Archetypal Characters And Ancient Myths In A Midsummer Night's Dream

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“The course of true love never did run smooth” (Crowther, ed., 2005). Nor do dreams; a series of thoughts, images and sensations occurring in a person’s mind during sleep. A Midsummer Night’s Dream gives us a conscious fantasy, a doubting reality. The plot revolves around the desire for well-matched love and the struggle to achieve it, with love and marriage being two fundamental points which make up the beginning and the end of the Shakespearean comedy. While the comedy is romantic, it freely mixes the light and the serious, by switching points of views from time to time, avoiding the audience from relating and feeling bad for the characters before they are given too much emphasis on, it shifts throughout the play to give us an equal insight on all the characters. William Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream has changed perceptions on archetypal characters, their roles and ancient myths. In this work, a trickster makes amends, women brawl and fairies are much more kind than they are believed to be.

The play opens on a positive note, as Theseus, Duke of Athens, anticipates his wedding to Hippolyta, giving the play a festive mood. The main conflict is introduced when other lovers enter, with the fairies’ interference the conflict further complicates. Reflecting the drama among the Athenians, the monarchs of the fairy kingdom are also troubled with love. Oberon instructs Puck to put the “love-in-idleness” flower’s juice upon Titania and Demetrius’ eyes to fall in love with the next person they see. With the tension rising as the night pushes toward dawn, Oberon orders Puck to reverse the enchantment and set things right among the lovers. Meanwhile all this, the Mechanicals have been preparing to perform their adaption of the tragedy of “Pyramus and Thisbe”, Shakespeare includes this plot throughout the entire play to have an opposing factor against the play’s tangle of troubling love. This mix of tragedy and comedy forms the sense that none of the action should be taken seriously. The play ends with Puck saying, “Think you have but slumbered here / While these visions did appear / And this weak and idle theme / No more yielding but a dream”.

Notice this, Puck is reassuring the audience, and though there is little character development in A Midsummer Night’s Dream and goes from one perspective to another with no protagonist being fully identified, critics generally point to Puck as the most important character of the play. He, Robin Goodfellow, or whom we are more familiar with as Puck, creates the play’s fun and rowdy atmosphere, making him put the story in motion with his pranks, and even in mistakes he manages to make the plot more engrossing. These are usually what Tricksters do, but should Puck only be limited to the title and role of a Trickster? He may be limited to the title, but that should not limit his actions to those of our typical Tricksters. By “typical Tricksters”, they are incarnated as a clever, mischievous man or creature who tries to survive the dangers and challenges of the world using trickery and deceit as a defense, and even entertains people similar to how a clown does.

But Puck is more than a witty troublemaker, he does meddle with people and laugh at them, but he is loyal to Oberon, admits to his mistakes and has enough good will to realize and fix them. Because Puck whizzes around the entire play to fetch the “love-in-idleness”, to sprinkle it upon eyes and set comical misunderstandings in motion, it is fitting then that Puck should close the play by delivering the Epilogue. He seems to be the only character with the credibility to tell the audience that he knows that the play is unreal, and he promises that, if we didn’t like the play, he’ll soon make it up with another one.

Puck cannot be simply be similar to our well-known archetypal tricksters such as foxes, coyotes and rabbits in children’s books. Puck is a whirlwind of archetypes rolled into one and labelled from his most immediate approach, a trickster. But what makes tricksters so special? According to Chris Colfer’s novel The Land of Stories, “… what the world fails to realize is a villain is just a victim whose story hasn’t been told.” Tricksters could also be heroes in their own right, they believe what they want and do what they need. They are more independent than our archetypal heroes, a wonderful example is Loki, from the Marvel Cinematic Universe. He was an ever-scheming individual; the God of Mischief, he meddled with people’s lives as it made him feel powerful, and often used superior ploys upon his enemies. However, deep down Loki loves his family to some degree and after three Thor movies, we see that Loki is constantly a physical manifestation of brilliant evil plots, to the point that it is quite predictable. But despite possibly knowing what Loki could be up to, he is still able to draw so much attraction to him, and in the end, he still surprises us. Which is exactly how Puck is.

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Listening to these characters think about and try to define their own lives and their own natures, you discover zestful and visionary creative minds in action. Shakespeare was not just a great artist, but a creator of beings, with their desires, values, ambitions, and imaginative sensibilities all their own. Throughout the play, Shakespeare also questions some stereotypes about traditional gender roles when it comes to romance. Like many Shakespearean comedies, A Midsummer Night’s Dream dramatizes gender tensions that arise from complicated familial and romantic relationships. In the play, we see Hippolyta is about to be wed to a man who had only won their marriage through battle, Egeus threatens to place a death penalty on his daughter Hermia if she would not marry Demetrius and Titania falling for Nick Bottom with an ass’ head while under a love magic that Oberon planned. Can the women in the story be considered victims and their male counterparts as attackers?

