As the title suggests, dreams are a significant portion of Shakespeare’s play, A Midsummer Night’s Dream. The characters struggle between believing they are in a dream-like state versus being in an awakened state. During the first act of the play, Theseus complains to Hippolyta about their wedding taking place in four days time. Hippolyta replied, “ Four nights will quickly dream away the time,” referring to the time passing rapidly since they will be dreaming.
Dreams occur during the rapid eye movement cycle of sleep, which is a rather short period of time. This cycle can last as long as fifteen minutes or as short as five minutes. As a person awakens from a rapid eye movement cycle, the person might feel as if the dream had been taking place for hours thereby believing a substantial amount of time has passed. There are several examples throughout the play referencing dreams as representations of fantasy.
One example of the importance of dreams occurs in Act I when Hermia experiences a horrible nightmare while sleeping in the woods. She dreamed a snake was devouring her heart as her beloved Lysander simply watched while smiling. This dream was significant to the story because Hermia and Lysander were forbidden to be together as she was promised to marry another man. Even though Hermia was promised to another, she compares her love of Lysander to being in a dream-like state that will become a reality in due time because they are destined to be together as “dreams and sighs.” Although not actually a dream, it is a significant reference to dreams and fantasy.
Another example of the significance of dreams takes place during the opening of Act IV. Demetrius seems to be confused as to what is real and what may be simply a dream. He questions Helena, Hermia, and Lysander with “Are you sure that we are awake? It seems to me that yet we sleep, we dream.” When he realizes they are awake, he tries to convince himself the events of the previous night are fictional as supported with Demetrius’ line, “Let’s recount our dreams.” This line in Act IV provides additional proof that Demetrius would rather escape to the fantasy world of his dreams rather than to confront the reality of his life.
Bottom’s dream is another example of the significance of dreams in the play. Bottom’s dream can also be found in Act IV. Bottom is a character who was enchanted with the head of a donkey throughout the play ending with his awakening from a dream. The donkey’s head can symbolize one of a couple of things. The donkey’s head could be a representation of ignorance as in “dumb like a donkey” or could be interpreted as a sign of arrogance such as “get off your high horse.”
After Bottom dreams of Titania, the fairy queen, he awakens with a human head again. He was so overcome by his dream he wishes it to be made into a ballet. The audience is left wondering if Bottom actually had the head of a donkey the entire time or if that was part of a fantasy dream sequence with the fairy queen.
In conclusion, this Shakespearean play holds true to the reference of a dream in the title. Although the play is one of comedy mixed with romance, there is a strong appearance of a fantasy realm in which the characters live. Within this fantasy, the characters struggle with knowing whether they are awake or asleep. Several significant dreams occur throughout the play. Beginning with Hippolyta and Hermia in Act I and ending with Demetrius and Bottom in Act IV, the common thread of dreams is woven throughout the fantasy world of A Midsummer Night’s Dream.