A Midsummer Night’s Dream questions the difference between realities and dreaming from the title of the play to the woods to the love potion, while the play itself can be viewed as reality or dream. Dream and reality can be explored in many different contexts and constantly takes place in Acts 2 and 3. There are many instances throughout the play where the characters believe they are dreaming, but in reality the fairies put potions on the characters to try and pursue love and romanticism.
The theme of reality, dream, and love are persistent throughout acts 2 and 3 making it crucial to unearth the fairies role. In other words, it is essential to determine if the fairies are part of the dream or part of reality? Shakespeare explores the idea of love, reality, and dreaming in a context with significant different meanings in order to get the audience actively engaged and reflect on what is actually happening and what the different characters are imagining by using the fairies to manipulate love.
The fairies have created the distinction between reality, dream, and love in order to question the difference between what is occurring and what is being dreamt. It is evident when the characters are in Athens they are in a state of veracity and can express their true feelings for one another. For instance, when Hermia says to Lysander, “I swear to thee by Cupid’s strongest bow, By his best arrow with the golden head, By the simplicity of Venus’ doves, By that which knitteth souls and prospers loves”(1.1.169). On the other hand, in the forest, anything can happen from magical endeavors to wild escapes much like Lysander and Hermia falling in love and running away despite Egeus wishing otherwise. While dreaming in the forest, the characters can access their true desires and beliefs in an emotionally surreal environment. Oberon states, “Fetch me that flower. The herb I showed thee once. The juice of it on sleeping eyelids laid Will make or man or woman madly dote Upon the next live creature that it sees” (2.1.154).
The word love is drastically distorted when the flower comes into play. No longer is love seen as a natural occurring phenomenon, instead Oberon holds the power of love. The love potion gives the fairies the ability to manipulate the Athenians into a way of their pleasing. For example, Oberon is determined to unite Demetrius and Helena to one another, because he feels awful that Helena is so upset about Demetrius not loving her back. It is clear that Oberon’s motive is to improve Helena’s well being by using the love potion to manipulate their love. The fairies are real, however it is not made clear if the Athenian’s are dreaming or if this is reality. The question here is what defines reality, simply having your eyes open or can reality be explained by experiencing the situation in your mind. The fairies can be representative of a dream within a dream by going into the Athenian’s dreams and manipulating love to produce an outcome of their pleasing.
Rather than the current situation of Lysander and Demetrius being madly in love with Hermia, Oberon is confident the love potion will bring about true happiness for all four Athenian’s. Therefore, Oberon tells Puck to take the love potion and put it under Demetrius eyes to force Demetrius to fall in love with Helena. Puck states, “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”(2.1.247). It is clear that Oberon wants to distort Demetrius’s love toward Hermia into loving Helena in order for all four Athenian’s to be happy. From Oberon’s perspective without the distortion of love none of the Athenian’s would be happy. Following Oberon’s orders Puck acquires the love potion and observes Lysander sleeping by his lonesome and assumes this is Demetrius, so he puts the love potion on his eyes. “Churl, upon thy eyes I throw all the power this charm doth owe.
When thou wakest, Let love forbid sleep his seat on thy eyelid. So awake when I am gone, For I must now to Oberon”(2.2.64). Suddenly, Lysander is awoken by Helena and falls madly in love with Helena because she is the first person he lays eyes on. This causes a major turning point in the play because rather than both Demetrius and Lysander being madly in love with Hermia. Puck causes Demetrius and Lysander to fall in love with Helena by putting the potion on Lysander thinking this was Demetrius. Throughout this scene it can be questioned if these characters are dreaming these harsh realties or if it in fact happening? From one perspective the Athenians are awake because the love potion had a significant effect on Lysander, as well as the other three Athenians causing him to fall madly in love with Helena rather than Hermia. This scene can be viewed as fate by showing whatever hurts you makes you stronger. All four Athenian’s feel a sense of guilt from the point where physical battle breaks out between Hermia and Helena. Represents the harsh reality of two people loving the same person and showing that happiness will never succeed in such cases.
From a dreaming perspective the fairies went into the all the Athenian’s dream representing a dream within a dream. The fairies then manipulate the Athenian’s dream to make their dream come become reality when they open their eyes. Viewing this scene as dream or reality gives the same result because Oberon has the same goal in both contexts, which is to manipulate love in order to increase everyone’s utility of happiness. It is critical we consider the narrator in order to tell the distinction between reality and dream. Throughout the play Puck is seen as the narrator because he is made aware of all the characters well being and the story is being told from his perspective. On the other hand, the Athenian’s are not aware of the fairies existence and believe fate is responsible for their love.
Puck and Oberon can be seen as the characters that determine the Athenian’s fate through the love potion. The fairies are aware of all the characters throughout the play oppose to the Athenian’s who are not aware of the fairies existence. As a result of the Athenian’s not being conscious of the fairies existence it can be pondered if these events are occurring in reality or if this play is told from the character’s dreams? In perspective of the Athenian’s not being aware of the fairies existence brings the Athenian’s to believe fate is controlling their love for one another. As a result of the narrator not existing in the Athenian’s mind Act 2 and 3 can be perceived as a dream. It is evident dreams can bring about realities because a dream is still an experience.
From one perspective the Athenian’s may have all dreamt falling in love with one another rather than truly experiencing the effects of the love potion in reality. For instance, when Lysander is awoken he says, “My lord, I shall reply amazèdly, Half sleep, half waking. But as yet, I swear, I cannot truly say how I came here”(4.1.133). When awoken by Theseus Lysander is dumbfounded and has no recollection of the past night. Lysander is unaware if he just had a crazy dream or if he truly experienced these events. This perspective would allow fate to be the underlying factor of love for the four Athenian’s. A second perspective would represent the events truly occurring and the love potion being responsible for the past and future events.
In this case the love potion would be symbolic of causing the Athenian’s love with one another. The distinction between dream and reality is greatly questioned throughout the play. Shakespeare makes it clear that these characters have very different meanings and can be viewed in diverse ways. Throughout Acts 2 and 3 it is clear the woods represent a place of magic and mischief. Oppose to Athens, which is representative of reality. Acts 2 and 3 present the perspective of reality oppose to dreams showing there is no one correct way to interrupt the play.
Shakespeare, William. A Midsummer Night’s Dream. The Norton Shakespeare: Greenblatt, Stephen, editor. New York: W W Norton & Company, 1997.