Reality emerges within the context of the uncanny world, used by Shakespeare to dispossess the severity and climax of the plot and how in varied context they possess similarity in foundation, yet mysticism disrupts the real leaving many of the questions for us to answer. For e.g. Dreams question the very essence of reality by disposing us into the dilemma of our own endeavor. The importance of the technicality of Play within the Play lies in the context it is being used. ‘Mouse Trap’ in Hamlet was the major victory for Hamlet as he was able to contrive his father’s murderer yet on the same hand it was also worst among his failures, as the King’s position created barrier in his path. On the other hand, the play ‘Pyramus and Thisbe’ in “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” is more of symbolic of the lovers dilemma parallel to the dilemma faced by the main character.
Shakespeare very carefully crafted the ‘Mouse Trap’, to show the cause of destruction Hamlet was carrying in his mind as said by Irving Ribner “An unthinking display of passion.”2
With Hamlet convinced of his uncle’s guilt did not learn the acceptance of abortive ‘mouse trap.’ The fiction within the play, within the play, is generated to reveal the suspense of
the outer story as a lesson to the other characters mainly for the villain of the story. It creates a psychological melodrama for the characters of the outer story.
The play within the play “Pyramus and Thisbe” restated the most important theme of “A Midsummer Night’s Dream.” What makes it different from Hamlet is its capacity to bring into vicissitude the players who are fools. They are enacting the part of Pyramus and Thisbe and are the most superficial characters bumbling and mispronouncing words in most of their words and sentences. Names Bottom, Flute, Snug, Snout, Starveling, and Quince, brings the fact that these characters are implied to bring comic relief to otherwise play of most serious nature.
In Act 2 Scene II, Hamlet conceived the plan to stage ‘The Mouse Trap’ and invited the King and the Queen, besides courtiers to see it. The main purpose behind the story was to seek verification of the father’s murder as narrated to him by Ghost. He was getting conscious of the fact that the Ghost he had seen might be the devil trying to tempt him to commit an evil. In the soliloquy with which this scene closes, Hamlet bitterly scolds himself for his delay in executing his revenge. The Murder of Gonzago appeals to him as he thought this play would help him to judge the king better. He said in a rhetoric tone, “The play’s The King Wherein I will catch the conscience of the King.” (Hamlet Act II, Scene II) In his plan, Hamlet sought the assistance of Horatio to keep a close watch on the King’s face as the play is being enacted. There are several versions of the reaction of the king. Some critics said that King did not actually see the play but this version had no validity. He actually was watching the play but pretended or assumed unconcerned. As the play progressed, it became offensive not just to Claudius but also to the Queen and also to Courtiers when the dialogue appeared:
“A second time I kill the husband dead
When second husband kisses me in bed”. (Hamlet Act III, Scene II)
Claudius could have stopped the play at this moment but he did not stop, as he did not want to appear touchy or any concerned. At this moment too, he was thinking it might still be all coincidence and asked Hamlet, “Have you heard the argument? Is there no offence in ‘t?” (Hamlet Act III, Scene II) Hamlet gave a taunting reply: “No, No; They do but jest, poison in jest; no offence’ n the world.” (Hamlet Act III, Scene II) When the king asked the title of the play; Hamlet again replied tauntingly, ‘The Mouse Trap’.
This reply made it obvious that there is a plot afoot with Hamlet behind it. When Lucianus entered, Hamlet’s comments that he is nephew to the King could be taken as another threat and his anxiety about the melodramatic acting of the player with his damnable face may indicate that Lucianus’s lines were the ones he himself wrote. But they seemed to be less effective for the purpose than the lines which have previously been spoken by the player queen when she said,
“In second husband let me be accurst!
None wed the second but who kill’d the first….”.(Hamlet Act III, Scene II)
Now when Claudus watched the reenactment of crime in the play for the second time, he went into the verge of breaking point. Several times in the play, Hamlet uttered obscenities to Ophelia, and several times interrupted the play with his comments. His actions were enough to make Claudius suspicions to rise and with this Hamlet’s fate was sealed.
Play within the play brought to forth Hamlet’s procrastinating tendency. The enactment of the play and the confirmation it afforded was enough to make Hamlet provoked to take action against Claudius but he failed on account of his own incapacity for any premeditated action. This was Shakespeare tragedy and the story Pyramus and Thisbe became laughable, a melodrama turn to Shakespeare’s most virtualized comedy.
