Shakespeare's A Midsummers Night’s Dream; a City of Order and Wood of Carnival? Essay

Submitted By chloeharrison98
Words: 1731
Pages: 7

How far do you agree that Shakespeare presents the city as a place of order and the wood as a place of carnival in A Midsummers Night’s Dream?

The two settings presented in MSND are that of the city and woods, settings that contrast through their boundaries of morality, control and authority. While the city presents ideas of hierarchical systems and authority, the woods are a realm of dangerous freedoms in comparison, however the events that take place in both settings appear to seek to undermine the stereotypes seemingly initially attached to them.
Throughout Acts 2 and 3, it wouldn’t be outrageous to declare Puck a metaphorical, physical embodiment of the chaos and anarchy the green world represents; a shining example of the carnivalesque feature of disregard for consequence of actions, and a total loss of inhibitions. Oberon despairingly realises that Puck has wrongly gifted the love potion to Lysander, ‘What hast thou done?’ and Puck, rather than be mortified at his fundamental error, gifts it to fate, ‘then fate o’errules’. Shrugging off the potentially catastrophic mistake would alleviate any guilt that could be derived, and therefore in the spirit of him being a trickster, make him enjoy and revel in his work rather than be dismayed. This bears parallels to the festival of Maying where running into the woods to revel stripped you of your identity for a night, creating a disregard for consequences. Puck then proceeds to follow out Oberon’s rectifying orders resolve the mess, ‘I go, I go, look how I go!’. The repetition of ‘I go’ is almost taunt-like, as if he feels the drama and urgency generated is unnecessary and disproportionate. The command verb of ‘look’ is also quite childish, insinuating that Puck is imposing a child’s perspective on the events, explaining why he would find the mistake comical rather than serious. With creatures like Puck abound in the green world with such a high agency, all who enter the fairy world are subject to the chaos. However, this is invalidated when Oberon proceeds to reign in the destruction by seeking immediately to resolve the situation, ‘When they wake, all this derision/shall seem a dream and fruitless vision’. If the woods was truly a land of carnival, responsibility wouldn’t be undertaken and successfully asserted, yet Oberon is not only seeking to rectify the situation, but Puck cooperates. The rhyming couplets used add a dream-like, reassuring tone to his words to link with how he hopes ‘all things shall be peace’; the play was on the brink of tragedy, but Oberon comes forth and represents order, and so allows a resolution to be found (as it necessary in a comedy), providing a great release of tension for the audience.
The presentation of the woods as a place of carnival is furthered by the application of opposites in statuses and roles. Bottom finds himself the subject of Titania’s longing desires in Act 3, ‘I swear, I love thee’, elevating him to a commanding position that he’d craved in the city when yearning for Quince’s authority, ‘First, good Peter Quince, say what the play treats on;’. The incongruity of Titania not only loving a mortal, but a fool with an ass’s head, brings forth a strong farcical element, especially to an Elizabethan audience where status and its enforcement were far more apparent in their society. A working class man defied conventions, finding himself amongst the highest class, a hysterically preposterous idea that emphasises the loss of social inhibitions leading to a lack of regard for social hierarchies, as is typically associated with carnival. The humour is also celebratory of Ovid’s Metamorphoses, referenced through the Mechanical’s enactment of ‘Pyramus and Thisbe’, who loved to emphasise transformation/elevate humans (Bottom becomes an ass and gains high status) whilst making Gods and their desires/conquests objects of low humour (Titania’s obscenely un-queen like and unfounded love for Bottom). The role reversal also decorates the…