Themes are the fundamental and often universal ideas explored in a literary work.
“The course of true love never did run smooth,” comments Lysander, articulating one of A Midsummer Night’s Dream’s most important themes—that of the difficulty of love (I.i.134). Though most of the conflict in the play stems from the troubles of romance, and though the play involves a number of romantic elements, it is not truly a love story; it distances the audience from the emotions of the characters in order to poke fun at the torments and afflictions that those in love suffer. The tone of the play is so lighthearted that the audience never doubts that things will end happily, and it is therefore free to enjoy the comedy without being caught up in the tension of an uncertain outcome.
The theme of love’s difficulty is often explored through the motif of love out of balance—that is, romantic situations in which a disparity or inequality interferes with the harmony of a relationship. The prime instance of this imbalance is the asymmetrical love among the four young Athenians: Hermia loves Lysander, Lysander loves Hermia, Helena loves Demetrius, and Demetrius loves Hermia instead of Helena—a simple numeric imbalance in which two men love the same woman, leaving one woman with too many suitors and one with too few. The play has strong potential for a traditional outcome, and the plot is in many ways based on a quest for internal balance; that is, when the lovers’ tangle resolves itself into symmetrical pairings, the traditional happy ending will have been achieved. Somewhat similarly, in the relationship between Titania and Oberon, an imbalance arises out of the fact that Oberon’s coveting of Titania’s Indian boy outweighs his love for her. Later, Titania’s passion for the ass-headed Bottom represents an imbalance of appearance and nature: Titania is beautiful and graceful, while Bottom is clumsy and grotesque.
The fairies’ magic, which brings about many of the most bizarre and hilarious situations in the play, is another element central to the fantastic atmosphere of A Midsummer Night’s Dream. Shakespeare uses magic both to embody the almost supernatural power of love (symbolized by the love potion) and to create a surreal world. Although the misuse of magic causes chaos, as when Puck mistakenly applies the love potion to Lysander’s eyelids, magic ultimately resolves the play’s tensions by restoring love to balance among the quartet of Athenian youths. Additionally, the ease with which Puck uses magic to his own ends, as when he reshapes Bottom’s head into that of an ass and recreates the voices of Lysander and Demetrius, stands in contrast to the laboriousness and gracelessness of the craftsmen’s attempt to stage their play.
As the title suggests, dreams are an important theme in A Midsummer Night’s Dream; they are linked to the bizarre, magical mishaps in the forest. Hippolyta’s first words in the play evidence the prevalence of dreams (“Four days will quickly steep themselves in night, / Four nights will quickly dream away the time”), and various characters mention dreams throughout (I.i.7–8). The theme of dreaming recurs predominantly when characters attempt to explain bizarre events in which these characters are involved: “I have had a dream, past the wit of man to say what / dream it was. Man is but an ass if he go about t’expound this dream,” Bottom says, unable to fathom the magical happenings that have affected him as anything but the result of slumber.
Shakespeare is also interested in the actual workings of dreams, in how events occur without explanation, time loses its normal sense of flow, and the impossible occurs as a matter of course; he seeks to recreate this environment in the play through the intervention of the fairies in the magical forest. At the end of the play, Puck extends the idea of dreams to the audience members themselves, saying that, if they have been offended by the play, they should remember it as nothing more than a dream. This sense of illusion and gauzy fragility is crucial to the atmosphere of A Midsummer Night’s Dream, as it helps render the play a fantastical experience rather than a heavy drama.
More main ideas from A Midsummer Night’s Dream
Below you will find five outstanding thesis statements for “A Midsummer Night's Dream” by William Shakespearethat can be used as essay starters or paper topics. All five incorporate at least one of the major themes in “A Midsummer Night's Dream” and are broad enough so that it will be easy to find textual support, yet narrow enough to provide a focused clear thesis statement. These thesis statements offer a short summary of “A Midsummer Night's Dream” by Shakespeare in terms of different elements that could be important in an essay. You are, of course, free to add your own analysis and understanding of the plot or themes to them for your essay. Using the essay topics below in conjunction with the list of important quotes from “A Midsummer Night's Dream” at the bottom of the page, you should have no trouble connecting with the text and writing an excellent essay.
Thesis Statement / Essay Topic #1: The Role of Magic in A Midsummer Night’s Dream
One of the important elements of Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream is the contrast that is established between the “real" world and a world inhabited by fairies, sprites, and other magical beings and forces. In this essay on A Midsummer Night’s Dream, you should explore both the divide and the overlap between these two distinct realms and the appearances versus reality of the world these characters inhabit in the play. In doing so, the function of the magical world as a contrast to the “real" world is identified and analyzed. For this argumentative essay on A Midsummer Night’s Dream, the writer argues that the primary function of this magical world is to reinforce the idea that love—which is, after all, the subject of the play—is subject to forces that are often beyond the capacity of humans to understand them.Thesis Statement / Essay Topic #2: The Function of Dreams in A Midsummer Night’s Dream
As the title of Shakespeare’s play alludes, dreams are an important element of A Midsummer Night’s Dream. The characters often question whether they are in the dream world or in the waking world, and tend to have difficulty distinguishing between the two. Using a psychoanalytic approach to interpreting the role that dreams play in A Midsummer Night’s Dream, the writer should examine the various functions of dreams and the psychological value that they have for the characters. It should be argued that dreams serve at least one significant function, namely, that dreams permit the enactment of fantasies that are impossible or difficult to fulfill in real life. This should be a definite argumentative essay with at least one interpretation of the function of dreams in A Midsummer Night’s Dream.
