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In some of his plays, Shakespeare uses supernatural powers to bring out the plots and themes. Magic has been used as the means which generates conflicts, end the conflicts or make characters achieve power, material objects, fun and any other thing that they desire. Among the plays in which magic has been very influential to the characters and the themes include "A Midsummer Night's Dream" and "The Tempest". In these plays, he attributes magic to objects through which people are incited to love, to hate, confusion and the inability to distinguish reality from illusion. This paper will look closely into these two plays with special focus on how magic has been used to influence the characters, themes and the motifs. It will also look at the impact of magic on some of the characters and classify these plays either into comedies, tragedies or problem-plays as well.
The play "A Midsummer Night's Dream" describes the story of three pairs of lovers who get married in a mass wedding at the end of the play. Theseus is preparing to marry Hippolyta therefore a group of presenters are called to prepare for the wedding presentation. They are rehearsing in the forest in which King Oberon and his wife, Titania, are spending the night. Oberon is however annoyed at the queen because she refused to give him the page-boy she came with from India and wants to revenge on her. He thus asks Puck to bring the magic flower juice and put it on Titania’s eyes so that she falls in love with the fast thing she sees when she wakes up.
Meanwhile Hermia refuses to marry Demetrius, as her father wishes, and falls in love with Lysander (Grosz 2). The two lovers try to escape but inform Helena of their plan (Shakespeare 15). Helena is also in love with Demetrius and takes this as a golden opportunity to win his love. She steals the secret to Demetrius who on hearing the plan becomes mad and decides to follow them, while Helena is chasing after him (Pennington 9). Lysander and Hermia are sleeping in the same forest where Oberon and the actors are. Oberon notices that Demetrius is mistreating Helena and asks Puck to put the magic juice on his eyes so that he falls in love with her when he wakes up (Shakespeare and Rackham 64). Puck however mistakes Demetrius for Lysander and puts the juice on him instead. Lysander wakes up to find Helena and becomes madly in love with her (Shakespeare and Rackham 66). Puck realizes his mistake and puts the magic to Demetrius who also wakes up to see Helena and falls for her again. The two men threaten to kill each other so as to prove their love for Helena (Pennington 113). Oberon asks Puck to remove the magic from Lysander so that he restores his love for Hermia. Titania is woken up by the noise of Botton, one of the actors whose head has transformed to that of a donkey (Grosz 21). She falls in love with him and when she encounters Oberon, she gives him the page-boy without hesitating. The sleeping couples wake up and go to Athens where the Theseus wedding is and are married. After the performance, Oberon and the other fairies bless the couples and leave the stage.
From the plot of the story, we find that magic has played the central role in influencing the themes and the motifs. Among the themes that are portrayed in this story include love, conflicts and dreams though magic can also be classified as both a theme and a propeller of all the events in the story. The love that is illustrated by the characters towards each other is not really genuine. Since love is supposed to be a two way thing, most of that which is presented in the play is one way; one loves a person who does not love him/her instead s/he loves another person. For instance, Demetrius loves Hermia but it is unfortunate that she loves Lysander instead. Helena on the other hand loves Demetrius who does not love him as well (Pennington 8).
Magic thus plays the essential role of bringing the lovers together. When the charm is applied on their eyelids, the victims fall in love with, Helena, the girl they had both not loved. The potion blinds them from realizing the reality and some think they are even dreaming. The magic is also used to bring conflicts between Demetrius and Lysander. They realize that they both love the same girl and each of them wants to prove his love for Helena. They both look confused because they did not initially love her and now claim to love her. For instance, Demetrius has never thought of falling in love with such a girl because he loves Hermia while Lysander has never even dreamt of her. Thus conflict arises between them due to the confusion resulting from the magic (Shakespeare 67-77).
The solution to the conflict is nothing else but the same magic. When the fight begins, Puck fools these two men by changing his voice and leading them into different ways (Shakespeare 85). This also happens as a result of magic because he has all kinds of magic and he uses them appropriately to control the characters as well as the play. When he has drawn them apart, he applies the juice on Lysander’s eyes so as to bring him back to normal. The magic that is used on Titania is both as a punishment and a means through which King Oberon acquires the page-boy from her without struggling (Shakespeare and Rackham 128). Puck also uses magic to transform the head of Bottom to that of a donkey. Bottom is himself not aware about his transformation and he sees every one running away from him but does not understand why. After the rehearsal, Puck uses magic to restore Bottom’s human head. Bottom thinks that he has been dreaming all along. The conclusion of the play is also magical as the fairies use charm to bless and protect the newly wedded couples (Grosz 35). Magic therefore becomes the controller of all the events that happen in the play.
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The "The Tempest" on the other hand describes the story of Prospero, the protagonist who wants to revenge on Antonio, his brother who has taken over his rightful kingdom. Prospero together with his daughter are sent into an abandoned island so that he does not interfere with Antonio’s ruling (Shakespeare and Dyce 4). When he reaches the island, he finds Ariel, a spirit tied on a tree and frees it and takes care of it under condition that it serves him as a servant. Prospero thus practices magic so that he can revenge on his brother and the friend, Alonso. When coming from the wedding of Claribel, the daughter of Alonso, they board a ship together with other friends. Prospero learns that they are passing near the island and uses his magic and Ariel, the spirit, to cause a storm that wrecks their ship (Khan, Shakespeare and Shakespeare 17). All the people on board are separated into groups and every group believes that the other group is dead. Among the people on board is Ferdinand, Alonso’s son who is also separated from his father and thinks that he is dead (Robinson 29).
