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Many people consider A Midsummer Night's Dream, Shakespeare's greatest playwright. Not only does it show the most important theme of the play, but describes what the entire play is centered on. The entire play focuses on the idea that what is occurring at that point is just an illusion, a "dream". Dreams play one of the most important parts in the play, as they are Shakespeare's extension to the audience in attention-grabbing them with the play. The play can only be understood if it is seen in the perspective that it is all one magnificent dream that Shakespeare tries to share with the audience. These dreams fascinated Shakespeare, as they are unable to be understood in most cases, yet for some reason is applied to them, they can teach important lessons and values. Of such confusing importance and unknown effects, dreams play a central role in A Midsummer Night's Dream according to Bloom and Nostbakken in their analyses of the play. They sometimes agree and disagree on issues such as how dreams are used in the play, why Shakespeare decided to include dreams, and what the audience is supposed to draw from these illusions of the mind.
The word "dream" is used simply in the title A Midsummer Night's Dream, but how often is actually a dream described in the play. The only actual dream where a character fell asleep and woke up again, was also a nightmare. When Hermia wakes up to find that Lysander has chased off after Helena, she describes the dream, "Ay me, for pity I what a dream was here!"(Shakespeare 37). The audience would be able to tell that it is irony for Hermia's dream of the snake eating her heart symbolizes the loss she just suffered from the Puck's actions. There are several other instances where the characters make references to dreams, but they only use them to explain other events that have occurred to them in the play. The critical writer, Faith Nostbakken, analyzed this novel and agrees with the fact that these other "dreams" by other characters such as Bottom, seem to actually be just a way of coping to explain a much more magnificent event, "But the lovers also awake then next morning and at first believe that their nighttime adventures have been a dream, except that they all seem to have had the same experience, which is not how dreams usually work upon the mind"(Nostbakken 99). These illusions by characters like Bottom cannot be expressed as occurring in real life, so they believe it is a figment of their imagination. This method of explaining what has happened through blaming it on dreams, only further guarantees that Shakespeare considers the entire play a dream and its characters are trying to make sense of it. Another literary analyzer, Harold Bloom, seeks to explain the repeating of dream like explanations in A Midsummer Night's Dream by stating that Shakespeare was trying to insert his audience's imagination and allow them to perceive their own plot in those instances. He believes that this element allows many views and outcomes as he says, "Spectators are expected to work their imaginations upon the play"(Bloom 111). Bloom and Nostbakken both agree that despite the fact if Shakespeare used these dreams as coping tools for the character or to impress the minds of the audience into the play, dreams create a daze over the entire play, and allow for these dreams to set the mood of the play in its lighthearted tone. Overall both analyses by these authors acknowledge that there is a major theme of dreams in A Midsummer Night's Dream, and they are used to explain the larger significance of the play, because it is a dream as a whole.
Shakespeare was very unique character in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries because he had such a mastery of the English language, he could subtly hide or exaggerate themes in his works such as A Midsummer Night's Dream. The question now is why did Shakespeare include this event of the dream in this work? These two authors tried to explain why he decided to include this feature. Nostbakken begins his explanation by stating that in the time period Shakespeare lived, the Renaissance, an increasing interest in Greek and Roman dream psychology was rising. Learned scholars from Greek and Roman works like Plato, Aristotle, and Socrates were examined by people of those centuries and found the dream to be puzzling and mysterious. As Nostbakken says, since Shakespeare needed something to embellish the plots to his story, he included dreams, which can have a variety of meanings pertaining to a certain viewer. He states, "Ancient dream theory presented a great deal of ambiguity about dreams, their causes, and their meanings"(Nostbakken 99). This "haziness" caused by dreams lets a variety of interpretations to be taken by each individual member of the audience, as a result further entrancing the audience. Nostbakken goes even further to say that in putting in all these dreams, their contents contain secret clues in the text, as to the truth of the characters and their situations that goes beyond the play, "This could be allegorical, meaning that their parts signified or represented meaning beyond themselves"(Nostbakken 99 & 100). These hidden meanings help develop the characters and show their true character, through foreshadowing or some other technique. Another view taken by Bloom to describe why Shakespeare used this prevalent image of the dream again goes to his belief that Shakespeare desired to create an impression upon his audience. Bloom states that Shakespeare's goal, like in many of his other plays, is to impress an idea or change the audience's through the constant repeating of one theme, "but at the end of A Midsummer Night's Dream we are faced with the possibility that we have been worked upon...because our imaginations have been amended: changed, altered, revised"(Bloom 111). If the spectator inserts his or her imagination into the play like Bloom suggested he believes Shakespeare included the theme of dreams to change their mindsets. According to Bloom and Nostbakken Shakespeare's use of the dream theme was planned, but they also disagree on that. They both agree in many ways, with what the audience is to gain from the play.
It is known that Shakespeare's most important character in his plays is the audience, for they play a role in deciphering and using their imagination to explore the possibilities of scenarios that his plays model. With the theme of dreams in A Midsummer Night's Dream, Shakespeare is able to change and steal the audience's prior imagination and replace it with his own, as Bloom says, "Or have we found to our cost that a vision has been imposed upon us, that impressions of our fantasies have been stolen" (Bloom 111). Nostbakken and Bloom also agree that Shakespeare used his mastery of the English language to create plays with such magnificence that they show the power of dreams in the power of the play, "If one doubts the power of dreams, the other must doubt the power of the play; if either the dream or the play is criticized, the other one must be dismissed" (Nostbakken 101). This power of dreams could only be signified and confirmed by the power of his play, and the whole centering of his play around only a dream.
Nostbakken and Bloom, two important literature critics, agree on certain points and disagree on others on how dreams are used in the play, why Shakespeare decided to include dreams, and what the audience is supposed to draw from these illusions of the mind. Nostbakken relates more of his proof to the play and how Shakespeare meant dreams to be significant in it, while Bloom on the other hand relates more of his evidence to how Shakespeare meant to shape and influence the audience. Shakespeare uses dreams as a prominent theme in the play A Midsummer Night's Dream to demonstrate the power of these illusionary mysteries.