A Midsummer Night's Dream: Astronomy, Alchemy, and Archetypes (Chapter 4)

Astronomy, Alchemy, and Archetypes: An Integrated View of Shakespeare's
A Midsummer Night's Dream

by Katherine Bartol Perrault

Table of Contents

Chapter 4: Alchemy And Individuation: The Transforming Process Of The Play

Philosophical Alchemy

We have seen how the mythology of Midsummer has illuminated archetypes that Jung appropriates for analysis in the process of individuation. However, while these archetypes represent a modern psychological process as yet unknown to Shakespeare, Aronson states that, "If, as Jung claims, the symbolism of archetypes originates in the unconscious, it may be studied in both the primeval language of myth and the creation of individual artists" (21). The symbols Jung uses in his analytical process derive from medieval alchemy. While the language of Jung's psychology was unknown to Shakespeare, the language and symbolism of alchemy was not; both Shakespeare and Jung are "concerned with the same problems, although under different conditions and in other forms" (Jung, Transference xiii).

Being a visionary poet extraordinaire, Shakespeare birthed archetypal images from the creative images in the collective unconscious that took conscious form in the metaphors of his poetic works. Madeleine L'Engle, who has addressed the issue of the creative nature of the artist, contends that for the artist, this conscious connection to the creative images in the unconscious happens unselfconsciously: in the act of creating the art work, the artist is wholly aware, wholly concentrated in the act of discovery to the point at which she/he transcends time and self (162-3). The artist translates the motifs of creative thought that proceed from the matrix of the conscious/unconscious connection into physical artifacts.

According to Jung's conception of the artist, in his writing Shakespeare consciously accessed images from his unconscious that were primordial and archetypal. It is my contention that the archetypes in Midsummer are also alchemical, shaping the transforming action of the play itself by virtue of their metamorphic nature. Because of their alchemical nature, the symbolic archetypes in Midsummer can be viewed correspondingly from Jung's perspective, as psychic images relevant to the interpretation of the individuation of the personality.

Aronson contends that the diversity of Shakespeare's psychic images reflects "a universally valid psychic constellation which the stage represents at a particular moment in the play" (22). The particular constellation of psychic forces represented in Midsummer is the opposition of masculine/feminine, animus/anima, polarized in the representations of Ophiuchus/Virgo, Theseus/Hipployta and Titania/Oberon. The psychological action of the play dissolves the elemental polarization, transforming it in a process represented through alchemical symbolism, which leads the characters from division to unity.

The influence of medieval alchemy upon Shakespeare's poetry has been thoroughly delineated in works by Linda Carney, Bettina Knapp, and Luminitsa Niculescu in regard to the Sonnets, the tragedies, The Tempest, and some of his darker comedies. Alchemy was not only a medieval chemical science but also a philosophy, "the aims of which were the transmutation of base metals into gold and the discovery of a panacea. Alchemy was based on the assumption of the essential unity of all matter" (O. Campbell 10). It proliferated during the Middle Ages and throughout the late Renaissance, in a combination of Neo-Platonic metaphysics (the harmonizing influence of the planets and stars upon man) with Paracelsan chemistry. According to Singer, "The mythological terminology [of alchemy] suggested processes in which the material itself represented for the alchemists the workings of the entire universe as well as providing a description of the inner experience of man the microcosm" (98).

Esoteric alchemy was evident in the writings of Geoffrey Chaucer1 (Read 29) and was still popular in Shakespeare's day, as seen in the writings of Robert Fludd, who stated that alchemy "really deals with the joining of the elements, the proportions of light and weight in the stars, and their influence on our terrestrial world"2 (Debus 6). Ben Jonson's satire of alchemical excesses in his play The Alchemist was "framed for audiences well versed in the imagery of alchemy and familiar with the alchemical vocabulary" (Debus 39-40). Queen Elizabeth supported the patronage of John Dee, noted mathematician and astrologist (O. Campbell 11).

Alchemical imagery as a metaphor for the transformation of the human spirit found its way into Shakespeare's poetry. Linda Carney asserts in Alchemy in Selected Plays of Shakespeare that, apart from its scientific practice,

Alchemy, as a philosophical system incorporating elements of religion, psychology, and myth, provided a rich matrix of imagery and associations. [It was] an essentially dramatic and poetic complex of ideas suggesting the possibilities of transformation. (i)

Seen from an alchemical perspective, the transforming elements of Midsummer reveal Shakespeare's use of the medieval metaphors of the alchemical marriage. As archetypal images, these elements are manifest not only in Shakespeare's literature, but also in the imagery of medieval paintings and alchemical texts, as well as in modern paintings by Marc Chagall, whose "'magical chaos' immerses us in a world of illusions and visions' (Baal-Teshuva 73).

The Coniunctio: The Alchemical Symbolism of Individuation

Jung states, "man must not dissolve into a whirl of warring possibilities and tendencies imposed on him by the [disintegration of the] unconscious, but must become the unity that embraces them all" (Transference 33). I have made previous reference to the alchemical image of the coniunctio, which Jung contends is the primary image of the opus magnum of the unifying process of alchemy, the mystic marriage. For alchemists, the image of the coniunctio "served on the one hand to shed light on the mystery of chemical combination, while on the other it became the symbol for the unio mystic, since, as a mythologem, it expresses the archetype of the union of the opposites" (Jung, Transference 5).

