Whatdoes the forest represent in ‘Midsummer Night`s Dream’?
Theplay ‘A Midsummer Night’s Dream’ by William Shakespeare openswhen Theseus, duke of Athens, is about to marry Hippolyta, Queen ofthe Amazons. The story shows the cruelty of some Athenian laws, andthose opposing these laws run into the woods for safety. For example,a case is brought before the Duke whereby a father (Egeus) wants himto sentence her daughter (Hermia) for falling in love with Lysanderinstead of the man he had chosen her (Demetrius). Hermia and Lysanderrun off to the forest and plan to elope together. The forest is alsoa place where people keep and learn secrets. Helena (Hermia’sfriend), learns Hermia’s secret and notifies Demetrius. Thedarkness in the forest makes others lose their way. For example,Lysander and Hermia find themselves lost in the forest, forcing themto sleep on the forest floor. In the forest, people are free to evenworship their own gods. For example, Demetrius falls in love withHelena in the forest and declares her his goddess. The forest is alsofull of dark magic and confusion. Theessay analyzes the symbolism of the forest as utilized by Shakespearein the play.
Shakespearechooses a forest as the main setting of his play. The dark forestseems to symbolize Athens, a city of ancient Greek civilization. Inthe forest, the dark is intense even the characters fear being leftalone. For example, Helena begs Demetrius not to abandon her in thedark (Act II, Scene 2, 85). Additionally, after Hermia beingabandoned by Lysander in the dark forest, she fears the dark couldlead her to death. The fear symbolizes the bad practices found in thesocieties. There are thieves, witches, and terrorists who mainlyattack in the night. The forest also symbolizes a state of blindness,mischief, and madness. For example, Puck uses the forest to practicehis magic. The darkness in the forests makes him put love potionsinto Lysander’s eyes. Puck represents criminals who attack peoplein the night. It is also in the same forest that people plan theirbad acts. Today, terrorists or militia groups hide in the forest toexecute their plans. This is symbolized in Act I where Hermia andLysander meet in the forest to plan their escape.
Accordingto JC Cooper, some cultures use forests as a place of worship, but adark forest symbolizes the unknown, realm of death or secrets.Lysander and Hermia hide their secrets in the forest. Cooper alsoinsists that forests are places of dangerous magic, but also a placeof opportunity and transformation (Cooper12).Dangerous magic is evident in the play where Puck uses his lovepotion magic on Lysander. The act causes a conflict between Lysanderand Demetrius who find themselves in love with Helena. The magicconfuses Lysander, making him abandon his wife to be Hermia. In thegreat Hindu love story of Rama and Sita, forest acts as a hidingplace. Great heroes find a refuge in the forest and re-emerge tofight for justice (Vālmīkiet al. 45).Their time in the forest acts as a period of personal development, asituation similar to the play ‘A Midsummer Night’s Dream’.First, the forest symbolizes a safe place between Lysander andHermia. They hide from facing the severe Athenian laws. The forestalso transforms Lysander, Hermia, Demetrius, and Helena. When theyfirst entered the forest, they were unhappy. Lysander could not faceDemetrius while Helena despised Hermia. Their time together in theforest brought them closer. It also made them realize their mistakes,which makes them confess their secret plans to Theseus.
Theforest also symbolizes freedom. In town, individuals are subjected toharsh trials, strict rules, and painful punishments. The society isdark and negative. For example, Egeus wants Theseus to punish herdaughter Hermia with death for refusing to marry Demetrius. In orderto escape her punishment, Hermia runs into the forest with Lysander.The forest seems to be a safe place without judging or punishment.Shakespeare also uses the forest to symbolize the unconscious. Itdestabilizes Lysander and also returns into order in the same forest.The forest acts as a rite of passage whereby the forest’s disorderenables a return of the end.
Apartfrom using the forest as a symbol of danger and misery, Shakespearein ‘A Midsummer Night’s Dream’ also use it to representpleasure. Mechanicals act a comic play in the forest, a show thatforest also has its fun. It also allows the lovers to live in theirfantasies. The freedom present in the forest due to lack of harshAthenian laws adds to the forest pleasures (Turner75).It is also a place where people go when they do not needdistractions. The Athenian craftsmen go to practice in the forestsince it is quiet and away from town distractions. The forest isalso a symbol of a balance of power between anarchy and hierarchy.Hierarchy is ranking of people above one another. The town of Athensrepresents the hierarchy of traditional governance. The forest ischaracterized by trickery and magic or the rule of anarchy. Peopleare trying to manipulate each other into what they want for theirown. For example, Puck uses love potion for his selfish reasons. Heshows anarchy and hierarchy share some common features. However,unlike in town, the forest is dysfunctional. This is evident in theconflict between king and queen of fairies, Oberon and Titaniasymbolizes chaos.
Theforest is also symbolizing the modern society and civilization. Theforest symbolizes cultural changes in Athens. The town has fatherschoosing husbands for their daughters. Egeus wants Demetrius to marryher daughter Hermia. Hermia refuses to marry Demetrius due to herlove towards Lysander. To escape forced marriage, Hermia runs intothe forest with her lover. The forest is a symbol of civilizationwhere marriage is a result of love. In today`s society, for example,people are marrying each other due to love, but not because of theirparents` choices. Parent choosing spouses for their children was atraditional practice. Hermia’s refusal to marry Demetrius shows anew era in Athens. It is a show that people are abandoning theirtraditions due to civilization. Those opposed to civilization live intown, while those who have embraced civilization are in the forests.Demetrius also embraces civilization in the forests and falls in lovewith Helena. Civilization present in the forest gave people even thefreedom of worship as Demetrius even names Helena his goddess. Thecoming of Egeus, Theseus, and Hippolyta into the forest is a signthat even those in authority are willing to abandon the traditionsand embrace changes brought by civilization.
Theforest in the play symbolizes many things. Shakespeare uses theforest to show the chaos, dysfunctional, freedom, and change. It isalso a safe place for those who have broken the law. It is also aplace where people realize their true self. The forest is also a landof civilization and freedom due to lack of strict Athenian laws. It aland which allows people to question some of their cultures such asforced marriages.
Cooper,J C. AnIllustrated Encyclopaedia of Traditional Symbols., 2011. Internet resource.
Shakespeare,William. AMidsummer Night`s Dream-With Audio.Oxford University Press, 2015.
Turner,Victor W. TheForest of Symbols: Aspects of Ndembu Ritual.Ithaca, N.Y: Cornell University Press, 2012. Print.
Vālmīki,, Sheldon I. Pollock, and Vālmīki. Rāmāyana,Book Two: Ayodhyā.New York: New York University Press, 2015. Print.