Whats the reason for 'A Play within a Play'
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The epilogue takes up all of Act V and centers around the craftsmen’s performance of Pyramus and Thisbe for the Athenian crowd. Act IV, scene ii transfers the focus of the play from magic and unbalanced love to a play-within-a-play, in which the themes of A Midsummer Night’s Dream, not too heavy to begin with, are recycled into a form so ridiculous and garbled that the play draws to a wholly untroubled conclusion.
Though the preceding events of A Midsummer Night’s Dream have been far from tragic, many of the characters have experienced unpleasant emotions, such as jealousy, lovesickness, and insecurity. Act IV, scene ii makes a basic transition from sadness to joy as Bottom’s return transforms his fellow craftsmen’s sorrow and confusion into delight and eagerness. It is no coincidence that Bottom’s reappearance occurs almost simultaneously with the audience being told that the lovers have been married. Just as the marriages dispel the romantic angst of the play, so does Bottom’s return dispel the worry of his comrades. Similarly, the arrival in the forest of Theseus and Hippolyta, representatives of order, coincides with the Athenian lovers’ waking from their chaotic, dreamlike romp of the previous night.
Plays Within Plays
A Midsummer Night’s Dream is a play containing other plays. The most obvious example is the laborers’ performance of Pyramus and Thisbe, and their inept production serves three important functions in the larger structure of the larger play. First, the laborer’s mistakes and misunderstandings introduce a strand of farce to the comedy of the larger play. Second, it allows Shakespeare to comment on the nature of art and theater, primarily through the laborer’s own confused belief that the audience won’t be able to distinguish between fiction and reality. Third, the laborers’ play parodies much of the rest of A Midsummer Night’s Dream: Pyramus and Thisbe are lovers who, facing opposition from their parents, elope, just as Hermia and Lysander do. So even as the lovers and Theseus make fun of the laborers’ ridiculous performance, the audience, which is watching the lovers watch the laborers’ play, is aware that the lovers had been just as absurd.
A Midsummer Night’s Dream also contains a second, subtler, play within a play. In this play within a play, Oberon is playwright, and he seeks to “write” a comedy in which Helena gets her love, Lysander and Hermia stay together, Titania learns a lesson in wifely obedience, and all conflicts are resolved through marriage and reconciliation. And just as the laborers’ play turns a tragic drama into a comic farce, so does Oberon’s when Puck accidentally puts the love-potion on the eyes of the wrong Athenian man. And yet Oberon’s play also serves a counter purpose to the laborers’ play. While the laborers’ awful performance seems to suggest the limit of the theater, Oberon’s play, which rewrote the lives of the same mortals who mock the laborers’ play, suggests that theater really does have a magic that defies reality.