As symbols, images associated with the process of the coniunctio surface from the unconscious as psychic content in the form of projections upon concrete persons and situations. Jung states, "Many projections can ultimately be integrated back into the individual once he has recognized their subjective origins" (Transference 6). In Midsummer, the primary projection or transference of psychic material may be seen in Theseus's projection of his unintegrated anima on Hippolyta, represented in the unconscious fairy world of the play in Titania and her inappropriate possession of the changeling boy, signifying an imbalance in the integration between his anima and animus (see Chapter III, 97-99). Until Theseus can successfully integrate his anima with his animus, coniuncto—and subsequently resolution, through the reconciliation of opposites—cannot occur in the psychic world of the play.

In psychotherapy, the process of individuation begins when unconscious contents become conscious, and are examined by doctor and patient in the analytic process. These unconscious contents often surface and are identified through the contents of dreams, which Edinger contends embody alchemical archtypes (Edinger, Coniunctio 9). In The Compensatory Psyche, Coursen states:

For Jung the dream assumes a compensatory stance vis á vis consciousness: it indicates limitations, perhaps even errors in our waking orientation, providing a deep resource for a human experience too often defined as merely conscious. To accept a dream's reality and to interpret its symbolism is to permit ancestral, even prehistoric, energy to flow upwards into the quietly desperate lives lived by the mass of men. Jung likens dreams to drama, a kind of play conducted by the various personas within us, a play obviously not directed by consciousness, but propelled onto the inner stage of our sleeping both by representations of conscious content, on the level of what Jung calls the "personal unconscious," and by a deeper human system of intention that Jung, of course, calls "the collective unconscious." [. . .] For Jung, dreams are often analogous to the stories that earliest man told to explain the mystery of his existence. The dream suggests to us that we may be the opposite of what our ego believes we are. The dream, then, permits us to become other than and much more than our ego suggests we are. The dream represents the depth and breadth of our potentiality." (9, 10)

Shakespeare makes frequent use of the dream as a plot device as well as metaphor in his plays (i.e., Macbeth, Hamlet, Julius Caesar) and Midsummer is no exception. It is through the construct of the dream aspect of the play embodied by the fairy wood that the wealth of psychic symbols comes to the foreground of the play. At the beginning of Midsummer, Theseus states,

Hippolyta, I woo'd thee with my sword,
And won thy love doing thee injuries;
But I will wed thee in another key,
With pomp, with triumph, and with revelling.
(I.i.16-19, emphasis added)

The fact that Theseus consciously recognizes that there is a polarity, in his relationship with Hippolyta and desires to affect change, signifies that unconscious psychic contents are breaking through to the surface and the conscious personality is prepared to begin the process of analyzing and integrating them. The loss of conscious energy at the beginning of the play, represented by the brevity of the scene at the Athenian court, signals the beginning of the individuation process as consciousness is subsumed by the eruption of the unconscious world of the fairy wood, which dominates the action of the play in Acts II, III, and IV.

Individuation through the Alchemy of the Play

In alchemical symbolism, the mystic marriage, or coniunctio, occurs between two symbolic forms of the King and Queen, represented by Sol and Luna, or Sun and Moon. Jung states, "The factors which come together in the coniunctio are conceived as opposites, either confronting one another in enmity or attracting one another in love. To begin with they form a dualism" (Edinger, Coniunctio 10). I have already discussed the astronomical significance of these dualistic symbols in Midsummer, but it is important to note that they are also the key symbols in the alchemical marriage, representing a series of dualisms held in oppositional tension:

Theseus Hippolyta
King Queen
Sol Luna
Gold Silver
Dry Moist
Masculine Feminine

Edinger states that the opposites are "the dynamo of the psyche," and that "simultaneous experience of opposites and the acceptance of that experience" constitutes consciousness, or integration of the personality (Coniunctio 12). According to Jung, the "king and queen play cross roles and represent the unconscious contra-sexual side of the adept and his soror" (Jung, Transference 58), as the integration of opposites is symbolically accomplished through both masculine and feminine principles: through the adept (male assistant, partner, who works with the projected anima), and the soror (female assistant, partner, who works with the projected animus). Jung diagrams this "marriage quaternio" (to which I add the relationships of the adept [Theseus/Oberon]) and his soror [Hippolyta/Titania] from Midsummer) as follows:

Figure 4.1: Relationship of adept and soror to projected animus and anima (Jung, Transference 59, 60), applied to the relationships in Midsummer.

The quaternity of relationships in Figure 4.1 indicates many possibilities. According to Jung, "a" indicates "an uncomplicated personal relationship such as that of a man to a woman" (59). In Midsummer, this may be represented in the conscious realm by the primary relationship of Theseus to Hippolyta.

"b," according to Jung, represents the relationship of the "man to his [projected] anima and of the woman to her [projected] animus" (59); in Midsummer, Titania represents Theseus's projected anima in the unconscious, and Oberon represents Hippolyta's projected animus in the unconscious.

"c" represents a "relationship of anima to animus and vice versa" (59), such as the relationship that exists in the unconscious world of Midsummer between Oberon to Titania.

"d" represents a "relationship of the woman's animus to the man (which happens when the woman is identical with her animus)" (59); in Midsummer, this is shown in the relationship between Hippolyta's projected animus, Oberon in relationship to Theseus. This exemplifies her identification with the masculine, warrior aspect and unintegrated anima. "d" also exemplifies the relationship of "the man's anima to the woman (which happens when the man is identical with his anima)" (59); in Midsummer, this is shown in Theseus's projected anima, embodied in Titania—who, associated with Hippolyta the Amazon, represents his anima that is unbalanced, as he denies its feminine power and influence.

