This literary essay is written by one of my grade 10 students. She has presented a very debatable thesis statement, claiming that the line between reality and appearance is very fragile. In her thesis statement, she has clearly stated two reasons, both of which are backed up by quotes from the play. She has included very clear quotes from the play and provided accurate explanations and conclusions. Finally, she has a practical suggestion for readers, asking them to constantly evaluate their biases when interpreting the reality.
A Close Resemblance
“All that glitters is not gold,” a famous quote by Shakespeare, reveals how reality may differ from appearance. It is just like how “fool’s gold” may seem like a treasure but in reality is actually worthless. Shakespeare develops the idea of appearance versus reality in many of his plays, including his famous comedy, A Midsummer Night’s Dream, in which characters are often fooled by what they see. What is real often comes across as fake, and what appears to be true is in fact false. The characters’ misunderstanding of appearance and reality leads to a lot of chaos and confusion. In A Midsummer Night’s Dream, the boundary between reality and appearance is easily blurred by imperfect perceptions and past experiences, proving that in order to discover the truth, one must constantly be questioning one’s perceptions and experiences.
Flawed perceptions can easily trick one into mixing up reality and appearance. In the forest of the fairies, Titania thinks that Bottom is the best looking creature she has ever met. Upon waking up after being bewitched by the love potion, Titania looks at Bottom and says, “What angel wakes me from my flowery bed?” (3.1.119) When Titania sees Bottom, she calls him an angel even though Bottom looks like a donkey. This is because her sight is altered by the love potion that Oberon has squeezed into her eyes. When she sees Bottom, she does not see the indigent man, who looks like a donkey; instead, she sees an imaginary creature that can make her fall in love at first sight. Since Titania’s visual perception is misleading her, she does not see the real Bottom. After the potion wears off, she feels shocked when she discovers she has fallen in love with a donkey. With eyes that are affected by the potion, Titania easily thinks that Bottom looks much better than what he really is. In addition to flawed visual perception, one’s defective auditory perception can make it hard for one to tell the difference between reality and appearance. For example, when Puck mimics Demetrius’s voice in the forest of fairies, Lysander believes that he is the real Demetrius. After hearing “Demetrius’s voice,” Lysander exclaims angrily, “he goes before me, and still dares me on./When I come where he calls, then he is gone” (3.2.430-431). Lysander’s sense of hearing makes him feel like it is Demetrius who has called out to him, while it is just Puck trying to trick him. Without the ability to see the real Demetrius, Lysander relies on his sense of hearing, which misleads him to believe that Puck’s voice is actually Demetrius’s. Lysander’s auditory perception misleads him, making him mistake what is fake for what is real. He does not suspect that Demetrius’s voice is actually imitated since he believes what he hears. Lysander’s reliance on his defective perception to discover the reality prevents him from noticing Puck’s trap. Therefore, one’s faulty perceptions often make it difficult to see the fine line between what is real and what is not.
Apart from perceptions, one’s past experiences can lead to the confusion of reality and appearance. In A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Helena thinks that both Lysander and Demetrius are mocking her when they express their love for her. After Helena hears Demetrius and Lysander swear their devotion to her, she exclaims unbelievingly, “O spite! O hell! I see you all are bent/To set against me, for your merriment” (3.2.145-146). She thinks that both Lysander and Demetrius are making fun of her for trying so hard to get Demetrius’s heart to no avail. Therefore, since she has been hurt by Demetrius numerous times before, she is unable to accept his love as true love. The quote shows how Helena’s past experiences have skewed her judgement of reality as she feels like the world is filled with people with malicious intents. She has taken a pessimistic perspective on the world after being hurt countless times and cannot open her eyes to the new reality. But it is not just Helena who is blinded by her past experiences. Hermia thinks that Helena is the reason why Lysander has forgotten her, while it is Lysander himself who has changed his heart under the spell of the magical love potion. Hermia accuses Helena, “O me! You juggler, you canker-blossom!/You thief of love! What, have you come by night/And stolen my love’s heart from him?” (3.2.289-291) Hermia fully trusts Lysander to not betray her, which makes her believe that Helena must have tricked Lysander somehow. She thinks that it is definitely not Lysander who has changed his heart, because Lysander has always been doting on her. Hermia makes the wrong assumption by blaming Helena since she relies on her past experiences to interpret the reality. Since Lysander always gave her gifts, sang her love songs, and sworn his love to her, Hermia feels like the bond between them is as solid as a rock. She is willing to believe that Helena has betrayed her first than Lysander. The cases of Helena and Hermia prove that one’s past experiences can mislead one to mistake appearance and reality.
Therefore, flawed perceptions and past experiences can make the boundary between appearance and reality crumble easily. Since it is easy to mistake one for the other, one should constantly be questioning one’s understanding of reality. But it is not just in A Midsummer Night’s Dream that people fall prey to the defects in perceptions and the biases of past experiences. In the real world, oftentimes, what poses as reality is just a figment of one’s imagination, and what sounds murky and unreliable is the actual truth. Therefore, the onus is on citizens to equip themselves with the necessary tools in order to critically analyze and evaluate the information around them before making a judgement about their validity.