Theseus seems bothered by such untruth, relating it to a “tangled chain,” or a web of lies. In this instance, Theseus’ character emerges as one decidedly reliant on truth and fact. He rejects anything fanciful, preferring physical, proven knowledge. In other words, he stands in opposition to the poet, the artist who transcends the material world in order to make sense of the supernatural world. Shakespeare emphasizes such aspects of Theseus’ character to contrast Theseus and his world of facts to the world of the poet, the world of creativity, dreams, and fanciful notions. Of course, In A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Athens represents the physically grounded world of facts, while the woods represent the metaphysical world of the poet’s imagination.
Dreams are stories and images that our minds create while we sleep. They can be entertaining, fun, romantic, disturbing, frightening, and sometimes bizarre.
The brain produces delta waves almost exclusively. It is difficult to wake someone during stages 3 and 4, which together are called “deep sleep.” There is no eye movement or muscle activity. People awakened while in deep sleep do not adjust immediately and often feel disoriented for several minutes after waking up. This forms 12 to 15 percent of total sleep.
Shakespeare’s acting company, the Chamberlain’s Men, employed a regular troupe of around 12 men and four boys. But Shakespeare’s plays typically involve up to twice as many characters. The construction of his plays makes evident that he was always conscious of the solution: doubling, the practice by which a single actor could take on more than one role in the play. At its simplest, all this requires is that the doubled characters do not appear in the same scene, and that there is time between one character’s exit and the actor’s next entrance for any necessary costume changes. However, doubling was not simply a practical necessity, but a representational technique that could also make connections and contrasts between distinct characters or worlds.
Doubling these characters opens up a number of suggestive readings of the text, many of which chime with more modern ideas about the work of dreams. Freud wrote in his The Interpretation of Dreams that in a dream ‘one person can be substituted for another’: perhaps the fairy world is the unconscious of Athens, where the repressed anger of Theseus’s domination over his captured Amazonian bride breaks out into the quarrel between Oberon and Titania, and where the stifling patriarchy represented by Egeus’s ultimatum of obedience or the convent is swept aside for the thrilling dangers of sexual freedom. In the topsy-turvy dreamscape of the woods, lovers swap allegiances and the fairy queen couples with a donkey-man: the dark side of romantic desire is revealed to be disturbingly carnal. Bottom recalls his erotic encounter with Titania in her bower as ‘a dream, past the wit of man, to say, what dream it was’ (4.1.205–06). Awaking from a dream that is more akin to a nightmare, Hermia ‘quake[s] with fear’ to recall a distinctly phallic snake that ‘eat my heart away’ (2.2.148–49). The action of the play, framed in the opening scene as the frustrating infill before the marriage night of Theseus and Hippolyta, reveals that sexual desire is troublingly anarchic and urgent – threatening the play’s own generic movement towards romantic comedy ending in multiple marriages.