Study Guide

A Midsummer Night's Dream Foolishness and Folly

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Foolishness and Folly

A Midsummer Night's Dream is a comedy, so it's going to have its fair share of slapstick humor—we've got a man with a donkey's head wandering around on stage for crying out loud. There's also a healthy dollop of dark humor too, like when Egeus gets absurdly mad at his daughter and decides to have her killed.  In the end, it's all two sides of the same coin—nothing, not even murder and death, is taken seriously here. Misunderstanding is as central to the play as any other element of plot. And since the play is all about how ridiculous love can be, no one can avoid embarrassing foolishness. That'd be like having sushi without rice—not quite right.

Questions About Foolishness and Folly

  1. As we spend time with the young Athenian lovers, it becomes apparent that their love for each other seems silly and melodramatic.  Is Shakespeare implying that their love is particularly foolish (maybe because they're young), or that foolishness is naturally to be expected of any person in love?
  2. The Mechanicals are the target of a lot of Shakespeare's mockery.  Not only do they not know how a play is performed properly (meaning they lack societal finesse), but they don't even seem smart enough to figure out that they are being mocked.  What's the point of the Mechanicals' silliness and bumbling? 
  3. Lysander and Demetrius are enchanted for a good portion of the play, but they were at odds even before the magic kicked in. On the other hand, Hermia and Helena fight with each other and neither of them has been enchanted.  What, besides the magic pansy juice, can be used to explain the rash behavior of the youthful Athenians?
  4. One of Shakespeare's archetypes is "the fool" character, who can be relied upon for jokes and mischief, but also often provides some sharp personal or philosophical insight.  Is there such a character in A Midsummer Night's Dream?

Chew on This

When Shakespeare makes fun of the Mechanicals, he's making fun of uneducated commoners.

The silliness of the Mechanicals isn't meant to degrade those characters or their social statuses. In fact, Shakespeare pursues a far more egalitarian course: the folly of the Mechanicalsconfused, misled, and misunderstood by each othermatches exactly that of the young Athenian lovers lost in the wood.

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