Using Professor Rodes’ midpoint theory , let’s take a look at A Midsummer Night’s Dream.
Now, when I first introduced this theory by Rodes, I summed it up as:
It was his contention that if you counted all the lines in the play, divided it by two, found the exact midpoint of the work, you could find (within twenty lines either way) a speech that perfectly summed up the major theme of the play.
And up until now, I’ve worked on that basis pretty exclusively. This month, however, I’m going to take a little different approach. This month, I want to explore the midpoint as a way to crack a major performance crux of the play.
There are 2122 lines in this play, which puts the midpoint at line 1061, which is 91 lines into Act Three, Scene Two.
Oberon had asked Puck to put the potion onto Demetrius’ eyes–so that he would return Helena’s affection–but the only direction was to look for Athenian garments. Puck had found such a man, and done his job. However, Oberon and Puck watch as Hermia flees from Demetrius, who–obviously NOT under the spell of the pansy potion–has proclaimed his love for her. Once Demetrius lets her go, and falls asleep, Oberon tells Puck,
What hast thou done? thou hast mistaken quite
And laid the love juice on some true love's sight.
Of thy misprision must perforce ensue
Some true love turned, and not a false turned true.
Oberon thinks that Puck’s mistake (“your misprision”) has caused a “true love” to turn, rather than Oberon’s goal: “a false (love) turned true.”
so what? you may now ask, o gentle reader…
This goes to the source of much hand-wringing over the ending of this play. Last week, we discussed the “thorny issue of Demetrius” and the fact that at play’s end, he is the only one in a relationship whose objet d’amour is not just not what it is a the play’s beginning, but is the result of the pansy potion (and one NOT overturned by Oberon). And this has made many to see the ending as less than happy, and Demetrius as more than a little tragic.
This midpoint, however, can relieve some (if not all) of that critical discomfort. Lysander is the “true love” turned by the flower power. Demetrius is the “false” one needing to be turned “true.”
His turning doesn’t CAUSE a problem with the end of the play; it RESOLVES a problem, the problem of Demetrius’ false love for Hermia (a love of money and status?). Demetrius must be turned for the play to end happily.
And thus the midpoint makes the conclusion, the comic happy ending possible.