A Midsummer Night's Dream Symbols

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  • 0:05 Shakespeare and Symbolism
  • 0:41 The Moon
  • 2:18 Roses
  • 3:19 Love Potion
  • 4:16 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Summer Stewart

Summer has taught creative writing and sciences at the college level. She holds an MFA in Creative writing and a B.A.S. in English and Nutrition

Symbols play an important role in William Shakespeare's ''A Midsummer Night's Dream,'' including the moon, roses, and the love potion. In this lesson, we will look at each of these symbols to see how they contribute to the play.

Shakespeare & Symbolism

In William Shakespeare's A Midsummer Night's Dream, the moon, roses, and love potion operate in the play as symbols. A symbol is an object that's used to represent larger, deeper meanings and ideas. Shakespeare makes heavy use of symbols in this play. For example, the moon is used to represent time and waiting, while the love potion symbolizes the unpredictability of love. Furthermore, the roses symbolize a woman's fertility. In this lesson, we'll look at each of these symbols and expand on their meanings as they are used in the play.

The Moon

We'll start with the moon, which has a few meanings in A Midsummer Night's Dream. The moon represents both time moving forward, and how things change over time. For example, Theseus, the Duke of Athens is set to marry Hippolyta, the queen of the Amazons, whom he won by defeating her people. He's desperately awaiting their wedding day, and goes so far as to blame the moon for time passing too slowly.

Theseus says, 'Now, fair Hippolyta, our nuptial hour/ Draws on apace; four happy days bring in/ Another moon: but, O, methinks, how slow/ This old moon wanes! she lingers my desires./ Like to a stepdame or a dowager/ Long withering out a young man's revenue.' Here Theseus is doing two things: he's complaining that the moon is responsible for time moving slowly, and he's comparing the moon to an old spinster getting in the way of what he wants.

In addition to using the moon to symbolize the passage of time, Shakespeare uses the moon to show that things become stranger at night. How? Many things occur under the light of the moon, rather than the light of the sun. For example, Lysander and Hermia run away at night into the forest. Moreover, Hermia's father suggests that his daughter has been mesmerized by Lysander's love because it began under the night sky. Egeus says, 'Lysander, thou hast given her rhymes,/ And interchanged love-tokens with my child:/ Thou hast by moonlight at her window sung' before continuing to say that she has been bewitched by this love that developed under the moonlight.


Roses and rosebushes are used to symbolize a woman's sexuality and fertility. This occurs when Theseus is talking to Hermia about her refusal to marry Demetrius, the man her father has arranged for her to marry. Theseus gives her two options if she disobeys her father: be put to death or 'live a barren sister all your life' as a nun. Great choices. . .

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