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A STEP BEYOND
TESTS AND ANSWERS
_____ 1. The three kinds of people Theseus says are under the sway of the imagination are:
B. the lunatic, the lover, and the poet
C. the audience, the actors, and the playwright
B. Robin Goodfellow
C. King of Shadows
B. the ability of reason to shine through the dark
C. madness, romance, and magic
B. that the fairies are not real, and their magic is just another way of seeing peoples' problems
C. how ruthless society can be in enforcing its laws
B. shows that the entire play was conjured up by him
C. lingers, holding the mystery of the fairy world
B. marry the person she was engaged to first
C. do as Theseus tells her
B. love sees with its own eyes, and sometimes love is blind
C. reality can be seen only with the eyes of reason
B. Bottom is turned into an ass
C. the natural world is out of order
11. Why are the two sets of young lovers so hard to tell apart?
12. How is the theme of theatrical illusion woven into the play?
13. Describe the importance of flower imagery in the play.
14. How does Theseus's reliance on reason affect his general understanding?
15. What is "doting," and what is its significance in the play?
_____ 1. Helena calls Hermia a puppet because she
B. is small
C. has a funny way of moving when she is angry
B. is annoying, because he wants to play all the parts
C. is fascinating because the audience really does show fear during the play
C. both Hermia and Helena
B. is used by Shakespeare to mock the bad poets of his day
C. shows us his magic; the sounds themselves are like a spell
B. flowers are small miracles of the natural world, whose size helps give a picture of the fairies' size
C. reason is behind fairy magic, and flowers show the power of scientific reasoning
B. unlike the lovers, they're possessed of true sight
C. although they are night creatures, their intentions are good
B. social order and reason
C. total concentration on commerce
B. they are rarely on stage together
C. when their eyes are charmed, their appearances change also
B. the triumph of Greek over English mythology
C. the blind nature of romantic love
11. Compare Bottom's recollection of his magical experiences to that of the lovers.
12. How does Titania's description of the natural world out of order affect our understanding of the fairies?
13. Why is moonlight so important in the play?
14. Discuss the different ways in which the three groups of characters speak.
15. How does the content of "Pyramus and Thisby" reflect on the rest of the play?
11. Though Hermia is described as small and dark, and Helena as tall and thin, Lysander and Demetrius are not given physical descriptions at all. They seem to be almost interchangeable. Of course, once the love juice has worked its magic they are, in terms of their love, interchangeable. First they both love Hermia; then they both love Helena. By having these lovers so ill-defined, Shakespeare makes them stand for lovers in general, rather than appear as specific characters. All four young people speak the high courtly poetry and romantic cliches of people in love. But love is a power that, like the magic juice, transforms people to its own purposes. In a way they are no longer themselves, but agents of its power- lovers. By keeping his lovers indistinct, Shakespeare shows how love levels people to its own ends, blinding them from seeing the reality of other people in the process.
12. The rustic actors rehearsing their production of "Pyramus and Thisby" give Shakespeare the chance to satirize theatrical conventions and to play with his audience around the limits of the theater's illusion. Bottom worries about how the audience might react to the appearance of a lion or to Pyramus dying. He's afraid they will take these acted roles seriously and not understand that they are in the realm of theater, not "reality." He wants the actors to explain that they are just actors. But theater is based on the audience's ability or willingness to suspend for a time their normal perception of reality and to believe in illusion. Shakespeare tests this suspension to the limit in A Midsummer Night's Dream by portraying a mythical, magical world of fairies that is entirely built on illusion. You are asked to believe that this mysterious, fanciful world is real.
13. The fairy world is continually associated with flowers, as well as with other nature-related imagery. This makes flowers part of a world slightly beyond human perception or influence. Flowers and plants have traditionally been associated with magic, and in the case of certain herbs their "magic" curative powers are well proven. And they imbue us with a sense of wonder at their colorful and beautiful forms, in spite of the depth of our scientific knowledge about how they grow. Shakespeare's association of the fairies with these small miracles makes the flowers seem part of an elemental creative power. The fairies are also constantly compared in size to the flowers, giving us an imaginary yardstick by which to measure and to view the fairies (since they are played by human actors on the stage). The conflicting realities of the size we hear about and the size we actually see test our power of imaginative perception.
14. Theseus's reliance on reason removes him, in some degree, from understanding the creative worlds of art and magic. He does not really believe the lovers' story of their magical encounters. His world of war conquests and social order keep him materially grounded. He can only scoff at tales of fairies and magic. We who have already experienced the power and poetry of the fairy world can see that reason, for all its virtue, can also lead to blindness. Theseus compares lovers, madmen, and poets. He says that imagination can lead them all astray. In one way he has a point: we've already seen the ways in which people can be blinded and misled by romantic love. But we've also glimpsed- like Bottom- an unspeakable beauty, a dream vision of flowers, magic, moonlight, and poetic art. A world without these elements might be materially sound, but it lacks a powerful dimension of human experience.
