A Midsummer Night's Dream: Paradox & Oxymoron

Instructor: Jacob Belknap

Jake has taught English in middle and high school, has a degree in Literature, and has a master's degree in teaching.

William Shakespeare's play 'A Midsummer Night's Dream' is a magical comedy with playful fairies and people falling in love. Shakespeare uses the literary devices of oxymoron and paradox to bring out the humor in this story.

What Is A Midsummer Night's Dream?

William Shakespeare's play A Midsummer Night's Dream is set on the shortest night of the year in an ancient Greek forest. In this story of love and trickery, people and fairies interact comedically. Fairy magic causes several characters to behave differently and fall in love with someone unexpected. The people wake up from their enchantment thinking the events that took place were just a dream. Towards the end, a group of amiable yet hapless actors puts on a play to entertain people at a wedding.

Shakespeare earns his title of ''the bard'' with humor, intrigue, and a lively plot in this play. Read the next section to explore techniques he uses to entertain and help his readers understand this play.

Literary Devices

A comedy wouldn't be fun without humorous or even absurd moments. Shakespeare chooses to use literary devices to accomplish this humor. A literary device is a structure that a writer uses in order to convey their message to a reader in a simpler way. These techniques can give the reader a greater understanding of a piece of writing.

In A Midsummer Night's Dream, Shakespeare uses many literary devices, but we will focus on oxymorons and paradoxes. An oxymoron is a phrase containing contradictory terms. The word ''oxymoron'' itself is an oxymoron (oxy comes from a Greek derivative of ''sharp,'' while moros means ''dull'').

A paradox is a statement that contradicts itself. It often contains two statements which can both be true, but not at the same time. Typically a paradox is an action that is contradictory.

Walk and Do Not Walk at the same time - a paradox.

Think of them as related literary devices. Wile paradox can be seen as a phrase like ''war is peace,'' oxymoron is only a combination of two contradictory words like ''freezer burn.''

Now we will turn to the play to explore some examples of oxymorons and paradoxes.

Oxymorons in A Midsummer Night's Dream

With a good idea of these two literary devices, we shall turn to the play focusing first on oxymorons. A few characters use oxymorons in A Midsummer Night's Dream, but we will focus on three. In Act one, Bottom, one of the actors, tells the others that he can speak in a ''monstrous little voice.'' Monsters are often large and frightening, whereas little seems to be the opposite. During Shakespeare's time, all roles in plays were served by men. With this line, Bottom intends to show his enthusiasm to play many roles. The reader gets to enjoy Bottom's jumbled thoughts in his excitement.

In Act four, Hippolyta uses two within one line stating ''So musical a discord, such sweet thunder.'' Music tends to be melodious while discord is everything breaking, and thunder is loud and jarring while sweet is soft and nice. She describes the barking of hounds on a hunt showing both the pleasurable and discordant aspects.

Lastly, in Act five, Theseus reads an announcement for the untalented troupe of actors who will perform a play for the other characters called Pyramus and Thisbe. His lines are:

'A tedious brief scene of young Pyramus
And his love Thisby; very tragical mirth.'
Merry and tragical! tedious and brief!
That is hot ice and wondrous strange snow.

These lines overflow with oxymorons. ''Tedious brief'' has the long monotony of being tedious and the short ending of brief. ''Tragical mirth'' and ''merry and tragical'' joins sadness of tragedy with the joy of mirth/merry. Finally, ''hot ice'' joins the two opposite temperatures. All of these oxymorons in one playbill show how unprofessional they are.

We will continue our exploration of literary devices in the play with paradoxes.

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