The Play: “A Midsummer Night’s Dream”, by William Shakespeare offers a
wonderful contrast in human mentality. Shakespeare provides insight into man’s conflict
with the rational versus the emotional characteristics of our behavior through his settings.
The rational, logical side is represented by Athens, with its flourishing government and
society. The wilder emotional side is represented by the fairy woods. Here things do not
make sense, and mystical magic takes the place of human logic. Every impulse may be
acted upon without and forethought to there outcome.

The city of Athens represents the epitome of civilized man. Ruled by the laws of
man and kept in check by society’s own norms. The human struggle to suppress its
unrestrained and irrational tendencies, still being undertaken today, discourages the
‘civilized’ man from making rash and foolish actions. Thus every action should have a
sound and logical purpose, based on the social norms.

In the play, Egeus, the father of Hermia, has thoughtfully chosen what he considers
an acceptable mate to wed his daughter. Egeus most likely based his decision on
economic, political, and social factors in his choosing of Demetrius. He is making a
reasonable decision based on Hermia’s future in their society. Unfortunately Hermia is
smitten by Lysander and vice versa. Although her father may have made his decision with
every good intension, keeping with the traditional customs of his day, and even perhaps
taking into consideration such things as attractiveness, he failed to foresee the desires of
his daughter. The young Lysander, who like most young men, cares little for the rules of
society, is willing to break tradition and flee Athens to obtain Hermia. Therefore they
must leave the rational Athens to enjoy their irrational love.

Theseus, the king of Athens, is the highest symbol of law and order in his
kingdom. After winning a war with another kingdom, he chooses to marry their queen,
Hippolyta. His decision may very well have been inspired by love, but the political
ramifications of their marriage is a more plausible rationale. In fact Theseus’ apparent
love for Hippolyta seems almost as an added reward to an already beneficial partnership.
Whether any attraction was there or not probably would not have made a difference. As
king, Theseus must place the kingdom before his own feelings. It simply comes with the
position.

In short Athens represents the desire to suppress feelings and impulses and to
make decisions based on logic. Thus it does not give the power of raw emotion the true
respect it requires, for man is both emotional and rational. Love never has, and never will,
be predictable.

The fairy world represents man’s undisciplined emotional quality. Here the laws of
man do not apply and things simply need not make sense. Attributes like adventure,
romance, fear, foolishness, and mockery are all things suppressed by Athens and
welcomed by the fairy woods. The fairies respect the untamed heart and they understand
the power love holds. These creatures embrace the unruly craziness that passion brings,
they live for the moment and are pure at heart. Along with love and passion the fairy
world is also susceptible to other emotions running wild. Jealousy, anger, and humor at
the expense of others are all abound here.


Oberon, king of the fairies, is the quintessential symbol of human impulsiveness.
He obviously loves his queen, Titania, very much and is instantly jealous of her love for a
indian child. He rashly devises a plan to snatch up the child for himself and at the same
time have a little amusement at Titania expense. His plan is to cast a magic spell over her
with a ‘love flower’ causing her to fall in love with the first person, or creature, she sees.
There is no rational reason for Oberon’s actions, for jealousy is irrationality at it’s most
basic level.

Robin Goodfellow, or puck, is Oberon’s fairy servant, and perhaps the most
irrational person in the play. He is the essence of wild and untamed foolishness. He
pleases himself by performing his fairy magic on unsuspecting travelers, and simply
devotes his time to mischief. He is the one that Oberon entrusts with his plan to inflict
Titania with the love spell, and also gives him an extra chore as a bonus. This ends up to
be a disastrous, yet entertaining event.

Shakespeare successfully contrasts the duality of man’s nature by using two
settings with opposite characteristics. Whether this was the entire purpose of the play is
doubtful, but is remains an interesting and well paralleled feature. The people of Athens,
struggling to understand the illogical fairy world,