The moon is symbolic and takes on many meanings in “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” by William Shakespeare. As this essay on symbols in “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” seeks to point out, it is not simply part of the background of the play, it symbolizes love, lust, and dreaming and is seen as a powerful symbolic force that determines and affects human behavior and reactions. There are abundant examples of the moon as a symbol throughout “Midsummer Night’s Dream” by Shakespeare of celestial images, but the meaning is never static; the moon means different things to each character, depending on his or her present situation or character attributes.
The moon in Shakespeare’s “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” is not only a luminous, passive watcher in the night sky, but it is a powerful force. It has an intoxicating effect on all the characters and seems to incite bizarre and illicit behavior. Notice that none of the dramatic action takes place during the light of day, and in fact, the “cock’s crow” is like a bell tolling an end to all the wild festivities the night presents. The theme of dreaming is prominent, and the moon is connected with this, as is the darkness of night, under the cover of which, anything can happen and, as the play progresses, there is a blurred line betweenfantasy and reality in ”A Midsummer Night’s Dream” . It is truly fascinating that many of the major themes in the play, such as dreaming, chaos, lust, and marriage can all be traced to the presence of the moon.
The title directly refers to the night, which conjures images of the moon and stars immediately, and the first lines of the play itself invoke the moon. In this case, in Act I Scene I, the lovers, Theseus and Hippolyta look toward the time of their marriage, which is four long days away. Theseus laments in one of the important quotes from “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” by William Shakespeare, “Four nights will quickly dream away the time; / And then the moon, like to a silver bow / New-bent in heaven, shall behold the night / Of our solemnities.” The lovers’ situation invokes the moon as a witness to the pleasures that will occur during the marriage ceremony, and of course, the wedding night. The implication is that the moon is connected to the union of lovers; in this case, both in marriage and body. Interestingly, marriage is closely related to fertility, of which the moon is a symbol.
As I said above, the moon means something different to each character, depending on the situation or the particular role he or she plays in the text. For example, in Act II Scene I, one of the fairies delights in her role as a night creature, “I do wander every where / swifter than the moon’s sphere.” There is something nonsensical about her being faster than the sphere of the moon, after all what does that mean? However, not only does this connect her (and all the other fairies) with lunar imagery, it shows her to be a master of the moon – a master of the night, faster than the any tricks the moon might play on the humans who are under its spell.
It would seem that all the non-fairies in the play are swept away by the effect of the moon. They are dreamy and easily wooed; they dote upon the apple of their eyes and seem transfixed by something they cannot explain, something that propels passions. When Helena admires her girlhood friend, she says, “Your eyes are lode-stars”. This suggests that Hermia quite literally has stars in her eyes. Lode-stars are luminaries that guide and attract wanderers, and it would seem that she has full possession of this celestial quality about her. Not only is this starry image connected to dreaming and love-sickness, it is also hinting that the night, the moon, has had this enchanting effect upon her.
Although I have only discussed the magical and romantic elements of lunar imagery, it is worth mentioning that the moon can also be a force of treachery and destruction. Even though an errant fairy like Puck is just a harmless troublemaker, the fact remains that he exists to “mislead night-wanderers”. It is easy to view Puck in a positive light, but the dark creatures and intentions lurk under the cover of night. This possibility of unsavory ambitions by the supernatural creatures might only be helped by the moon-intoxicated susceptibility of human prey. It is as if the moon is a drug, which renders the characters into a dream-state and the fairies have rule of the night. This could be rather a frightening prospect, indeed.
Titania seems to have a realization of the potentially destructive nature of the moon. In Act II Scene I she broods, “No night is now with hymn or carol blest: / Therefore the moon, the governess of floods / Pale in her anger, washes all the air.” This caused me to think of the moon’s effect on the tides, and then to the deeper realization of the moon’s connectedness to the natural world. Humans are certainly part of this natural world and are therefore rendered prone to its effects. The fairies in this play, however, are supernatural – above nature – therefore unaffected by the wooing moon. It seems that the human world, at least in this play, recognizes the significance of the moon when it comes to romance. It is crucial for the character, Moonshine, literally the moon personified, to play an integral role in Bottom’s production. It is implied that the presence of Moonshine is a reason for the dramatic action, just as in the entire play the lunar presence can be seen as a cause for the lunacy, the general confusion, and the heightened amorous responses.
All the themes in ”A Midsummer Night’s Dream” can be easily connected to the use of the moon, not only as a recurrent image, but as a reason for chaos and confusion of love. Celestial and night images are a constant and lead me to wonder how Shakespeare viewed the human condition. Did he think we were all puppets of one force of nature or another – in some way always reacting to forces outside ourselves? Perhaps, instead he thought that the real comedy lay in the fact that we have a choice; to react to these forces or not to
Other essays and articles in the Literature Archives related to this topic include : The Role of Disguises in As You Like It and A Midsummer Night’s Dream • Appearances versus Reality in A Midsummer Night’s Dream and Twelfth Night • The Significance of the Play Within a Play Structure of “A Midsummer Night’s Dream • A Midsummer Night’s Dream: Analysis of Lines 5-20 of the Epilogue • The Friendships of Women in “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” by Shakespeare • The Significance of the Philomel Reference in “Midsummer Night’s Dream”