The Pyramus and Thisbe within “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” is considered to be the most lamentable comedy as it portrays the death of Pyramus and Thisbe but irony of the fact is that this play was performed at the marriage juncture and is parallel if not similar to the actions of the main play. Both the Pyramus and Thisbe just like Hermia and her lover Lysander eloped. Moreover the incidents that followed mistakenly induced Pyramus and Thisbe to death and in main plot too, the magic spell created complexities among the lovers.
The darkness of night repeated the romantic confusion of Hermia, Helena, Lysander and Demetrius with the romantic and hilarious trance of the characters. The goofy portrayal of the cries of Pyramus and Thisbe made the story of romantic entanglements comical yet it did create impact on the overall plot, A Midnight Summers Dreams ended in happy note with the union of the lovers. Despite of the fact that craftsman bungled with the original story, audience laughed and delighted at the artistic display of artists.
For Shakespeare, act of Pyramus and Thisbe is symbolic version of the confusions that can be created within lovers and it is only to the Shakespeare credit that he made such a stance to bring forth us the difference between the real world and the imagined. We often indulge ourselves in dreams but there is a vast difference between the reality and our dream world. Our dream world shows us realties of our lives but these are merely illusions.
Rohrbach wrote in 1859 that Hamlet would have made his fortune on the stage and Vischer also noted Hamlet’s pleasure in playing Hamlet was certainly one of the tragic players
who had persistent sense of playfulness. 3
“Hamlet” was a tragedy with a little essence of farce in the form of puns on the other hand whereas play Pyramus and Thisbe within “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” is a comic romance with an essence of tragedy as complexities created by Oberon King of fairies and his Queen Titania. Compared to “A Midsummer Night’s Dream”, “Hamlet” kept the audiences spell bound since centuries. In-between the psychological trauma faced by Hamlet, animosity and murder scenario, there is also an optimistic note of the bond of friendship among Barnardo, Francisco, and Horatio which became stronger by their shared experienced to Ghosts. But their friendship acts as contradictory to the Hamlet’s social isolation with a hope of Horatio of becoming close friend to Hamlet. But it was not only the friendship between Hamlet and Horatio that developed but all through the tragic and mysterious circumstances, there is also a relationship between Hamlet and Ophelia, Hamlet and Laertes, Hamlet and Rosencrantz or Guildenstern, Hamlet and Ghost, Hamlet and players, Claudius and Laertes, the gravediggers, as well as Hamlet and Laertes. Their friendship brought to focus linguistic ambiguity within the deviations of various complexities in their nature and their relations.
“Hamlet and A Midsummer Night’s Dream” social entreaty involved mystic appearance along with the social themes of love and endurance, romance and jealousy, ego and rebellion. Hamlet made us deeply involve in the deep intricacies of our own selves. Hamlet’s predicament is similar to the predicament of all human beings. But “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” ended in a positive note and depicted All is Well that end’s well. Midsummer Night’s Dreams is a story of love entangled by supernatural elements, but in “Hamlet”, our main protagonist though took his revenge eventually too died leaving behind pessimism and several unanswered questions.
Bevington, David. “The Spanish Tragedy Revels Student Edition”. Manchester, England: Manchester University Press, 1996
Ribner, Irving. “Patterns of Shakespearian Tragedy”. New York & London: Routledge, 1995.
Rosenberg, Marvin. “The Masks of Hamlet” New Jersey: Associated University Presses, 1992
Shakespeare, William & Hapgood, Robert. “Hamlet: Prince of Denmark” Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1999.
Shakespeare, William. “A Midsummer Night’s Dream.” (Riverside Shakespeare: The Complete Works. Ed. Evan G. Blakemore and J.J.M. Tobin) Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company, 1997.
1 David Bevington, “The Spanish Tragedy, Revels Student Edition.” (Manchester, England: Manchester University Press, 1996) 5.
2 Irving Ribner, “Patterns of Shakespearian Tragedy” (New York & London: Routledge, 1995) 75.
3 Marvin Rosenberg, “The Masks of Hamlet” (New Jersey: Associated University Presses, 1992) 177.