Published on May 8th, 2013 | by Thompson0
Comedic Errors of A Midsummer Night’s Dream
I have mentioned the “mechanicals” of A Midsummer Night’s Dream throughout these blogs, and there’s good reason. Their performance of Pyramus and Thisbe is a great example of how the errors of others can and should be embraced, but they aren’t the only ones to err in this play.
Like the Comedy of Errors, A Midsummer Night’s Dream is funny because the characters keep fucking up. The whole play hinges on mistakes. Puck mistakenly applies a love potion to the eyelids of Lysander instead of Demetrius when Oberon had hoped to teach Demetrius a lesson for treating Helena so cruelly. Puck’s mistake turns a potential tragedy into a comedy, as Oberon attempts to rectify the situation by giving Demetrius the love potion. Now Helena has more attention than she’s ever had and is sure both men are mocking her, but just before Lysander and Demetrius duel for Helena’s love, Oberon rectifies the situation.
Another mistake by Puck creates another subplot. He turns Bottom’s head into that of a donkey when he thinks Bottom has called him a jackass, when in fact Bottom was merely giving his name. Then Titania, who Oberon has already love-poisoned in order to acquire an Indian henchman, falls for Bottom after hearing him sing. Mistakes, mistakes, mistakes. Of course, “all’s well that ends well,” and Oberon makes sure everything ends well.
In a way, Oberon guided the players to fear the decisions they had been considering. Hermia wanted to marry Lysander, but her father demands she marry Demetrius. Now she’s happy marrying Demetrius after seeing she could lose both of them to Helena. In fact, Oberon may have been the only player that didn’t learn anything. He gets what he wants in the Indian knight he acquires from Titania, and apologizes for nothing, but he did make everyone else conscious of her potential mistakes by providing consequences (albeit false consequences) to scare the pants off these young lovers. Maybe he deserves his bounty for keeping the peace, but dosing a bunch of people and fairies with drugs in a forest at night is not my idea of a righteous crime.
After recovering from this “trip,” the players are content with their lives due to the waves they thought could be made had they strayed from their paths. This is a great example of Frost’s idea of doubting decisions, and how it’s natural and necessary to do so. Oberon instills doubt in the players, and because of that doubt the players play it safe. And though playing it safe can be rather boring, in this case it saves lives. Schulz pounds home the idea that comedy requires error, saying, “wrongness and comedy are entwined at the roots. And not just wrongness and comedy: also wrongness and art, wrongness and learning, wrongness and individuality – even wrongness and survival,” (320). Schulz is rather optimistic when it comes to error, and virtually ignores the fact that error is also essential to tragedy, as I made clear earlier in this paper.
The mechanicals serve as the perfect segue to my next section because they are forgiven for their awful performance at the end of A Midsummer Night’s Dream. The audience not only tolerates but enjoys the tragedy of Pyramus and Thisbe. The audience treats it like a comedy, laughing throughout, which is ironic given the potentially tragic ordeal they’ve all been through. They are laughing off their own tragic dreams, like recovering from a bad hangover with vodka and grapefruit juice or a stiff Bloody Mary. They can’t believe how silly their dreams have been and watching this hilarious tragedy helps bring them back to the comfy reality of their safe lives.
Of course, Puck takes the stage and begs the pardon of the audience. He hopes to “restore amends,” suggesting all they’ve seen could be a dream. Puck apologizes for his mistakes and those of the players, and that’s how you embrace error.
“If we shadows have offended,
Think but this, and all is mended—
That you have but slumbered here
While these visions did appear.
And this weak and idle theme,
No more yielding but a dream,
Gentles, do not reprehend.
If you pardon, we will mend.
And, as I am an honest Puck,
If we have unearnèd luck
Now to ’scape the serpent’s tongue,
We will make amends ere long.
Else the Puck a liar call.
So good night unto you all.
Give me your hands if we be friends,
And Robin shall restore amends” (A Midsummer Night’s Dream, V-1, 2275-2290).