The purpose of this research is to examine William Shakespeare's use of fairies and magic in his play "A Midsummer Night's Dream." A sketch of the pre-Shakespearean history of fairies will be followed by an exploration of their structural and dramatic role in the play.
"A Midsummer Night's Dream" is Shakespeare's purest and most lyrical comedy. Potential issues of conflict, such as politics, marital discord and power seeking, so predominant in later plays, are here merely the temporary devices that serve to shuffle forward the gossamer lightness of the action. In fact, the play has only a passing touch with reality of any kind, dwelling instead almost its entire airy length in a kind of fitful dream
of love and illusion. It is this dialogue between love and illusion, bracketed by the rational reassurances of Theseus, ruler of Athens, which informs the play, and which gives to it the ethereal quality, which sets it apart from Shakespeare's other comedies. Here is a dream, presided over by invisible forces of mischief and goodwill, in which lovers experience all the vicissitudes of the tenuous relation between love and reason.
This unsure relation of what Egeus call "duty and desire" (I, i, 127) forms a central concern of the play. It is pointed up from the outset when Hermia's father appeals to Thesus to overrule his daughter's emotion in the name of the laws of the state (Fisher 308). Reluctantly, the Duke of Athens agrees, and commands Hermia to marry the love-struck Demetrius or face death or banishment from society. In effect then, Theseus offers her the alternative of bridling her desires for the sake of order, or relinquish forever the society of civilized people. In another kingdom but that of Athens this might seem an overly harsh dictum, but Shakespeare chose to place the action in the seat of the rational Greeks to throw the question of the rule of the emotions into sharpest relief. Theseus is a true philosopher king,...