Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Master of Arts (MA)




Antony Hammond




Shakespeare's A Midsummer Night's Dream and The Tempest abound with supernatural beings of various kinds, which contribute differently to each play's unique, but constant ambivalence towards the potency of art and romantic love. The Introduction to this thesis defines the major characteristics of such supernatural beings, especially fairies, profiles the evolution of fairy belief in the sixteenth century, and finally summarizes their cosmological rank within the Renaissance world view. A brief survey of the sociological function of fairies is also employed in an attempt to delineate at least the more important elements of folkloric tradition, which Shakespeare borrows and modifies for his own ends.

Chapter one focuses on the role of fairies as comic chorus in the Dream. Fairies underpin the work's essentially subversive aspect, because they suggest the transitory and tentative emotional satisfaction that the world of Petrarchan art and romantic love affords. Shakespeare effortlessly consolidates what seems to be insoluble material. The familiar Renaissance confidence in the irrefutable power of art and love is present, even while the play simultaneously insinuates a concern for the illusion wrought by fairies.

The next chapter introduces the alternative view of intervention by spirits depicted in The Tempest. The analysis turns towards how Ariel inverts Puck's role as a typically disruptive force, and gives special emphasis to the generic differences between these elementals. Ariel serves a far more complicated function as Prospero's often reluctant, but very effective preternatural stage-hand, than Puck does as Oberon's "jester." Ariel is instrumental in conjuring up the "theatrical moment," which the play ultimately calls into question, by virtue of his own metaphorical status as the "moment" itself, seeking escape.

The final chapter marks the contributions made by fairies to Shakespeare's exploration of the capabilities and dynamics of theatre. These plays seem to embody two tangible extremes. The Dream violates the established rules and classical unities of the theatre, by interposing multiple perspectives in an ironic way. Fairies serve as perfect subjects for Shakespeare, then, in his bid to redefine the barriers between the reality and fantasy of the stage. Conversely, The Tempest embraces, celebrates and objectifies theatre at every possible opportunity. Conventional modes such as the masque are used to create a sense of pageantry, while Prospero constantly invokes Ariel to produce spectacular visual displays and special effects.

McMaster University Library

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