Jung's schema between the conscious and unconscious and soror and adept represents possible anima/animus oppositions within the psyche. In Midsummer, the process of coniunctio—integrating the opposites of animus and anima—occurs in approximately four alchemical stages3 that correspond to the process of individuation: nigredo—which parallels the rites of courtly love and the Dionysian rites of passage, putrefactio (putrefaction, death), albedo (rebirth), and renovatio (renewal, reintegration into society).

Nigredo: Courtly Love/Dionysian Rites of Passage

The alchemical process is basically a model of transformation that breaks down matter (or spirit) to its primal nature, and then recombines and rebuilds it into a more perfect form. The alchemical stage of the nigredo represents the preliminary stage of analysis in which the unconscious contents of the psyche may be consciously perceived. In Midsummer, this stage is represented in the transition from the conscious light of day at the Athenian court to the unruly time of the dark fairy realm at the stage of the dangerous new moon, representing the unconscious. That the unconscious is breaking through to consciousness is signaled by the presence of Mercurius/Puck, who initiates the process (II.i.1) in the descent into the prima materia—the elemental, undifferentiated chaos of psychic material represented by the wood.

Nigredo means "blackening" and signifies the utter blackness of elemental chaos. According to Singer, the nigredo "has its parallel in mystical literature as the 'dark night of the soul' or in mythology as the descent into the underworld [as in Demeter's descent to Hades to retrieve Kore]. It is the bottom of the pit, where disorientation and weakness and hopelessness are the quality of life" (101; brackets, mine). Unlike Bottom's dream, however, there is a depth to be sounded in this chaos in which, through the alchemical work of dissolution, putrefaction, whitening, and renewal, the reconciliation of opposites (coniunctio) may occur and take shape and form in the consciousness as the integrated personality. The stage of the nigredo, which occurs at the dark of the moon, is essential to the process, or differentiation will not be achieved. In Midsummer, the symbolic interaction of the play's archetypes in the rite of passage from singleness to marriage embodies the play's alchemical theme of transformation, beginning with the lovers' descent into the dark night of the fairy wood.

Regarding the nigredo, Jung contends that "dreams occur about this time, announcing the appearance of the transference" of psychic phenomenon (the projected animus or anima), often in the guise of "an erotic or some other ambiguous situation" (Transference 19). In Midsummer, this is manifested in the flight of Lysander and Hermia to conjugal freedom in the wood as well as the libidinal power struggle between Titania (Theseus's projected anima) and Oberon (Hippolyta's projected animus), as Titania denies Oberon conjugal pleasures by virtue of her fascination with the changeling boy.

Jung contends that, "Once an unconscious content is constellated," it creates an illusory atmosphere that "leads to continual misinterpretations and misunderstandings" (23). As the psychic energy of the trickster works to heat up the prima materia, both good and evil—as well as light and dark aspects of the personality—are stirred up, then distilled, separated, and ultimately purified in the dark, shadowy blackness of the nigredo. This is seen in the four Athenian lovers' interminable confusion, precipitated in the forest by Puck's (Mercurius's) mischievous use of the elixir, love-in-idleness, resulting in the tangle of cross-purposes among them.

Psychologically, the nigredo in Midsummer also coincides with the progression of the four lovers—Lysander/Hermia and Demetrius/Helena—in their rite of passage from singleness to marriage. Interestingly enough, in each couple, one of the names represents a dual of an alchemical archetype—Hermia (feminine), from Hermes (masculine), the mercurial trickster; and Demetrius (masculine), from Demeter (feminine), who descends to the underworld seeking to retrieve the one she loves. Certain archetypal parallels may be drawn from these similarities, such as the tricks played upon Hermia in the wood via Puck's machinations, and Demetrius' and Helena's descent into the underworld of the forest—he to seek Hermia, she to win Demetrius.

The four Athenian lovers also allegorically represent yet another alchemical quaternity. Functionally, however, their journey through the wood specifically manifests the symbolic chemical process of the breaking down or dissolutio of the masculine/feminine opposition in the nigredo stage; as Jung states, "The specifically alchemical projection looks at first sight like a regression: god and goddess are reduced to king and queen, and these in turn look like mere allegories of chemical substances which are about to combine" (Transference 68). In Midsummer, this dissolution can be seen as a regression from Ophiuchus and Virgo (god and goddess), reduced to Theseus and Hippolyta (king and queen), reduced to the four Athenian lovers, who are reduced even further to theriomorphic representations of themselves: ass, spaniel, serpent, acorn, etc. Alchemically, this regression is allegorical, an essential part of the opus, as the renovatio—the re-formation of the elements into a new state—cannot occur until the primary elements are first broken down, or dissolved.

In the rite of passage, this process occurs as the four lovers begin the transition from childhood to adulthood, from singleness to marriage, from ego to self, in, as Jung asserts, the "dissolution" of one's childhood state and establishment of one's personality and place in society (Structure Psyche 392). Victor Turner delineates this initial stage in the rite of passage as the "separation phase" (24), in which the lovers leave the influence of the city and enter the wood (24).

This aspect of the lovers' journey correlates to the May Day rites of courtly love (Figure 4.2). In IV.i.131-2, when Theseus and Hippolyta, out hunting, discover the lovers asleep in the forest, Theseus comments, "No doubt they rose up early, to observe the rite of May." The "rite of May" was formalized in the practices of courtly love during the Middle Ages and consisted of a ritual journey (often incorporating the hunt) into the country made by lovers in the late spring (Longnon and Cazelles 164; Pérez-Higuera 192-7).

