”Often, I think, we are left with a kind of fault line, a crack, a little moment of discord at the end of a Shakespearean comedy, that makes us question the completion and the unity and the harmony of the conclusion’ – Dr Eric Langley.
To what extent is the ending of the play harmonious?
An accepted convention of comedies is that they need to have a happy ending, or at least an ending that the audience/author is happy with. Traditionally, a comedy is a play where ‘a certain structure is present and works through to its own logical end’. Or, as Sean McEvoy said ‘Critics tend to regard something as a comedy not so much because it makes us laugh… but because a certain set of conventions are being followed.’ The ending of A Midsummer Night’s Dream is one that appears to be harmonious at the end but in actuality is one that leaves a lot of the complexities brought up in the play swept away swiftly to make way for the ‘harmonious’ ending.
Bottom being left to think that the events of the forest are simply a dream is another complexity that is ‘swept away’. Bottom awakes on his own and so he has nobody to share his dream with who experienced a similar occurrence to himself. When Bottom awakes, he says ‘I have had a most rare vision. I have had a dream, past the wit of man to say what dream it was’. He is left to believe that that is all it will ever be to him, simply a dream. He is unable to hold onto the real memory like the four lovers are. Bottom is even unable to articulate what he experienced, ‘Methought I was – there is no man can tell what. Methought I was – and methought I had…’ Throughout the play Bottom has been a comical character, in particular the way he speaks in malapropisms, when he uses the wrong word the audience laughs. Does the audience agree that Bottom should be left with nobody to share his dream with, and have them share something back – is Bottom’s ending fair? Bottom, in a comical way, declares that he will get Peter Quince to turn his dream into a ballad; ‘it shall be called ‘Bottom’s Dream’, because it hath no bottom’. In this, we can almost see Shakespeare ‘sweeping away’ the questionability of the fact that Bottom does not get to have a typical ‘happy’ ending like the lovers by covering it with something amusing for the audience.
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‘The most outstanding feature of Shakespearean comedy is its pervading obsession with marriage’. This is another large issue that we have to consider when exploring how harmonious the ending of ‘A Midsummer Night’s Dream’ is. Is the audience happy with the victory of love? Shakespeare signifies the restoration of the status quo by ending the play with marriage, which is a pillar in the structure of creating order. Marriage functions as a comedic ending in Shakespearean comedies and in the Elizabethan era marriage was seen clinically. A way of looking at this, as Lisa Hopkins argued, is that ‘the Shakespearean ‘happy’ comedies do not celebrate marriage; they reveal its crucial functioning in the maintenance of society…’ Hermia’s defiance towards her father may have been viewed as inappropriate, and so ‘comedy, while delighting in the events of a briefly topsy-turvy word, is ultimately conservative.’ However, it could be argued that Shakespeare closes the play with a marriage to avoid having to ‘tie up loose ends’. It could be said that ‘A comedy, then, is a problem-solving story, ending in resolution and order normally symbolised by marriage’.
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Puck’s epilogue can be viewed as quite distinctive to the play; he breaks the fourth wall and speaks directly to the audience. Puck reassures the audience that ‘If we shadows have offended’ then the audience can ‘[think] that you have but slumbered here’. This replicates the numerous mentions of dreams that are within the play. The wording of the epilogue and the insinuation that the whole play could have been a dream means that the play finishes with a sense of mystery and confusion. The reference to the actors being ‘shadows’ highlights our ability to ‘enter into and give assent to a magical country of the mind.’
One large element that questions the harmony of the ending is the fact that the audience is left unaware as to whether or not Demetrius had the love potion lifted from his eyes. If not, this suggests that Demetrius was left to love Helena regardless of his free will. Early in the play, Demetrius shows strong feelings of hatred towards Helena, quite passionately in fact. In act 2, we see Helena following him to the forest and he says ‘Tempt not too much the hatred of my spirit’. This is Demetrius warning Helena that she’s pushing her limits with his patience. He also says ‘You do impeach your modesty too much… With the rich worth of your virginity’. This is ultimately Demetrius intimidating Helena to get her to stop following him. This shows extreme feelings of derision from Demetrius. Surely this suggests that the only reason he’s in love with Helena at the end of the play is because of the love potion and not because of some miraculous turnaround during the events in the forest? In a sense the love potion practically strips him of his free will, which the audience is aware of, and he becomes almost slave-like in his reverence of Helena.
