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A Midsummer Night's Dream: Study Questions

    1. Order and subversion: Theseus and Puck. In A Midsummer Night's Dream, Theseus represents the ultimate human source of power; it is his word that finally ensures the happy ending. Puck is a lover of confusion, a trickster only just under the control of Oberon. Consider these two figures, and the way the structure of comedy interacts with them; look also at other figures of power (Egeus, Oberon) and subversion (Demetrius? Lysander?). Where does Bottom fit in?
    2. How does the play portray the power relations between the sexes? Does the end of the play, the dŽnouement, untie all the knots? Look especially at the "power" figures, Theseus and Oberon.
    3. Staging Shakespeare. For this tutorial, you should take one short sequence of the play and imagine how it might be staged on the original Globe stage; then think how it might be presented on a modern stage; and finally how it could be filmed. We will discuss differences in the media and their effect on how the play is perceived as a performance. How different can performances be of the same play? Could A Midsummer Night's Dream be staged as a dark, or black comedy? Try to find time to see a video performance of the play before the tutorial.
    4. Theme: love, blindness, and the dark. Is Helena right in the way she interprets the tradition that Cupid is blindfolded?
      Love looks not with the eyes, but with the mind,
      And therefore is winged Cupid painted blind.
                           (1.1.234-235)
      Go through the play, selecting those passages which refer to blindness, and to the eyes (remember the love-juice is applied to the eyes); can you see whether Shakespeare is making an overall comment on the blindness of love? If so, what is the effect of that blindness? (Does it, as Helena suggests, sharpen the mind, does it lead to irrationality, or does it have many different effects?)
    5. Shakespeare's sense of comedy seems to include an awareness that there are darker possibilities for humans than the comic. How does this awareness relate to the imagery of blindness? Look at Puck's speech towards the end of the play when he describes the onset of night (5.1.370-389), and Oberon's blessing (5.1.400-421).
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    This page last updated on 28 August 2006. © Michael Best, 2002.