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The power of transformation within Shakespeare's comedies not only provides an audience with comic relief and irony, it holds the power to open up a plethora of debates regarding central themes of his individual plays, thus allowing them the ability to transform the views of the audience themselves.
Assimilating this concept of transformation, both A Midsummer Night's Dream and Twelfth Night, prove to be solid examples in confirming the power of this technique. However, although both plays firmly illustrate metamorphosis, it becomes apparent that in A midsummer Night's Dream we are able to witness change in the forms of emotions, appearance and place as a result of the happenings that take place within the non reality dream world. Acting as a catalyst, the magical world makes way for these transformations; events of chaos disorder occur and thus characters are transformed as a result of tricks and magic set upon them by Puck. It is clear that the characters are not in control of their situations and subsequently, this adds to the comic relief of the play. Contrasting, Twelfth Night brings to light transformation as a result of conscious human decisions, in Twelfth Night the characters are in control of their own decisions and ability to transform themselves as well as being able influence others.
A central theme surrounding A Midsummer Night's dream is love. It appears Shakespeare has been influenced by the notions of courtly romance in ancient literary resources and it could be of the opinion that the characters within this play have been formulated from this ideal. In the opening act of the play Shakespeare uses the characters Theseus and Hippolyta to introduce the theme of marriage, highlighting the transformation that that will happen as young lovers develop into married adults,' Now, fair Hippolyta, our nuptial hour...Another moon-but O, methinks, how slow' . Furthermore, the Amazonian Queens response highlights the prevalence of dreams within the play and touches upon the rhetoric of Diana Goddess of the moon:
Four days will quickly steep themselves in night,
Four nights will quickly dream away the time'
And then to the moon, like a silver bow (1.1.8-10).
Although Theseus and Hippoolyta play small roles A Midsummer Night's Dream, they centrally tied within the plays structure, without this event, Oberon and Titania and the groups of actors would not be present in the wood. It is possible Shakespeare is using this marriage to portray local customs and laws, by which a society should abide. Theseus reveals he wooed the Amazonian Queen 'with thy sword, And won thy love doing thee injuries' (1.1.16-17), implying that it is male power that dominates the play. Moreover, Hermia's father Theseus proclaims she is 'to wed Demetrius, as he would, or on Diana's alter to protest for aye austerity and single life' (1.1.88-9). Hermia is left to plead 'I would my father looked but with my eyes' ( 1.1.57 ). This is yet another example of male dominance over female marriage customs. Like Capulet in Romeo and Juliet, Egeus sees his daughter as his property, 'as she is mine, I may dispose of her-' (1.1.42). Ironically, it is this ultimatum that leads the lovers into the wood where the magical events unfold causing various transformations, in both the dream world and reality.
Helena's quote, 'love looks not with the eyes but with the mind' (1.1.234) appears to summarize the transformation that happens to all of the characters. The chaos instigated by both Oberon and Puck, interestingly it appears that throughout the play, Shakespeare restricts Puck's dialogue. It appears he is isolated and excluding his speech with Titania's fairy, Puck only speaks with Oberon throughout the entirety of the play. Critics have stated that he 'exemplifies the spirit of metamorphosis for its own sake'  . Providing folly and humour, as an audience we are made aware of Pucks capabilities as we witness his ability to transform. Puck not only transforms the lover's emotions but also transforms himself into a 'roasted crab' (2.1.48) or 'a hog a headless bear' and even 'sometimes fire' (3.1.103-104), thus creating a place of instability. Moreover, his ever changing names, from Puck to Robin Goodfellow also support his dramatic use for representing change.
The love potion used to aid the lovers turns the love triangle on its head, again providing comedy to the audience. Hermia's dream within the dream, foresees and hints at the coming events: '[Awaking] Help me, Lysander, help me! do thy best /To pluck this crawling serpent from my breast!'. Upon realization that Lysander has vanished, the snake from her dream has been transformed into reality through the personification of Demetrius:
And hast thou killed him sleeping? O brave touch!
Could not worm, an adder do so much?
If an adder did it with doubler tongue
Than thine, thou serpent, never adder stung (3.2.70-3)
Dramatic Irony is used as at the very start of the play, Lysander refers to Demetrius as ' spotted' and 'inconsistent'. Due to Pucks mischief, Lysander's love has been transferred to Helena, making Lysander 'inconsistent' himself. Consequently Hermia tries to hang onto him in desperation and confusion resulting in her mimicking Helena.
