Theme Essay on 'Much Ado about Nothing' and 'A Midsummer Night’s Dream'

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A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Richard III, and Much Ado About Nothing are all plays that are concerned with several kinds of problems like having trouble distinguishing reality from fantasy, trying to separate truth from untruth, and seeing the truth within the truth. The plot of each play relies on the ability of actors to tell convincing lies and have them be believed by the other characters and audiences alike. Each play does, however, suggest a different point of view about how dishonesty can lead to a myriad of consequences and also bring to light how there can also be consequences when trying to uncover the truth, various consequences that can come along with trying to dig too deep and find out things they may or may not have been better left untouched.

Audiences and readers alike need to bear in mind just how each play’s message might be affected by being delivered in such a way that the audience’s belief and acceptance of illusions, misdirection, and established pretenses that help the audience to watch a play and suspend their disbelief for a few hours so that they can fully immerse themselves in the world that the play creates just for them. However, metadrama is a very popular way to change the impact that a play has on its audience and those who study it later on. Metadrama is the deliberate inclusion and manipulation of references to drama and theater in the course of a play created by the person who wrote the play. Shakespeare, famously known for his use of metadrama in his plays, made a point to use metadrama to further express the themes and concepts that he labors over so that the audience can see and better understand what is happening in the plays.

Shakespeare’s use of metadrama in his plays allows the audience to be directed in a certain way or to suggest certain themes and ideas to them in a more direct manner. Certain examples of metadrama include plays within plays, characters breaking the fourth wall, talking about the art of drama, and characters using disguises. These kinds of metadrama, and others like it, both break and uphold the illusions and pretenses that are set forth by the very art of the play itself; since audiences do expect certain aspects of the play to be maintained as they watch it unfold like a people watching animals at a zoo.

Audiences expect a certain level of deception from seeing a play, however, since the creation of the play itself (Shakespeare certainly perfected the art of the play to a degree) audiences have enjoyed seeing that deception pierced and openly acknowledged in front of them. It’s amusing to a good portion of people to see the illusion of entertainment shattered, there’s just something viscerally satisfying about a play acknowledging that it’s a play in one way or another.

Metadrama is an effective way to get a point across to the audience and poke fun at themselves at the same time. Shakespeare especially uses metadrama to affect the audience’s understanding of his plays and the moral questions about truth and human nature that his plays suggest and discuss throughout the few hours it takes to put them on. Using metadrama in his plays is a successful way to allow the viewing audience to genuinely think through the problems they are going through especially in the time of Shakespeare when many of the topics that were covered were more relevant to their daily lives; whereas in today’s modern times, we have to sometimes stretch and rethink certain points and themes to help them translate to what is going on to fit modern events and ideas (especially since the attention spans and memory retention abilities of millions of people around the world have decreased rapidly due to advancing technology and information that can now be available in mere seconds to anyone with even the most basic of phones these days).

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In Midsummer Night’s Dream, there are several examples of metadrama that help get Shakespeare’s points across while still making it entertaining for the audience to watch. This play is famously known for being the stuff of fantasy, creating a world where the characters and audiences alike struggle to distinguish fantasy from reality and lies from the truth. The characters are knee-deep in the lies that they tell to each other and themselves to continue living in fantasies of their creation or break other people out of their own; especially when the fae are involved in multiple of these lies and fantasies that were carefully constructed, but can be easily broken and manipulated by those who have morals and ideals quite different from the mortals with whom they are missing with for reasons that only they can truly understand and express. While other plays use metadrama rather effectively for their purposes, Midsummer Night’s Dream uses metadrama with a certain precision like when actors are putting on a play within a play or talking about how life is filled with fantasy and lies while in a play specifically centered around about fantasy and lies (and their consequences when left unchecked for too long and rampant miscommunication). Miscommunication inherently breeds drama, especially when relying rather heavily on metadrama to express the points and themes so intricately laced throughout the play.

Shakespeare’s use of metadrama in his plays is very deliberate and allows his audiences throughout the ages to enjoy and think about the play’s contents further than if he had just written the play so that audiences could strictly view it. Metadrama allows the audience to have a chance to both experience and interact with the play in a new and different way while discovering the truth and dispelling the fantasies that have been put together piece by piece for the players to live through and think everything over. Shakespeare is a master of metadrama, especially in A Midsummer Night’s Dream.

In Richard III, the use of metadrama is not completely obvious, but once you dig a little deeper, you’ll find that it’s one of the plays that uses it most effectively. In a classic dramatic method, Richard III is revealed to be the most unrealistic of Shakespeare’s history plays, Richard II being an obvious exception, but we’re not here to talk about that. People have even called Richard III the most strictly theatrical of Shakespeare’s historical plays, the actors are giving soliloquies, talking about drama while being in a play, and breaking the fourth wall with the audience. The metadrama of Richard III is centered around an original villain who conspires with the audience to create a dark comedy so that he can trick and ultimately kill the other members of the court and cast. A total of 166 lines in soliloquy or talking straight to the audience come right from the mouth of this actor/villain. Buckingham is the only one who seems to give him a run for his money, who can ‘counterfeit the deep tragedian’; he deceives everyone and does everything possible to get what he wants, even at the cost of people’s lives. Everyone except for two people, one of which is his mother.

Another play that does an excellent job of showing Shakespeare’s use of metadrama is Much Ado About Nothing, the theme of appearance versus reality has almost always been considered important to the play’s central values and structure. During the entire play, all of the main characters were deceived at one point or another, by each other or one of the other smaller characters.

Throughout the play, it is often noted by critics and audiences alike, that there is a failure to observe and act sensibly based on the situations they encounter. Some critics argue that the theme of appearance vs reality is in most of Shakespeare’s plays but not in Much Ado About Nothing because of the deliberate acts of deception by the characters, and they argue this does not happen in this play, that it is more explores the power of appearances and the theater itself in reflections. Scholars and critics alike have written articles and whole books about how Shakespeare uses his plays to present a lover's imagination, the 'play-within-a-play' that metadrama expresses; in this play, this pops up rather often, especially when the characters have less than stellar interactions. Several significant plot lines occur when the play-within-a-play takes place during the play, notably when Benedick believes that Beatrice is in love with him.

As anyone can see, the three plays discussed here are all excellent examples of how Shakespeare uses metadrama in his plays to express certain themes and points while allowing the audience to experience and interact with the play in fun and creative new ways so that they can think about events that either already happened or could in their own lives.

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Theme Essay on ‘Much Ado about Nothing’ and ‘A Midsummer Night’s Dream’. (2024, April 18). Edubirdie. Retrieved May 22, 2024, from
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