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Verticality (society) vs horizontality (nature):

From Shakespeare's A Midsummer Night's Dream


Midsummer Night’s Dream, a Shakespeare comedy in which lovers escape from the city and into the woods to marry whom they like, participates in this stereotype, although not completely:


Society / hierarchy
Nature / democracy
The woods

Source of


King and fathers over daughters
Passions between lovers
Effect of authority

Daughters are forced by Athenian law to either

  1. marry husbands of their fathers' choice
  2. get themselves into a nunnery
  3. die

a. Lovers' passions make them go mad and turn on each other


b. The woods are full of dangers


EGEUS (father of Hermia): my gracious Duke [...] I beg the ancient privilege of Athens; / As she is mine, I may dispose of her; / Which shall be either to this gentleman / Or to her death, according to our law.

THESEUS (king): What say you, Hermia? Be advised, fair maid. / To you your father should be as a god, / One [...] to whom you are but as a form in wax / By him imprinted, and withinhis power / To leave the figure, or disfigure it. (1.1. 38-51)

a. DEMETRIUS: I'll run from thee and hide me in the brakes, / And leave thee to the mercy of wild beasts. HELENA: The wildest hath not such a heart as you. (2.1. 227-29)

b. HERMIA (waking from sleep): Help me, Lysander, help me! Do thy best To pluck this crawling serpent from my breast! (2.2.150-156)


As the table shows, society and nature are already present as setting: society is the city - Athens - while nature is the forest. As regards the sources of authority, to the woods correspond the (democratic) passions, while to the city corresponds paternalistic relationships between king, father and daughter. What is interesting is that in Midsummer Night's Dream both the effects of authority of both hierarchy as well as democracy turn out to be dangerous. As the quotes prove, Athenian and paternal law severely curtails the right of women to choose their own way of life, while passion divests lovers from rational behaviour, and the woods turn out to be quite dangerous.

daniel.candel@uah.es | ©2008 Daniel Candel Bormann