In reading, “Romeo and Juliet,” and, “A Midsummer Night’s Dream,” we can find a number of similarities in the characters of both plays. The distinct differences in them are that in one, we have a humorous character (or characters) with a cheery ending and in the other; we have a tragic character/s with a moral flaw that will aid in his or her downfall. In an evaluation of their distinctions we can see how they both hold true to their intent on carrying the story forward on it’s meandering course through the land of Shakespeare.
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In the opening of “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” we are in a palace in Athens with a couple, Thesus and Hippolyta, speaking of their upcoming wedding vows. They are interrupted by Egeus who complains that his daughter, Hermia, is in love with Lysander while he has betrothed her to Demetrius. Demetrius wants Hermia, but her friend Helena wants Demetrius, who once seemed to like her.
Hermia, told that she must follow her father’s word as law or join a nunnery, decides to run away and elope with Lysander. This Act is ended with a lighthearted scene in where six men decide to put on a play for Thesus forthcoming marriage. The play, wittingly enough, is, “Pyramus and Thisbe,” which is what we can call the original story where, “A pair of star-crossed lovers take their lives.” (prologue.6)
On the other hand we have “Romeo and Juliet” which starts us out with a battle between the feuding members of the household of Montague and Capulet. Next enters the moping figure of Romeo, bemoaning the loss of his love, Rosaline. After some cajoling from his friend Mercutio and cousin Benvolio, they all decide to go to a masque at the house of Capulet, where they can compare Rosaline’s beauty to other attractive females. We then have Juliet in another scene speaking to her mother on whether she might be adverse to marriage with a handsome bachelor, Paris, whom she is unsure of. At the party, later on, Romeo sees Rosaline, but is taken in by Juliet’s beauty and falls in love with her, even after finding out that she is a Capulet.
In both these plays we have lovers who are young of age. Yet our introduction to these characters is much different. In MND, we walk right into the story with talk of love and marriage with many characters. Although there is talk of marriage in the first act of R&J, we are start in this tale with a conversation of the rape of women in the house of Montague with Sampson saying to Gregory:
Tis true, and therefore women, being the
weaker vessels, are ever thrust to the wall. There-
fore I will push Montague’s men from the wall and
thrust his maids to the wall. (1.1.16-19)
We are then thrust into a quarrel between both houses, making the opening of this play violent. Our introduction in one story is rape, violence, mopery and bit of mania in Mercutio’s character. On the other hand, in MND, we might think happy thoughts at the word, marriage. It is comic to think of the circle of love that happens between the four lovers, nipping at their own heels.
In Romeo and Juliet, we follow along, as Romeo can’t tear himself away from Juliet, going back to the house and into the garden where he hears her professing her love for him. In this time that Romeo goes back, Mercutio and Benvolio are searching for him. When Romeo and Juliet speak to each other, they use natural imagery of the moon and night. The moon, as Juliet says, is, “th’ inconstant moon, that monthly changes in her orb,” and night changes as well, into dawn. This is where it’s touched on that things are not constant in the world of love. But they move on to marriage with Romeo running to enlist the help of Friar Lawrence, who hopes to end the feud between families by binding them together in holy matrimony. They plan, they meet and they get married by Friar Lawrence, all with the Nurse’s help.
In Act II of MND, we are left to frolic with the faeries and their fancies. Oberon, the king of faeries, wants one of his wife’s servants and plot’s to get him away from her by wiping some magic flower pollen on her eyes so that she will fall in love with whomever she meets upon waking. During this time, Oberon happens upon Demetrius being chased by Helena as they follow Lysander and Hermia. Demetrius rejects Helena’s love and tells her to be careful of what happens to her, as he is not responsible for her safety. Feeling sorry for Helena, Oberon sends Puck to meddle in their affairs by using the magic pollen on Demetrius. Unfortunately, Mr. Goodfellow places the magic goop on Lysander’s eyes instead and upon waking with the magic goo on his eyes, Demetrius POOF! falls madly in love with Helena, instead of Hermia. Thinking that he is making fun of her, Helena feels hurt and runs from him.
