Shakespeare Final Essay

Shakespeare Research Essay
In partial fulfillment of a 4th year English course at Trent University
“A Midsummer Night’s Dream” and “The Tempest” weave their plots through
four major class distinctions: magical beings, human rulers, the lovers and the
mechanicals. In “The Dream” these classes are compared chiefly by parallel action –
what is happening in one group is mirrored or represented in another. The conflict
between lovers is the chief parallel and is represented in the different classes by the
following relationships: Oberon and Titania (fairies), Theseus and Hippolyta (rulers),
Lysander and Hermia (lovers), and Pyramus and Thisbe (mechanicals). The action in the
play revolves around the conflict between these relationships, but is not limited to them.
Shakespeare uses them as a foundation for the development of an entertaining
comparison: What would it look like for a fairy and a lower-class citizen to get together?
In the Tempest, this same class distinction exists, but the chief parallel between
the classes is not love but power. The following characters fit into the categories
discussed: Prospero, Ariel, and the goddesses are the magical beings; Antonio, Alonso,
Sebastian and Gonzalo are the human rulers; Miranda and Ferdinand are the lovers;
Trinculo and Stephano are the mechanicals.
The goal of this paper is to show the ways in which Shakespeare develops and
changes the class distinctions in the Tempest which he began in “The Dream”. Two
major points will be considered to understand this revisitation: the first, as mentioned
earlier, is a deepening of the interaction which takes place between the classes; the
second is the change from parallels of love to parallels of power. A thorough analysis
and comparison of the characters involved within the class distinctions of each play will
illuminate these points. In discussing class distinctions two things are in view: the ways
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in which characters remain within their class, and the ways in which they diverge and
interact with a different class. Divergence is truly the key to action within a play, as it is
what the audience notices against the backdrop of the normal function of a character. In
“The Dream”, characters are strongly associated with a specific class, and then interact
with different classes, often for a brief period. In The Tempest, many characters mirror
this, but Shakespeare takes it a step further: some characters are strongly associated with
more than one class, blurring the lines between these distinctions, and thus calling into
question the character’s actions. This questioning on the part of the audience takes place
because they expect (at least in a comedy) that the resolution of the play entails a return
of the characters to their appropriate classes (Bottom cannot remain with Titania).
Shakespeare leaves hints and questions in the reader’s mind that this may be a false
desire: does Demetrius truly love Helena, or is he still being affected by the juice? The
Tempest complicates the chances for a firm resolution from the outset of the play by
forcing characters like Prospero and Caliban to do “double duty” as it were. While in
“The Dream” this duality is a consequence of complications in the play, in The Tempest
the audience starts with this duality.
The first class distinction is the magical beings, fairies, and goddesses. This is the
ultimate realm of power, and in both plays most of the action is developed, produced, or
influenced by magic. In “The Dream” this takes the form of natural magic – a kind of
magic which is merely part of who these beings are. Oberon, Titania, Puck and the rest
of the fairies are separated from the rest of the classes by their nature and any interaction
they have with the other classes is through natural means – flowers, foods of the forest,
etc. In the Tempest there are a similar number of beings whose nature it is to be magical:
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Ariel and the goddesses. However, these beings are subordinate to the magic of
Prospero, who is part of the magical class, but not by nature. Additionally, Caliban fits
into the magical class, in that he was born of magical stock, and in the magical world. A
simplified distinction can be drawn: Ariel is magical in power and nature; Prosper is
magical in power but not in nature; Caliban is magical in nature but not in power.
The second class distinction is the human rulers. In both plays part of the conflict
is initiated by this class. In “The Dream” Egeus demands that the law be enacted against
his daughter (forcing her to marry whomever he wants, or become a nun) – which is the
reason why Hermia and Lysander decide to elope. In the Tempest it is the usurpation of
Prospero by his brother Antonio which put Prospero and Miranda on the island to begin
The third class distinction is the lovers. In “The Dream” this class sustains the
significant human conflict of the play. The conflict between the lovers is extended
through four stages over three acts, which draws the attention of the audience. In the first
stage, Lysander and Hermia are in love, and run away into the forest. Demetrius pursues
them – the reader is not certain at this point whether he actually loves Hermia or is
merely claiming his “certain right” (I.i.92); moreover it seems that he was flippant in the
past by leading Helena to believe he cared for her (I.i.105) – and Helena pursues
Demetrius. The second stage is when Lysander is affected by the juice, and ends up
pursuing Helena. Demetrius is still interested in Hermia, while Helena continues to chase
Demetrius. The third stage shows a reversal between the roles of the women: both men
are now in love with Helena, not Hermia. Helena believes that they are mocking her, and
Hermia is deeply injured by everything that transpires. The final stage occurs when Puck
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applies the solution to Lysander and effectively pairs off the two lovers. In The Tempest
the lovers take a peripheral position of importance – Prospero dominates the focus of the
play in such a way that relationship between Ferdinand and Miranda is marginalized.
