A Midsummer Night's Dream | Study Guide

William Shakespeare

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A Midsummer Night's Dream | Act 4, Scene 1 | Summary

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Summary

As the invisible Oberon watches, Titania praises Bottom's ears, and her fairy servants scratch his head and make him comfortable. After Bottom and Titania fall asleep, Oberon says that he feels bad for her and that in any case, she's now given him the changeling boy. He releases Titania from the love spell. When Titania wakes up, she tells Oberon about a dream in which she was "enamored of an ass." Oberon directs her attention to Bottom, still sleeping nearby. Now, she loathes Bottom. Oberon tells Puck to return Bottom to his normal state, and Puck obeys, removing the ass head from the sleeping Bottom. Oberon and Titania dance together, and the three fairies exit.

Theseus, Hippolyta, and Egeus enter, along with a group of attendants. They have been observing May Day rites in the woods and are about to begin a hunt. Suddenly, Egeus notices and points out the young lovers. Theseus observes that today is the day Hermia is supposed to make her choice. Theseus asks for horns to play, and the four lovers wake up.

After they wake, Lysander explains that he and Hermia ran away to escape from Athenian law. Egeus is furious. Then Demetrius says he now loves Helena and doesn't want to marry Hermia anymore. Theseus decrees the two young couples will be married along with himself and Hippolyta. Then Theseus, Hippolyta, Egeus, and their party leave. The four lovers, confused, think they have been dreaming. As they leave to go back to Athens, they agree to share their strange dreams with each other.

Alone on stage, Bottom wakes up. He recalls having a very odd dream: a "most rare vision." He decides he will tell it to Quince, who can write it as a ballad for him to sing at the end of their play. Then he departs for Athens.

Analysis

After Oberon gets the changeling boy from Titania, he is willing to remove the humiliating enchantment from her and Bottom. Instead of becoming angry, Titania seems content to go back to Oberon. Their dance is one of reconciliation and a return to peace. The patriarchal normalcy interrupted by Titania's refusal to comply with Oberon's demands is now reestablished. Considering how nature became unpredictable and disorderly when Titania denied Oberon his dominance over her, and the way she accepts her place by his side after his trick, the play suggests that male dominance is part of the natural order—not just a societal one.

Most of the enchantments have been lifted by now. (Demetrius is the only one who retains his; he notes that "by some power" he loves Helena instead of Hermia.) The mortals—the four lovers as well as Bottom—think their experiences were simply strange dreams. While all the lovers seem to agree that they experienced strange dreams, Demetrius seems the most confused, perhaps because he is still under the love spell: "Are you sure / That we are awake? It seems to me / That yet we sleep, we dream."

Bottom seems to recall his in some detail, which makes him quite uncomfortable. "Methought I was—" he begins, before trailing off in disbelief and finally finishing, "there is no man can tell what." Then he continues, "methought I had—" before trailing off again as he recalls what he thought he had. Ears? A furry donkey head? A fairy lover? Bottom's inability to articulate is not evidence of a fuzzy memory but of the ridiculousness of the experience. His inability to articulate also reinforces his problem with language overall.

Shakespeare can't pass up the chance to make one more use of the ass/Bottom pun. When Bottom first wakes and recalls his "dream," he notes that "man is but an ass if he go about / to expound this dream." But then he decides to "expound"—or explain—his dream to Quince so it can be made into a ballad. By his own judgment, he is now an ass for planning to expound his dream. He then goes on to say, "It shall be called 'Bottom's Dream,' because / it hath no bottom." This nonsensical statement is typical of Bottom's inflated sense of himself and his intellectual abilities. He's an ass, but a likable one in the end.

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