Figure 4.2: Courtly love: the hunt. Both knight and lady are on horseback, opposite one another with hunting dogs at their feet. (Pérez-Higuera 205) Frescoe of the months—dei mesi; "Su concessione del Castello del Buonconsiglio, Trento." Italy. 15th century.

In The Medieval Art of Love: Objects and Subjects of Desire, Michael Camille states, "Astrology came to rule all aspects of everyday life in this period. Not only medicine and politics were influenced by the stars, so too was love's course. In medieval psychological terms one's personality and capacity for love were conditioned by the planets" (87). Shakespeare's metaphoric use of lunacy in association with the rites of courtship guides the chaotic journey the four lovers undertake into the darkened wood at night.

While critics such as R. A. Foakes and Harold Brooks have seen the major theme of the play as the resolution of this lunacy consummated in marriage "with all the couples moving towards stability," Gary Jay Williams asserts that "seeking comfortable closure and domestic and state stability at the end of the play leads us away from recognition of the play's constantly figuring of complex gender relations and its comic but sometimes unsettling representations of our precarious constructions of reality" (22-3). Williams sees no connection between the transformation of the lovers from "sensual to neo-Platonic love, from irrational love to rational marriage and a stable society under a strong ruler" and the exploration of gender relations which occurs in the midst of this transition. Alchemically, Jung contends that what is happening in the nigredo stage is the breaking down of the personality, of identity, of gender (animus/anima) in the transitional rite of passage of the youth from virginity to marriage:

The individual's specious unity that emphatically says "I want, I think," breaks down under the impact of the unconscious. So long as the patient can think that somebody else (his father or mother) is responsible for his difficulties, he can save some semblance of unity. But once he realizes that he himself has a shadow, that his enemy is in his own heart, then the conflict begins and one becomes two. Since the "other" will eventually prove to be yet another duality, a compound of opposites, the ego soon becomes a shuttlecock tossed between a multitude of "velleities," [vacillations] with the result that there is an "obfuscation of the light," i.e., consciousness is depotentiated and the patient is at a loss to know where his personality begins or ends. It is like passing through the valley of the shadow. (Transference 34)

In Midsummer, we see how Hermia might blame her father for her problems, as he forbids her love for Lysander (I.i.22-45). In the progression of the play, the elements of personality begin to break down in the dissolatio of the wood. One way this is seen in Midsummer is in the relationship of Hermia and Helena. Prior to the descent into the psychic underworld of the wood, Hermia and Helena were both quite sure of themselves and were "playfellows" who were quite attached to one another (I.i.214-220). However, in the throes of passion and the tides of change, each girl becomes tossed upon the waves of chaos in the wood and their previous amity (anima association) becomes dispelled (III.ii), preparing each of them to assimilate the animus represented correspondingly by Demetrius and Lysander in the ritual of marriage. Demetrius and Lysander, on the other hand, enter the wood at cross purposes, both seeking Hermia's love; but their purposes are distorted by the work of Puck, who administers the mercurial elixir (Figure 4.3), love-in-idleness, until a harmonious balance of anima/animus can be restored among all four of the lovers. According to Jung,

The integration of unconscious contents is expressed in the idea of the elixir, the medicina catholica or universalis, [. . .] the health-giving fruits of the philosophical tree. [. . .] Some of them are decidedly ominous, but no less characteristic, such as succus lunariae or lunatica (juice of the moon-plant [an allusion to madness]) aqua Saturni [. . .] poison, scorpion, dragon, etc. (Transference 48).

The lovers' reconciliations are thus integrally dependent upon their entrance into and passage through the liminal space of transformation that the wood represents.

Figure 4.3: Called the "flower of wisdom," the philosophical fruits are represented by the white lunar rose (left), the red solar rose (right) and the mysterious blue rose (center) They spring from the work of Mercurius—represented by the dragon contained within the vessel or womb of the opus. The six-pointed star represents the reconciliation of the opposites, masculine/feminine. (Roob 420). H. Reussner, Pandora, Basle. 1582.

In Midsummer, the lovers are clearly separated from their daily, rational routines as they leave the city and enter the wood, a supernatural realm that defies the normal time constraints of theatrical convention and is ordered by the cosmic forces of the moon and stars. As such, it serves as the site of the ritual transformation, or metamorphosis, of the lovers. According to Arnold van Gennep in Rites de Passage, there are three phases which occur in a rite of passage: separation, transition, and incorporation. In From Ritual to Theatre: The Human Seriousness of Play, Victor Turner delineates the function of the separation phase, which is what the lovers experience as they enter the woods: "The first phase of separation clearly demarcates sacred space and time from profane or secular space and time. [. . .] there must be in addition a rite which changes the quality of time also, or constructs a cultural realm which is defined as 'out of time.'"4 (24)

Figure 4. 4: Lovers with a Half-Moon. While the title suggests the moon is half-full, it is obviously at the stage of the crescent, or new moon, under which the lovers frolic. Marc Chagall, 1926-7. © 2001 Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York/ADAGP, Paris.

