The Plays of Shakespeare: A Thematic Guide

By Victor L. Cahn | Go to book overview
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Supernatural Phenomena

Shakespeare and his contemporaries accepted belief in certain supernatural powers, but in presenting them onstage, the playwright did more than acknowledge the existence of these forces. Rather, he imbued them with personalities and motives, allowing other characters to react to them and thereby reveal their own values and morals. Thus the presence of supernatural forces not only offers opportunity for bold technical effects, or as much as the limitations of the theater permit, but also leads to intriguing thematic revelation.

Perhaps the most benign supernaturals are those in A Midsummer Night’s Dream. The first one we meet is Puck, denounced by one fairy as a cruel prankster, but who describes himself as more playful than malicious:


I am that merry wanderer of the night.

I jest to Oberon and make him smile

When I a fat and bean-fed horse beguile…

(II, i, 43–45)

These figures are soon joined by Oberon, King of the Fairies, and Titania, his Queen, who accuse each other of affection for their mortal parallels: Theseus, the Duke of Athens, and Hippolyta, soon to be his wife. Titania also accuses Oberon of creating upsets in nature:


But with thy brawls thou has disturb’d our sport.

Therefore the winds, piping to us in vain,

As in revenge, have suck’d up from the sea

Contagious fogs, which, falling in the land,

Hath every pelting river made so proud

That they have overborne their continents.

(II, i, 87–92)

-315-

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