Comparison Essay

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The Relation of a Midsummer Night's Dream to Romeo and Juliet

 
  Various parallels in Romeo and Juliet and A Midsummer Night's Dream tend to support the theory that the two plays are closely related. It is the purpose of this paper to show that wherever parallels exist, the relationship is probably from A Midsummer Night's Dream to Romeo and Juliet. A close analysis of the spirit of the two plays, and of the different attitudes towards love and life that they present, leads us to the conclusion that A Midsummer

Night's Dream is the natural reaction of Shakespeare's mind from Romeo and Juliet.

  It will be unnecessary in this paper to present all the evidence bearing on the dates of composition of the two plays.  There can be little doubt that the first version of Romeo and Juliet appeared about 1591. The date of the first version of the Dream is more problematical. The only bit of external evidence is the mention of the play in Francis Meres's2 Palladis Tamiain 1598, but the strongest bit of internal evidence-the supposed reference to the death of Robert Greene, in Act v, I, 52-3:

  The thrice three Muses mourning for the death Of Learning, late deceased in beggary would fix the date at 1592-3.

    Assuming, then, that the Dream was written soon, perhaps immediately, after Romeo and Juliet, let us see if a comparative study of the two plays will not support our hypothesis.

  Awake the pert and nimble spirit of mirth, turn melancholy forth to funerals says Theseus in the first scene of the Dream, and later in the first scene of Act v:

  Lovers and madmen have such seething brains, such shaping fantasies, that apprehend More than cool reason ever comprehends. The lunatic, the lover, and the poet are of imagination all compact.

  These two speeches of Theseus, to whom Shakespeare has given much of his own clear eyed serenity and benignity, are, it seems to me, significant manifestations of the poet's own mental attitude when he created the Dream. He has just finished a passionate, romantic tragedy of love; in this tragedy he has been led into somewhat excessive emotionalism-certainly more so than in any other play-his hero-lover has at times been "unseemly woman in a seeming man, and ill-beseeming beast in seeming both"; "cool reason," serenity and poise have had no effect upon the "seething brain" of the lover. Now Shakespeare's own brain is not normally a seething one, he "blood and judgment are well commingled"; true, he is not a Friar Laurence nor even a Theseus, but neither is he a Romeo. And now as he looks at his tragedy of love, what impression does make upon him? Be it remembered that we are now dealing with the young man, Shakespeare, not with the man who, out of the storm and stress of his soul, evolved a Hamlet, and Othello, a Lear, or a Macbeth, but with the joyous, exuberant, deep-souled, clear-eyed poet of the early comedies.  Is it not natural that to him, far more than to anyone else, the emotionalism and sentimentalism of his tragedy should seem a trifle exaggerated and ridiculous, and the tragic fate of the lovers morbidly gloomy? And so, shaking himself free of romantic ideals of love, he somewhat quizzically allies lovers, lunatics, and poets; shows us in Theseus and Hippolyta the calm and serene love of middle age; represents the young, romantic lovers (the men, at least) as taking themselves very seriously, but in reality being ruled entirely by he fairies, one minute suffering agonies of love for one woman, the next for another; love a mere madness, entirely under the control of the fairies (be it noted that the magic juice has permanent effect upon Demetrius); and at the beginning of the play strikes the keynote of it all:  

Awake the pert and nimble spirit of mirth, turn melancholy forth.

    The similarities between the situation at the beginning of the Dream and the main situation in Romeo and Juliet are obvious, and it seems far more probable that Shakespeare...
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