Till Strange Love Grow Bold: Playing Dead and the Creation of the World in Romeo and Juliet
A Midsummer Night's Dream carries out the movement toward love and personal creation arrested at the end of Love's Labour's Lost. Its characters rejoice in weddings; they awaken to a new openness which at least promises that they will more actively shape their own destinies thereafter. Nevertheless, this happy outcome makes only a limited solution to the problems evident in the earlier play. In the context of Romeo and Juliet those limits stand poignantly revealed. This is not to deny the charm or the dramatic coherence of Shakespeare's "story of the night," but only to place it in the larger frame of his ongoing imaginative effort.
In dreams we touch areas of ourselves ordinarily beyond us. The dream would help integrate the personality, circumventing inhibition to illuminate feelings and difficulties which have found no resolution in waking life. A Midsummer Night's Dream contrives to reconcile reason and extra-rational experience by assigning them separate yet compatible functions. Depicted as city and wood, kingdoms of daylight and darkness, the two spheres draw into closer harmony during the play yet never wholly interact. The sensible mortals remain unconscious of the fairy magic which surrounds and transforms them. Shakespeare, that is, keeps unruly emotion and magical thinking safely removed--indeed inhibited.
One result is that the city-dwellers partake of a dubious innocence. They cannot abuse magical awareness as Navarre and his courtiers do. Despite the play's disturbing undertone, its causality is providential. True, the lovers and the fairy rulers evince more involved motivation than first meets the eye, but it goes undeveloped. Oberon plays out his revenge on Titania, whereupon his pride fortuitously turns to pity and a resolve to remedy all errors.