Publications and Research

Document Type


Publication Date

Winter 2007


The Indian boy over whom the king and queen of fairies quarrel is the most important of several characters in A Midsummer Night's Dream who do not appear on stage: his parents, who form with him a missing nuclear family; a child god, Cupid; and a female authority figure, the dowager to whose property the lovers Lysander and Hermia flee. In its narrative structure the play presents a healing regression to the early mother and the primary process. However, the regressive movement has disturbing, as well as adaptive, elements; in addition, while the characters are still in the forest, the play's troubled engagement with fathers has not yet been resolved. The burlesque performance of "Pyramus and Thisbe" disarms the attachment to childhood, presenting regressive modes of thought and behavior in absurd form, and thus helps complete a return to the world of the mature ego; the final act also reconstitutes the image of the father. But adult demystification and even a benign fatherly authority also appear limited, and the fairies return, bringing elements of childhood needed for a happy ending. Puck's epilogue suggests what Winnicott calls the infant's transitional experience, with its healing realm of play between dreams and objective reality, between enchantment and demystification. In the fairies' blessing, the missing child appears, still in absent form, as a child to come, a symbol of potentiality. Looming over that symbolic child is the Indian boy of Greek myth, the child god Bacchus. The play ends with a comic vision of a positive future and of amity with the often disturbing regressive elements still alive within adult psyches. Overriding the ironic and dark notes that recent critics have stressed in the play, that cosmic vision recreates for us a new beginning, including the new beginning of love, in the promise of a wished-for child.


This work was originally published in American Imago, available at doi: 10.1353/aim.2008.0002.

Copyright © 2008 American Imago. This article first appeared in American Imago 64:4 (2007), 485-511. Reprinted with permission by Johns Hopkins University Press.

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