A Midsummer Night's Dream

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The Supernatural Theme Analysis

Themes and Colors
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Plays Within Plays Theme Icon
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The Supernatural Theme Icon

In A Midsummer Night's Dream, Shakespeare has created a fantastical world of fairies and magic. And this world is not just a pretty backdrop for the events of the play. The fairies and their magic are the engine of the plot: Oberon's love juice sets the plot in motion, Puck's mistakes applying the juice and his mischievous transformation of Bottom's head into an ass's head complicates it, and Puck's tricks and illusions to keep the mortals while he fixes his love juice errors bring everything to a resolution. And in the face of this magic, mortal dilemmas such as the laws of Athens fall away.

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The Supernatural Quotes in A Midsummer Night's Dream

Below you will find the important quotes in A Midsummer Night's Dream related to the theme of The Supernatural.
Act 2, scene 1 Quotes
Either I mistake your shape and making quite,
You are that shrewd and knavish sprite
Called Robin Goodfellow. (19)
Related Characters: Robin Goodfellow (Puck)
Page Number: 2.1.33-35
Explanation and Analysis:

The setting of the play shifts from the human center of Athens to the mystical forest. There, a fairy encounters another figure and inquires about his identity.

Though this passage might seem to be a perfunctory interaction between two characters, it also develops important themes relating to deception and identity. The fairy, for instance, introduces recognition by way of mis-recognition: The line “mistake your shape and making quite” serves as an odd and inverted greeting. When the fairy does seek to identity Robin, he begins not with his name but with a description of how he is “shrewd and knavish”—both terms that connote deception and lack of predictability.

Robin’s name is itself rather slippery. The supposed moral constancy implied by the name “Goodfellow” directly contrasts with the previous description of him as being “knavish,” and the fairy will soon bestow on this "Robin Goodfellow" the nickname of Puck. This interaction thus shows how fickle identity becomes in the forest setting. By directly juxtaposing Act One’s urban affairs with this transition into the mystical realm, Shakespeare sets this space starkly apart—as an environment for the characters to take on new identities.

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I know a bank where the wild thyme blows,
Where oxlips and the nodding violet grows
Quite over-canopied with luscious woodbine,
With sweet musk-roses, and with eglantine:
There sleeps Titania some time of the night,
Lull'd in these flowers with dances and delight;
And there the snake throws her enamell'd skin,
Weed wide enough to wrap a fairy in. (235)
Related Characters: Oberon (speaker), Titania
Related Symbols: The Love Juice
Page Number: 2.1.257-264
Explanation and Analysis:

After watching Helena and Demetrius’ interaction, Oberon plots how to resolve their conflict at the same time as playing his prank on Tatiana. He describes to Puck his plan to make use of a flower that makes people fall in love.

Oberon’s language here is lush and evocative. He references a variety of different exotic plants at the site where the potion will be found, describing a scene of splendor and vibrance. Forming the speech from sets of rhyming couplets renders it deeply entrancing—thus foreshadowing the way the flowers’ juice will bewitch the lovers. (Note how the eloquence of Oberon’s rhymes is deeply in contrast with Bottom’s in Act 1 Scene 2.) That Tatiana is “Lull’d in these flowers” similarly foreshadows how flowers will be the instruments of enchantment for those who sleep. 


Yet within this tranquil environment Oberon describes, the reference to the “snake” carries a slightly more insidious note—in particular since the following reference is to entrapment: “Weed wide enough to wrap a fairy in.” Oberon could be showing here how the enchanting and luscious environment can at once carry darker notes of entrapment. Yet the play will ultimately only make those darker notes instruments of enjoyable deceit rather than true manipulation.

Act 2, scene 2 Quotes
When thou wakest, it is thy dear:
Wake when some vile thing is near. (22)
Related Characters: Oberon (speaker), Titania
Related Symbols: The Love Juice
Page Number: 2.2.39-40
Explanation and Analysis:

Oberon has snuck past Tatiana’s attendants as she sleeps. He places the love potion on her eyes and hopes she will spy something unpleasant when she wakes up.

