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It is a well-known fact that the influence of Ovid and his writings on William Shakespeare’s vision was tremendous. Moreover, the latter writer used some elements from Ovid’s texts in his novels. One of these books is called “A Midsummer’s Night Dream”. It would be proper to mention that the writer called “Metamorphoses” played a major role in forming Shakespeare’s idea when the English author was working on the project. Not only the figures of Pyramus and Thisbe were borrowed by Shakespeare from Ovid’s “Metamorphoses” to create protagonists for his famous “A Midsummer’s Night Dream”, but the English genius was also parodying both manner and the style of writing used in the mythological story.
As mentioned previously, Shakespeare borrowed many ideas to write one of his most famous novels that are called “A Midsummer’s Night Dream” from an ancient poet whose name was Ovid. In particular, some elements of the mythologist’s “Metamorphoses” can be seen in the poem. One of the most evident elements of borrowing implies the use of gods’ names from Roman mythology to call the main characters of the comedy (Shakespeare 3). It is necessary to mention that “Romeo and Juliet” were also written under the influence of “Metamorphoses” because many parallels can be seen in both stories that appear to be interrelated. The English writer took the plot of Ovid’s fourth book of “Metamorphoses” about forbidden love and changed the style of writing to make it interesting for contemporary readers.
What Shakespeare Takes from “Metamorphoses”?
To begin with, it would be proper to state that the poem called “A Midsummer’s Night Dream” was written by William Shakespeare somewhere between 1594 and 1596 (Shakespeare 2). This period was one of the most productive in the English author’s career. Also, there was a belief that the comedy was written for some aristocrat who ordered it for his wedding or Queen Elizabeth I when she was celebrating the day of John the Baptist.
William Shakespeare‘s protagonists (Pyramus and Thisbe) were in love with each other. However, their feelings were complicated and changed throughout the poem. The main characters’ love was not permanent – they underwent a tone of both emotional and physical changes. It is necessary to mention that William Shakespeare described what was called a magic love juice in his comedy that represented Circe’s potion in the poem by Ovid (Shakespeare 28).
Although Shakespeare did not copy many names or locations from “Metamorphoses”, he decided to call these objects differently. Therefore, a reader who is familiar with both texts can see many similar elements in both poems, regardless of their relations to the plot. For instance, the presence of Titania and her speeches about the common disorder of the seasons was borrowed by the English author from his ancient colleague’s text.
Also, Shakespeare uses many transformations in his text borrowed from that of Ovid (Shakespeare 71). The plotline related to the Golden Ass’s head and the obsession of Titania with him serves as a great example of that (Shakespeare 73). However, it would not be right to claim that Shakespeare used only Ovid’s poems as the main source of the writing. Indeed, the ancient author inspired his English colleague to create his poems famous all over the world today. Nevertheless, Shakespeare’s imagination and ideas were also formed by Apuleius, which can be especially seen in the episodes overwhelmed with the atmosphere of forest and magic (Shakespeare 32). In general, “A Midsummer’s Night Dream” represents ideas of many ancient writers as a plethora of similarities can be found while reading the poem.
What Shakespeare Discards?
Even though Ovid was the primary source for Shakespeare’s creation called “A Midsummer’s Night Dream”, the latter writer also disregarded the major part of the “Metamorphoses’” plot in his work. The main difference between the two poems is that Ovid’s writings were based on mythology, whereas Shakespeare preferred to use the main figures of other works as regular characters for his books (Ovidius 5). It appears that the English author did not describe the world of Roman mythology. Instead, he thought that the use of Ovid’s protagonists would be perceived as symbols of love in his comedy.
Also, the main feature of “Metamorphoses” by Ovid was disregarded by William Shakespeare. In his poem, the ancient writer used several stylistic methods to present his metamorphoses correctly and consecutively to readers. Every character was not transformed by the writer to another creature at a glance (Shakespeare 61). Instead, he made the audience feel their presence and contribution to different actions in it. Shakespeare did not use such a method in his writings because he focused on telling the story and parodying, instead of being serious and following all the elements of Ovid’s writing style.
What Shakespeare Changes?
As it was already mentioned in previous parts of the paper, Shakespeare uses various transformations and replaces the titles of certain objects present in Ovid’s poem. It is necessary to state there is not much to change because “Metamorphoses” and “A Midsummer’s Night Dream” are different poems that are not related to each other regarding both style and the manner of writing. The only factor that makes them look similar is the English author’s inspiration by his ancient colleague and the plot of “Metamorphoses”. However, Shakespeare made his poem humorous and parodied the writings by Ovid.
As Ovid describes the change of shapes and different forms in detail, Shakespeare avoids this model of writing and creates a satiric poem that describes the logical error based on judging people or other objects by their supernatural appearances. Perhaps, the main idea of Ovid’s poem was to make readers understand that their personalities could not be changed along with their shapes (Ovidius 234). Instead, the English writer just preferred to create a story of love with the use of particular elements and fragments of “Metamorphoses”.
Shakespeare changes the entire idea of the poem as he does not emphasize on the use of ancient magic and transformations. Moreover, the protagonists of the poem written by Ovid play another role in the creation of the English author. It is necessary to state that William Shakespeare uses all the mythological names in his poem to make the audience feel the spirit of ancient times and Roman gods (Shakespeare 85). It is obvious that contemporary readers knew all these names, and hence they had a better understanding of what the authors intended to say with the help of particular words or sentences.
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How Does Shakespeare Change the Poem?
As mentioned in previous paragraphs, William Shakespeare changed the meaning of mythological gods’ presences by using their names almost like titles. For example, the English writer calls all the messengers in his comedy “Mercury” (Shakespear 44). In turn, Ovid mentions this name in his poem only in episodes with the messenger of gods. To be specific, Shakespeare’s text is more public-oriented, whereas Ovid was creating a piece of art to fulfill the Roman mythology. The English poet changed the main purpose of the writing and discussed his imagination of what could happen in the labyrinth and forest in the twilight. Shakespeare changed the text by making all the metamorphoses look real and usual. In turn, Ovid wanted to emphasize on the point idea all the events that happened in his book could not be experienced by regular humans (Ovidius 154).
Also, Shakespeare changes the poem by engaging his specific style of writing. It is a well-known fact the author’s genre significantly differs among other poets. This difference can be seen in the use of vocabulary and the mood that a person experiences when reading the book. Despite all the tragic outcomes in a number of his comedies, Shakespeare attracts his audience by entertaining them and raising their moods.
The poem called “Metamorphoses” by Ovid inspired William Shakespeare to create several stories based on its characters, atmosphere, and plot. One of these pieces of art is “A Midsummer’s Night Dream” where three storylines merged before the upcoming wedding of Athens’ Herzog Theseus and an Amazon goddess Hyppolyta. The English author borrowed the names of characters from the book by Ovid and changed his description of transformations for the contemporary audience. Also, Shakespeare created a parody that contained elements of satiric humor in it, whereas the initial plot was focused on magic and its implications in Roman mythology.
Ovidius, Publius Naso. Metamorphoses. Oxford University, 1632.
Shakespeare, William. A Midsummer’s Night Dream. Shakespeare, 1596.