source of comedy, the lovers attempts to justify their behaviour only making their situation seem more absurd. Dreams save us from nightmares. Love is suggested to be an affliction that can exist in conflict with normal thoughts and feelings, often causing pain.
The final pairing of Titania and Bottom demonstrates more than any other couple the irrationality of love. When Titania embraces Bottom Shakespeare seems to be suggesting that sexual attraction as interpreted through dreams is not subject to any dictates, and is almost arbitrary. It can take forms incapable of lasting or those which society may reject as perverse. Shakespeare's implicit question is: do we trust love made possible between worlds by magic potions any less than that made possible by the whim of a king?
A Midsummer Nights Dream is founded upon the concept of marriage and its inherent problems. Marriage takes two people who are seemingly opposites, with separate experiences and ambitions, and shows them to be in fact complementary to each other. The marriage creates something greater or at least different than the two were by themselves. Notably, we never get to see this side in the play: Oberon and Titania are married and in conflict while the four lovers' future is but speculation. Considering this it is apt that the play is set around the fertility rituals of Maying. May Day is when the countryside moves from spring to summer, and it marked a time when people starting to focus on the fertility of the land and themselves. The phallic symbol of the painted maypole formed the centerpiece of revelry and dancing (Hermia insultingly compares the tall Helena to one at III.2.296), carrying the celebrations into the woods and hills at night. Branches and flowers were festooned as decoration: Lysander reminds Hermia at I.1.166-7 of the time when Helena was once adorned in a similar way. These rituals allowed the young to choose their life-partners without the intrusion of their elder relatives - it also gave them the opportunity to engage in pre-marital sex. The lovers leave the rational, mundane and everyday world of Athens behind and embrace the wood at night, with its incomprehensible dreamy experiences. They metamorphose from wayward children into reasonable adults, accepted by society and ready to embark upon parenthood themselves.
Shakespeares comedies often feature a shift between city and country. The play begins and ends in Athens, the city renowned for its great philosophers, Socrates, Plato and Aristotle. But in the central section, spanning Acts II to IV, we are taken to a wood outside the bounds of the city where human laws and reasoning cease to apply. The rational and ordered world run by men in the day, and the non- rational, spontaneous dream world of the night both form human experience though. Both are needed to support the individual as he passes through life, and both are involved in the creation of art.
Night and Day
Apart from Scene 1 of Act IV, the whole of the play is set at night. Elizabethan plays were acted in daylight or indoors by the light of torches. There was little scenery and so the language had to build up an idea of location for the audience. Repeated references to the moon suggest a soft light falling on the players, but this lunar theme also has deeper connotations.
In Elizabethan times people believed that while the heavens were perfect and unchanging, remaining as God had first created them, the fall of man had made the area from the moon down to the earth - the "sublunary" world - imperfect and unstable. Change, death and decay are unavoidable. Earthly love, in contrast to pure divine love, is more often than not unreliable and impermanent. The moon is therefore a symbol of inconstancy and imperfection, and so linked clearly with the fickle emotions of Demetrius and Lysander. As the "governess of floods" (II.1.103) the rhythms of the changing moon are linked with the female fertility cycle as well as other cyclic and predictable changes such as the succession of generations.
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