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Free Study Guide-A Midsummer Nights Dream by William Shakespeare-Free
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ACT II, SCENE 1

Summary

The scene of the action shifts to the woods, where the fairy world is introduced. At the beginning of the scene, Puck is introduced. Also known as Robin Good Fellow, Puck is a "shrewd knavish sprite." He meets an attendant of the fairy queen, Titania. The activities of the fairies recounted by this attendant introduce a world of enchantment. Puck provides additional information when he tells about his master Oberon, who is the Fairy King, and his conflict with the Fairy Queen. They have fought over a changeling boy, stolen from an Indian King. The boy is now the favorite of Titania, who refuses to release him, but Oberon wants the child to be the "knight of his train." Puck advises the attendant fairy to make sure that the queen does not come within Oberon's sight.

As Puck talks with the attendant fairy, Oberon and Titania arrive on the scene. Their quarrel is resumed, and Oberon demands that she give him the boy. Titania replies, "Not for thy fairy kingdom." She then goes away with her attendants. Oberon tells Puck to fetch for him the flower called "love-in-idleness," whose juices have magical powers; when squeezed on "sleeping eyelids," the juices will make the sleeping person fall in love with the "next live creature" he/she sees after waking. He plans to "drop the liquor of it" on Titania's eyes the next time she sleeps; then when she wakes up, she will fall in love with the first creature she sees, be it a "lion, bear or wolf, or bull or meddling monkey or busy ape."

As Oberon lays his plans, Demetrius enters, followed by Helena. All her pleas to him fall on deaf ears, and Demetrius threatens that he will leave her to the mercy of wild beasts. Demetrius departs, still followed by Helena. Oberon feels sorry for her and decides that before Demetrius leaves the woods, he will fix Helena's problems.


When Puck returns, Oberon takes the flowers and goes to Titania. He plans to squeeze their juices on her eyelids when she falls asleep. He also orders Puck to find a sweet Athenian lady with a disdainful youth and anoint his eyes after ensuring that the lady will be nearby when he wakes up; Oberon plans to have Puck fix Helena's problems by using the magic flower juice on Demetrius. Puck assures Oberon that he will carry out the orders.

Notes

The fairy-world of the play is fully introduced in this scene through beautiful Shakespearean poetry. Even the quarrel between Oberon and Titania does not destroy the loveliness of the scene. Besides revealing their possessive and jealous natures, the quarrel serves many dramatic purposes. The quarrel between the fairy king and queen makes Oberon sensitive to the quarrel that he hears between Helena and Demetrius. He sympathizes with the girl and promises to fix her problems before Demetrius leaves the woods; therefore, the parallel quarrels bring together the world of the gentry and the world of the fairies. The quarrel also allows Shakespeare to pay a tribute to Queen Elizabeth; in Oberon's speech describing the flower, love-in-idleness, he claims that cupid, the god of love, took aim "at a fair vestal throwd by the west / And Loosed his love shaft smartly from his bow," but it missed its mark. This is a reference to the lovely Queen Elizabeth, who has many suitors that she rejects. Such reference is in keeping with the tradition among Elizabethan dramatists to pay tributes to the Queen and heir other patrons.

The plot is furthered developed in this scene, for two of the couples are now in the woods, where the fairies can work their magic. Oberon's decision to intervene in Helena's despair indicates that hereafter the action is going to be one of interaction between the humans and the fairies. Puck is also introduced as a fun-loving prankster; he will later cause much confusion in the play.

This scene has helped Shakespearean critics determine the date of the play. Since Shakespeare wrote plays to be performed, the records of the first dramatization of the play are not often available. In this scene Titania's reference to the summer when frequent rains destroyed the crops seems to be a reference to the summer of 1594. She goes on to add that "rheumatic diseases abound," and from late 1593 to early 1594, the English theaters had to be closed due to plague. These two references indicate that the play was probably first performed in late 1594 or early 1595.

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