Theseus from A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Act V, scene i:
Lovers and madmen have such seething brains,
Such shaping fantasies, that apprehend
More than cool reason ever comprehends.
The lunatic, the lover and the poet
Are of imagination all compact:
One sees more devils than vast hell can hold,
That is, the madman: the lover, all as frantic,
Sees Helen’s beauty in a brow of Egypt:
The poet’s eye, in fine frenzy rolling,
Doth glance from heaven to earth, from earth to heaven;
And as imagination bodies forth
The forms of things unknown, the poet’s pen
Turns them to shapes and gives to airy nothing
A local habitation and a name.
Brown, John Russell. Shakespeare and His Comedies.London:Methuen, 1957.
If one wished to describe the judgment which informs A Midsummer Night’s Dream, one might do so very simply: the play suggests that lovers, like lunatics, poets, and actors, have their own “truth” which is established as they see the beauty of their beloved, and that they are confident in this truth for, although it seems the “silliest stuff” to an outsider, to them it is quite reasonable; it also suggests that lovers, like actors, need, and sometimes ask for, our belief, and that this belief can only be given if we have the generosity and imagination to think “no worse of them than they of themselves.”
Analyze Theseus’ speech above from the beginning of Act V and the excerpt from John Russell Brown, Shakespeare and his Comedies also above. Explain what you think Shakespeare is really trying to teach the audience member or reader in this speech. Remember, Shakespeare is the ultimate poet, so when he writes about what poets are like, we want to pay careful attention! Consider also, Puck’s final speech and what this has to contribute to Brown’s ideas.
As always, don’t forget to respond to at least one other classmate’s response in this thread.