‘A Midsummer Night’s Dream’ is a comedy written by Shakespeare in the Elizabethan times, still performed in the present day. At Act 3 scene 2 we are probably at the height of confusion in the play. Each of the four lovers loves someone who does not love them. Demetrius loves Hermia, Hermia loves Lysander, Lysander loves Helena and Helena loves Demetrius. All this chaos is down to Puck, a mischievous fairy whose job is to stir up trouble to amuse the fairy King. Not only has he been distorting the lives of humans, but also the fairy Queen. She is momentarily in love with a mortal with an ass’ head (also as a consequence of Puck’s actions).
The audience has the advantage at this point as they are all knowing, making them feel as though they are a little superior. They know that the fairies exist and all of Puck’s activities. The audience is expecting that Oberon will sort out the mess after seeing the chaos that Puck’s actions have caused. At the beginning of the scene we see Puck describing how he successfully ‘An ass’s nole fixed upon’ Bottom’s head and how he then fabricated the love between him and Titania. Puck is very pleased with himself at all the upheaval he has induced.
The audience sees his mischievous and naughty side once more. It also tells the audience that Puck is dedicated to pleasing his King. It is obvious that Puck thinks very little of ‘mortals’. He describes them as ‘The shallowest thick-skin of that barren sort’ making them seem very stupid. And also as ‘wild geese’ which are seen as senseless annoying animals. In this part of the scene rhyming couplets are used a lot. This not only gives the fairies a lighter feel to the way that they talk, making it nicer and easier to listen to, but it also makes what Puck is saying far more exciting.
This adds to the atmosphere as Puck will obviously be talking very fast, so it will make the speech seem to move at an even quicker pace. Shortly after Puck and Oberon meet to talk, Hermia enters with Demetrius. The two are fighting. Hermia and Lysander used to both love one another, but because of Pucks actions Lysander now loves Helena. Demetrius, still in love with Hermia, is trying to convince her that he did not kill Lysander. This part of the scene is far more serious and somber than the light hearted atmosphere with Oberon and Puck. There is a lot of talk of death.
‘thou has murdered him’ is a very direct statement from Hermia, showing the desperation of her situation. Yet Demetrius, not swayed by this, retaliates by calling Hermia a murderer, say she ‘pierced through the heart’ with her ‘stern cruelty’. There is not a mention of good in this part of the scene. There is reference to evil on Hermia’s part. She calls Demetrius ‘a worm’ and ‘an adder’ and continues with ‘thou serpent, never adder stung’. This relates right back to the bible, and the issue that snakes are evil. The story of Adam and Eve is that when they are both tempted by the devil disguised as a serpent to deceive God.
However, although all this commotion is going on the audience are not overly concerned as they know that Puck and Oberon are listening to Demetrius and Hermia’s conversation and have faith that they will correct the situation. When the two lovers leave the scene Oberon shows his shock of Puck’s actions. He says ‘Some true love turned, and not a false turned true’, showing his remorse and understanding of wrong for Puck’s actions, which makes the audience feel strongly for Oberon as his morals seem to be upstanding. Puck seems to accept his mistake and be very willing to put it right.
As Puck goes to find Helena, Oberon speaks the spell that he puts on Demetrius. It is very magical, speaking of ‘Cupid’ seen as a stereotypical figure instigating love. ‘Let her shine gloriously, as the Venus of the sky’ is a lovely line, using a metaphor to compare Helena to a goddess, possibly the way every woman would want to be described The whole incantation rhymes making it even more enchanting and leaves the audience in awe of the fairies. It furthermore makes the audience aware of exactly how much domination the fairies have over the humans.
When Demetrius awakes he is in love with Helena, as is Lysander. This makes the situation again more confusing. As soon as he arises he remarks to Helena ‘O Helen, goddess, nymph, perfect, divine! ‘. This is exceedingly overwhelming and possible a little too much from Demetrius. This line also links back to Oberon’s spell, where he says that Demetrius should see his lover as a goddess. He says her lips are like ‘kissing cherries’ giving an image or very deep red that would have been seen as very beautiful in the time when Shakespeare wrote this play.
As would her skin, described as ‘pure congealed white’, a sign of great elegance and loveliness. We do not hear of Lysander’s compliments, only of his defense against them. He says ‘in their nativity appears all truth’ yet this does not sway Helena from thinking that this is a prank simply to mock her. She says to both men, not only are they not content with being rivals to loving Hermia, but now they are ‘both rivals, to mock Helena’. Helena sees herself as a ‘poor maid’ who is being taken advantage of by Demetrius and Lysander ‘all to make their sport’.
I think at this point in the scene the audience would feel highly amused. The whole situation is so comical and fictitious that it cannot be taken seriously. Both Demetrius and Lysander are completely different to their initial characters, completely overcome with their love for Helena. This mammoth alteration in mannerism does not only keep the audience attentive and amused but also makes them mindful once again of the great power that the fairies have to transform the lives of humans in an instant without their knowledge or even suspicion.
This scene would be nothing without a little more confusion, therefore here is where Hermia enters. Hermia is in love with Lysander who now loves Helena. Now all the characters are frustrated. Hermia wants Lysander to love her, but he will not whereas Helena wants not for Demetrius to fake his love for her, and describes it as the lowest form of mockery. Demetrius and Lysander are furious at each other for loving Helena and not Hermia, but also frantic for Helena to accept their love. This part of the scene really is the climax of confusion because of the many goings on and it is where all four lovers are involved.
Hermia first addresses Lysander, her love, asking him why he has left her. He replies with ‘the hate I bear thee made me leave thee so’. This shocks Hermia ‘it cannot be’. The audience feel a little sorry for Hermia at this point, she knows not of anything that has gone on and remains completely untouched by the fairies. At this point Helena intervenes accusing Hermia of being ‘one of this confederacy’. She describes her as an ‘ungrateful maid’ saying not only must she have men fight over her love, but also must join to mock her.
Hermia is stunned at Helena’s statements again making the audience empathize with her and creating an even more confusing and a tense atmosphere emerges. Then Lysander begins to insult Hermia moreover. He describes her as a ‘loathed medicine’ and a ‘hated potion’ which is actually fairly ironic but only to the audience, as they know that it is actually a potion that has caused all of this commotion. Further on in this part of the scene, Demetrius and Lysander return to being uncivil each other in the hope that they will prevail to acquire Helena’s heart.
Lysander describes Demetrius as a ‘serpent’ once again referring to the devil in the story of Adam and Eve. However as this goes on, Helena begins to use her situation to her advantage, turning both Lysander and Demetrius against Hermia, testing their loving and generating her revenge for her mockery. The sentences in this scene have become very short. This makes the dialogue move a lot more rapidly than before showing the earnestness of the situation. It makes the atmosphere a little more tense and for a while there are no rhyming couplets to lighten the mood.
So for this part of the play the audience are probably genuinely concerned for the characters and empathise with each and every one of them. All four of the lovers exit the scene not resolving the matter and leaving Puck and Oberon alone. Oberon is appalled once again by Puck’s conduct. Puck claims he is sorry, ‘I mistook’ he says and declares that he is ‘so far blameless’. This again flaunts his impish side enforced even more by his second statement describing the lover’s chaos as ‘jangling’ and a ‘sport’.
This means it gave him great pleasure to see humans in such a predicament. At the end of the scene the audience is left feeling a mixture of emotions. Relief that all this chaos will be sorted out but also gladdened that each of the lovers will have someone who loves them back. However, the audience does not yet know whether the spells will work, whether all will be well. So there is still a sense of anticipation at the end of this scene as Puck exits leaving the stage empty for the next scene.