William Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream is a story about relationships, hatred, sleep, waking truth, hectic people, and the order that is mother nature and her magic. The play contains many binary opposites or elements that oppose one another, such as light and dark or love and hate. Shakespeare makes use of these binary opposites by creating two opposite settings in the play: the Athenian court ruled by Theseus, and the woods of the fairies. The Athenian court represents disorder and chaos, while the woods represent law and order. By establishing these two opposite settings of order and chaos, Shakespeare demonstrates that both ideals are necessary to create a balanced and good life.
The Athenian court is the setting the play begins in. Hermia’s father, Egeus, takes his daughter to Theseus, to try to get king Theseus to force a marriage between Hermia and Demetrius. Hermia is told she will have consequences if she doesn’t show obedience to her father and marry Demetrius, but Hermia loves Lysander way too much to care. This rebellion of Hermia is an example of the crazy nature of disorder and chaos in the court. No one in the Athenian court ever listens. The young adults go against any rules in the name of love and will do what it takes for their happiness rather than listen to the king. Hermia and Lysander even plan to go into the woods where life and death actually face them to explore their boundless love for each other.
Things are very different in the woods. Oberon and Puck are ‘decision’ makers, deciding what happens in the lives of humans and fairies because they have the power to and will do what they see fit. Clarity and order are just two of the things they instruct throughout the play. They begin their ‘work’ by creating many realizations for the young lovers in the woods. Oberon justifies his well thought out plan to make use of his powerful love potion on humans: “Fetch me that flower; the herb I shew’d thee once. The juice of it on sleeping eyelids laid Will make or man or woman madly dote Upon the next live creature that it sees” (2.1.175-178). This love potion is magic, and would not be allowed in a place of chaos and disorder, because it can be easily be misused, and comes from nature. We all come from the earth and will one day return to it, therefore implying mother nature is strict and she will return your body to the earth if you try her. The woods then not only makes things interesting in the story, but also creates an express the reality where people realize their truths, Hermia and Helena trade societal roles for later crucial understanding of one another, and characters such as Bottom turn in to characters that are symbolic of their personality so that they can deeply ‘reflect’ on themselves. The order, in a way, explains the becoming sides of the characters, and what could be argued as their true complex nature that was unseen by the dumb and chaotic court.
When the play is coming to an end, the characters go back to the hectic court to be married, because they found their true love and purpose for one another while in the balance and order of nature. This proves that the events in the woods, the clarity caused, had a profound effect on the messy nature of the court. The chaos and disorder are still present, as is evidenced by the unnecessary weddings that are over the top public devotions of something so sentimental, but the order has helped define a more strict nature of the court, as is evidenced by the wise and perfect fairies presence in the court after the impulsive and rash weddings. The court is introduced into the fairies lives as if Shakespeare is proving that a little chaos (provided by a disorderly court) is necessary now and then to make things end up the way they are supposed to be, but that order is necessary for a happy ending as well. The play becomes one about the balance between the two ideals, and a cautionary tale about relying too heavily on order or chaos.
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