With so many different subplots in A Midsummer Night's Dream, we get a front-row seat to experience all the different ways each character perceives reality.
First, there are all the dream sequences, which help explain away some plot holes and add a gauzy mystery. But there's more to it than that—these differing perceptions of reality also extend to the characters' perspectives.
For example, Puck sees the mortal world as full of fools, and Theseus is certain fairies aren't real. In Lysander's book, if you don't have to fight for it, it isn't true love. These differing perspectives are central to the play, revealing that each man envisions his reality according to his circumstances, and that all these different realities can make things pretty darn complicated.
Questions About Versions of Reality
- What are the different functions of dreams in the play? Do dreams function to further the plot, or are they some kind of side commentary on imagination?
- What do we make of Theseus's perspective on reality? How can we factor in Titania's aid of Theseus—as pointed out by Oberon—especially because Theseus doesn't believe in fairies? Is it possible to live in a practical reality and still allow a little room for fancy?
- Do lovers, poets, and madmen really have their own version of reality? Is it a fanciful, false version, or is it just more deeply tied to human feeling than cold, hard facts?
- The young Athenians seem confused about the events of their night in the woods, but their stories match up, which seems to indicate that this whole thing was more than just a dream. Does the actual truth of the event really matter, so long as a lot of people believe in it?
Chew on This
Dreams are a cop-out in A Midsummer Night's Dream. They absolve the characters of responsibility for their foolishness and excuse Shakespeare from having to make the play at all sensible or meaningful.
Shakespeare makes a gendered argument in A Midsummer Night's Dream; while both Lysander's and Demetrius's madness can be explained by their enchantment, Hermia and Helena have no such excuse. Shakespeare argues that women are subject to a different view of reality when it comes to love.