A School Essay For Brit Lit

An Essay By KatieSara // 3/28/2011

 AHH! I haven't been on here in WAY too long and I can see I've missed a lot. There's so much to catch up on here! One day when I have time I'll just sit down and read for an hour or two. In the meantime, here's an essay I wrote for the British Literature course I'm doing in school. I enjoyed writing it because come on, how often do I get to write a school paper on one of my favorite plays? I thought you all might like it and I'd love to hear your opinions on the subject. The topic given was basically "There are fairies in A Midsummer Night's Dream, is the story realistic?" Well, that just didn't seem to me like something I could write a 1500 word paper on, so I expanded the topic into something more workable and interesting.

**************************************

In Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream, the cast of characters consists of humans and fairies. Only three fairies are important; Oberon, the king, Titania, the queen, and Puck, the mischievous sprite that’s always causing trouble.  They interact with and cast spells on the human characters throughout the course of the play. Fairies obviously are not real, so does their presence in the story make the play unrealistic? Strictly speaking, it does.

“re·al·is·tic

–adjective

1.

interested in, concerned with, or based on what is real or practical: a realistic estimate of costs; a realistic planner.

2.

pertaining to, characterized by, or given to the representation in literature or art of things as they really are: a realistic novel.

3.

resembling or simulating real life”

 

According to this definition, A Midsummer Night’s Dream by William Shakespeare is unrealistic, mainly due to the fairies and their use of magic.  However, where literature is concerned, it is far more important for a story to be believable than realistic.

 

   It sounds ridiculous at first, but the two are indeed separated. A story can easily be completely unrealistic, yet believable if well told. If the actions are appropriate to the characters themselves, it can seem perfectly natural and real to our imaginations for someone to do something that our minds know could never happen. For example, say someone were to leave to travel across the world in search of a potent flower and return the same night, just in time to squeeze its magical juice into the eyes of a few unsuspecting victims, thus causing them to fall madly in love with the first person (or beast) they lay their eyes on. Puck does exactly this in Act II of A Midsummer Night’s Dream. It could not be more clearly unrealistic, but why question it? Puck is a fairy, and it is a matter of course that fairies are easily capable of such feats. However, if a human did that the plot would lose part of its believability and charm. Another good example of this is the transformation of Bottom. Puck, in a fit of mischief, decides to give a spotlight-loving weaver named Bottom the head of an ass. As has been established, it works because Puck has magical powers, but more importantly, it makes perfect sense. Bottom’s new head represents his stupidity and obnoxious manner, and that even more than any inherent magical abilities is what makes the transformation believable.

 

   Also important to making something believable is that the events match the environment. Four lovers and a handful of woodland fairies having adventures in an ancient forest outside of Athens is far easier to believe than if the same things were to happen in modern New York City. Another element of believability is language, which has to match the characters, the events and the environment. Take for example Titania, the queen of fairies. In Act IV, scene 1, Oberon removes the spell that made her fall in love with Bottom, and she says:

“How came these things to pass?

O, how mine eyes do loathe his visage now!”

This is how a fairy queen should be expected to speak. That line, as well as all of Titania’s speeches, fits right in with her personality and with traditional fairytale language, hence, it lends itself to the play’s believability. If she were to say something like:

“How in the world did that happen?
Gosh, he’s ugly!”

That would very much contrast with the eloquence expected of queens, not only of the fairy kind but in general. Because a queen is a public figure and leader, and because of the way that queens of legend and literature are often portrayed as gracious and eloquent to the highest degree, one always expects her to be well-spoken. It would seriously undermine the reader’s ability to believe in the character and the play. All of the pieces need to fit together in order for a story to be really believable.

 

   This quality of believability is so much more important in literature than realism. A good story isn’t just meant to be believed by our logical selves, it needs to be believed in. While reading a book about fairies, we have to be able to believe in fairies, or else it will mean nothing. If reading a novel centered around supernatural events, we have to be able to believe in the supernatural to appreciate it. This willingness to suspend disbelief is necessary for anyone interested in enjoying any book, film or play that is not absolutely realistic.  Otherwise one will only see the story for its flaws, and not be able to appreciate the message; one must be open minded. It would be impossible for someone to enjoy a book about magic if they only focused on the fact that magic does not exist, that it is unrealistic.