The fourth class distinction is the mechanicals, or the lower-class workmen. In
“The Dream” these men parallel the theme of love which is woven through the rest of the
play. Peculiarly, their reenactment of Pyramus and Thisbe echoes the wrong genre – the
two lovers end up dying, not being united. In general, the lower-class is a ripe ground for
humorous and strange comparisons throughout both plays. In the Tempest, the
substitution of alcohol for magic as a source of power is one of the humorous and strange
comparisons which will be touched on. In both plays the combination of humor and
thematic undercutting is prevalent to such a degree that it might be more correct to say
that this is the foundation (function) of this class, not merely a divergence.
Any character who diverges from their class in order to interact with another is of
particular importance to the present study. Moreover, the way in which these classes
diverge is important: in “The Dream”, divergence is regulated by the comedic structure.
In the Tempest, the structure itself is questioned, so one would expect to find the
divergences to be more fundamental (i.e. characters fit multiple roles at the same time).
It may be helpful to distinguish between types of inter-class connections which are
abnormal. The word divergence will be used to refer to temporary connections a
character has with a different class. The word blending will be used to refer to permanent
connections a character has with a different class. In both plays, the divergences and
blendings are all connected to the use of magic. In “The Dream”, the following
characters diverge from their class constraints and interact with other classes: Titania and
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Bottom, Puck, Lysander, and Demetrius. Titania and Bottom are the most commonly
cited pair when it comes to inter-class activity. What is the nature of this divergence? It
is foremost the combination of the magical world with the base human world (made even
more base by the ass attached to Bottom’s head). Bottom is translated into a world of
natural delights, fairies and other extraordinary experiences. Note however that it is not
the case that Bottom’s nature was changed so that he was a fairy. In fact, Bottom’s own
testimony confirms that he can’t comprehend the magical world as having any legitimate
substance or function in his own world, for he calls it a dream. Titania has a similar
response when Oberon undoes the spell: “My Oberon, what visions have I seen! /
Methought I was enamor’d of an ass.”(IV.i.76-77) Puck, Lysander, and Demetrius do not
diverge very far from their classes. Puck’s interaction with the lovers and the
mechanicals is always as the initiator. In both cases he applies the love juice and creates
an illusion, but it is not difficult to see that Puck does not go beyond these little touches
to actually become a lover or a mechanical himself. Lysander and Demetrius are both
passive recipients of the natural magic, and both of them are unaware as to why their
affections change so drastically throughout the play. Lysander’s comment upon being
awoken by the Athenian lords is telling:
My lord, I shall reply amazedly,
Half sleep, half waking; but, as yet, I swear,
I cannot truly say how I came here. (IV.I.145)
When Lysander is returned to his normal state he feels as if the whole thing had been a
dream. And yet within this speech one can see the duality he evokes to describe a past
situation. What about Demetrius? There is no indication in the text that the antidote to
the love juice was applied to his eyes. One might argue from his speech in IV.i.160 that
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he is merely reverting to a previous state in which he loved Helena, but his words are
I wot not by what power
(But by some power it is), my love to Hermia
(Melted as the snow) seems to me now
As the remembrance of an idle gaud,
Which in my childhood I did dote upon; (IV.i.164-168)
He is not aware of a power which melted his love toward Hermia, but the audience is.
Demetrius is the one character in “The Dream” who crosses over from divergence to
blurring. As far as the reader is aware, he is still “under the influence”. This is necessary
for the main plot of the action to be resolved, but it leaved Demetrius permanently
connected to the world of the fairies. Alongside the mechanicals undercutting of love via
their skit, Demetrius stands out as a second example. It is a marker or a flag which points
the reader to consider some of the other potentially troubling things in the play.
