Supernatural characters in ‘A Midsummer Night’s Dream’ and ‘The Tempest’ By Klara Bernat Instructor: Boldizsár Fejérvári
Shakespeare’s two most magical plays are A Midsummer Night’s Dream and The Tempest. These plays contain many supernatural elements, e.g. magic and transformation. With these elements, Shakespeare produces a new dramatic genre. A play is a kind of magic, as the theatre itself is a place of magic. Considering that there is no play without characters, any of the characters of other plays do not differ from the miraculous characters of Shakespeare’s magical plays simply by being supernatural. What makes them different then? Shakespeare has probably discovered that the characters of his plays cannot be natural; therefore he wanted to express this by accentuating his characters’ unnaturalness. In A Midsummer Night’s Dream and The Tempest these characters are as ‘real’ as any other characters on the stage except that they explicitly declare that they are a part of a dream. My essay will compare two ‘honest’ characters, Puck in A Midsummer Night’s Dream and Ariel from The Tempest. The word ‘honest’ means in this respect that they play a role, the role of ‘the character’, but they believe that this is only a role and not life itself. At the end of the essay some important features of the supporting fairy characters will also be mentioned, namely Peasblossom, Cobweb, Moth and Mustardseed in A Midsummer Night’s Dream, and Ceres, Juno and Iris in The Tempest. Moreover the difference between the upper social ranks in the two plays’ system will be shown, namely that in The Tempest there is equality between the supernatural characters, mostly because of two reasons. The first is that Prospero stands on a much higher level than the nymphs and other creatures on his island, which makes the others equally weak. The ‘society’ of the fairies in A Midsummer Night’s Dream is more wide-ranging. They have their king and queen and the higher and lower positions as in real society. The second reason is that Iris, Ceres and Juno are nothing but some reshaped versions of Ariel.
2. Correspondences between Ariel’s and Puck’s characters
The most conspicuous correspondence between Ariel’s and Puck’s characters is that they are both fairies, neither have a gender though both have male names (this is probably because of the age’s ‘male-centered thinking’). For this reason, they will be referred to as male characters in the essay. Shakespeare took the characters from the world of classical English fairytales. Puck is a sprite, quick-witted and mischievous. The character of ‘Robin Goodfellow’ occurred many times in 16th century fairy tales. He is the brownie who vexes others on purpose, skims milk and eats the cream or pulls out the stool from under the old ladies who wished to sit down and he tells all these stories to the villagers himself. But a brownie is also warm-hearted, ‘if there was any work to be finished in a hurry at the farm […], all [the villagers] had to do was to leave the door […] open when they went to bed […] and when they woke the next morning […] the job [would be] finished’ (Jarvie 38). The character of Ariel is more of an original creation. He is quick-witted too, but not as much as his master, therefore Prospero cannot treat him as his equal. He is a great helper and a joyful creature as well. He is similar to his master, making magic on stage, as his master does. Ariel can reshape himself to be a nymph, a goddess or an animal, which is real magic on stage. Puck never disguises himself, only others, which is caries out off-stage and the audience is shown only the end product. He also shows tricks and makes fun of others showing their weak points. He is a real brownie. There is a comparable scene in a Scottish fairytale, when the sister of Katherine Crackernuts had a similar experience as Bottom,...
References: 1. Devlin, Diana. “Caliban – Monster, Servant, King.” Critical essays on The Tempest, William Shakespeare. Ed.: Linda Cookson and Bryan Loughrey. Gloasgow: Bell and Bain Ltd., 1998. 20-30.
3. Mandel, Susannah and Adam Steward. The Tempest. 19.Apr. 2003.
5. Phillips, Brian and Stephanie Stallings. A Midsummer Night’s Dream. 19. Apr. 2003.
7. Poole, Roger “Music in 'The Tempest '.” Critical essays on The Tempest, William Shakespeare. Ed.: Linda Cookson and Bryan Loughrey. Gloasgow: Bell and Bain Ltd., 1998. 53-68.
8. Scottish Folk and Fairy Tales. Ed. Gordon Jarvie. Reading, Berkshire : Cox & Wyman Ltd. 1997.
9. Shakespeare, William. “A Midsummer Night’s Dream.” The Oxford Shakespeare Complete Works. By Shakespeare. Oxford: Oxford University Press. 1974. 171-191.
Shakespeare, William. “The Tempest.” The Oxford Shakespeare Complete Works. By Shakespeare. Oxford: Oxford University Press. 1974. 1-22.
10. Shakespeare, William. A Midsummer Night’s Dream – Szentiván éji álom. Trans. Nádasdy Ádám. Budapest: Ikon, 1995.
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