Twelfth Night's Viola, provides another example of the importance of transformation within Shakespeare's' comedies. Viola transforms herself from a woman to a man, again allowing for disorder and chaos to develop within the play. Moreover, although comical, this also allows for an array of love triangles to aspire as a direct result, thus metamorphoses is experienced when Viola, Olivia and Orsino fall in love and this action dominates the play.
However in contrast to A Midsummer Nights dream, Viola controls and plans her own metamorphosis, she is in full control and aware of the events that are taking place. Notwithstanding, this transformation also allows the debate of gender to become apparent as Viola confesses her transformation is intentional:
Conceal me what I am, and be my aid
For such disguise as haply shall become
The form of my intent. I'll serve this Duke.(1.2.49-51).
It is apparent that it is only through this gender transformation that Viola feels she will survive in the society of Illyria society. This transformation is comical, yet also addresses key social issues in the Elizabethan society. As life progresses Lady Olivia falls in love with what she believes is a man. Shakespeare uses Viola as a tool to show the comedy involved with dramatic irony as viola confesses "Poor lady, she were better love a dream". In addition, Duke Orseno admits he is attracted to Cesario and ultimately, when all truth is revealed and he learns she is in fact Viola, he still refers to her as a "Boy" in this dialogue. During her declaration of love, he still uses her male name, leaving the audience to question his sexuality. In adittion, Orsino's original desire for Olivia becomes short lived and he transfers his emotions to Viola, leaving the audience to question his interpretation of love and question the strength of his relationship with Viola.
In addition to the transferability of emotion, the physical transformation of Nick Bottom developing the head off an ass at Robin's expense is by far one of the most humorous actions within the A midsummer Night's Dream. Not only would this have proved comical to an Elizabethan audience, whilst witnessing his fellow actors run away from him in despair, 'Bless thee, Bottom, bless thee. Thou art translated' (p.185, 113) but by this, Shakespeare also emphasises the dramatic irony surrounding the personality of Nick bottom himself. Creating an analogy surrounding Nick Bottom and his inability to see what a general 'ass' he makes of himself throughout the play as a whole.
It is likely that Shakespeare would have been familiar with other works surrounding general transformation of man to Ass. Deborrah Baker Wyrick states that 'Shakespeare had at his disposal a tantalizingly slippery world, the connotations of which ranged from the sacred to the scurrilous'.  There are striking connections between Bottoms transformation and that of Lucius in William Adlington's, The Golden Ass  , where Similar to Bottom, Lucius is transformed into a beast by the misuse of a magical ointment. Differentiating Bottom from Lucius however, it is important to note that Lucius did this to himself, perhaps as an analogy to mans curiosity, however in A Midsummer Night's Dream; the contrast is it is Puck who controls bottoms misfortune. Although this may be an ideal source, it would be incorrect to ignore other problematic differences as Bottom only has the head of an ass, where Lucius is fully transformed. The general transformation theme of physical appearance is also rhetorical of Ovid's Metamorphosis,
Shakespeare portrays the character of Bottom as hilariously overt, his love of being centre stage and his firm belief in his own abilities build him up for his comic fall. Ironically, bottom sees himself as a transferable actor, able to take on many roles and highlighting his ability to change shape, which is later juxtaposed to his change of form to an ass:
And I may hide my face, let me play Thisbe too. I'll
speak in a monstrous little voice: "Thisne, Thisne!' - 'Ah
Pyramus, my lover dear, thy Thisbe dear and lady dear'. (p.149, 45-47)
Shakespeare's choice of language concerning bottom is also a tool used to exasperate bottoms silliness. His language is very disjointed and he often makes grammatical errors within his speech. To an audience Bottoms inability to recognise his own ridiculousness regarding his overdramatized and self-aggrandizing speeches provide a comic relief, especially the dramatic irony that comes about from Bottom's own belief that everyone takes himself as seriously as he does. His later transformation, having his head replaced with that of an ass, portrays Bottom as a dramatitized visual metaphor for his own stupidity. Unaware of his transformation, his language is full of irony:
What do you see? You see an ass-head of your
Own, do you? (p.184. 111-112)
Notwithstanding, the visual prop of an 'Ass-head' would have provided entertainment within itself. Thus identity change allows for the use of extravagant props and costumes, engaging an Elizabethan audience and holding popularity, perhaps a reason why the technique of transformation was so popular in renaissance dramas .Moreover, why William Shakespeare used this theme in so many of his plays.