As the lovers move more deeply into the magical woodland (Figure 4.4), they move into the next phase of the rite of passage, which Turner describes:

During the intervening phase of transition, called by Van Gennep "margin" or "limen" (meaning "threshold" in Latin), the ritual subjects pass through a period and area of ambiguity, a sort of social limbo; [. . .] blurring and merging of distinctions may characterize liminality; [. . .] liminal initiands are often considered to be dark, invisible, like the sun or moon in eclipse or the moon between phases, at the "dark of the moon"; they are stripped of names and clothing, smeared with the common earth rendered indistinguishable from animals. They are associated with such general oppositions as life and death, male and female, food and excrement, simultaneously, as they are at once dying from or dead to their former status and life, and being born and growing into new ones. (24, 26; emphasis added)

It is in this period of transition that the lovers experience gender confusion, the blurring of personalities, theriomorphic and anthropomorphic associations: in essence, the loss of identity. The lack of characterization of the lovers has been a frequent complaint in the play's criticism, "that we cannot tell the young lovers apart" (Williams 19). Their descent into the chaotic, liminal space in the rite of passage offers an explanation for their apparent lack of identifying features. The lovers are metaphorically invisible to themselves, as well as to society, while in the liminal space. Turner's allegorical reference to the moon's phase further connects the process of their transformation to the symbolism utilized in Jung's alchemical psychology (von Franz 162-3).

In Midsummer, the dissolatio reaches its bottom in the symbolic coniunctio that takes place between Bottom and Titania (Figure 4.5). In the liminal stage of the nigredo, Bottom's hermetic role in the process is that of the vessel for the play's symbolic coniunctio. Jung states,

There is in the coniunctio a union of two figures, one representing the daytime principle, i.e., lucid consciousness, the other a nocturnal night, the unconscious. [. . .] Nor does the coniunctio take place with the personal partner; it is a royal game played out between the active, masculine side of the woman (the animus) and the passive, feminine side of the man (the anima). (Transference 98-9)

Figure 4.5: The Dream. Chagall's painting of the symbolic coniunctio between Bottom and Titania—under the influence of the moon—shows Titania's entire abandonment, her energy dissolved by the process, while the ass remains, as does Bottom, nonchalantly the same. Marc Chagall, 1927. © 2001 Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York/ ADAGP, Paris.

This parodic coniunctio represents the symbolic elements of the union of the opposites: Titania represents the unconscious projected anima of Theseus, who in turn projects her imbalanced animus/anima onto Bottom (she views him as an ass, representing her mis-appropriation of masculine power). Titania cannot unite with Oberon, because he is also an agent of the unconscious world of the play. Thus she joins with Bottom—who acts as the shape-shifting mercurial vessel—who, from the daytime world of Athens, represents the daytime principle. In the coniunctio, Bottom projects his anima (passive feminine side, represented by his docile libido) onto Titania. Through this coniunctio, each assimilates the psychic property of the other. Bottom, something of an ass to begin with, and as hermetic agent of transformation rather than the material of it, shows little change from what he was before. More importantly, Titania relinquishes her inappropriate grip on masculine power, and instead assimilates the passive feminine strength of the animus. Titania's integration of her anima in the symbolic coniunctio has a startling effect in the conscious world of Midsummer: this results in Theseus's considerable submission to and cooperation with Hippolyta in the hunting scene, and is evident throughout the rest of the play.

Chagall's painting, Dedicated to My Fiancée (Figure 4.6) could be seen as an illustration of the literal dismemberment (as in the Dionysian rite) of the inappropriate anima in the dissolutio of the nigredo.

Figure 4.6: Dedicated to My Fiancée. Marc Chagall, 1911. © 2001 Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York/ ADAGP, Paris.

According to H.M. Chadwick, 5 "Theriomorphism plays a very prominent part in the religious practices and conceptions of primitive peoples, and we hear not infrequently of a struggle between a god or national hero and some theriomorphic being whose sanctuary and 'attributes' he appears to have taken over" (OED 913-4). In view of this assessment, in Midsummer, the theriomorphic implications are evident in the national hero's (Theseus's) historic battle with the theriomorphic Minotaur, whose labyrinth (sanctuary)—associated with the ritual sacrifice of maidens—parallels that of the fairy wood, into which maidens also adventure. It might be surmised that Theseus takes on the attributes of the Minotaur and its ritual sacrifice in the alchemical, Taurean aspect of the play, as his projected anima is ritually dismembered (as in the Dionysian rite), dissolved in the wood during the nigredo and putrefactio, to be reconfigured and assimilated during the stages of albedo and renovatio.


As we have seen, in Midsummer the bacchanalian rite of May in conjunction with the influence of midsummer's eve propels the lovers beyond their normal societal structure as they embark upon the transforming journey of ritual death and rebirth in what Nietzsche would refer to as a "Dionysian" rite (Nietzsche 173-187). Jung contends that it needed Nietzsche to reveal the Dionysian mystery to the modern world, in which "The ancestral spirits play an important part in primitive rites of renewal" (Psychology and Alchemy 89, 131). In Midsummer, the sleep of the lovers, instigated by the gods (the fairies) of the play, represents "the sleep of incubation, the Dionysian orgy, and the ritual death in initiation" in the process of psychological integration (Jung, Psychology and Alchemy 131). In this space, the lovers not only lose track of time and their identities, but also literally fall asleep, dying (in the Biblical sense) to their old lives. In Initiating Dionysus, Lada-Richards has shown how the Dionysian rites function in comic as well as tragic drama in her analysis of the Frogs by Aristophanes, and correlates the structure of Dionysian ritual with that of Van Gennep's rite of passage (45-122). Lada-Richards contends that the function of the Dionysian spectacle "exploits the fickleness of forms, enacts the dissolution of polarities" (8), as in the assimilation of the anima in integration process. This dissolution in the Dionysian rite results in the symbolic death of "the initiand's former personality [. . .], so that he/she may be reborn into a new identity" (57; Figure 4.7).

