The form and structure within “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” is very complex at times but equally effective upon the reader. There are many complicated concepts to consider which have made the play what it is; one of the most original, magical, mysterious and thoroughly enjoyable ever written.
The division of the acts and scene was a key element to the build-up of tension, and introduction to the characters and their statuses. The first three scenes each have a different set of characters; Act 1 Scene1 – The Courtiers (who eventually split up into two separate strands and two sub-plots – The Courtiers and The Lovers) ,Act 1 Scene 2 – The Mechanicals and Act 2 Scene 1 – The Fairies. This is interesting as it establishes the three character groups before they merge. It establishes the three different stories and clearly separates them as they have a scene each. It is not until Act 2 Scene 2 that the three groups come together and create yet another story, as Puck, one of The Fairies, enters the same scene just after a conversation between Lysander and Hermia and later leaves after his monologue. Enter Helena and Demetrius.
The exposition through language is an important aspect of the play to explore. For me the most outstanding would be at the beginning of the play in Act 1 Scene 1 where Hippolyta says:
“Four days will quickly steep themselves in night;
Four nights will quickly dream away the time.”
This is a clear reference of her and Theseus’ wedding and is the context of this particular strand – the Courtiers. This extract uses parallelism starting with ‘four days’ and then ‘four nights’ and the repetition of ‘four’ emphasises the particular length of time. All of the action in the play takes place over four days and four nights. The very fact that the play only takes place over four days, or four nights, although there isn’t a dull moment throughout emphasises how action-packed and energetic the play is. As Hippolyta says this in just the eighth line in the piece, we find out straight away that the play shall probably build up to a climax after this four day/four night period. This engages the reader/audience immediately which is very important.
These four strands are each part of the four sub-plots. These sub-plots consist of the preparation of an amateur play, (The Mechanicals), a forthcoming marriage, (The Courtiers), an argument between two lovers, (The Fairies) and a love-square (The Lovers). This love square consists of four lovers arguing and fighting over one another. On the subject of love, we are introduced to the four different types of love; arranged love between Hermia and Demetrius, magical love between Titania and Bottom, true love between Lysander and Hermia and finally family love between Egeus and Hermia.
These four aspects of the play revolving around the number ‘four’ all take place over four days and four nights of action. There could well be no real reason or clue behind the aspect or significance of four but it is probably the only way in which the play would have worked including the ideas of the love square and the four sub-plots.
More important elements of the structure of the play were the moments of tension and the appropriateness of their timing. One key moment of tension is between Quince and Bottom as they each attempt to establish their status. This is the context of the second strand, The Mechanicals. There is a verbal battle for the highest status and control of the group. An argument builds to a climax as Quince exclaims,
“You shall play no part but Pyramus!”
This brings the situation to a head.
The final speech in the play is that of Puck’s soliloquy. Here he basically informs the audience that if they were offended by the play that they should consider the whole thing as a dream, as did Titania and Bottom when they awoke after Puck broke the spell of their love. Puck’s suggestion to think of the play as a dream however, makes the reader/audience do the exact opposite as it shatters the illusion and the dreamy atmosphere within the play as he directly addresses the audience. This is an important aspect of form because it puts an end to the dream in which Shakespeare aims to place people in whilst experiencing the play, whether it be reading or watching it.
The use of humour is important within the form. The plays genre is in fact a comedy and back in Shakespearean times, people went to listen to a play more than to actually watch it so verbal humour was relevant. There are many examples in which humour and comedy are used throughout the play. The majority of the scenes in which The Mechanicals feature in contain a great deal of humour, particularly in one of the final scenes, in Act 5 Scene 1. In this scene, Pyramus, the character Bottom is currently playing in the piece they are performing for Theseus and Hippolyta, is lying dead. Whilst he lay on the floor Theseus comments on the play saying:
“Moonshine and Lion are left to bury the dead.”
Demetrius concludes with:
“Ay, and Wall too.”
At this point, Bottom gets up and explains the situation, completely out of character and we all know it is not in the script. It is highly amusing:
“No, I assure you, the wall is down that parted their fathers.”
Finally, ‘song’ is important in the form as well as humour. The Fairies speak in Rhyme and they also sing. This distinguishes them immediately in the play as different and more mischievous than The Courtiers or The Lovers or even The Mechanicals. The way they communicate is fluent and initially, it establishes them from the ‘humans’ so to speak. The idea of The Fairies singing a lullaby to Titania before she retires to bed is very clever too as it completely conveys her status and how they all look after her and see she is good and well perhaps before themselves.
In conclusion, form and structure and many methods and elements of which, play a huge part in the play, as it builds up to a comic, jolly and emphatic climax where everybody ends up being happy.