Contrasting Places in a Mid Summer Nights Dream
Many plays and novels use contrasting places (for example, two countries, two cities or towns, two houses, or the land and the sea) to represent opposed forces or ideas that are central to the meaning of the work. Choose a novel or play that contrasts two such places. Write an essay explaining how the places differ, what each place represents, and how their contrast contributes to the meaning of the work. Structure Vs. Chaos A Midsummer Night’s Dream Contrasting places have been used in many works of literature throughout history to strengthen the meaning of stories.
The use of two different settings within one story often represents opposed forces or ideas, and allows readers to get a better grasp of the meaning behind the story. William Shakespeare uses the differences between Athens and the Forest to strengthen the theme of his story in the play A Midsummer Night’s Dream. In the city of Athens’ there is law and structure, but moments away there is the forest where there are no rules to abide by – emotions and love are the only things that matter in the forest whereas the city stands only for law and justice.
Through the two drastically contrasting settings of the city of Athens and the mystical forest, Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream illustrates the way that nature can offer mankind an escape from their structured lives in the city while simultaneously reminding them of how good they have it at home. The beginning of the play is set in the city of Athens. In the first scene we learn that the laws of Athens are unforgiving and extremely harsh.
The ultimatum given to Hermia, to either die or become a celibate nun never to be married, illustrates a harsh world of duty and obligation where feelings of love and happiness are ignored. The treatment of Hermia in this scene shows how little care she is shown by the members of society – even her father. Her individual wants and emotions are completely overlooked, to her father and the members of the government she is nothing more than a piece of property. Helena belongs to her father, and it is up to him – not her – to decide on her future. “As she is mine I may dispose of her;
Which shall be either to this gentleman Or to her death, according to our law Immediately provided in that case. ” (I. i. 38) In the city of Athens the strict laws forbid Hermia and Lysander from happily marrying each other. For this, they conclude that the only way that they can be truly happy together is if they run away with each other to the rule free forest. Lysander and Hermia believe that the forest will offer them an escape from their dictated lives in the city. There, gentle Hermia, may I marry thee; And to that place the sharp Athenian law
Cannot pursue us. If thou lovest me then, Steal forth thy father’s house to-morrow night; And in the wood, a league without the town, (I. i. 156) For the two lovers, the forest stands in magical contrast to the harsh Athenian laws. Hermia and Lysander’s escape to the forest represents the desire that mankind has to be one with nature in hopes that they will be able to live a life free of rules and structure. The forest is nearly the complete opposite of the structured, law abiding city. The forest is a place where man goes to escape from the troubles of the city.
As opposed to the city where everything relies on structure and justice, the forest is dictated only by emotions and instinct. When the Athenian couples are in the forest, they aren’t bound by courtly rules, and are able to pursue their feelings as they desire. From the very beginning of the play, the forest is made to seem like a magical world where the strict rules of Athens do not apply. Hermia and Lysander run off to the forest in order to love. “There my Lysander and myself shall meet. And thence from Athens turn away our eyes To seek new friends and stranger companies. ” (I. i. 220)
Unlike the city, the natural world has no rules or structure and allows man to have his natural feelings without bottling them up or silencing them. What seemed like a brilliant escape plan however soon turns into an experience that none of the young lovers expected. The lack of structure and law – which were the very things they were trying to escape – ended up leading to chaos. The love potion created by King Oberon and administered to the four lovers by Robin Goodfellow (Puck) causes both Lysander and Demetrius to fall in love with Helena, even though they are both really in love with Hermia.
Lysander claims that he was wrong in loving Hermia, and he has suddenly seen the light, and realized that he loves Helena and not Hermia. “Content with Hermia! No: I do repent The tedious minutes I with her have spent. Not Hermia but Helena I love” (II. ii. 111) This is ironic because magic, not a sudden epiphany, is the actual cause of Lysander’s newfound love for Helena. With Lysander’s new realization Shakespeare is able to illustrate the lack of reason in the forest – he is able to show how instead of reason ruling decisions and thoughts, magic is actually in control.
In the characters efforts to escape their seemingly horrible lives in the city, they actually ran into a place even crazier. Yet, as horrifying as it was for them it allows them to appreciate their lives at home more. Shakespeare’s use of two distinct settings – one signifying the harsh, colorless world of responsibility and obligation and one a world of illusion where almost anything is possible – shows the importance of creating a balance between the freedom that nature offers and the structured rules of life in the city. Athens symbolizes reason, whereas the forest symbolizes a place of mystery.
At first, Athens was “a paradise” to the characters in the play, but when the laws of Athens turn against them it soon become a place they hate, turning from “heaven unto a hell! ” (I. ii. 204) In order to escape their constricting lives in the city they ran away to the forest. Symbolizing an alternative to the rational and ordered life of the city, the young lovers hoped that the forest would offer them what the city could not; freedom. Rather than the freedom they were hoping for they received far from it, this time they were prisoners of magic rather than laws.
It did not leave them completely empty handed though, at the end of the play, King Oberon granted protection to the lovers future children. ?”Every fairy take his gait. ?And each several chamber bless ?Through this palace with sweet peace. ?And the owner of it blessed ?Ever shall in safety rest. ”(V. i. 366) Also, though not without the help of magic, the lovers came out of the forest happy and content. Whether it be because of the potion, or Demetrius’ past feelings, he and Helena were happily in love at the end, and Lysander and Hermia finally got the marriage they wanted.
I pray you all, stand up. I know you two are rival enemies; How comes this gentle concord in the world That hatred is so far from jealousy To sleep by hate, and fear no enmity? (IV. i. 143) The forest offered the lovers an escape from their structured lives in Athens, but showed them the other side of the spectrum where chaos and magic rule, leaving them to appreciate the harshness of Athens. From forests to cities, from peaceful households to chaotic ones, the use of contrasting places within a novel or a play has been used since the beginning of writing.
Often times these contrasts can shape the whole meaning of the story, sometimes they add to the theme or symbolize something on its own. Regardless, contrasting settings in a novel or play more often than not contribute to the central meaning of the story. Shakespeare’s use of two drastically different settings in A Midsummer Night’s Dream, allowed him to show how man can temporarily escape from his problems through nature but in the end be left with newfound appreciation for his home.