Figure 4.7: "The Primeval Duality" (Roob 257). The opposition of Dionysus (nigredo, dissolutio, death, dismemberment) to Apollo (albedo, renovatio, rebirth, wholeness) in the alchemical opus. According to Nietzsche, both Dionysus and Apollo are necessary to the Dionysian rite; the rite begins in Dionysus, but needs Apollo to bring it to completion. Robert Fludd. Philosophia Moysaica, Gouda. 1638.

Alchemically, this action represents the putrefactio, "the corruption, the decay of a once living creature. [. . .] No new life can arise, say the alchemists, without the death of the old" (Jung, Transference 95). It is in this death that the new personality, the self is born: the "union of the conscious mind or ego-personality with the unconscious personified as anima produces a new personality compounded of both [conscious and unconscious]" (Jung, Transference 103). The psychological birth of the self corresponds to the alchemical birth of the filius philosophorum—the child or procreation of the opus, born of the alchemical king and queen. In the Dionysian rite, death may be "understood as the initiand's renunciation of previous identity, and 'resurrection' [rebirth] as his attainment of a new status" (Lada-Richards 103). The archetype of the primordial child in the changeling boy foreshadows this rebirth, as the boy assumes his proper place in the psychic constellation of the play, having made his own passage over to the masculine realm, to the proper stage of his development, where he is alchemically child of both animus/anima, rather than over-ruled by one.


In Midsummer, at dawn when the lovers awaken, they have experienced a rebirth and are ready to make the passage back into the community and assume a new life with new responsibilities. This is what Turner refers to in Van Gennep's terminology as the stage of "'re-aggregation' or 'incorporation' [which] includes symbolic phenomena and actions which represent the return of the subjects to their new, relatively stable, well-defined position in the total society" (24). In Midsummer, this occurs at dawn, when hunting horns of Theseus and Hippolyta awaken the lovers from their sleep. This awakening symbolizes a return to consciousness under the influence of Sol (Figure 4.8), and the beginning of the integration into consciousness of newly differentiated aspects of the personality.

Jung states, alchemically,

The black or unconscious state that resulted from the union of opposites reaches the nadir and a change sets in. The falling dew [of the dawn] signals resuscitation and a new light: the ever deeper descent into the unconscious suddenly becomes illumination from above. [. . .] The preceding union of opposites has brought light, as always, out of the darkness of night, and by this light it will be possible to see what the real meaning of that union was. (Transference 119-120)

Figure 4.8: The return to Sol, consciousness, represented by the sun god, Apollo, and the lion (Roob 233). De Sphaera, Italian Manuscript. 15th century.

At this stage the unconscious contents of the psyche have been made conscious, and are consciously evaluated sensibly (felt emotionally), intellectually (theoretically understood), intuitively (the outlook and insight of imagination), and finally, practically (physically perceived) (Jung, Transference 116-120). Jung states, "The supreme aim of the opus psychologicum is conscious realization, and the first step is to make oneself conscious of contents that have hitherto been projected" (Transference 101). To neglect any one of these evaluative steps, results in an incomplete realization of the opus.

In Midsummer, this conscious realization takes place at many levels: the sensible realization or feeling produced by the alchemical opus is that of the resultant love binding the four couples together in "new amity" ((IV.i.86). In IV.i.70-73, Oberon uses the elixir of another herb, "Dian's bud o'er Cupid's flower" (II.i.184-5) to awaken Titania from the fierce vexation of her dream. Oberon addresses her as "my Titania [. . .], my sweet queen," and she him as "My Oberon!" (IV.i.74-5). Her enchantment broken, Titania wonders at the "visions" she has seen. She and Oberon, their love for each other restored, go forth as partners to lead the cosmic

Dance in Duke Theseus' house triumphantly,
And bless it to all prosperity.
There shall the pairs of faithful lovers be
Wedded, with Theseus, all in jollity. (IV.i.88-90)

The weddings of all the couples shall take place in this new key, spilling over from the unconscious realm of the play into the conscious world, healing and harmonizing Theseus and Hippolyta's relationship, beginning with their courtly hunt at the dawn of the day.

The lovers are nearly caught in flagrante delecto by Theseus and Hippolyta ("Begin these wood-birds but to couple now?" [IV.i.139]), and perceive that Lysander's love for Hermia, tested by the alchemical fire, has survived. Demetrius's love-sickness has also been cured in the alchemical process, distilled back to his "natural taste" (IV.i.173), his love for Helena:

Now do I wish it, love it, long for it,
And will for evermore be true to it. (IV.i.174-5)

Theseus, in an act that manifests the integration of his anima in his budding love for Hippolyta, patiently hears the lovers' recollection of the night's strange events. Contrary to his earlier judgment, Theseus responds to them, allowing his feminine, nurturing grace to prevail, forgiving their rebellion, dismissing the penalty of their truancy, and overruling Hermia's father's will. When Theseus requests Hippolyta to "Come," there is no longer any reticence on her part; no questioning, "What cheer, my love?" (I.i.122) from Theseus, as he did four days earlier, noting her sadness and restraint. Instead, the ducal couple in partnership leads the lovers back to Athens, inviting them to seal their vows all together in the communal wedding rites.

Along the way, the young lovers continue to recount and assimilate their experiences as well as their love for one another. They reenter the city and leave their old lives behind in the woods, crossing the threshold into their new lives in marriage.

