Shakespeare Essays/Midsummer Night's Dream: environ contrast term paper 3226

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Tris Warkentin DOVER EDITION

Intro. to Shakespeare Midsummer Night's Dream, question 2

10/14/99

Logic vs. Magic

Shakespeare's A Midsummer Night's Dream draws sharp parallels between the two sets of order in the play; one seen in Athens, and the other in the forest. Athens is the paragon of order, with Theseus ruling in a logical and equitable manner. The "enchanted" forest is a place of chaos and magic, untouched by such logical laws as we see in Athens. Faeries and inconstant love rule here, while logic and laws govern the movements of Athenians. Both places serve different qualities, and together the two orders end up attending to both the rational and restless aspects that the characters present.

The order of Athens is one of firm laws, executed with a firm hand. This is vividly visible, even in the very beginning of the play. In Act I Scene i, Hermia's father, Egeus, presents the dilemma to Theseus, the objective ruler of Athens. Hermia wishes to marry Lysander, but Egeus wishes her to marry Demetrius, and therefore invokes the ancient Athenian right of a father to force a daughter to marry whomever the father might choose, or have Hermia put to death or cloistered. Hermia contends that she should be able to choose among her suitors. Theseus, being the model of justice that he is, opts in favor of the father's argument and the law, and orders her to marry Demetrius or choose between two harsh options, "Either to die the death, or to abjure / forever the society of men." (I,i) The next time Theseus appears is after the now-happy couples return from their timberland excursion. He is incredulous about Demetrius's change of heart, in that Demetrius seemed so obstinate to win Hermia. It is impossible for Theseus to understand the magic of this inconstant and magic love. His view of love is one of a lucid institution, where both parties contemplate the consequences and other logical effects of their logical love. To support his rejection of this irrational love, we see Theseus claim that "Lovers and madmen have such seething brains, / Such shaping fantasies, that apprehend / More than cool reason ever comprehends." (V,I), comparing these lovers to unintelligible madmen! He does not see how this enchanted love can be anything but the orchestration of a dysfunctional mind.

It is hard to prove that "dysfunctional" is the wrong word to describe the state of chaos exhibited in the enchanted forest. There are faeries, magic tricks, and random dispersal of mischievous acts. The chaos of the forest is rooted in the rift that has grown between the king and queen of faeries, Oberon and Titania. The chaos between these two rulers of the forest is mirrored in the timberland subplot. Oberon, who is angry with Titania about the upbringing of their faerie prince son, decides to wreak havoc upon Titania's love life. He sends Puck, his faerie assistant to get a magical love juice that will cause the person who gets it applied to them to fall in love with the next being they see. Puck, being even more mischievous than his master, turns a man, Bottom the Weaver, into a man with the head of an ass, and ensures that Bottom is the next being which Titania observes after anointing her with the love juice. At the same time, the lost couples are also experiencing the chaos represented by Titania and Oberon's disagreement. Lysander and Demetrius are fighting over Helena, and Hermia, originally the object of both men's affections, is left alone. Yet when the rift between Oberon and Titania is bridged by Oberon releasing Titania from her love with Bottom, the troubles between the lost lovers are also resolved. Thus, the development of the forest is one of turmoil and unanticipated actions, with the magic of the faeries as the ruling set of laws. This magic is without prejudice, and as the chaos erupts between Oberon and Titania, it also erupts between the unlikely visitors to the chaotic forest.

To sum things up, both Athens and the enchanted forest present plausible forms of order, and each type of order executes a different aspect of the plot. While the society presented in the forest would never exist in the logical and ordered city of Athens, the magic of the forest is crucial in developing the love couples formed by the end of the play. This would be impossible in Athens, because the ordered society would have insisted that Hermia marry Demetrius or die, such as Theseus's original decision dictated. Conversely, the order of Athens would be impossible in the forest, with the irregular magic of the faeries controlling people's actions. The logical and rational decision to act would be impossible in this land of chaos, yet the importance of Theseus's decision to override Egeus and allow Hermia to marry Lysander despite her father's insistence that she marry a now-unwilling Demetrius is one example of the key role that the order of Athens plays in developing the love between the lovers from the forest. However, this could never happen in the forest, because the magic love represented by the forest would have these same love couples switched around yet again the very next day. So, not only are there two forms of order in this play, but it is also clear that the plot could never progress the way it does in either one of the types of order alone.

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