A Midsummer Night's Dream

Plays Within Plays Theme Analysis

Read our modern English translation.
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LitCharts assigns a color and icon to each theme in A Midsummer Night's Dream, which you can use to track the themes throughout the work.
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A Midsummer Night's Dream is a play containing other plays. The most obvious example is the laborers' performance of Pyramus and Thisbe, and their inept production serves three important functions in the larger structure of the larger play. First, the laborer's mistakes and misunderstandings introduce a strand of farce to the comedy of the larger play. Second, it allows Shakespeare to comment on the nature of art and theater, primarily through the laborer's own confused belief that the audience won't be able to distinguish between fiction and reality. Third, the laborers' play parodies much of the rest of A Midsummer Night's Dream: Pyramus and Thisbe are lovers who, facing opposition from their parents, elope, just as Hermia and Lysander do. So even as the lovers and Theseus make fun of the laborers' ridiculous performance, the audience, which is watching the lovers watch the laborers' play, is aware that the lovers had been just as absurd.

A Midsummer Night's Dream also contains a second, subtler, play within a play. In this play within a play, Oberon is playwright, and he seeks to "write" a comedy in which Helena gets her love, Lysander and Hermia stay together, Titania learns a lesson in wifely obedience, and all conflicts are resolved through marriage and reconciliation. And just as the laborers' play turns a tragic drama into a comic farce, so does Oberon's when Puck accidentally puts the love-potion on the eyes of the wrong Athenian man. And yet Oberon's play also serves a counter purpose to the laborers' play. While the laborers' awful performance seems to suggest the limit of the theater, Oberon's play, which rewrote the lives of the same mortals who mock the laborers' play, suggests that theater really does have a magic that defies reality.

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Plays Within Plays ThemeTracker

The ThemeTracker below shows where, and to what degree, the theme of Plays Within Plays appears in each scene of A Midsummer Night's Dream. Click or tap on any chapter to read its Summary & Analysis.
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Plays Within Plays 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 Plays Within Plays.
Act 1, scene 2 Quotes
That will ask some tears in the true performing of it. If I do it, let the audience look to their eyes. I will move storms. I will condole in some measure.—To the rest.—Yet my chief humor is for a tyrant. I could play Ercles rarely, or a part to tear a cat in to make all split.
The raging rocks
And shivering shocks
Shall break the locks
Of prison gates.
And Phoebus' car
Shall shine from far
And make and mar
The foolish Fates.
This was lofty!—Now name the rest of the players.—This is Ercles' vein, a tyrant's vein. A lover is more condoling. (12)
Related Characters: Nick Bottom (speaker)
Page Number: 1.2.23-39
Explanation and Analysis:

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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:

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Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet, consectetur adipiscing elit, sed do eiusmod tempor incididunt ut labore et dolore magna aliqua. Ut enim ad minim veniam, quis nostrud exercitation ullamco laboris nisi ut aliquip ex ea commodo consequat. Duis aute irure dolor in reprehenderit in voluptate velit esse cillum dolore eu fugiat nulla pariatur. Excepteur sint occaecat cupidatat non proident, sunt in culpa qui officia deserunt mollit anim id est laborum.

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:

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Lord, what fools these mortals be! (117)
Related Characters: Robin Goodfellow (Puck) (speaker), Hermia, Helena, Lysander, Demetrius
Page Number: 3.2.117
Explanation and Analysis:

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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:

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Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet, consectetur adipiscing elit, sed do eiusmod tempor incididunt ut labore et dolore magna aliqua. Ut enim ad minim veniam, quis nostrud exercitation ullamco laboris nisi ut aliquip ex ea commodo consequat. Duis aute irure dolor in reprehenderit in voluptate velit esse cillum dolore eu fugiat nulla pariatur. Excepteur sint occaecat cupidatat non proident, sunt in culpa qui officia deserunt mollit anim id est laborum.

Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet, consectetur adipiscing elit, sed do eiusmod tempor incididunt ut labore et dolore magna aliqua. Ut enim ad minim veniam, quis nostrud exercitation ullamco laboris nisi ut aliquip ex ea commodo consequat. Duis aute irure dolor in reprehenderit in voluptate velit esse cillum dolore eu fugiat nulla pariatur. Excepteur sint occaecat cupidatat non proident, sunt in culpa qui officia deserunt mollit anim id est laborum.

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:

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Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet, consectetur adipiscing elit, sed do eiusmod tempor incididunt ut labore et dolore magna aliqua. Ut enim ad minim veniam, quis nostrud exercitation ullamco laboris nisi ut aliquip ex ea commodo consequat. Duis aute irure dolor in reprehenderit in voluptate velit esse cillum dolore eu fugiat nulla pariatur. Excepteur sint occaecat cupidatat non proident, sunt in culpa qui officia deserunt mollit anim id est laborum.

Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet, consectetur adipiscing elit, sed do eiusmod tempor incididunt ut labore et dolore magna aliqua. Ut enim ad minim veniam, quis nostrud exercitation ullamco laboris nisi ut aliquip ex ea commodo consequat. Duis aute irure dolor in reprehenderit in voluptate velit esse cillum dolore eu fugiat nulla pariatur. Excepteur sint occaecat cupidatat non proident, sunt in culpa qui officia deserunt mollit anim id est laborum.

