The woods, a place for freedom within Theseus’ reach?
One of the most important places, not the say the most, in Shakespeare’s work of A Midsummer Night’s Dream are the woods, also known as fairy land. The critics, though, have different opinions about what do they mean. Some, like Sean McEvoy, see the woods as a place full of the influence of Athens and its ruler, Theseus, with the fairies being seen as the aristocracy of the woods. Others, though, like R. A. Foakes, see the woods a place far from Athens, where the lovers can hide from its power and influence, but where there’s more to it than the naked eye can see.
From the point of view of Foakes, the lovers flee from Athens, a tyranny of reason as seen in the law that would sentence Hermia to death or perpetual chastity for disobeying her father, to the woods, symbol of wilderness and initially a place for peace and freedom, only to find they have escaped one form of tyranny to encounter another in themselves. “Liberated from the tyranny of the law, the lovers find a ‘desert place’, which in its wildnessreflects the tyranny of the passions of anger and hatred unleashed by their quarrels.” (1984: 33).
For the lovers, the woods turn into a wild place, where Helena comes to think “I am as ugly as a bear, for beasts that meet me run away in fear” (1984: 32). What they see as savage reflects the increasing savagery of their own passions, as love and friendship turn to hatred. What happens to the characters is seen as a form of play within the play, stage-managed and watched over by Oberon and Puck, who supervise the lovers and take care that in the end no harm is done. For the two of them, the woods are a completely different kind of place, a playground.
From the point of view of McEvoy, the Woods appear to the lovers as a place to escape, safe from the power of Theseus, but it is actually so? With “the fairies who rule there are a kind...