A Midsummer Night’s Dream Essay: Order and Disorder

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Order and Disorder in A Midsummer Night's Dream

Order and disorder is a favorite theme of Shakespeare. In A Midsummer Night's Dream the apparently anarchic tendencies of the young lovers, of the mechanicals-as-actors, and of Puck are restrained by the "sharp Athenian law" and the law of the Palace Wood, by Theseus and Oberon, and their respective consorts. This tension within the world of the play is matched in its construction: in performance it can at times seem riotous and out of control, and yet the structure of the play shows a clear interest in symmetry and patterning.

Confronted by the "sharp" law of Athens, and not wishing to obey it, Lysander thinks of escape. But he has no idea that the wood, which he sees merely as a
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The duke and his consort have had their quarrel before the action of the play begins, but Shakespeare's choice of mythical ruler means the audience well knows the "sword" and "injuries" referred to in 1.2; we see the resolution of the fairies' quarrel and that of the lovers during the play, and all is happy at its end. But whereas the rulers resolve their own problems, as befits their maturity and status, the young lovers are not able to do so, and this task is shared by Oberon and Theseus. Oberon orders Puck to keep Lysander and Demetrius from harming each other, and Theseus confirms their wishes as he overbears Egeus' will. He is not now breaking his own law, because Demetrius cannot be compelled to marry against his will.

A ridiculous parallel case of young lovers so subject to passion that, after disobeying their parents' law, they take their own lives, is provided by Pyramus and Thisbe. Lysander and Demetrius laugh at the mechanicals' exaggerated portrayal of these unfortunates, but the audience has seen the same excessive passion in earnest from these two.

If Lysander breaks - or evades - the Athenian law knowingly, then the mechanicals break the law of the wood unwittingly. Puck's conversation with the first fairy in 2.1, makes clear that the wood is where Oberon and Titania keep their court, though they travel further afield. (Oberon, according

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