Study Guide

A Midsummer Night's Dream Man and the Natural World

By William Shakespeare

Man and the Natural World

Part of the strength of A Midsummer Night's Dream is that we're not always sure where humans and the natural world—as two separate elements—fall in relation to each other. 

Sometimes humans are part of the natural world, like women becoming fertile with the midsummer fest.  Other times the natural world seems alien to man because he has separated himself from it—especially with his urban life. Some Athenian workers want to rehearse a play in the woods to escape the city distractions, but all Puck needs to do to frighten them is pretend he's a regular woodland creature or element— a fire, a hound, or a bear—oh my!

Even at the end of their crazy evening, the four young lovers decide to go back to Athens.  Life in the city may be plenty dramatic, but their courtly beds are no doubt better than the dirty forest floor. In this way, the natural world is an escape for man, but it's also a reminder of how good man has it in his other home.

Questions About Man and the Natural World

  1. Titania describes how the natural world (including humans) has been disturbed by the quarrel between the fairies. Is man, as she argues, a part of the natural world?  Do humans see themselves in a different light, for instance, because they are more subject to the rules of court than of nature?
  2. When the Mechanicals all run away after first seeing Bottom transformed, Bottom thinks they meant to frighten him about the scary things in the wood.  Does the play assert that most of the things man is afraid of in the natural world are simply things he doesn't know about or understand?
  3. Is the natural world an escape for man from city life, or was city life created to help man escape the dangers of the natural world?  How does the environment change man? Do the characters behave differently in the city versus in the woods?
  4. The young Athenians' escape to the natural world seems to allow a suspension of reality (as in most of the pastorals).  Does this make the natural world less real or credible than the urban one?

Chew on This

When the Athenian lovers are in the forest, they aren't bound by courtly rules and therefore can pursue their urges as they desire. Unlike the city, the natural world is a free space, one that allows man to have his natural feelings without bottling them up or bureaucratizing them.

The natural world is a tumultuous place of hedonism and madness.  The youth and the Mechanicals are enchanted and manipulated by the forest creatures and their only hope of returning to safety and sanity is in heading back to Athens. 

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