Satire in A Midsummer Night's Dream

Instructor: Kelly Mallari

I have taught Language Arts for 4 years and served as a Professor for ENG 101 and GLS for more than 3 years. I am a licensed teacher with a B.A. in English Literature, International and Global Studies, and Religious Studies. I have a M.A. in Global Studies.

Explore Shakespeare's 'A Midsummer Night's Dream,' and learn why the use of satire in the play creates a uniquely comical love story that is full of big laughs and strong warnings. Then, check out the quiz questions that follow.

Satire and Shakespeare

Everyone loves a good joke. This is true no matter what day or age. In fact, did you know that comedy was one of the favorite genres of entertainment in the 16th century? Comedy was something enjoyed by everyone: nobles, aristocrats, even peasants. Comical plays were very popular during 16th century England and provided popular opinions in a comical way. This killed two birds with one stone. The message is received by the audience and little offense is paid to anyone who may find themselves affected by the play's lesson. If you have ever watched a movie or seen a play, you're probably aware that sometimes the lesson hits a little too close to home. This is very true for many plays, most especially those written by William Shakespeare.

A Satirical Comedy

In Shakespeare's play A Midsummer Night's Dream, you will no doubt find some gut-busting humor. Satire, a literary device that uses humor and jokes to make a statement about a person's ideals, is rampant in Shakespeare's play about love and marriage. The entirety of the play is nothing more than a satire of the ideal of love. Throughout the novel, there are many incidents where Shakespeare satirizes the nature of love - through an ill-mannered play and the arrogance of humans with Bottom's transformation.

Examples of Satire within A Midsummer Night's Dream

Have you ever watched a boring movie where there was an element of irony that surprisingly kept you entertained? This is a tactic most writers use to relieve tension and create an important comparison to important topics. There are many examples of satire within A Midsummer Night's Dream. While the social aspect of the satire is a great way to engage spectators, the satirical tone of the play is necessary. Satire becomes the vehicle in which Shakespeare delivers the play's real moral.

The satire within the play is layered and combines high comedy and low comedy to mock the idea of love.

High Comedy

High Comedy, comedy aimed at wittily mocking the upper class, was a great tool used by Shakespeare in this play. In today's society, you are no doubt familiar with satires aimed at celebrities and politicians. Many of us have watched shows like Saturday Night Live or MadTV. These shows are satires poking fun at popular figures in today's society. In Shakespeare's time there was no television or radio - satire was left to the writers and painters. Shakespeare satirizes arrogance - a flaw that many upper class people had - in a humorous way. Shakespeare creates Nick Bottom, an arrogant actor in the Mechanicals whose head is transformed into a donkey. In other words, Bottom becomes a manifestation of his stubborn attitude. In Act III, Scene I of the play, Bottom has this interaction with his cast members:

O Bottom, thou art changed! what do I see on thee?
What do you see? you see an asshead of your own, do you?
Bless thee, Bottom! bless thee! thou art
I see their knavery: this is to make an ass of me;
to fright me, if they could. But I will not stir
from this place, do what they can: I will walk up
and down here, and I will sing, that they shall hear
I am not afraid.

In the play, Shakespeare assaults the upper class and their inherent arrogance with witty banter and ridiculous jokes. You probably know someone who is so stuck up and stubborn that they refuse to listen to anyone. No matter how earnestly you attempt to speak sense to a person stuck in their arrogant ways, it is impossible to reach them. No doubt, Bottom's arrogance and transformation is a lesson for people such as this.

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