A Midsummer Night's Dream by William Shakespeare

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‘Mew’d’ here is an interesting word: hawks with unsatisfactory plumage were confined in tiny cages or mews to make them moult and grow new feathers. Hermia will be imprisoned and transformed.

72 ‘a barren sister’ – the ‘good life’ in this play for a woman is unquestionably to be a fertile wife. Religious asceticism is seen as unnatural.

73 ‘Chaunting faint hymns...’ – everything in this imagined life is faint and enervate.

73 ‘...to the cold fruitless moon’ – Theseus associates the moon with virginity, because the goddess of the moon, Diana, is also the goddess of virginity (and hunting). The ‘cold’ white light of the moon is also evoked, and emotional coldness. Again the moral positive of the play is marriage and fruitfulness. Theseus – as the representative of daylight and reason – takes a negative view of the moon.

74 ‘Thrice blessed they that master so their blood’ – Theseus accepts the conventional religious view, though even this line may suggest that such ‘mastering’ of the blood is unnatural.

75 'To undergo such maiden pilgrimage;/But earthlier happy is the rose distill'd' – Theseus speaks of a nun’s life in regular iambic pentameter, then introduces some engaging anapaests into the rhythm when discussing the earthly happiness of having children.

76 ‘the rose distill’d’ – that is, made into a perfume (which lasts for a much longer time). To distil a rose, therefore, implies the loss of virginity and the bearing of children, so that a woman’s beauty attains continuance through her offspring.

77 ‘withering on the virgin thorn’ – ‘withering’ again, indicating opportunities of fruitfulness lost. The ‘thorn’ adds another negative image to being a ‘virgin rose.’ According to the logic of Elizabethan love poetry, the flower must be picked (virginity lost) before it withers.

78 ‘single blessedness’ – again the accent seems to fall on being ‘single’ rather than ‘blessed.’ This negative view of a nun’s life is appropriate here as Theseus is trying to persuade Hermia to marry Demetrius.

83 ‘by the next new moon’ – so the moon will mark another radical transformation in someone’s life.

99-102 ‘I am...as Demetrius’ – emphasises the lack of differentiation between these characters. One is much the same as the other, but love – an irrational force – has made Hermia adore one and despise the other.

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William Shakespeare
the Unkindness of Ravens If you have found our critical notes helpful, why not try the first Tower Notes novel, a historical fantasy set in the time of the Anglo-Saxon invasions.

Available HERE where you can read the opening chapters.

The Unkindness of Ravens by Anthony Paul