A Midsummer Night's Dream

To See or Not To See: Vision, Night and Day in A Midsummer Night's Dream

A Midsummer Night's Dream begins in the city that was, to the Renaissance imagination, the center of ancient Greek civilization. (Romanticized) Athens stands as a testament to what human beings know and are able to know. But throughout this play, Shakespeare delights in decentering the world mortals take for granted; soon the audience learns that the dark forest is the center of the play's world, relegating Athens, center of the civilized Greek world, to the periphery. Day gives way to night, and mortal rulers leave the stage to be replaced by fairies. Night-and nighttime in, of all places, a forest-with its darkness and unseen horrors, seems a strange setting for a comedy. But in the world the play constructs, the special properties of night make it the perfect vehicle for the four lovers to set out on a project of self-discovery. Shakespeare plays on the same tensions as the trans-cultural phenomenon of the blind fortune teller: a belief that in darkness, reliance on senses other than eyesight leads to true seeing. In A Midsummer Night's Dream, the nighttime forest, by disrupting and transforming vision, forces introspection and improvisation that help the four lovers on their way to self-understanding.

The...

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