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A Midsummer Night's Dream Title: Meaning & Significance

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  • 0:04 What's in a Name?
  • 0:24 The Fourth Wall
  • 1:12 The Play As a Dream
  • 1:58 Summer Solstice
  • 2:43 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Monica Sedore

Monica holds a master's degree and teaches 11th grade English. Previously, she has taught first-year writing at the collegiate level and worked extensively in writing centers.

This lesson will discuss the literary and societal importance of the title 'A Midsummer Night's Dream.' Much can be learned about this play by studying its name. Read on to find out more!

What's in a Name?

Right away, the title A Midsummer Night's Dream makes us think that this play by William Shakespeare will embody an ethereal or a fantasy-like quality. The title also tells us that the story is likely to take place on a summer night that may or may not be the product of a character's dream. Let's dive a little deeper into the title's meaning and significance.

The Fourth Wall

At the conclusion of the play, Puck, one of the fairies, tells the audience that if they did not like what they saw, then perhaps the whole play was just a dream. This element of theatre is known as breaking the fourth wall, wherein a character (or several characters) speaks directly to the audience and ''breaks'' the imaginary wall that exists between them. Puck tells the audience:

If we shadows have offended,
Think but this, and all is mended,
That you have but slumber'd here
While these visions did appear.
And this weak and idle theme,
No more yielding but a dream,
Gentles, do not reprehend:
if you pardon, we will mend:
And, as I am an honest Puck,
If we have unearned luck
Now to 'scape the serpent's tongue,
We will make amends ere long;
Else the Puck a liar call;
So, good night unto you all.

The Play as a Dream

This act of speaking to the audience creates the possibility that the play was nothing more than a dream, for how could Puck speak directly to members of an audience if he was actually a fairy in the forest? The line between waking and dreaming is blurred within the play itself, as well as between the actors and the audience.

Some of the characters in the play are also led to believe that what they experienced was nothing more than a dream. Demetrius and Lysander, two men who are both in love with Hermia, are given a love potion by Puck. While Lysander is supposed to receive the potion, Demetrius is not. Toward the end of the play, Puck casts a magical fog to put all of the humans asleep so that he can fix his mistake. Like Puck's suggestion to the audience, he convinces his fellow characters that the events of the evening are nothing more than a dream.

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