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Jung's Midsummer Dream: How Shakespeare Explores the Collective Unconscious

Added on by D.S. Hooker.

In his article, The Missing Child in ‘A Midsummer’s Night Dream,’ Thomas R. Frosch discusses “Shakespeare’s complex portrayal of childhood and the childlike, (Frosch)” in which he focuses upon off-stage characters, namely the “little changeling boy” or “stolen Indian boy” (namesake of Frosch’s article), the Indian King (boy’s father) and Indian mother (boy’s maternal mother), who are mention only during the first conversation between Oberon and Titania in Act 2, Scene 1. By concentrating upon these obscure characters, Frosch brings to the foreground “a theme that is implicit or not fully developed in the many commentaries on the play that discuss oedipal and preoedipal dynamics, dreams… and the maturation of the lovers.” Through his use of “[Sigmund] Freud… and [Carl] Jung-influenced myth criticism,” Frosch crafts a compelling psychological analysis for Midsummer, particularly in regards to the character Puck, as well as Bottom, being symbolic for childhood curiosity, in addition to Oberon and Titania’s dynamic being symbolic to Freudian parental forces. Yet it is his argument for the Indian Boy’s importance which is most interesting as it highlights him as a “symbol of potentially,” of childhood optimism and the hopes parents place in their children’s existence. Nonetheless, one aspect which Frosch mentions, but only touches upon, is the Indian Boy’s ethereal nature, in addition to his relation to Jung’s idea of the collective unconscious, and what that means in terms of interpreting the forest as not just a representation of imagination but where dreams and desires are born.

One of the main cases that Frosch builds is that the Indian Boy emphasizes the Freudian dynamic between Oberon and Titania, “in that the mother (Titania) seeks to keep the son with her always whereas the father (Oberon) seeks to replace the mother as the total focus of the son’s life and have the son as his servant and second self. (Frosch,507)” We see this directly in Oberon and Titania’s first conversation, with Oberon stating he wants to make the “little changeling boy” his henchman as Titania denies him permission to do so (Shakespeare, 2.1.120-121). “The missing child,” Frosch states, “is also the child whom we may have now but who is missing in the sense that it is never ours as much as we want it to be. (Frosch, 505)” Much like Egeus wishing for Hermia to marry Demetrius, yet her being in love with Lysander, the faeries’ “missing boy” is oppressed with paternal desires. However, unlike Hermia and Lysander, the Indian Boy doesn’t have a presence nor make any attempt to escape outside his “oppressive” situation. Frosch makes the claim that Shakespeare uses the Indian Boy as a “symbolic presence, looming over the world of the play,” and that he represents different metaphysical aspects of what children represent to society. The unborn “child of the future,” the no longer visible “child of the past,” and the “child of the present, who, after infancy, is never as much our visible possession as we want it to be. (Frosch, 506)” While it could be argued that Hermia and Lysander are the “children of the present” becoming adolescence, there are no representations of the former two types beyond the Indian Boy. So this gives Oberon and Titania’s relationship more weight in that (much like the Athenian world being symbolic for law, order and Earthly reason) the forest represents more than just escapism, imagination and love, as it also deals with the ethereal plane of what has yet to become and what has passed before. In other words, Shakespeare uses the forest, as well as Oberon and Titania, as a means of discussing where the world beyond human perception lies, as well as the birthplace of dreams and desires.