In the Tempest, some of the major connections between classes are permanent –
that is to say, characters are a blend of classifications. The characters pertinent to this
are: Ariel, Caliban, Stephano and Trinculo, and Prospero. Ariel mirrors Puck’s role in
the Tempest – he does the bidding of Prospero, goes about invisible, and is the primary
means of moving characters around the island. Ariel becomes connected in the affairs of
every class much in the same way Puck does, but there are hints that Ariel crosses those
boundaries in a different way:
Your charms so strongly works ‘em
That if you now beheld them, your affections
Would become tender.
Pros. Dost thou think so, spirit?
Ari. Mine would, sir, were I human.
And mine shall.
Hast thou, which art but air, a touch, a feeling
Of their afflictions, and shall not myself,
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One of their kind…(V.i.17-22)
Here Ariel demonstrates pity (a human characteristic), a development which sets him
apart from Puck. Ariel is still merely a spirit, firmly planted in the magical realm – but it
seems that his interaction with his human master has brought about a change, or at least
begun the process. In contrast to Ariel, Caliban is a character whose class distinctions are
blurred significantly. In fact, besides Prospero, Caliban is the most complex character in
the play. He comes from magical lineage, but is a beast who could not speak before
Prospero and Miranda taught him. Furthermore, he spends the entire play as a slave of
either Prospero’s magic or Stephano’s alcohol. He resembles Bottom as well – both
discuss their dream to the mechanicals of the play. The main difference between those
two speeches is the tone: Bottom is surprised, and thinks it would make a great story;
Caliban is dejected and traumatized by the event:
…and then in dreaming,
The clouds methought would open, and show riches
Ready to drop upon me, that when I wak’d
I cried to dream again. (III.ii.140-143)
Without this speech, the audience would probably not pity Caliban as much as they do. It
is the first time that Caliban’s feelings are focalized through his own thoughts.
Stephano’s blatant disregard of Caliban’s speech (besides the economical advantages of
not having to pay for one’s music) only serves to heighten the empathy the audience feels
for the beastly creature. Stephano and Trinculo also interact in different classes. They
mirror the mechanicals of “The Dream” in their function, though the undercutting in The
Tempest is a comment on power, not love. That will be the chief discussion of the next
section. For now consider the ways in which they diverge from their class. Firstly, they
become rulers over Caliban (who calls them gods), and secondly, they are interwoven
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with magical garments. The mechanicals in “The Dream” experience the magical
connection, but not the ruler connection; they never exercise authority over anyone.
Finally, Prospero is the supreme example of blending: he is part of the magical realm and
the ruling realm. He exercises both of these roles simultaneously, for his magic is the
means of his rule. This complex combination of man with magic is not present in “The
Dream” with the intensity that it is here, and it is the chief conflict to be resolved in the
play. Prospero draws all things to himself: the rulers, the lovers, the magical beings and
the mechanicals. He draws the rulers by means of the storm; his main argument lies with
them for having banished him. The lovers are drawn to his will in three stages. First,
Prospero prepares Miranda for Ferdinand’s arrival by bringing her to see Caliban. She is
reminded of the fact that the beast tried to rape her and is thus in a perfect position to
receive any man Prospero desires. Then Prospero arranges the meeting between
Ferdinand and Miranda, and the two instantly fall in love. Finally, Prospero works to
make the couple “uneasy…lest too light winning / Make the prize light.” (I.ii.452-453)
As with much of what Prospero does, it is unclear why he would do such a thing. The
best evidence in the play is found in Act IV, just after Propero has given Miranda to
Ferdinand (and told him not to consummate the marriage until after the ceremony). His
exhortation to Ferdinand is that he: “Look thou be true; do not give dalliance / Too much
the rein. The strongest oaths are straw / To th’ fire I’ th’ blood. Be more abstenious, / Or
else good night your vow!” (IV.i.51-54) Prospero is adept at reminding the characters in
the play of their oaths. In fact, the drawing of the lovers is merely one example of
Prospero’s obsession with control. He must know everything that is going on, and plan
everything precisely.