He says to her ‘O Helen, goddess, nymph, perfect, divine!’ which is a stark distinction to what he was previously saying to her before the love potion, ‘For I am sick when I do look on thee’. However, another interpretation that we can see from this is that rather than Demetrius being kept under the influence of the love potion, he has in fact matured during the time in the forest and realised his love for Helena. In contrast to the quite zealous declarations of love he makes to her when he is first put under the love potion – ‘O, let me kiss this princess of pure white, this seal of bliss!’, when Demetrius is explaining the events of the forest to Theseus, Egeus and Hippolyta, his declarations of love to Helena are more measured and controlled, they sound almost like wedding vows. ‘Now I do wish it, love it, long for it, and will for evermore be true to it.’ His words are spoken with purpose; it’s not overly exaggerated for comedic effect. We can see that Demetrius is suggesting that his new love for Helena is mature. While Puck may proclaim that ‘all shall be well’, in addition to the question about Demetrius’ love for Helena, the situation between Titania and Oberon is left with unresolved problems. In terms of a harmonious ending, this does not suggest one. This is one thing that is left as a complexity, swept away for the harmonious ending.
A Midsummer Night's Dream A Midsummer Night's Dream Essay, Research Paper Love. Everyone thinks they will fall in love or be in love with someone else at one point in there life. Love is a very strong word, in A Midsummer Nights Dream by William Shakespeare, it was used to its full potential. It could be true love or jus an infatuation that you think is love but it really isnt. First there was the ...
Before the love potion, Titania was extremely strong in her will to keep the changeling boy; ‘The fairy land buys not the child of me’ and yet Oberon steals the boy away while she is enamoured with Bottom. Oberon plays what seems to be a simple trick on Titania, whereas in actuality this is a rather cruel action. Oberon degrades Titania, the queen of the fairies, to loving a man who has the head of a donkey. While this is comical for the audience to watch as it is such an absurd thing to see, the implications are more complex. The love potion that is placed on Titania’s eyes leaves her utterly devoted to Bottom – ‘On the first view to say, to swear, I love thee.’ This shows us that while Oberon may have done this purely to satisfy his own ambition to claim the changeling boy for his own, he was prepared to humiliate and degrade Titania to do so. This does not suggest that there will be a harmonious ending as the subject of the changeling boy is never approached at the ending of the play.
The ending of the play is harmonious in the sense that there’s a happy ending and all the couples marry, which was at the time very traditional for comedies and for Shakespearean comedies in particular. However, there are lots of elements that make it uncomfortable for the audience, leaving them dissatisfied. For a comedy play, it has many unsettling element though while there is no doubt that ‘A Midsummer Night’s Dream’ is a comedy, those elements could make the audience feel slightly unnerved while watching and after the play has finished. This adds itself to the questionability of the harmony of the ending because if the play has these sinister features, how can we consider the ending to be harmonious?
Tris Warkentin Shakespearean Comedy All? s Well That Ends Well, question 1 1/13/00 Shaky Shakespeare? Simply, All? s Well That Ends Well is a play that was never quite finished by Shakespeare, leaving us questioning things like Helena? s reasons for loving Bertram. This rough nature reached its pinnacle in the very final lines of the play, where the King proclaims that "All is well ended if this ...
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[ 1 ]. Northrop Frye: A Natural Perspective: The Development of Shakespearean Comedy and Romance (1965)
[ 2 ]. Sean McEvoy: Shakespeare the Basics (2000)
[ 3 ]. Lisa Hopkins: ‘Marriage as Comic Closure’ in Shakespeare’s comedies ed. Emma Smith (2004)
[ 4 ]. Lisa Hopkins: ‘Marriage as Comic Closure’ in Shakespeare’s comedies ed. Emma Smith (2004)
[ 5 ]. Penny Gay: The Cambridge Introduction to Shakespeare’s Comedies (2008)
[ 6 ]. Alexander Leggatt: English Stage Comedy 1490-1990 (1998)
[ 7 ]. The New Cambridge Shakespeare ‘A Midsummer Night’s Dream’, introduction by R.A. Foakes (2010)