By symbolizing the forest as the place where human desire is located, we can look back on Hermia and Lysander going into the forest and see that they weren’t merely escaping the tyranny of Athens but also returning to the birthplace of their passion and longing to be together (“following the root,” if you will). Yet, much like Egeus being trapped within the bubble of reason, Frosch doesn’t go beyond a Freudian analysis of this aspect of the Indian Boy. While he does continue to make larger points, it would have been the perfect opportunity to implement the Jungian myth criticism, specifically Jung’s ideas regarding the collective unconsciousness, as Frosch states he would use in his thesis paragraphs. Extrapolating upon the notion of the forest in terms of the dreamscape, Carl Jung would’ve pointed out that such experiences were taking places within the collective unconsciousness, in that the characters experienced and gained knowledge from events outside their own personal empirical nature (Jung, 99). Therefore, within a theatrical framework, the characters in Midsummer go to the forest in order to tap the well of limitless experience in order to gain perspective on their respective situations. Frosch does, however, lightly touch upon this notion in regards to what India, and the East, symbolizes within the play. “Symbolically,” Forsch writes, “[it’s] the place where things begin.” Stating that through “the divine child [specifically the Indian boy but also any the children blessed by fairies] are manifestations, we make contact with origins and even perhaps with a state before origins, a state of complete possibility. (Frosch, 507)”

Another aspect in which Frosch delves too lightly into Jungian myth criticism would be in regards to the “second birth,” “dual mother” motif or, as Frosch writes while drawing parallels between the Indian Boy and the Greek god Bacchus, “In having two mothers, Bacchus is like the Indian boy, who has both birth mother and Titania, and in being twice born. (Frosch, p.506-507)” Jung explains in his article The Concept of the Collective Unconscious, that myths regarding “second birth” can be found in all cultures and times periods, and is the origin of adoptive godparents. Interestingly, Jung states that there’s “an infantile fantasy occurring in numberless children… who believe that their parents are not their real parents but merely foster-parents to whom they were handed over. (Jung, 100)” Bearing resemblance to how Titania became the “changeling” boy’s adoptive mother, it’s surprising that Frosch overlooked this observation. Granted, while he does mention the “second birth” motif and attempts to use it as a springboard for comparing the “child-like” qualities of Bacchus to those of Puck in the following paragraphs, he misses out on an equally important detail in that the “changeling” boy is more than just an adoptive child of Titania. In terms of the “second birth” motif, the Indian Boy represents the creation myth of human consciousness before being delivered into their respective bodies in order to live a human life. Given that the forest is known to represent all the facilities beyond human logic, it isn’t a stretch to parallel the Indian Boy to this concept and draw such a conclusions. While Frosch implies such whilst discussing the “Primordial Child” myth, stating “in the image of the Primordial Child the world tells of its own childhood (Frosch, 507),” he doesn’t dig any deeper than this. Yet the Indian Boy appears to be as much an apparition, symbolizing the metaphysical consciousness floating beyond logic, as an image for universal childhood. A deeper examination into this through a Jungian critique could’ve expanded Frosch’s small mention regarding the “Primordial Child,” which seems glossed over and use merely as a transitional point while it couldn’t been one of this base arguments.

While Frosch crafts a compelling observations in The Missing Child in ‘A Midsummer’s Night Dream,’ it is unfortunate that his article mostly focuses upon the ideas of Sigmund Freud. Had he used Carl Jung’s theories regarding dreams, cultural myths and the collective unconscious just as frequently, Frosch could have drawn a wider breath of comparisons between the mythic beings and characters in A Midsummer’s Night Dream, specifically Oberon, Titania and the changeling, but also Puck, Bottom and the lovers. Even still, his awareness for the Indian Boy’s importance is necessary as it highlights Shakespeare’s attention toward non-written, as well as written, characters. By focusing upon a character whom is never on stage nor speaks any dialog, we are alerted to the subtlety in which Shakespeare develops his features using Oberon and Titania. And while those features might be small in comparison to others, they are no less important as his presence sets in motion the events of the play.


Works Cited
Frosch, T. R. "The Missing Child in A Midsummer Night's Dream." American Imago, vol. 64 no. 4, 2007, pp. 485-511. Project MUSE.

Jung, C. G., and R. F. C. Hull. The Concept of the Collective Unconscious. Princeton University Press, 1980.

Shakespeare, William. “A Midsummer Night's Dream.” The Riverside Shakespeare, edited by G. Blackmore Evans and J. J.M. Tobin, Houghton Mifflin, 1974, pp. 222–249.