"All Imagination Compact:" The Ambiguous Relationship between Human Nature and Nonhuman Nature in Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream
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Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream probes the mysterious Elizabethan relationship between human and nonhuman nature. The common belief at this time saw nature as an almighty force of God; yet, there were many contradicting opinions as to where humans belonged in regards to the natural world. Two of the most influential works of the sixteenth century, Michel de Montaigne's "Of Cannibals", and Thomas Wilson's The Art of Rhetoric, contributed to the period's ambiguous understanding of humanity's relationship with nature, as the two texts presented opposing ideas regarding nature's presence. Shakespeare presents ideas similar to those of both Montaigne and Wilson’s, leading us to question whether the indulgence of wild human nature within the forest setting of A Midsummer Night’s Dream is the result of a hostile physical environment, or if the natural environment is a reflection of humans’ inner animalistic selves. A Midsummer Night’s Dream allows for both the benign potential of humans living in harmony with beauteous nature, and the malevolent possibility of humans living in brutish nature. This idea is reinforced by the play’s fluid ability to move from one perspective of nature to the other, ultimately representing nature as subjective within our human imagination.