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I know you two are rival enemies:
How comes this gentle concord in the world,
That hatred is so far from jealousy,
To sleep by hate, and fear no enmity? (129)
Related Characters: Theseus (speaker), Lysander, Demetrius
Page Number: 4.1.148-151
Explanation and Analysis:

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Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet, consectetur adipiscing elit, sed do eiusmod tempor incididunt ut labore et dolore magna aliqua. Ut enim ad minim veniam, quis nostrud exercitation ullamco laboris nisi ut aliquip ex ea commodo consequat. Duis aute irure dolor in reprehenderit in voluptate velit esse cillum dolore eu fugiat nulla pariatur. Excepteur sint occaecat cupidatat non proident, sunt in culpa qui officia deserunt mollit anim id est laborum.

Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet, consectetur adipiscing elit, sed do eiusmod tempor incididunt ut labore et dolore magna aliqua. Ut enim ad minim veniam, quis nostrud exercitation ullamco laboris nisi ut aliquip ex ea commodo consequat. Duis aute irure dolor in reprehenderit in voluptate velit esse cillum dolore eu fugiat nulla pariatur. Excepteur sint occaecat cupidatat non proident, sunt in culpa qui officia deserunt mollit anim id est laborum.

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I have had a most rare vision. I have had a dream past the wit of man to say what dream it was. Man is but an ass if he go about t'expound this dream. Methought I was—there is no man can tell what. Methought I was, and methought I had—but man is but a patched fool if he will offer to say what methought I had. The eye of man hath not heard, the ear of man hath not seen, man's hand is not able to taste, his tongue to conceive, nor his heart to report what my dream was. I will get Peter Quince to write a ballad of this dream. It shall be called 'Bottom's Dream', because it hath no bottom. (Bottom)
Related Characters: Nick Bottom (speaker), Peter Quince
Page Number: 4.1.215-226
Explanation and Analysis:

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Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet, consectetur adipiscing elit, sed do eiusmod tempor incididunt ut labore et dolore magna aliqua. Ut enim ad minim veniam, quis nostrud exercitation ullamco laboris nisi ut aliquip ex ea commodo consequat. Duis aute irure dolor in reprehenderit in voluptate velit esse cillum dolore eu fugiat nulla pariatur. Excepteur sint occaecat cupidatat non proident, sunt in culpa qui officia deserunt mollit anim id est laborum.

Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet, consectetur adipiscing elit, sed do eiusmod tempor incididunt ut labore et dolore magna aliqua. Ut enim ad minim veniam, quis nostrud exercitation ullamco laboris nisi ut aliquip ex ea commodo consequat. Duis aute irure dolor in reprehenderit in voluptate velit esse cillum dolore eu fugiat nulla pariatur. Excepteur sint occaecat cupidatat non proident, sunt in culpa qui officia deserunt mollit anim id est laborum.

Act 5, scene 1 Quotes
You, ladies, you whose gentle hearts do fear
The smallest monstrous mouse that creeps on floor,
May now perchance both quake and tremble here,
When lion rough in wildest rage doth roar.
Then know that I, as Snug the joiner, am
A lion fell, nor else no lion's dam.
For if I should as lion come in strife
Into this place, 'twere pity on my life. (209)
Related Characters: Snug (speaker), Snug
Page Number: 5.1.232-240
Explanation and Analysis:

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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:

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Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet, consectetur adipiscing elit, sed do eiusmod tempor incididunt ut labore et dolore magna aliqua. Ut enLoLorem ipsum dolor sit amet, consectetur adipiscing elit, sed do eiusmod tempor incididunt ut labore et dolore magna aliqua. Ut enim ad minim veniam, quis nostrud exercitation ullamco laboris nisi ut aliquip ex ea commodo consequat. Duis aute irure dolor in reprehenderit in voluptate velit esse cillum dolore eu fugiat nulla pariatur. Excepteur sint occaecat cupidatat non proident, sunt in culpa qui officia deserunt mollit anim id est laborum.

Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet, consectetur adipiscing elit, sed do eiusmod tempor incididunt ut labore et dolore magna aliqua. Ut enim ad minim veniam, quis nostrud exercitation ullamco laboris nisi ut aliquip ex ea commodo consequat. Duis aute irure dolor in reprehenderit in voluptate velit esse cillum dolore eu fugiat nulla pariatur. Excepteur sint occaecat cupidatat non proident, sunt in culpa qui officia deserunt mollit anim id est laborum.

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:

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Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet, consectetur adipiscing elit, sed do eiusmod tempor incididunt ut labore et dolore magna aliqua. Ut enim ad minim veniam, quis nostrud exercitation ullamco laboris nisi ut aliquip ex ea commodo consequat. Duis aute irure dolor in reprehenderit in voluptate velit esse cillum dolore eu fugiat nulla pariatur. Excepteur sint occaecat cupidatat non proident, sunt in culpa qui officia deserunt mollit anim id est laborum.

Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet, consectetur adipiscing elit, sed do eiusmod tempor incididunt ut labore et dolore magna aliqua. Ut enim ad minim veniam, quis nostrud exercitation ullamco laboris nisi ut aliquip ex ea commodo consequat. Duis aute irure dolor in reprehenderit in voluptate velit esse cillum dolore eu fugiat nulla pariatur. Excepteur sint occaecat cupidatat non proident, sunt in culpa qui officia deserunt mollit anim id est laborum.