These lines describe succinctly the way the love potion will affect Tatiana. Whatever she sees when she stops sleeping will be her “dear”: the thing she loves the most. And thus Oberon hopes that what she spies will be “vile,” causing her to fall in love with some odious being. By rhyming “dear” with “near,” he draws attention to the way that Tatiana’s love will be predicated on proximity rather than real romantic sentiment. Indeed, the rhyme is important to note here, for it presents these lines as sonorous rather than actually sinister. As is characteristic of this comedy, the plot resists entering a truly negative realm. Even as Oberon moves to deceive Tatiana, his lighthearted tone presents the behavior to be a mere dalliance or game.

Act 3, scene 2 Quotes
When in that moment, so it came to pass,
Titania waked and straightway loved an ass. (33)
Related Characters: Robin Goodfellow (Puck) (speaker), Nick Bottom, Titania
Related Symbols: The Love Juice
Page Number: 3.2.35-36
Explanation and Analysis:

The first being that Titania sees when she awakes is a bewitched Bottom who now has the head of a donkey. Puck explains those events to Oberon with what might be best described as delighted glee.

These lines fulfill Oberon’s earlier hope that Tatiana would spy something “vile” when she awoke. Indeed, his wish seems to have been fulfilled far beyond his hopes. For she has fallen in love not only with a “vile” human but actually a partial animal: an “ass” both in name (Bottom) and body. That Puck conveys this information with his characteristic singsong tone presents it to be lighthearted. But beyond that levity, he also adopts the distanced perspective of a theater director or storyteller. Puck describes Titania’s actions—“so it came to pass”—as if they were performed by a character in a different tale. Thus he presents himself and Oberon as the creators of the plot events being watched by the audience. Shakespeare forefronts, in this way, how people can function as playwrights, scripting their lives and those of others from a distanced point of view.

O spite! O hell! I see you all are bent
To set against me for your merriment:
If you we re civil and knew courtesy,
You would not do me thus much injury.
Can you not hate me, as I know you do,
But you must join in souls to mock me too?
If you were men, as men you are in show,
You would not use a gentle lady so;
To vow, and swear, and superpraise my parts,
When I am sure you hate me with your hearts.
You both are rivals, and love Hermia;
And now both rivals, to mock Helena:
A trim exploit, a manly enterprise,
To conjure tears up in a poor maid's eyes
With your derision! none of noble sort
Would so offend a virgin, and extort
A poor soul's patience, all to make you sport. (147)
Related Characters: Helena (speaker), Hermia, Lysander, Demetrius
Page Number: 3.2.148-164
Explanation and Analysis:

Helena is now being pursued by Lysander and Demetrius after they have both been bewitched by the love potion. Believing that they are making fun of her, Helena spurns their advances and scolds them for this behavior.

This soliloquy makes a sharp distinction between courteous and uncourteous forms of behavior. Helena considers Lysander and Demetrius’ actions to do her “injury” and “mock” her because, she believes, their behaviors do not accurately represent how they feel. To support this point, Shakespeare uses the language of performance and play: The men act from “merriment,” they act “in show,” and it is all done “to make you sport.” These descriptions corroborate the way Puck and Oberon have staged their own sport of romance in the play. Helena is correctly able to recognize the falsehood in the mens’ behaviors, but she cannot recognize that they are merely characters acting out their parts. And, meanwhile, the men have become so overwhelmed by their "parts" because of the love potion, that they don't even know that they are in fact playing parts.

Helena's speech also confirms the way she is ever-aware of gender role complexity. She implicitly denies Lysander and Demetrius's manhood by saying they are men “in show” rather than in actuality (which also would have been funny in Shakespeare's time, when women weren't allowed to be actors and so the actor playing Helena would, in fact, have been a man). And calling their behavior “A trim exploit, a manly enterprise” is a sarcastic way of saying that she finds their behavior manipulative and thus un-masculine. Similarly, she takes on the traditional role of “gentle lady” and “poor maid”—surprising considering that Helena had previously bucked gender roles by desiring to be the pursuer or wooer. Her new adherence to a division between manly and unmanly behaviors thus shows how rapidly the supernatural forest environment can shift the characters’ identities. Just as Demetrius and Lysander have been bewitched into love and into the roles of pursuers, Helena has been metaphorically enchanted in this new, more passive position.

Act 4, scene 1 Quotes
May all to Athens back again repair
And think no more of this night's accidents
But as the fierce vexation of a dream. (50)
Related Characters: Oberon (speaker), Hermia, Helena, Lysander, Demetrius
Page Number: 4.1.68-70
Explanation and Analysis:

Oberon at last feels pity for the way he has treated Titania and the other characters. He informs Puck to finish undoing his mischief and to allow the characters to depart the forest.

