Imagination and dreams are a significant portion of psychic activity. Freud stated that dreams represent our suppressed wishes. Consequently, dreams are what people really want but suppress because of some moral rules. Therefore, imagination in dreams functions primarily to represent the real wishes, which we could not have in the state of awakening. Breton in his work Surrealist Manifesto took Freud’s theory to a new level and stated that creative imagination functions as a liberation of unexpressed desires. However, according to their theory, the creative imagination can make a new world not only in dreams. Even in the state of wakefulness people can create new worlds with more or less intentional efforts as a harmless exercise in escapism from reality. Both of these theories suggest that our imagination uses the suppressed or unexpressed images that consciously or unconsciously appeared in our mind. Consequently, creative imagination cannot devise the original ideas and concepts; it can only combine, sometimes in bizarre ways, the images that were already in the mind. Shakespeare’s Midsummer Night’s Dream proves that the creative imagination can combine different images summoned during wakefulness and make a new world. This essay explores the question of creative imagination by analyzing Shakespeare’s play and the concepts from the works of Freud and Breton.
In Surrealist Manifesto, Breton developed Freud’s theory and proclaimed that creative imagination liberates unexpressed desires. However, according to the surrealist theory, creativity can lead to new worlds and realities not only in dreams. While awake, with some intentional efforts, an individual can make a new world. This process is often referred to as escapism. “The sum of the moments of the dream, from the point of view of time … that is the dreams of sleep, is not inferior to the sum of the moments of reality, or, to be more precisely limiting, the moments of waking” (Breton 11). In A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Shakespeare introduced themes of dreams, creative imagination, and love. The reader gets to see how dreams influence the characters’ perception of the reality. Furthermore, different perceptions of reality extend to the character perspectives. For instance, Puck sees the mortal, material world as fool of fools, while Theseus is convinced that fairies and spirits are not real. These two characters and their differing perspectives represent a central duality of the play. Both envision the true reality according to the images they have seen before and environments they are parts of.
Freud based his theory on the fact that dreams show the suppressed wishes. Accordingly, the reality of the dreams features what the individual really wants, but for some reasons suppresses. Consequently, the creative imagination of a dream created the world that person wanted to live in. “The dream creates a form of psychical release for the wish which is either suppressed or formed by the aid of repression, inasmuch as it presents it as realized” (Freud 39). Therefore, in the dreams, the individual can fulfill their wishes and construct the situation how they wanted. In Shakespeare’s play dreams have different functions. Their fundamental purpose is a side commentary on creative imagination. Dreams in the play are a kind of denial which absolves their creators of responsibility for their imprudence. “The mind of the man who dreams is fully satisfied by what happens to him. The agonizing question of possibility is no longer pertinent” (Breton 13). During the scenes with dreams, characters lose control and let their desires and imagination create the worlds where they receive what they truly wish for. Consequently, they create a different reality to escape the cruel world, where they can fulfill their dreams. Furthermore, since they get what they want and long for, this imaginative world is created with things and images they have already seen.
Breton argued that “the ‘reality’ … continues to exist in the state of dream, that it does not sink back down into the immemorial, why should I not grant to dreams what I occasionally refuse reality… ? Why should I not expect from the sign of the dream more than I expect from a degree of consciousness which is daily more acute?” (Breton 12). This statement questions what the reality is and if it is the foundation of the dreams. If the reality settles the dream’s world, does it mean the refusal to accept the dream as a part of reality is the same as to refuse actual reality? As a Surrealist, Breton wanted to use dreams to create a new unique outlook on life. In A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Shakespeare also represented different realities, the power of the creative imagination and dreaming. In Act V, the author used such a literature tool as a play within a play. Precisely, the disordered prolog of Quince reflects the equally distorted reality of the scene. This notion helped to characterize the nighttime, dreamy atmosphere of the woods. Additionally, this assisted in establishing the goal to display the inevitability of dreaming and imagination in the liberation and fulfillment of unexpressed desires.
Breton believed that, just as Freud stated, one should consider the dreams as reliable sources of truth and practical support in existence. He deliberated that reality might interfere with dreams, not vice versa (Breton 12-13). Furthermore, if the reality interferes with dreams, it also supports the idea that even in dreams human beings cannot come up with original ideas and concepts. Creative imagination even in dreams uses images of what was already seen. In A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Theseus is presented as a character who is overly reliant on truth and knowledge. He rejects the power of imagination and vastly prefers proven physical facts. Moreover, he represents the opposition to Quince who wants to show a sense of the supernatural world of dreams, transcending the material world. By emphasizing the world of those two characters, Shakespeare opposed two different domains – the physically grounded world of facts and the metaphysical world of creative imagination, dreams, and fancy.
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“I believe in the future resolution of these two states, dream and reality, which are seemingly so contradictory, into a kind of absolute reality, a surreality” (Breton 14). Breton believed that one can learn to perceive the higher reality or surreal by liberating one’s mind from the traditional morality and rules. Additionally, he stated that human beings can be described as heroic explorers, who can stretch their limits beyond the basic facts of reality and consciousness. He believed that human beings are able to find the strength that lies dormant in their subconsciousness (Breton 10). Therefore, Breton thinks that people can combine the given images into a new and fascinating combination by removing all the rules, restrictions, and prejudices.
In the play, Shakespeare explained that love may seem as a dreamlike experience to most people. Furthermore, such feeling cannot be proven by facts, rules, or rational arguments. The scene of the awakening of Titania to Bottom, whom she falls in love with from the first sight, echoes the Shakespeare’s theme of the dreamlike love. After Titania wakes up, her dream remains in her real life. She cannot clearly perceive the reality of observing Bottom’s transformed shape. Titania cried: “Mine ear is much enamoured of thy note; / So is mine eye enthrallèd to thy shape; And thy fair virtue’s force perforce doth move me / On the first view to say, to swear, I love thee” (Shakespeare act 3, scene 1, lines 122-125). Though Bottom doubts such insane sudden love at first, he states that the “reason and love keep little company together nowadays” (Shakespeare act 3, scene 1, lines 127-128). Consequently, Bottom is the first, who guessed that love and reason cannot live together. Their instantaneous love is only a waking dream, but their feeling managed to reach and exist in the actual reality.
In A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Shakespeare revises the concepts of imagination and dreaming. He successfully manages to transcend the physical boundaries of the real word and engage imagination to create a metaphysical world of the play. The author takes his readers away from reality to the world of imagination where ordinary images and ideas are united into fascinating combinations. Shakespeare emphasized the necessity of dreaming for creative imagination to create new worlds and realities with the help of the given images. Considering the theories of Freud and Breton, Shakespeare’s play proves that the creative imagination cannot come up with original ideas and concepts, but can only use images that were seen already. Freud argued that dreams represent our suppressed wishes. Therefore, a dream represents the world, where all forgotten or suppressed desires become true. However, sometimes the images are featured in unexpected combinations. Accordingly, if dreams feature the repressed wishes and images, the individual must have already seen them although they might be forgotten. Breton further developed Freud’s theory and stated that creative imagination can set free the unexpressed desires. Considering both concepts and the play, an individual can create something new through combining existing images that are not completely original.