Thesis Statement / Essay Topic #3: The Frame Narrative of A Midsummer Night’s Dream
In A Midsummer Night’s Dream, the reader notices that there is a play within the larger framework (click here for detailed article on this) of the primary play. Much like the functions that the fairy world and dreams play in A Midsummer Night’s Dream, the function of the secondary play is to establish a contrast and point of comparison between the “real" world and an imagined one. Considered alongside these other comparative and symbolic worlds, the second play constitutes part of a frame narrative that underscores the point that Shakespeare wishes to make about the divide that exists between desire and reality in A Midsummer Night's Dream. It is not merely a device for entertainment, though it does serve that function as well.
Thesis Statement / Essay Topic #4: Character Analysis in A Midsummer Night’s Dream: Hermia
Early in A Midsummer Night’s Dream, the reader learns that Hermia is being compelled to marry Demetrius, whom she does not love. Hermia protests the marriage proposal that is being forced upon her, and in a bold and compelling speech, she questions what will happen to her if she defies the order to marry the man who has not captured her heart. Examining this speech and other actions, the writer intends to deveop an argument about Hermia as a feminist prototype. Although other female characters in A Midsummer Night’s Dreamseem to be more important to the play’s development, Hermia represents an interesting character who expands the possibilities of women as agents of and advocates for their own destiny.
Thesis Statement / Essay Topic #5: The Importance of Comic Relief in A Midsummer Night’s Dream
Although A Midsummer Night’s Dream has many serious elements and embarks upon an exploration and treatment of some of the most serious of life’s experiences and themes, there is a comic element that is evident and which keeps the reader engaged and this is classified as a comedy. In this essay, the reader analyzes the character of Nick Bottom and explores the function that he plays in injecting comic relief into an otherwise serious play.
For further ideas and insights about these and other themes and meanings in A Midsummer Night's Dream, browse the following articles:
The Significance of the Play Within a Play Structure of “A Midsummer Night's Dream” • A Midsummer Night’s Dream:Analysis of Lines 5-20 of the Epilogue • The Symbol of the Moon in “A Midsummer Night's Dream” by Shakespeare • The Role of Disguises in As You Like It and A Midsummer Night's Dream • Appearances versus Reality in A Midsummer Night's Dream and Twelfth Night • The Friendships of Women in “A Midsummer Night's Dream” by Shakespeare • The Significance of the Philomel Reference in “Midsummer Night's Dream” •
This list of important quotations from “A Midsummer Night's Dream” will help you work with the essay topics and thesis statements above by allowing you to support your claims. All of the important quotes from Shakespeare's “A Midsummer Night's Dream” listed here correspond, at least in some way, to the paper topics above and by themselves can give you great ideas for an essay by offering quotes and explanations about other themes, symbols, imagery, and motifs than those already mentioned and explained. Aside from the thesis statements above, these quotes alone can act as essay questions or study questions as they are all relevant to the text in an important way. All quotes contain page numbers as well. Look at the bottom of the page to identify which edition of the text they are referring to.
“I do entreat your grace to pardon me. I know not by what power I am made bold…. But I beseech your grace that I may know the worst that may befall me… if I refuse to marry Demetrius." (I.i.60-61, 64-66)
“Are you sure that we are awake? It seems to me that yet we sleep, we dream." (IV.i.,200-202)
“Why then, we are awake. Let’s follow him and by the way let us recount our dreams." (IV.i.208-209)
“The eye of man hath not heard, the ear of man hath not seen, man’s hand is not able to taste, his tongue to conceive, nor his heart to report what my dream was." (IV.i.220-224)
“How happy some o’er other some can be!" (I.i.232)
“My Oberon, what visions I have seen! Methought I was enamored of an ass…. How came these things to pass?" (IV.i.76-77,80)
“Things growing are not ripe until their season." (II.ii.124)
“[E]arthlier happy is the rose distilled Than that which withering on the virgin thorn, Grows, lives, and dies in single blessedness." (I.i.78-80)
“How can these things in me seem scorn to you, bearing the badge of faith to prove them true?" (III.ii.128-129)
“You do advance your cunning more and more. When truth kills truth, O devilish holy fray!" (III.ii. 130-131)
Source: Shakespeare, William. A Midsummer Night’s Dream. New York: Washington Square Press, 1993.