To what extent is Act 3 Scene 2 tragic rather than comic?
This scene could be interpreted as more tragic than comic as Hermia is the recipient of the most confusion and bewilderment. It was only the night before that Hermia was one of the few characters that was experiencing the dream in A Midsummer Night’s Dream as she was in control of her destiny and chose to runaway with Lysander.
However, a turn in events leads Lysander to “hate” her and insult hers complexion and dark hair by calling her an “Ethiop”. Hermia’s puzzlement is reflected in her dialogue which is mostly a series of questions directed to Lysander, Helena and the audience. The repetition of these questions makes the audience sympathise with Hermia.
The most compelling question she asks is “are you not Lysander?” As a result of dramatic irony the audience are aware that Lysander is in a dream like state and not in the right frame of mind which gives this scene comedy as well as evoking emotion on Hermia’s behalf. The lack of love received from Lysander combined with her deteriorating friendship with Helena results in Hermia getting the brunt of the situation which could be seen as tragic.
Moreover, the idea of no real physical violence is echoed as the audience are aware despite the animosity the characters feel; there won’t be an outbreak of violence. Although Demetrius and Lysander set to “prove” their love for Helena all prospects of violence is diminished when Lysander says to both the characters on stage and the audience, “I will not harm her”. This adds comedy to the otherwise aggressive language and childlike insults the characters say to each other.
The hyperbolic nature of Lysander’s facial expressions and delivery of speech, in the 2013 Globe production, as well as the dramatised actions and movement on stage generates comedy as the audience knows that he is acting out of character. The love juice has intoxicated him and he can no longer think rationally which makes the audience laugh.
His extravagant and excessive actions are a device used to mask his otherwise threatening and belligerent language that insists upon a fight with Demetrius, however the audience are aware that Puck will prevent this as Oberon has already foreshadowed “peace”. This suggests that this scene is comedic rather than tragic as they know that nothing terrible will happen to any of the characters.
Close interactions between audience members and the characters on stage creates intimacy between them. For instance, in the 2013 Globe production when Oberon hands an audience member a branch it breaks the 4th wall. Communication with the audience shatters the illusion that the play is real and reminds them that they are actors on a stage giving a performance.
This adds comedic value as this defeats the purpose of a play which is to act as a green world and an escape for the audience. It is meant to transport them on a journey with the characters which is meant to feel real, however when the 4th wall is broken it brings them back to reality which could be interpreted as both comedic and tragic.
Overall, Act 3 Scene 2 is both comic and tragic. As it is the longest scene in the play, that allows it to highlight both tragic and comedic elements. Furthermore, this scene is the epitome of confusion and emotions are heightened which allows Shakespeare to accentuate the light and shade qualities with the characters. This representation of this play is subjective to the director of the production. It can be presented as either light hearted and benign or hard edged and dark through the delivery of the speech, tone, movement on stage, music, body language, interaction between characters and facial expressions.
By Libin F