The Play-within-the-Play in A Midsummer Night's Dream and Hamlet by William Shakespeare
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This thesis deals with the phenomenon of the play-within-the-play in A Midsummer Night’s Dream and Hamlet by Shakespeare. It takes on the discussion of where ‘meaning’ in the text resides by looking at the play-within-the-play. The focus of the thesis is on the way in which the relation between imagination and reality is created in the play-within-the-play and its relation to the play as a whole. The historical context of both plays have been explored and taken into account when looking at the meaning of the play-within-the-play. In A Midsummer Night’s Dream the play-within-the-play mirrors the play as a whole, both symbolic and literally. The play deals with the irrationality of love and its madness. It also addresses the fine line between imagination and reality. This relates to meaning as it addresses the idea about human destiny. The question arises whether or not there is a force greater than people who alters lives as has happened in the play. Hamlet’s play-within-the-play also mirrors the main plot of the death of Hamlet’s father. Claudius’ response to the play-within-the-play is interpreted by Hamlet as a proof of Claudius’ guilt. However, there are multiple other reasons why Claudius responds to the play as he does. The play-within-the-play could be seen as an insult to Claudius’ wife who used to be the wife of the previous king but has soon remarried, another reason could be that in the play-within-the-play the nephew has become the murderer of the king which could mean that Hamlet has plans to kill Claudius. The play-within-the-play illustrates the importance of a good understanding of the different perspectives of the characters which arguably brings about their motives. The play-within-the-play provokes the tragedy of the plot as a whole which illustrates the possible meaning of the play. The thesis first explores the historical context of both plays as well as the emergence of the term ‘metatheatricality’. Afterwards it gives a close-reading of both play-within-the-plays in relation to the play as a whole as well as the historical context and preparations of the play-within-the-play.