Yes, the women are the victims, but that does not mean they are the only ones– majority of them are mortals. Nick Bottom is a victim as well, despite not being emotionally harmed and altered. We also see that stereotypical gender roles are being questioned in A Midsummer Night’s Dream; men are usually aggressive while the women are rather passive, yet we see Helena and Hermia wanting to claw each other’s faces off. The play shows that the typical gender roles, especially in romance, cannot always be the case for every single situation. Titania, Helena and Hermia defy traditional gender roles by how they aggressively pursue love. Titania for the changeling boy, Helena for Demetrius and Hermia going against her father’s wishes. The main thing that Shakespeare is trying to show us is that love never did run smooth. He changes perspectives by showing that; women don’t have to be apathetic, magical couples aren’t perfect and the top of the political system is not absolute.

But other than questioning gender roles, Shakespeare has also changed beliefs about mythical creatures. Superstitions were very much believed back in the time of the Elizabethans, before that and even years after. It was a time when Science barely existed and people were only discovering new lands that they never thought were there.

The history of fairies, though debatable, is rich and magical. Fairies were a source of fascination, fear, evil, superstition, and mystery among the people of the 16th century. The Elizabethans believed in fairies, though the ones they believed in were cruel and scary things; in Scottish and Irish belief, fairies are fallen angels that were condemned by god to be part of the elements of the earth and there was a theory that fairies could be the pagan dead who are unbaptized, which highly contrast the fairies that Shakespeare has created. The beliefs and portrayal of fairies has been greatly changed through the years most notoriously by William Shakespeare. The fairy world Shakespeare created differed greatly from the fairy world that existed before and during his time. His work helped to begin changing people’s perceptions of fairies from creatures of ill-will to more amiable creatures. He made them graceful and beautiful, while in popular belief back in the day, fairies were fallen angels.

Evil fairies have always been hard to imagine, due to the influence that Shakespeare had spread throughout the world. Fairies are magical and nice beings, they have always been to the people in today, who grew up without having to know the terrifying image that fairies used to have. Gender roles have been freer in literature, it had never been rare to see at least a female lead such as; Hermione Granger, America Singer and Katniss Everdeen, who face stereotypes and beliefs. The three mentioned heroines either were the smartest, were breadwinners or were competitors in gladiator games. Most archetypal characters these days also surpass the labels that were placed upon them; villains could be heroes, like Maleficent. A Midsummer Night’s Dream is able to prove all these things to us, despite its main theme being love and the possibility that it was never real, like dreams. And with diverse characters, alternating points of view and the stereotypes that William Shakespeare deconstructs, it gives us new ideas that could be endless. All because the course of true love never ran so smooth.

References:

  1. ‘A Midsummer Night’s Dream Characters: Puck’ SparkNotes, Barnes & Noble, 2018, https://www.sparknotes.com/shakespeare/msnd/character/puck/
  2. ‘A Midsummer Night’s Dream.’ SparkNotes, Barnes & Noble, 2018, www.sparknotes.com/shakespeare/msna/bitlanders.com. N.p., n.d. Web. 27 Jan. 2019. .
  3. Brown, John Russell, et al. ‘William Shakespeare.’ Encyclopedia Britannica, 2018, www.britannica.com/biography/William-Shakespeare
  4. Daily Life in the Elizabethan Era ‘Daily Life in the Elizabethan Era.’ – https://www.encyclopedia.com/humanities/news-wires-white-papers-and-books/daily-life-elizabethan-era
  5. Jack-Welch. ‘What is Shakespeare’s art of characterization?’ eNotes, 29 Aug. 2016, https://www.enotes.com/homework-help/what-shakespeares-art-characterization-746223. Accessed 26 Jan. 2019.
  6. Loki. (n.d.). Retrieved from https://marvelcinematicuniverse.fandom.com/wiki/Loki
  7. Menudramatica®the Next Chapter in Story Development http://dramatica.com/theory/book/characters
  8. Shmoop Editorial Team. (2008, November 11). Puck (a.k.a. Robin Goodfellow) in A Midsummer Night’s Dream. Retrieved January 25, 2019, from https://www.shmoop.com/midsummer-nights-dream/puck.html
  9. Shmoop Editorial Team. ‘A Midsummer Night’s Dream Theme of Gender.’ Shmoop. Shmoop University, Inc., 11 Nov. 2008. web. 7 Dec. 2018. sparknotes.com. N.p., n.d. Web. 27 Jan. 2019. .
  10. Whitesides, Leeann. ‘Shakespeare and the Fairy.’ Word Press, whitesides2018

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Archetypal Characters And Ancient Myths In A Midsummer Night’s Dream. (2021, August 24). Edubirdie. Retrieved May 20, 2022, from https://edubirdie.com/examples/archetypal-characters-and-ancient-myths-in-a-midsummer-nights-dream/
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