Fearing that his daughter may not get married in the future because there are no people in the island to marry her except for the monster, Prospero uses his magic and the spirit to bring Ferdinand into the island. He is now happy that his daughter has gotten a suitor but also afraid their love has grown too fast and asks him to be his servant for some time before marrying Miranda (Robinson 100). The spirit is also used to bring Alonso and Antonio who are on the other side of the island before Prospero who eventually confronts then and forgives them for the mistake they did. Prospero then asks the spirit to ensure that they return to their homes safely.
From this story, magic has been used to control the entire plot of the play. The protagonist is the only person in the play who practices sorcery and uses magic and charm to influence the other characters and eventually the themes and motifs of the play. One of the themes that has clearly been illustrated is that of enslavement in which we find the protagonist using his magic to hold the characters captive. He blinds them with false promises or even threatening them whenever they do not comply. For instance, he promises Ariel that when he does a pleasing job, he will let him free. But we see after Ariel has caused the storm and come back to report, he reminds him that he has accomplished he work and wants to be freed. Instead of allowing him his freedom, Prospero becomes raged and tells him that he is ungrateful and he will take him to the tree where he found him (Khan, Shakespeare and Shakespeare 18). He also has enslaved Caliban and made him his sorcery man by tormenting him with spirits and monsters every time he thinks evil about him (Robinson 32).
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Revenge is also another theme that has been influenced by magic. It is clear that when he was still living in his mother land, Prospero knew nothing about magic and power thus he had no intentions of revenging on his brothers evil deeds. However after being deported to the isolated island, he gets knowledge and wisdom from the books and also from the monster and the spirit. As a result, his mind reopens and starts thinking for the possible means through which to revenge on him. He thus uses his spirit to cause wreck on their ship (Khan, Shakespeare and Shakespeare 17). He also uses magic to capture Ferdinand partly because be wants him to marry his daughter and partly because he is revenging on his father because he collaborated with Antonio to overthrow him (Robinson 41).
Every character in both plays is affected by the magic in one way or the other. Magic has a great impact on almost all the characters. Though every character’s personality is impacted in one way or the other, the people whose personalities are most affect are Prospero in “The Tempest” and Puck in "A Midsummer Night's Dream". Before Prospero acquires the magic and the knowledge from the books that he is given by Gonzalo, he is a very humble man; he does not suspect anyone could be harmful to him nor harms the people around him. This is the reason as to why his brother takes advantage of his humanity and drives him out of his rightful kingdom and takes him to an uninhabited island. Therefore with the help of the books and the magical powers from his robe and the rod, he starts to become evil and plans how he can revenge on his brother.
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He also uses this magic to torment Caliban, by asking Ariel to pinch him, whenever he curses him (Robinson 32). He also uses magic to manipulate Ariel to perform for him some tasks such as causing wreck to the ship and protecting him from being killed by Trinculo and Stephano by causing these men to drink among other tasks (Shakespeare and Dyce 65). Ariel performs these tasks whole heartedly hoping to be freed but he does not get the freedom no matter how much he tries. The impact of magic on Prospero’s personality is also illustrated when he proves through Ferdinand that he has no traces of humanity left. For one he drives Ferdinand into the island so that he can get married to his daughter but he eventually imprisons him instead of leaving him to live a happy marriage life (Robinson 86).
Puck on the other hand uses magic to manipulate the characters the way he pleases. Being one of the fairies, he has all the kinds of magic such as the love portion, the magic for making people comply to other people’s requests; as seen when Titania surrenders her page boy to Oberon, magic to change his voice so as to fool other people among others. He also uses charm to reconcile people and to transform people into the shapes of other creature (Shakespeare and Rackham 68-95). Compared to the other characters such as the craftsmen, Puck appears to be wiser because of the knowledge of the magic. In this society it is only the fairies that are allowed to have access to magic and charm.
Both the two plays can be classified as comedies because they have more or less the same features that a comedy should have. Comedies are meant to entertain people and bring some sense of humor to the audience (Grosz 20). Both plays meet this requirement as portrayed by both the characters and the moods of the stories. The tones used are lighthearted that there is no doubt that everything will end up smoothly. For instance in the "A Midsummer Night's Dream", the lovers eventually get married to the people they truly love while in the “The Tempest” Prospero’s enemies are forgiven and Ferdinand finally get his wife, Miranda. Thus all comedies are free to enjoy without the fear of uncertainty.
It can therefore be concluded that Shakespeare has successful used the aspect of magic in his stories to illustrate how it influences both the behaviors of the characters and the themes. Magic is used to bring about most of the strange and comical situations in these plays. It is used as the element that is central to the incredible atmospheres of the stories. The author uses magic to exemplify the supernatural powers of love as illustrated when the characters fall in love. He also uses magic and monsters or spirits to create an unreal world. However the magic is used only to create humor but not to critically harm anyone. Most of the characters that fall victims of the magic are eventual freed at the end of the play.