In A Midsummer Nights Dream, Shakespeare uses the green world and its inhabitants as a symbol of imagination. The characters flee from reality to escape the laws that govern everyday life in Athens. The importance of imagination reveals itself when the constraints of everyday life are lost in this realm. The fact that actors fall asleep multiple times reinforces Shakespeares allusion to an escape from reality. Fairies playfully create a magical scene creating a suspension of disbelief for the actors as well as the audience. The problems that these characters face are remedied because of the ability of the mind to create this mythical world. Harmony is restored to the characters lives because of their ability to bring fantasy into reality. Shakespeare portrays the power of the imagination as humanitys most divine quality because it allows one to embrace a realm outside of this world and allows one envision fantasy.
In Athens, laws of the society threaten the characters freedom. The sharp Athenian law pursues these characters and causes them to escape into the forest. Lysander states, From Athens her house remote seven leagues;/ And she respects me as her only son. /There, gentle Hermia, may I marry thee, /And to that place the sharp Athenian law/ Cannot pursue us. (I.i.156) Here, Lysander suggests to Hermia that the two of them retreat from society to escape from the law that binds them.Shakespeare uses the forest to represent the human imagination, which is manifested in the ability to dream. He focuses upon the abilities of the human mind to temporarily escape the harsh rules of society. The rules of society do not govern their actions as long as they are in the forest.
Helena and Demetrius retreat into the woods, yet these characters are not led into the realm of imagination to escape the persecution of society. Unlike Hermia and Lysander, Demetrius and Helena retreat into the forest because of their infatuation with others. Helena is infatuated with Demetrius, who is infatuated with Hermia. Helena lures Demetrius into the forest by telling him about Hermia and Lysanders plans. Helena states, I will go tell him of Hermias flight. /Then to the wood will he tomorrow night /Pursue her(I.i 246) Both characters flee into imagination because their love is not returned to themselves. They flee into the forest into the realm of chaos and dreams where everything is possible. The elements created within the forest bring the characters into harmony with each other.
The fairies rule in the realm of imagination. They are mythical, elusive figures of the forest, responsible for creating illusion and fooling the humans. Oberon, the king of the fairies, is referred to as the king of shadows. This reference shows the elusive nature of the fairies, and their being. They are only a shadow of reality again the forest and fairies are seen elements of imagination. Puck is a character referred to as a hobgoblin responsible for fooling humans to jest for Oberon. These characters enjoy the trickery done unto the humans, which can be used as a metaphor for imagination. Ones imagination is sometimes responsible for fooling ones self. The fairies are used to represent this aspect of imagination. A fellow fairy recognizes Puck and describes him as he /That frights maidens of the villagery, and sometimes labor in the quern, /And bootless make the breathless huswife churn, /And sometimes make the drink to bear no barm, /Mislead night wanderers, laughing at their harm.(II.i.32) Puck is responsible for misleading humans and plays on their minds. The actions Puck is conducting are referred to as figments of imagination for which the fairies are said to be responsible. The fairies here bring magic to the humans in the forest when lovers become crossed in their paths. In the minds of the characters, the fairies in all of these cases have brought life to what is fantasy. The fairies, like dreams, have been able to create an alternate harmonious state for the characters by bringing life to the ordinary and mundane.
Though fairies exist in a world within the forest while the humans live in Athens on the outside of imagination, the lines between reality and imagination become blurred towards the end of the play. The fairies brought into the Athenian world to show its importance. Towards the close of the play, Thesius states,
Such shaping fantasies, that apprehend
The lunatic, the lover, and the poet
One sees more devils than hell can hold;
That is the madman. The lover, all as frantic,
Sees Helens beauty in a brow of Egypt.
The poets eye, in a fine frenzy rolling,
Doth glance from heaven to earth, from earth to heaven;
The forms of things unknown, the poets pen
Turns then to shapes and gives airy nothing
A local habitation and a name. (V.i.6)
Here Shakespeare shows the importance of imagination with in society. Intense states of mentality possessed by people allow the outside world to be seen differently. Monotonous every day occurrences or appearances are shifted to become radical. Imagination is responsible for love, poetry, and madness, all of which create an essence of a different realm in society.
Imagination in A Midsummer Nights Dream allows an escape from society into fantasies. Dreams are what allow people to escape into heaven or hell, and therefore are ones most divine quality. Shakespeare portrays this to his audience by allowing the forest to represent the human ability to escape from the coldness of the world into the warmth and majesty of dreams. The ability of imagination is responsible for tricking people and leading one into tricking ones self. When imagination is recognized, monotony is lost and ones mind is brought to life.