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This leads into the final discussion of this paper: parallels of love in “The
Dream” are revisited in The Tempest through parallels of power. Additionally, the
questioning of these themes is paralleled as well. This will be demonstrated in two parts,
the first of which entails a discussion of the way love and power are portrayed in the
opposite play – that is, how “The Dream” portrays power, and how The Tempest portrays
love. It would be incorrect to say that neither play contains both ideas. However, in
“The Dream” resolutions of power are internally unquestioned, while in “The Tempest”
resolutions of love are internally unquestioned. Internally unquestioned resolutions are
points in the play when a scene or scenario is resolved in a way that the audience
wonders about the validity of the solution, but the characters in the play accept it without
comment. In “The Dream”, the fact that Titania gives the changeling boy to Oberon
(which is the whole reason for conflict in the fairy realm) without any qualms and with
no protest from Titania after she is aware of what Oberon has done, is disconcerting;
Oberon’s power goes unquestioned. Similarly, Theseus overrides Egeus’ demands for
the law in act IV when he learns of Demetrius’ affections toward Helena. This situation
is a little more understandable, but Egeus is still within his rights to deny Hermia a
wedding to Lysander. However, Egeus drops his case (perhaps he came to his senses).
In “The Tempest” it seems extremely odd that Ferdinand and Miranda would fall deeply
in love at first sight. Note that even though Prospero tests the couple, it is not because he
feels that they are insincere, but rather that it will be too easy. When the audience is
aware that these two characters have never interacted before in their lives, and the only
males Miranda has seen before are her father and Caliban, it seems a bizarre stretch that
they could be sincere.
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The love relationships in “The Dream” are reflected as power relationships in
“The Tempest”; the mechanicals of both plays serve as a critique of these relationships.
In “The Dream” the classes these relationships represent are distinct and separate in their
nature – if one relationship fails another is not necessarily affected. In “The Tempest”,
Shakespeare turns this paradigm on its head, so that one man is connected to all of these
relationships, and his actions have direct consequences on the rest. Considerable time
has been spent explicating the love structure of the Dream. Notice what happens when
Shakespeare attaches the class structure of “The Dream” under the power complex of
Prospero. Prospero becomes obsessed with control – in particular the control of his
magic. There are a large number of times in which Prospero yells for Ariel (a great
number of exclamation marks are included). Moreover, he consistently guilt-trips the
spirit into service, and promises freedom: “Dost thou forget / From what a torment I did
free thee?” (I.ii.250-251); “Do so; and after two days / I will discharge thee.” (I.ii.298299) Prospero struggles with the fact that his magical power and his life will one day end:
And like the baseless fabric of this vision,
The cloud-capp’d tow’rs, the gorgeous palaces,
The solemn temples, the great globe itself,
Yea, all which it inherit, shall dissolve,
And like this insubstantial pageant faded
Leave not a rack behind. We are such stuff
As dreams are made on; and our little life
Is rounded with a sleep. Sir, I am vex’d; (IV.i.151-158)
Prospero is vexed because he has invested so much effort to be part of the magical world.
The undercutting of this desire for control and power is seen in the parallel between
magic and alcohol as used by Stephano, Trinculo and Caliban. The connections are
obvious and humorous – Stephano tells Caliban to “…kiss the book. I will /furnish it
anon with new contents. Swear.” (II.ii.142-143), a reference to the bottle of booze. The
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connection to the alcohol highlights the addictive nature of the substance, and by
implication the addictive nature of magic. Moreover, the fact that they lose the alcohol
foreshadows some parallel event with regard to magic. The difference is that in losing
the alcohol, none of the men die, but is it possible for Prospero to lose that part of himself
without perishing? Is it possible for him to lose his magic at all? One thing is clear;
Stephano would never have voluntarily given up the alcohol. One might be inclined to
argue that Prospero’s speech in Act V, where he says, “But his rough magic / I here
abjure;” (V.i.50-51) is evidence that he will give up his magic, but the end of the play
sheds a slightly different light on the matter. In the Epilogue Prospero says: “Now my
charms are all o’erthrown, / And what strength I have’s mine own, / which is most faint.”
Being an epilogue this could be metaphorical – his charms are o’erthrown because the
play is over – but it is also a powerful statement of loss which connects with the lost
alcohol. In any case, it seems like Prospero has not “abjured”. The resolution to this play
means more than simply reverting a character or situation to its natural class or world. It
is the tearing of a man out of one of the world’s he inhabits.
Baker, Herschel, Anne Barton, Marie Edel, G. Blakemore Evans, Frank Kermode, Harry
Levin, William Shakespeare, and Hallet Smith. The Riverside Shakespeare. Boston:
Houghton Mifflin Company, 1996.
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