Thesis Statement: A Midsummer Night’s Dream is a place about how conflict brings about radical change in a person’s identity.
In the play, the woods represents “radical change”
The Marriage scene represents the authority of the parents to enforce identity on their children
The characters enter the woods as one person, and through conflict, emerge out of the woods changed forever.
Hermia’s Radical Change
Helena’s Radical Change
Lysander’s Radical Change
Demetrius’s Radical Change
Demetrius Goes from Prescribed Groom to Lover of the Unrequited
A Midsummer Night’s Dream is a place about how conflict brings about radical change in a person’s identity. The play is about young lovers: Demetrius, Helena, Lysander, and Helena. In the play, the young lovers’ lives have reach a crossroads. Their parents have decided their futures. However, the kids revolt. They run away and end up in a wood. Shakespeare then creates a magical world where conflicts become mixed up. In this crazy world of the woods, the characters discover their true identities and emerge out of the woods forever changed. This paper will discuss how the four characters, Hermia, Helena, Lysander, and Demetrius become changed in the play and how this informs the overall concept of radical change.
In the play the woods represents radical change. Titania, the fairy queen, announces the theme “the spring, the summer, the childing autumn, angry winter, change their wonted lives; and the maz’d world, by their increase” (2.1.480-482). She says this because she represents change.
However, there is also the idea that everything must stay the same. These two ideas are in conflict with one another throughout the play. The discussion of marriage begins and the ends the play. Marriage represents the authority of the parents to enforce identity on their children. Hippolyta an
The characters enter the woods as one person, and through conflict, emerge out of the woods changed forever. In fact, almost all of the characters change in some significant way in the play. For example, Bottom, the theater actor turns from a man to a donkey and his friends say: “O Bottom, thou art changed!” (3.1.930). This is an example of a physical change. However, change, even when it is physical, is a link to the more radical, psychological and societal changes that mark the play’s narrative.
Hermia, Helena, Lysander, and Demetrius
Hermia changes from overly self-confident and vain to more self-aware and inwardly beautiful. ermia doesn’t understand other people. Hermia says to Lysander: “Why are you grown so rude? What change is this, sweet love” (3.2.1305). Hermia has to go through a radical change in how she will see her future husband. In the woods, Lysander spurns her because as Rowland suggests “radical change in the power relations between men and women in their societies” is a pivotal part of how relationships operate (46). However through his spurning, Hermia is able to lose her vanity and grow in inward beauty. Lysander has to be rude in order to become kind, and Hermia has to be embittered in order for love to become sweet.
Helena, in a similar way, goes from unrequited love to acceptance and she thus becomes more self-confident. Helena is in love with Lysander but he rebuffs her for Hermia. Helena has to make the change from accepting her loss and paving a new way forward in her life. Interestingly, the character of Hippolyta echoes Helena’s conflict when she says: “I am weary of this moon: would he would change!” (1.1.).
Helena cannot change the moon nor can she substantially change those who do not love her. This idea is what Mickis states is the play’s puzzle:
We want to know how the play's final union comes about, with its awakening from a dream of mismatching and delusion into the fresh symmetry of a new order. But the charm of the plot's solution lies in its surprisingly inexplicable emergence. As often in comedy, this conclusive shift has the air of rebirth, a shocking change to contrast with the remorselessly logical conclusions that tragedy specializes in (Mikics 103).
Comedy invites us to change ourselves. In the abscence of this rebirth, the consequence is tragedy. For Helena to become a new person she has to get over Lysander.
Lysander changes from from secret lover to legitimate groom. It is ironic because in the woods he falls in love with Helena! Of course the reader of the play knows it is a hoax put on by Puck’s fairy magic. So when Lysander is changed in the forest he falls in love with Helena.“Not Hermia but Helena I love: Who will not change a raven for a dove?” A an interesting reading of this line from Lysander is that change goes being secretive to him becoming a legitimate groom. He has to play out Helena’s secrets to unravel his own secrets for in reality Hermia is his true love (even though it has been forbidden by the father.
Demetrius goes from prescribed groom to lover of the unrequited. Helena tells Lysander “I am your spaniel” (2.1.578) because she is caught in a vicious trap. In a similar way, Demetrius is caught in a trap. He is betrothed to Hermia, and even though he goes along with his wishes, he finds out that it is actually Helena who is his true bride. As the theater critic Bjornsterne Bjornson wrote “And together these dreams say to us: watch your thoughts, watch your passions, you, who walk self-confidently at your lover's side, they might bring forth a flower called "love in idleness" (qtd. in Schmiesing 475-476). Change happens so fast -- one does not even know it. Demetrius thought he was to be wedded to Hermia, and Helena thought she would be spurned by men. But change happens before one knows it. No matter the inversion, in the play, comedy always rules as Puck reminds us: “Robin shall restore amends.” (5.1.409-24).
In this way, Midsummer Night’s Dream is a play about the relationship between personal change and conflict. In this paper the focus was on four characters: Hermia, Helena, Lysander, and Demetrius. It is interesting that the conflicts and changes that these characters undergo is very much par the course and relevant for today’s audiences. For example, in a 2004 Stratford Festival performance of the play “Hermia is your standard issue teenybopper tramp, while Helena is an uptight private school girl, right down to the blazer and kilt. Lysander is a slick homeboy and Demetrius is a preppy geek” (Ouzounias 2004).
Whether it is Ancient Greece, or contemporary North american culture, the changes throughout the play represent the greater idea of how change and conflict shape personal identity. While all the characters undergo identity, the four characters mentioned above are positioned at a crucial crossroads. Their change is precipitated by the demands of parental authority figures, they go into the woods, experience chaos, and then come out again as different people. It has been the thesis of this paper on Shakespeare’s play that change operates according to this principle.
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Roberts, Edgar V, and Robert Zweig. Literature: An Introduction to Reading and Writing. Boston: Pearson, 2015. Print.
Rowland, Susan. "Shakespeare and the Jungian Symbol: A Case of War and Marriage." Jung
Schmiesing, Ann. "Bjornson and the Inner Plot of A Midsummer Night's Dream." Scandinavian
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Shakespeare, William. A Midsummer Night's Dream. Mineola, N.Y: Dover Publications, 2009.