Strengthening Shakespeare's' portrayal of Bottoms self-importance, it again becomes comical to an audience that he is in no- way surprised of his antics with the fairy queen, thus marking that his unawareness of his transformation into that of an ass parallels his inability to view the absurdity of the thought that Titania could love him. However, ironically by spending the night with the fairy queen, Bottom achieves a rarity that in literature, others had only dreamed about. To indulge with a fairy queen is something most desired, in Chaucer's Sir Topas', the character of the comic knight is ambitious of wooing a fairy queen in his dreams:
Me dreamed al this nyght, pardee
An elf-queene shal my lemman be (ii, 787-788).
Transformation into a love object is also represented by Malvolio in Twelfth Night. However, Malvolio's aspirations to pursue Olivia are the result of a trick played upon him by Maria.
Like bottom, it is Malvolio's self importance that creates his downfall and also adds to the comic value. He embarks upon a physical transformation and dresses as up following what he believes are the desirable wishes of Olivia. Like bottom, Malvolios arrogance makes himself unable to view his own silliness
If this fall into thy hand, revolve. In my stars I am above thee
but be not afraid of greatness. Some are born great,
some achieve greatness, and some have greatness thrust upon 'em. (2.5.140-3).
Ironically, it is through Marias trickery that Malvolio transforms from a straight laced stick in the mud into a love stricken mad man. He is oblivious of his lower class status and unsuitability to Olivia, and becomes a victim to the instructions within Maria's letter. Continuing his desire to woo Olivia, he comically follows what he thinks are her wishes, bearing 'yellow stockings' and 'cross gartered'. Ironically, it is these actions that cause Olivia to believe he is stricken by 'very midsummer madness' (3.4.56). Shakespeare uses language to also highlight Malvolio's newly founded madness. At the start of the play we witness him speak in perfect prose, yet by the end of the play Shakespeare distorts his speech so he is unable to use iambic pentameter. Causing his emotion to make his speech panicked:
Lady, you have. Pray you, pursue that letter.
You must not now deny that it is in your hand:
Write from it, if you can, in hand or phrase.
Shakespeare has used the characters of Twelfth Night to secure Malvolios' transformation. Moreover, Orsinos's earlier account 'so full of shapes is fancy / That it alone is fantastical' is representative of Malvolio's desire and also open up the debate that love evokes silliness and that these aspirations have the ability to take one away from reality. Thus imagination holds more power reality. Similarly, Orsino and Olivia transfer their emotions of love so easily within the play.
Considering the dramatic form of transformation in both A Midsummer Night's Dream and Twelth Night, it is clear that this technique holds a powerful ability. Transformation can be instigated both through magic and conscious human decision, yet they each lead to implications and allow for sub-plots to develop. The erratic structure within each play, has been used to highlight the inconsistencies of love and societies and how easily ones imagination can be influenced. Hermias line 'love looks not with the eyes but with the mind' is an ideal summary, suited to both plays. The endings of both A Midsummer Night's Dream and Twelfth Night resolve with happy endings for all, except of course Malvolio, who singles himself out of the 'pack' through use of his metaphor. However both plays do inspire thoughts of doubt, concerning the meaning of love and imagination. Though Theseus changes his ruling and allows the couples to wed, it is still questionable that Demetrius's transformation to love Helena has only transpired as a result of him looking 'not with the eyes but with the mind", Thus it was only the events of the night that allowed this metamorphosis to take place. Both plays highlight the arbitrary nature of love and prove that throughout life that nothing is constant except change itself.
Carroll, William C. The Metamorphoses of Shakespearean Comedy. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1985
Leech, Clifford. Twelfth Night and Shakespearian Comedy. Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1965.
Howard, Jean E. "Crossdressing, The Theatre, and Gender Struggle in Early Modern England." Shakespeare Quarterly. 1988 Winter v39(4): 418-440.
Wyrick, Deborah, 'The Ass Motif in Errors, and A Midsummer Night's Dream' SQ 33 (1982), p.439.