A Midsummer Night's Dream


William Shakespeare

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A Midsummer Night's Dream: Style 1 key example

Read our modern English translation.
Act 2, scene 2
Explanation and Analysis:

The style of A Midsummer Night’s Dream is impacted by setting and class. Characters in Athens and in the court mostly speak in verse, with the exception the amateur actors, who are of the lower classes. In the forest, Oberon and Titania speak mostly in verse, too. As the rulers of the forest, their speech is especially complex and laden with imagery and metaphor. The use of verse in their conversations helps demonstrate the extent of their power and influence. For example, in Act 2, Scene 2, Oberon instructs Robin to use the love potion on a set of Athenian lovers—Demetrius and Helena—in order to create reciprocity in their relationship. He says: 

A sweet Athenian lady is in love 
With a disdainful youth. Anoint his eyes, 
But do it when the next thing he espies 
May be the lady. Thou shalt know the man 
By the Athenian garments he hath on. 

Oberon’s use of verse as he lays out his command reinforces his power as a speaker. It causes the audience to listen carefully to his instructions. Because of the rhythm in his speech, his force is indisputable. The audience will remember his instructions and understand how his speech indicates his intelligence. Conversely, speakers who use prose are sometimes characterized as simple or unintelligent. Because of the oscillation between verse and prose, the worlds contained in the play are set against each other through the dialogue of the characters. The way that characters speak creates an opportunity for the audience to infer things about their background and philosophy. The lovers are very serious, the fairies are mystical and powerful, and the amateur actors are especially foolish. Even before watching the characters interact with each other in the woods, the audience can make these assumptions based on their dialogue.