Practical evaluation in the process of consciously realizing the coniunctio occurs in the last vestiges of surfacing unconscious remnants in the commentary upon the play, Pyramus and Thisbe. Bottom, awaking from his dream, "remembers specific fragments of his vision, but he slumbers on about its meaning. [. . .] Whether reclining in Titania's bower or roaring amid the comical-tragical-pastoral of Pyramus and Thisbe, Bottom is forever Bottom" (Coursen 10-11). Bottom as mercurial agent remains unchanged, but as the common, mercurial thread who is linked to all four worlds (with his fellow craftsmen, the lovers, the ducal court, and the fairy kingdom), he plays a particular role as an agent who brings unconscious contents to the surface through the presentation of the play for the marriage feast. The surfacing of these contents is necessary for their ultimate evaluation and integration in the realization of consciousness. The workaday rustics with Bottom provide the practical function of bringing into relief the transforming theme of the play as their performance of Pyramus and Thisbe undergoes scrutiny and evaluation.

At the court, entertainments are sought for the evening's festivities. Theseus chooses the fourth entertainment offered, that of the "'tedious brief scene of young Pyramus and his love Thisbe, very tragical mirth.' [. . .] That is hot ice, and wondrous strange snow!" (V.i.56-59). Theseus comments regarding the play, "How shall we find the concord of this discord?" (V.i.60), echoing and summarizing the entire theme of the play until this moment—the alchemical conjunction of opposites. While the opposites have been reconciled, they are still held in tension, with their negative energy at bay, and their procreative energy foregrounded for the moment. Once the coniunctio occurs, the work is not yet perfected (this takes a lifetime), but represents completeness. Embodying shadowy, irrepressible remnants of the lovers' experiences in the wood, the play Pyramus and Thisbe is given shape and form in the conscious realm of Midsummer, thrown into what Jung terms "a stark encounter with reality," where there are no

false veils or adornments of any kind. Man stands forth as he really is and shows what was hidden under the mask of conventional adaptation: the shadow. This is now raised to consciousness and integrated with the ego, which means a move in the direction of wholeness. [. . .] the animal sphere of instinct, as well as the primitive or archaic psyche, emerge into the zone of consciousness and can no longer be repressed by fictions and illusions. (77)

For the integration of opposites to be complete, these remaining shadowy vestiges—portents of tragedy—must be practically evaluated in the light of day, the light of consciousness, in order to prevent a return to psychic imbalance. In this way is the tragedy inherent in Pyramus and Thisbe avoided, for the time being (Figure 4.9).

Figure 4.9: The Liberation. In the context of the cosmic mandala, or influence of the macrocosm on the microcosm, the lovers return from the wood to the city to wed. The musicians could represent the rustic players, offering their divertissement for the wedding feast. Marc Chagall, 1947-52. © 2001 Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York/ ADAGP, Paris.

Prior to the performance of Pyramus and Thisbe, the conscious intellectual and intuitive evaluation of the alchemical opus takes place in the conversation between Theseus and Hippolyta concerning Reason and Imagination, perhaps the culminating moment of the conjunction of opposites in the play. Jung quotes Ruland's Lexicon, stating, "'Imagination is the star in man, the celestial or super-celestial body.' [. . .] The concept of imaginatio is perhaps the most important key to the understanding of the opus" (Psychology and Alchemy 277, 279). Because it projects into the material world psychic experience through symbols, the alchemical work cannot be accomplished by means of a literal, material investigation alone. What imagination afforded the alchemist in approaching the opus, which was both material and spiritual in its nature, was a way of mediating both realms through a process which embodied that which was phantasmagorical, making material the images of psychic content. In this way, in Jung's terms, imagination could be seen to be a "concentrated extract of the life forces" in which "the physical and psychic are once more blended in an indissoluble unity" (278-9). In light of the alchemical role of imaginatio, Theseus and Hippolyta's debate between Reason and Imagination—or Apollo and Dionysus as Nietzsche might say—reveals yet another metaphoric layer of the alchemical coniunctio.

In discussing the tales "that these lovers speak of" (V.i.1-27), Theseus—representing the archetype of Sol and Reason—is apt to assign such "antique fables" to the "shaping fantasies" of "the lunatic, the lover, and the poet [who] are of imagination all compact." He dismisses the lovers' tales of their woodland adventure as "tricks" that have "strong imagination." Conversely, Hippolyta, who archetypally represents Luna and Imagination, insists that even such "tricks" have "all their minds transfigur'd so together" (psychologically, their psyches have been transformed, integrated). Even if the result of an imagined story, this great feat is still "something of great constancy, [. . .] strange and admirable." Jung states that realization is not complete without the functioning of the imaginative activity of intuition: it "gives outlook and insight: it revels in the garden of magical possibilities as if they were real. Nothing is more charged with intuitions than the lapis philosophorum [philosopher's stone, the goal of the work]" (119).

Theseus and Hippolyta's discussion continues throughout the performance of Pyramus and Thisbe. As Theseus questions Philostrate about the nature of the play, Theseus begins to recognize his own repression of intuition, and accepts it, over-ruling Philostrate's judgment of the play as "nothing, nothing in the world" (V.i.78). Theseus states,

I will hear that play;
For never can anything be amiss
When simpleness and duty tender it. (V.i.81-3)

Ironically, the play is "of imagination all compact," an "airy nothing" given a "local habitation and a name" (V.i.8, 15-17) by some poet, whose work Theseus was only moments earlier denigrating. Theseus has acceded to Hippolyta's position on Imagination, and becomes in Edinger's words, "a carrier of the opposites, and in so doing contributes to the [ongoing work of] coniunctio" (Edinger, Coniunctio 14).

