Shakespeare/Midsummer Night's Dream term paper 12524

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More strange than true. I never may believe These antic fables nor these fairy

toys. Lovers and madmen have such seething brains, Such shaping fantasies, that

apprehend More than cool reason ever comprehends. The lunatic, the lover, and

the poet Are of imagination all compact. One sees more devils than vast hell can

hold: That is the madman. The lover, all as frantic Sees Helen's beauty in a

brow of Egypt. The poet's eye, in a fine frenzy rolling, Doth glance from heaven

to earth, from earth to heaven And as imagination bodies forth The forms of

things unknown, the poet's pen Turns them to shapes, and gives to airy nothing A

local habitation and a name. Such tricks hath strong imagination That, if it

would but apprehend some joy, It comprehends some bringer of that joy; Or in the

night, imagining some fear, How easy is a bush supposed a bear! (V,i,2-22)

Theseus, in Scene V of A Midsummer Night's Dream, expresses his doubt in the

verisimilitude of the lover's recount of their night in the forest. He says that

he has no faith in the ravings of lovers- or poets-, as they are as likely as

madmen are to be divorced from reason. Coming, as it does, after the resolution

of the lovers' dilemma, this monologue serves to dismiss most of the play a

hallucinatory imaginings. Theseus is the voice of reason and authority but, he

bows to the resulting change of affection brought about by the night's confused

goings on, and allows Hermia, Lysander, Helena and Demetrius to marry where

their hearts would have them. This place where the line between dream and

reality blurs is an important theme of the play. Theseus is also a lover, but

his affair with Hippolyta is based upon the cold reality of war, "Hippolyta,

I wooed thee with my sword, And won thy love doing thee

injuries..."(I,i,16-17). He is eager to wed Hippolyta and marriage is the

place where reason and judgement rule. He wins the hand of his bride through

action not through flattery, kisses and sighs inspired by her beauty. In lines

4-6 of his monologue he dismisses the accounts of lovers and madmen on the

grounds that they are both apt to imagine a false reality as being real. When,

in I,i,56, Hermia tells Theseus, "I would my father looked but with my

eyes", Theseus responds, "Rather your eyes must with his judgment

look."(57). Theseus has a firm belief that the eyes of lovers are not to be

trusted. That the eye of the lover "...Sees Helen's beauty in a brow of

Egypt..."(11) is, to him, proof of this. It precisely by enchanting the

eyes of the lovers that the faeries manage to create so much mayhem:

"Flower of this purple dye, hit with cupid's archery, sink in apple of his

eye! When his love he doth espy, let her shine as gloriously as the Venus of the

sky."(III,ii,101-7) Puck doesn't change Helena's nature, nor does he change

her features. When Lysander wakes, he beholds the same Helena that he's always

despised and suddenly he is enthralled. For Theseus this is merely caprice and

in no means grounded in reality. Theseus doubts even the existence of the

faeries, believing the lovers have, at a loss to explain the inexplicable

changes of heart they've experienced, dreamed them up: "And as imagination

bodies forth the forms of things unknown, the poet's pen turns them into shapes

and gives to airy nothing a local habitation and a name."(14-17) A trick of

the light, an abundance of shadows, lack of sleep, an overactive imagination or

any one of these or million other causes are the most likely explanation. In

equating lovers, poets and lunatics Theseus gets into interesting territory and

serves to elevate lovers while he denounces them. The lunatic "...sees more

devils than vast hell can hold..” while the poet's eye "...Doth glance

from heaven to earth, from earth to heaven..."(9-13); thus this same

imagination is responsible for both mad ravings and great art. The concrete

reality of earth co-exists with both heaven and hell as the Faerie world

co-exists with the mortal world. A poet could, just as easily, be a lunatic

depending on the nature of his visions. That lover's are often (bad) poets, is

prime example of this interchangeability. "Such tricks hath strong

imagination, that, if it would but apprehend a joy, it comprehends some bringer

of that joy; or in the night imagining some fear, how easy is a bush supposed a

bear!"(18-22) Theseus describes the faulty and incomplete reasoning

employed by poets and lovers alike. Given evidence of some thing, conclusions

are made as to the nature of that thing. This usually incorrect conclusion,

having been reached, is followed by madcap mix-ups and hilarity- at least for

the audience. While distrusting the nature of love and its effect on people,

Theseus also recognizes the salutary effect it has, as Demetrius and Lysander,

once bitter foes, present themselves to him as friends. He allows the lovers to

marry according to their affection and betrays his own affection and

appreciation for the intoxicating draught called love, "Here come the

lovers, full of joy and mirth. Joy, gentle friends, go and fresh days of love

accompany your hearts!"(V,i,28-30)

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