Shakespeare: Magic and Supernatural Occurances

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Magic and supernatural occurrences in Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Richard III, and The Tempest are used to create a surreal world to confuse and resolve conflicts in each play. Magic provides the audience with an escape from reality and the comfort of the play’s unrealistic nature. In A Midsummer Night’s Dream, a love potion from a magical flower is used and misused to provide comic relief and resolution to love’s difficulties, supernatural ghosts are used to condemn a horrific murderer in Richard III to ensure his downfall and deserved death and finally, magic from Prospero’s book in The Tempest is used for his righteous revenge and harmony amongst the characters. The Duke of Athens, Theseus, states, “the best in this kind are but shadows; and the / worst are no worse, if imagination amend them” providing Shakespeare’s use of magic in his various plays is a real participant in the entertainment and structure in them. Magic and supernatural occurrences are used by Shakespeare to create illusionary situations to resolve bigger conflicts, such as love’s difficulties, revenge, and justice.

In A Midsummer Night’s Dream, magic appears in several dimensions. The title of the play suggests that the play itself is a dream and the heat from a midsummer night causes the imagination to wander. The next dimension is character bound in Shakespeare’s use of fairies in a mythical forest. The fairies then discover a magical object, a flower that contains a love potion. Magic provides coincidences and mistakes to form a complex plot filled with confused characters. Robin Goodfellow or Puck is Oberon’s (the fairy king) jester who sets many of the play’s humorous, conflicting, and balanced events in motion through his use and misuse of magic. Lysander tells his love Hermia that, “the course of true love never did run smooth” (I.i. 134) foreshadowing Puck’s misuse of magic on Lysander to confuse the lovers. Oberon tells Puck to retrieve the magical flower to spread its juices on Titania’s eyelids for her to see Oberon and to spread it on Demetrius’ eyelids in order to love Helena. Puck mistakes Lysander for Demetrius and Lysander falls in love with Helena. Puck attempts to undo this mistake and Demetrius and Lysander both end up in love with Helena. Puck then confused the young men by mimicking their voices in order to prevent a fight amongst the two Athenians. Earlier in the play, Puck transformed Bottom’s (a craftsman) head into that of an ass. Titania wakes and the first creature she sees is Bottom. Puck’s careless use of the love potion has caused chaos and Oberon uses the magic potion to resolve the play’s tension and restore love’s balance among Lysander, Hermia, Demetrius, Helena and Titania. Magic is used to display the supernatural power of love, symbolized by the love potion, and to create a surreal world.

Dreams are also apparent in A Midsummer Night’s Dream, where Hippolyta provides the introduction to the play as, “Four days will quickly steep themselves in night, / Four nights will quickly dream away the time” (I.i. 7-8) suggesting her four day marriage celebration will be coupled with the escape from reality through dreams. After Bottom wakes up from his dream in which he is beloved by Titania as an ass-headed monster, he renders it merely a bizarre dream. He says, “I have had a dream, past the wit of man to say what / Dream it was. Man is but an ass if he go about t’expound this dream,” unable to fathom the magical happenings that have affected him as anything but the result of a dream. Shakespeare uses dreams as explanation for the impossibility of magical characters and objects to solve love’s difficulties. Puck supports this argument by telling the audience that “If we shadows have offended, / Think but this, and all is mended: / That you have but slumbered here,” (V.ii. 1-3) rendering the play as a sensational experience rather than a heavy drama.

Richard III introduces a malicious, power hungry, and...
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