A literary criticism on the impact and structure of social classes throughout A Midsummer Night's Dream.
|Scooped by Kaley O'Connor|
A Midsummer Night’s Dream is a complex play with many different characters, two separate worlds and several smaller plots within the entire main story. On top of all that, literary analysts have concluded that Shakespeare creates a carefully structured social pyramid that is the foundation of the play. In the article “Social Class in A Midsummer Night’s Dream,” Ellen Rosenberg makes a thought-provoking argument that there is a rigid class system within the play, but her thesis lacks support and evidence. Rosenberg explains the social status of every main character and the way Shakespeare uses them to build the story. Also, it becomes evident that Shakespeare applies Athenian expectations to the social classes to make the setting of the play more historically accurate. For example, Theseus, the Duke of Athens, represents high order and nobility of the real world. However, his wife, Hippolyta, “is an aristocratic Amazon, so she is of the same class as Theseus, though she will never have power or authority […] in a male-dominated Athens” (Rosenberg, 1). This is an interesting point that goes beyond social status and includes gender roles, but it is only supported with the fact that Hippolyta is not very present in the play and does not have a lot of responsibility. The argument could have been made much stronger with direct evidence that she is being forced to marry Theseus against her will, which shows that he has more power over her as a man. Rosenberg makes a strong connection between the social structure of the real world and the fairy world. She states that in certain productions of the play, roles are often double cast, meaning that the same person will play Theseus and Oberon or Philostrate and Puck. This is because “these pairs are often viewed as representing parallel worlds and issues” (1). Basically, Shakespeare accentuates the social classes within the play by mirroring them in both the real world and the fairy world. Though the article does not give direct examples, this symmetry can be seen with similar noble characters (Theseus and Oberon or Hippolyta and Titania) as well as the main servants (Puck in the fairy world is parallel to Philostrate). The last main point that Rosenberg makes is that Shakespeare also uses social classes in A Midsummer Night’s Dream to reflect and connect with the prospective audience at the Globe Theater. The tradesmen represent the working class, but their main role in the play is to perform at the Duke’s wedding with the hopes of being able to be a part, or even catch a glimpse, of the noble class. Rosenberg states that this is Shakespeare’s connection to “much of the audience who would have been viewing A Midsummer Night’s Dream,” and like the tradesmen, “long for a transcendent experience to lift them from their mundane lives for a brief time” (2). This is a valid point and it is true that Shakespeare makes many efforts to connect his plays to all members of the audience. Perhaps this could have been further supported with the idea that the tradesmen normally speak in prose (a commonplace language) but during their performance they attempt to speak in a sophisticated verse (for the upper class), which may allow the working-class audience members to truly relate to these characters. Overall, Rosenberg’s claim is valid that Shakespeare incorporates the social classes of the characters to develop the plot and reflect the audience of the Globe Theater. She could, however, have strengthened her thesis with direct quotes and more specific textual evidence.
Rosenberg, Ellen. "Social Class in A Midsummer Night's Dream." Infobase Learning - Bloom's Literary Reference Center. N.p., n.d. Web. 03 Mar. 2013.