they are natural, so there is no need for magical enhancement. Further, it makes sense that Titania's fairies are all named for natural and country things.  It adds to the evidence that the natural world complements the magical one, rather than contrasts it.

Act 3, Scene 2
Puck (a.k.a. Robin Goodfellow)

PUCK
And the country proverb known,
That every man should take his own,
In your waking shall be shown.
Jack shall have Jill;
Nought shall go ill;
The man shall have his mare again, and all shall be
well. (3.2.487-493)

Puck quips that he is setting matters back to their natural state.  However, there is a hint of inequality about the natural states here.  Men "take" their "own" women, and men shall have their "mares" to ride. The natural state here is not just one of love, but also of masculine ownership of women.  It is about the nature of the pastoral too—when women are in the wood, they gain a certain amount of freedom that they would not have at court. Once the young women go back to Athens—though they will return with their respective loves—they will leave behind some of their freedom and equality.  In Shakespeare's day, this ownership was part of a woman's "natural state."

Act 5, Scene 1
Oberon

OBERON
Now, until the break of day,
Through this house each fairy stray.
To the best bride-bed will we,
Which by us shall blessèd be,
And the issue there create
Ever shall be fortunate.
So shall all the couples three
Ever true in loving be,
And the blots of Nature's hand
Shall not in their issue stand.
Never mole, hare-lip, nor scar,
Nor mark prodigious, such as are
Despised in nativity,
Shall upon their children be. (5.1.418-431)

Right before this speech of Oberon's, Puck gave a pretty dark view of the rest of the world. Oberon rescues the play from a dark ending by giving a lighter, happier account of man's place in the natural world.  The Fairy King touches on man's natural means to immortality: the act of procreation.  Though the characters will naturally die, their love will live on in their children.  Again, Oberon is responsible for showing magic in the natural world.