A Midsummer Night's Dream: Tone & Mood

Instructor: Beth Hendricks

Beth holds a master's degree in integrated marketing communications, and has worked in journalism and marketing throughout her career.

Looking for a good laugh? The light and humorous tone of ''A Midsummer Night's Dream'' will leave you feeling amused and joyous. In this lesson, we'll take a look at the tone and mood of this Shakespearean play.

Tone and Mood, Mood and Tone

When you think about the mood and tone of a piece of literature, you're looking at not only what the author is trying to convey, but how the reader responds to it. Tone refers to how the author uses words, setting or ideas to set his or her attitude about a book's subject matter or the audience. Mood, on the other hand, is looking at the feelings and emotions felt by the reader.

Edgar Allan Poe uses serious and nervous language to set the mood of his writing.
tone, mood, edgar allan poe, william shakespeare

For example, in Edgar Allen Poe's ''The Tell-Tale Heart,'' the author uses these words to convey his message:

''TRUE! --nervous --very, very dreadfully nervous I had been and am; but why will you say that I am mad? The disease had sharpened my senses --not destroyed --not dulled them.''

The word choice here invites a sense of urgency, panic or desperation. The words are serious and heavy. How does the above passage make you feel? What types of emotions or feelings does it generate? Does it make you nervous, anxious or scared?

William Shakespeare was a master of using mood and tone to help paint a picture for his readers, and A Midsummer Night's Dream is no exception. Let's examine these two elements in this work.

Tone in A Midsummer Night's Dream

  • Dark

Despite its overall whimsical nature, the beginning of Shakespeare's work has a dark and ominous tone. If someone told you to marry a certain person or face either death or life in a convent, what would you do? That's exactly the choice Hermia is faced with at the outset of the story. His father, Egeus, utters these foreboding words: ''As she is mine, I may dispose of her:/Which shall be either to this gentleman/Or to her death, according to our law.'' Yikes.

The words - ''dispose'' and ''death'' suggest a very dismal start to the story, which prompts Lysander and Hermia to run away. It's there they encounter the enchanted woods, where the tone of the work shifts to the comical and lighthearted one the story is most known for.

We also see some dark elements in the play within the play that takes place in the woods. The play mimics the story of Hermia and Lysander, but with depressing undertones. In the play, Pyramus, assuming his love, Thisbe, has been killed, commits suicide. Yet, Thisbe is still alive! When she finds that Pyramus has taken his own life, she decides to kill herself.

  • Humorous

If you could use one word to sum up Shakespeare's tone in this play, it's humorous. Though it initially starts off a little more serious, the overall tone of the entire work is one of amusement. Shakespeare accomplishes this by making fun of the idea of love and falling in love.

For example, Titania, the fairy queen, is put under a spell and falls in love with Nick Bottom, whose head has been changed into that of a donkey's! Nick Bottom, throughout, is a great source of humor. The playwright gives Bottom some funny lines such as saying he'll use a ''monstrous little voice'' to play the role of Thisbe or concerning himself with what type of beard he'll need to play Pyramus.

The character, Puck, adds another layer of humor to the story. Puck is a jokester (also the one responsible for turning Nick Bottom into a donkey), and his use, or perhaps misuse, of the love juice sets in motion a laughable chain of events. His mix-ups cause him to use the love juice on the wrong people, who then fall in love with the wrong people and hilarity ensues as the lovers prance around the woods.

  • Light

One of the best examples of the lightness of A Midsummer Night's Dream is the use of the play within the play, despite some of the more sobering content which we discussed earlier.

The comical errors and misunderstandings that occur offer a second level of farcical or absurd qualities to the overall story. The play inside the story is also used as a way to parody, or imitate, what is happening in the regular story.

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