These lines verify the sharp division between the play’s urban and forest settings. Whereas the forest is seen as the place of fantasy and magic, the city promises a return to normalcy. Oberon’s use of the word “repair” stresses how the character's return to Athens will restore order to the broken relations and return to normal any behaviors made strange by the forest. His strict delineation between the two spaces casts the events that have transpired in the forest as whimsical and temporary—and to have little relevance to the rest of the characters’ lives.

Oberon also addresses the importance of dreams in this play. Hoping the other characters will think of the events in the forest as only “the fierce vexation of a dream” means that they will consider them to have been a psychologically real experience but one that has no pragmatic effect on their lives. He thus aligns the forest environment with nighttime and dreams, whereas Athens is associated with daytime and “reality.” These associations further emphasize that the romantic complications that have taken place in the forest are to be taken as illusory, for they should be seen as temporary and unreal.

And yet, as becomes clear just a few lines later, the wild, magical, "unreal" events of the forest have actually untangled the romantic mess of the four lovers in a way that the law of Theseus and Athens never could. 

Act 5, scene 1 Quotes
Not a mouse
Shall disturb this hallow'd house:
I am sent with broom before,
To sweep the dust behind the door. (297)
Related Characters: Robin Goodfellow (Puck) (speaker)
Page Number: 5.1.404-407
Explanation and Analysis:

As the play draws to a close, Puck enters alone and reflects on its denouement. He avows to leave behind a tranquil environment.

Earlier, Snug mistakenly worried that the audience of his play would mistake it for real. Here, Puck acts as if the play in fact is real and promises to sweep up after it and scrupulously clean the space of anything from the play that remains. Puck thus reiterates both how all that has occurred will soon fade into the past and be "unreal" to the audience that watched the play, but also that the play will leave remnants behind with the audience. In other words, he asserts both the plays unreality and its reality, and in so doing once again highlights the magic of theater, which is to find a common ground between reality and unreality in which actors, characters, and audience can co-exist.

These lines also subtly allude to the physical space of a theater. After Shakespeare’s play has ended, all will indeed be silent, and custodians will presumably have to sweep it with a “broom.” Puck thus verifies that he has been playing the metaphorical role of stage assistant to Oberon throughout their play within this play. And he cleverly describes the very space in which the audience sits as “this hallow’d house.” Shakespeare thus likens the ephemeral nature of this play to the broader experience of attending theater—in which great actions are staged for a moment but then soon return to quiet absence.

If we shadows have offended,
Think but this, and all is mended,
That you have but slumbered here
While these visions did appear.
And this weak and idle theme,
No more yielding but a dream,
Gentles, do not reprehend,
If you pardon, we will mend.
And, as I am an honest Puck,
If we have unearned luck
Now to 'scape the serpent's tongue,
We will make amends ere long,
Else the Puck a liar call.
So, goodnight unto you all.
Give me your hands, if we be friends,
And Robin shall restore amends. (430)
Related Characters: Robin Goodfellow (Puck) (speaker)
Page Number: 5.1.440-
Explanation and Analysis:

Puck is left alone on the stage at the play’s end to address the audience directly. He recommends that they think of what has transpired as a dream.

This final monologue verifies the parallels that have been made between the performance of theater and the experience of a dream. Puck likens the actions to “visions” and trivializes the action by describing it as a “weak and idle theme”—as something that would appear ephemerally, in one’s dream. In that case, it would be easy to “mend” any offense because the consequences of that offense would be non-existent. Puck insists on his own honesty, and he challenges the audience to call him a “liar” if the play indeed does not fade away like a dream. These lines thus corroborate that the events are supposed to be seen as transitory, a perspective that would allow one to view from a distance, as art, all that has occurred.

By invoking his original name “Robin,” Puck also marks the shift back from the forest dreamscape into reality. Recall that the fairy bestowed that name on him in the first supernatural scene in the play. Thus by taking back his own original identity, Puck signals to the audience that they will now resume their normal human endeavors beyond the confines of Shakespeare’s work. In this way, Shakespeare presents the theater as itself a way to escape normal human concerns for a moment—to take on new identities in a metaphorical dreamscape or forest environment, before returning to reality.