 

   It is also beneficial for people personally to be able to believe in those unrealistic things. Shannon Hale comments on this in her book, The Goose Girl.

“…If we don’t tell strange stories, then when something strange happens we won’t believe it.”

 Taking that a bit further, it is important from a Catholic point of view. Many strange things happen in the Bible; a pillar of fire, a parted sea, people healed of blindness and leprosy and even raised from the dead. Christians are expected to believe that all these things truly happened. If one cannot temporarily lend their imagination to a fairytale, how can they be expected to whole-heartedly believe in such Biblical events? Moreover, how could they believe in and love a God they cannot see, hear, or touch? Stories that are “unrealistic” are like little secular exercises in faith, which often convey messages of faith themselves. Popular fairy tales such as Snow White and The Seven Dwarves and Sleeping Beauty are often used to teach children the morals of kindness, patience and courage in the face of adversity, and most importantly, that good always wins over evil. G.K. Chesterton said, “Fairy tales are more than true; not because they tell us that dragons exist, but because they tell us that dragons can be beaten.”

 

   On another note, something else that is interesting about Dream as pertains to belief and realism is that the characters themselves express doubtfulness as to the verity of the events that take place.

“Are you sure
That we are awake? It seems to me
That yet we sleep, we dream.”

“…I never may believe
These antique fables, these fairy toys.
Lovers and madmen have such seething brains,
Such shaping fantasies, that apprehend
More than cool reason ever comprehends.”

The title of the play itself expresses disbelief. It seems that the author has taken his character’s advice.  Puck says in the epilogue,
“If we shadows have offended,
Think but this, and all is mended:
That you have but slumb’red here,
While these visions did appear.
And this weak and idle theme,
No more yielding but a dream.”

Hence the play’s title, A Midsummer Night’s Dream; the question is, is it a dream? That is for the characters to decide. The reader, thanks to Shakespeare’s skillful handling of the story elements, is left with not a doubt in their mind.

 

    Realism is optional, but believability is indispensable. What is the point of telling a story at all if no one believes in it? People need stories; people need fantastical, “unrealistic” stories, not merely for an entertaining break from reality, but because fantasy and fiction are just another way of telling the truth. Hence it is of utmost importance for those stories to be told well and in such a way that they can be believed in. All it requires is a suspension of disbelief for a little while.

 

   A Midsummer Night’s Dream is an excellent example of how much more important that quality of believability is than realism in literature. As long the characters, the events, the environment and the language all line up to present a book that is utterly believable, an author can be confident in a job well done, no matter how unrealistic their work may be. There is something to be said for realism, it is very important in its own right and because literature is the study of human nature, it is necessary for that study to even exist. However, in the great scheme of things, for a story to be considered good, it must be believable first, and then realistic if that is what the story calls for.
 

Comments

Very good!  Excellent

Very good!  Excellent definitions and good differentiations.  And I loved all the quotes from authors and stories.  I believe in fairytales again.  :-)

Bridget | Mon, 03/28/2011

"I always wonder why birds stay in the same place when they can fly anywhere on the earth. Then I ask myself the same question." - Harun Yahya

I like Shakespeare. Good

I like Shakespeare. Good essay.

Anna | Fri, 04/01/2011

I have hated the words and I have loved them, and I hope I have made them right. --The Book Thief

Very Good :)

This was a very thoughtful and well written essay. Good job :D

Laura Elizabeth | Fri, 04/01/2011

*************************************************
The best stories are those that are focused, unassuming, and self-confident enough to trust the reader to figure things out. --

http://lauraeandrews.blogspot.com/2014/05/dont-tell-me-hes-smart.html

Navigation

User login

Please read this before creating a new account.