15. "Doting" is used again and again to describe the kind of romance-inspired seeing (and loving) that is essentially blind. In other words, doting is not seeing at all. When Helena is described by Lysander as doting on Demetrius, he means she is so foolishly in love that she can't really judge Demetrius's character; her love stands in the way of her reasonable sight. Similarly, Titania is described by Oberon as doting on Bottom, ass's head and all. Her situation is even clearer. Though we can plainly see the ass before her, her love-transformed eyes see only what they want to see. Ass-headed Bottom is a handsome prince to her. According to Shakespeare, when people dote they are in a dangerous, intoxicated realm, seeing what their mind and heart tell them to see, not what may actually be before them.
11. The lovers wake up from their dream almost as if they had been knocked out. They have only fuzzy recollections of their strange experiences but are willing to believe that they were just dreaming. Mostly, they seem to want to forget the events and move on toward their now more stable marriages. Bottom, too, wakes up with fuzzy perceptions, but he seems closer to his "dream" experience than do the lovers. It seems almost as if he remembers what happened; his difficulty is in finding a way to talk about it. He approaches the experience and retreats from it, but ultimately holds it in a kind of suspension. Even if he can't fully talk about this "vision," he won't dismiss it. Intuitively, Bottom seeks to keep hold of his dream through the transforming means of art: he immediately decides to write a ballad called "Bottom's Dream" to be performed during the play.
12. Because of the fairies' constant association with flowers and winged insects and because of Shakespeare's emphasis on their diminutive size, we may get the initial impression that these spirits are cute, tiny, dainty, and harmless. Though Oberon shows a humanlike jealousy and vengeance, he doesn't cause any intense trouble (except with his use of the love juice). But Titania's description of the disorder in the natural world resulting from her quarrel with Oberon gives us an entirely different sense of their powers. Now the king and queen of fairyland seem like elemental forces. Their emotional life has gigantic force: it can cause tidal waves and terrible storms, disrupting the general calm and order of human life. Because of the terrifying picture Titania paints, filled with disease and death, our conception of the benign fairies is altered into something more respectful. Their magic world has behind it a primary power, and as its representatives, Oberon and Titania are mighty rulers.
13. Except for the beginning and the end, most of the action of the play takes place at night. Oberon makes clear that night is the fairies' time. Theseus, who is aligned with reason, appears during the daylight portions. The fairies, with all the midsummer madness they set in motion, work their magic at night. Moonlight thus symbolizes emotions, as contrasted to reason, and of course is the favored trysting time of lovers. Oberon is referred to by Puck as the king of shadows, and the shadowy night world he presides over is one of mysterious glimpses and strange behavior. Puck and Theseus both refer to the theater as a place of shadows, so the moonlit night also represents the realm of theater, where theatrical illusions take on the appearance of real life. And for human beings, it is much harder to see in the dark. Since so much of the play is concerned with the difficulty lovers have in "seeing," moonlight thus symbolizes the cloudy light of love in which lovers "dote."
14. The lovers tend to speak a courtly poetry, filled with high-sounding vows and mythical allusions. Their formal speech almost always rhymes- especially in the longer speeches- giving the lovers an artificial sound. Their dialogues contain many clever turns of phrases. Yet nothing much individual comes through about any one of them.
The fairies- especially Oberon and Titania- also speak poetically. But their poetry is distinguished by elegance and grace, not by cliches. It is filled with the names of flowers and small animals, linking the fairies to nature. Oberon's descriptions are precise yet lyrical; his language seems often to be a magical charm in itself. In Titania's description of the natural world off balance, she personifies all the elements of the natural world so that they seem to be human.
The workingmen speak in prose, not poetry. This gives them a feeling of earthiness, of being grounded in the daily world. They continually misuse and mispronounce words. Their discomfit with language makes them perfect vehicles for Shakespeare's satire of bad acting.
15. "Pyramus and Thisby," a story about two lovers kept apart by their parents, reveals a frustrated romantic intrigue similar to that of the lovers in A Midsummer Night's Dream. Remember, Hermia and Lysander try to flee Athens at the beginning of the play, because her father's wishes stand between them. "Pyramus and Thisby" shows the unfortunate result that can befall young lovers caught up in their passions. Although Hermia is threatened with death, Thisby and Pyramus do actually die in their play. The material is dealt with comically, but the tragedy is there as a cautionary sign. Things work out well for Hermia and Lysander and for Helena and Demetrius, who end their play comfortably married. Through its comic shenanigans, "Pyramus and Thisby" diffuses the tragic element in its story and releases it through laughter.
TERM PAPER IDEAS AND OTHER TOPICS FOR WRITING
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