A Midsummer Night's Dream

by

William Shakespeare

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A Midsummer Night's Dream: Foreshadowing 2 key examples

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Definition of Foreshadowing
Foreshadowing is a literary device in which authors hint at plot developments that don't actually occur until later in the story. Foreshadowing can be achieved directly or indirectly, by making... read full definition
Foreshadowing is a literary device in which authors hint at plot developments that don't actually occur until later in the story. Foreshadowing can be achieved... read full definition
Foreshadowing is a literary device in which authors hint at plot developments that don't actually occur until later in the... read full definition
Act 1, scene 1
Explanation and Analysis:

In the play’s first scene, after receiving a harsh sentence from her father and the Duke of Athens, Hermia’s belief in love falters. Her lover Lysander comforts her, and his judgment of their situation foreshadows the acts that follow. Though his statement is general and none of the following conflict specifically references his philosophy, it becomes emblematic of the central conflicts of the play. He says: 

For aught that I could ever read, 
Could ever hear by tale or history, 
The course of true love never did run smooth.

Lysander means this statement as a comfort. He intends to assure Hermia that their love is true and that by definition it will be tested and will then prove itself. His belief in their ability to overcome is reflective of his blind love for Hermia in this scene. However, once the lovers enter the woods, their true love will be manipulated by the introduction of a life-altering love potion. The foreshadowing in this scene therefore indicates to the audience that a great deal of confusion and heartbreak will precede the play’s eventual happy ending. Indeed, the strength and dedication of his belief in love indicates that, though he is unable to anticipate the obstacles that will come between them, he is confident that he and Hermia will find their way back together. Lysander’s declaration of confidence will be tested over the course of the play, but it will ultimately be confirmed by the ending. The triple wedding in the last act seems, in some ways, to validate his prophetic statement in this very first scene. 

Act 2, scene 2
Explanation and Analysis—Hermia's Nightmare:

In Act 2, Scene 2, Hermia suffers from a nightmare that foreshadows a new threat to her relationship with Lysander. She and Lysander have escaped the court of Athens and fallen asleep together in the woods. While sleeping on the forest floor, Hermia has a bad dream. When she wakes up, she cries out for the comfort of her lover, for in her first waking moment, she cannot dispel the terror of her vision. She says: 

Help me, Lysander, help me! Do thy best
To pluck this crawling serpent from my breast. 
Ay me, for pity! What a dream was here! 
Lysander, look how I do quake with fear. 
Methought a serpent ate my heart away, 
And you sat smiling at his cruel prey.

The substance of Hermia’s nightmare comes from both her fear for her heart and from Lysander's indifference to her pain. When she wakes up, she wishes for him to counteract her vision by assuring her that he will always be by her side to protect her. However, her nightmare is ultimately representative of her new situation. While she was sleeping, Robin mistakenly applied the love potion to Lysander’s eyes, causing him to leave Hermia’s side while she slept. She wakes up and finds no comfort in her lover. Instead, she is alone, with the substance of her dream fated to come true in the next few scenes. The serpent eating her heart represents the pain of her love being snatched from her side, as the love potion suddenly makes Lysander completely indifferent to her. This instance of foreshadowing increases Hermia’s sense of desperation. From the first waking moment, she has the sense that something terrible has happened to her, and the audience knows that she is right. 

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