There is some correlation between these Acts in that; they both have their lovers, speaking of marriage and elopement, the use of a significant character in hopes to complete the details of marriage in Oberon and Friar Lawrence. Both of these characters are only thinking of themselves in their “help” of both pairs of young lovers. Friar Lawrence in that he hopes to get credit for bringing the feud between the two families to an end and Oberon for sticking his nose in human affairs, thinking he knows what is best. Also, we have Puck searching for Demetrius and Mercutio searching for Romeo, both of who are with their “lovers.” Puck and Mercutio, as well, do not find who they are looking for. Significantly though, in MND, we are with merry pranksters who are chasing humans in a circle to get them on the right track lightheartedly. In R&J we are left with an impending sense of doom as they think both their parents would not take kindly to them getting married,
Then in MND, we laugh as Oberon’s wife falls madly in love with Bottom, one of the actors in, “Pyramus and Thisbe,” whose friends have run from him in fright because Puck had changed his head into that of an ass. When Puck tells Oberon of what had ensued, he was elated that his plan and come to fruition, in that respect. Regrettably, Oberon notices that Puck has placed the magic pollen on the wrong Athenian. This situation results in Hermia and Helena fighting verbally and Demetrius and Lysander almost pulling out their weapons. Oberon then demands that Puck right the whole situation by pulling them away from each other so they could place spells and magic juice on the right people.
Next in Romeo and Juliet, we begin with Tybalt, of the house of Capulet, challenging Romeo for wrongs he feels Romeo has done to him. Romeo begs off, stating he has nothing for love for Tybalt. This is followed with Mercutio taking Romeo’s place and dying in the resulting battle. Mercutio curses both houses with a plague and dies and then Romeo kills Tybalt. Everyone finds out that there was a brawl, even though the Prince forbade it, and the Capulet’s demand retribution, with Juliet crying for the loss of her cousin and the impending loss of her husband. Romeo is banned, left with only one night to spend with his wife. The Friar promises to send word on all events in Verona and to work on getting him back to Verona. Senior Capulet promises Juliet to Paris (in hopes of breaking her melancholy over her cousins death) and the nurse pushes Juliet to forget Romeo and think kindly on Paris. Rejecting the idea of marrying Paris, Juliet runs to the Friar for help.
These Acts are paralleled only in that though there is fighting in both scenes and there is a sense of urgency in the fixing of the situation of Juliet’s sadness and the odds that the couples are in MND. Only R&J’s Act results in death and banishment and MND’s with us humorously watching the merry-go-round of people being chased. On the one hand we have death and despair and in the other we have lovers quarreling.
In the end of MND, the couples have sorted themselves out and are given approval by both Hermia’s father and their lord Thesus. Bottom’s head no longer mimic’s his asinine ways, allowing him to reunite with his friends, telling them of his strange dream of the faeries. They are then chosen to perform their play at the celebration of all three weddings that night. The couples find their performance laughable but honest and appreciate the men’s effort. The story ends with the faeries blessing the union of all three marriages and Robin asking us to think of the whole affair as if it were a dream.
In R&J Juliet is left scared, as she will be forced to marry Paris and running to the Friar, she threatens suicide as a way out. He comes up with another plan to fake her death and reuniting the two lovers afterwards. Going home more obedient, her father moves the marriage up another day. Going to bed on the night before her marriage, Juliet drinks the potion and dies, everyone is sad and they prepare for the funeral. Disaster strikes as the letter the Friar sends to Romeo, advising him of the plan, does not get delivered. Romeo besieged by pain at the loss of his wife, returns to Verona and visits Juliet’s crypt. Romeo then kills Paris outside the crypt, climbs in, drinks the poison he has bought and dies. Juliet awakens, sees Romeo dead and finishes off his poison. The Friar confesses all to the Prince and the two families resulting in the end of the feud.
We are left with a tragic hero in Romeo, resulting in the demise of not only him, but Juliet as well. In MND we have many humorous characters in not only Bottom but also more importantly Puck and Oberon who are both mischievous without hurting anyone physically. With a little effort these plays could be changed, MND turning to tragedy and R&J turning to comedy but it’s a good thing that they are left as they are, otherwise the movies would be different.