“Parted Eyes” in Shakespeare's A Midsummer Night's Dream
Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream reflects the complex, even contrary perspectives on dreams prevailing during the Early Modern period. Characters from different worlds—fairies, royalty, and workmen—all discourse on the nature of dreams, and the hilarity of the play is the way these characters and their views collide. But comedy can also put provocative questions to the audience. From one perspective, dreams have an independent, supernatural reality, and from another, they are “vain fantasy.” Likewise, at one moment the audience is caught up in illusion, and at the next, the audience reflects, judges, laughs and applauds from a distance. At the end of the play, after all the conflicts are resolved, the mortal characters leave the stage and the fairies appear and celebrate with music and dance. Then, when they leave, the actor who has played Puck steps out of his role and speaks directly to the audience, breaking the spell of drama to conclude the play. Not only in the epilogue but throughout, the audience has been caught up in illusion and also detached, conscious that the play is a play. Questions about the the phenomenon of “lucid dreams” are part of the comedy of this play and remain unanswered.