In affirming the absurd delight that may proceed from the rustic's performance of Pyramus and Thisbe, Theseus's transformation continues as he realizes that Imagination's work, contrary to all reason, may transcend even the most inept of interpreters (V.i.89-105). It is Theseus who now affirms the work of Imagination in his assent to hear the play, and Hippolyta who plays devil's advocate of Reason to Theseus' affirmation of Imagination. Theseus pleads with her, as in Act I, to play along with him, trust his judgment; and the transformation of their relationship is once more made evident in their discussion that continues throughout the play. While Hippolyta complains throughout the play, Theseus defends it by virtue of . . . Imagination:

Hippolyta: This is the silliest stuff that ever I heard.

Theseus: The best in this kind are but shadows; and the worst are no worse, if imagination mend them.

Hippolyta: It must be your imagination then, and not theirs.

Theseus: If we imagine no worse of them than they of themselves, they may pass for excellent men. (V.i.206-213; emphasis added)

However, once Moonshine (the horned, or crescent new moon) enters the scene, Hippolyta, a votaress of the moon goddess, begins to be transformed under its influence, as Reason gives way to Imagination:

Well shone, Moon! Truly the moon shines with a good grace! (V.i.256-7)

Luna, Intuition, has won over Hippolyta, as well as Theseus, who, as Sol, has integrated the intuitive/imaginative aspect of the feminine, Luna.


The play draws to a close as we have seen all the lovers transfigured by the strange and admirable events of the alchemical marriage. At the stroke of midnight—the beginning of the fourth day, signaling completion—Theseus calls the lovers "to bed" (V.i.350) to consummate their marriages. At enmity with Theseus at the beginning of the play, the lovers are now Theseus's "sweet friends," and the funereal tenor that underscored the play's opening has been transformed to another key, "In nightly revels and jollity" (V.i.343-4).

As the lovers depart, Puck/Mercurius appears, his trickster energy waning now that the cycle of life, death, and renewal (actually a psychic rebirth) has been accomplished. Not even "a mouse shall disturb this hallow'd house" (V.i.373-4), nor the spritely and mischievous Puck: his night's work is over. Mercurius gives way to the alchemical king and queen (Oberon and Titania) who enter conjoined (Figure 4.10), "Hand in hand, with fairy grace [to] sing, and bless this place" (V.i.385-6).

Figure 4.10: The alchemical king and queen, Sol et Luna (Edinger, Coniunctio 45). Rosarium philosophorum. 1550.

Puck/Mercurius appears once more, begging pardon for the night's offenses (V.i.409-422). Yet, Mercurius also challenges us to "think" upon these "visions," to consider the "weak and idle theme, no more yielding but a dream"—to evaluate the substance of what has occurred, to bring it to conscious realization, or to slumber on. Mercurius continues, "If you pardon, we will mend," if the audience concurs, the alchemical work will continue, else, with "with unearned luck" the audience, may for the moment escape "the [mercurial] serpent's tongue" (Figure 4.11).

Still, Puck/Mercurius extends the ongoing invitation to continue the opus to the play's audience,

Give me your hands, if we be friends,
And Robin shall restore amends. (V.i.423-4)

Figure 4.11: the mercurial serpent stirring up the "hermaphroditic matter," or prima materia of 'Sunne and Moone,'" within the zodiacal signs referred to as the "twelve gates of the process" (Roob 405). Ripley Scroll. 1588.

In response to Puck's offer, Coursen inquires:

So the question is—do we, as single spectators find all this as weak and idle as mere dreaming, or has the play excited our own imaginations—that quality in us that must reach down into some zone deeper than merely the brain awake? [. . .] perhaps some part of us—the metaphysical as opposed to the biological brain—has been alerted to the world Shakespeare has created, in which rational Athens has been superceded by an enchanted forest, whose inhabitants ultimately invade the ducal palace for benevolent purposes. Jung would say that such invasion is always benevolent, forever trying to coerce the [rational] Theseus-in-us towards the more intuitive position of a Hippolyta. (11)

Final amity has been the integration of the unconscious and conscious aspects of the personality. Animus and anima have been broken down into their elemental nature, distilled, differentiated, and recombined in the alchemical marriage into a new form, balancing both animus and anima in the symbolically androgynous archetype of the coniunctio, representing the union of the opposites (Figure 4.12).

Figure 4.12: The union of opposites (Edinger, Coniunctio 95). Rosarium philosophorum. 1550.

The lovers' ritual journey towards coniunctio, motivated by cosmic forces, manifests Shakespeare's complex integration of astronomy, alchemy, and archetypes in Midsummer. As such, the play provides a profound reflection of Shakespeare's medieval mindset as well as understanding of humanity. Shakespeare has successfully integrated diverse archetypal symbols into a network of meaning in which it becomes difficult to disconnect one from another. Thus, we can step back and view the world of Midsummer as a whole, with archetypal opposites held in tension—yet reconciled for the moment as they are brought into balance within the world's psychic structure. In the words of Joseph Campbell, Shakespeare's profound harmony of mythic metaphors in Midsummer orchestrates the "song of the uni-verse, the music of the spheres" (Campbell xviii), a melody still tuneable to our time.

Table of Contents

Chapter 5: Conclusions


1. The most notable of Chaucer's alchemical writings is "Canon Yeoman's Tale," from The Canterbury Tales.

2. Debus quotes Fludd from his Tractatus Apologeticus, 110.

3. As few as four and as many as 28 stages of alchemy have been identified throughout its history. Roob identifies the four main stages of the alchemical process according to the colors it produces:

  • blackening, nigredo;
  • whitening, albedo;
  • yellowing, citrinitas;
  • reddening, rubedo (30-31).

Jung refers to the division of alchemy into these four stages as "the quartering of the philosophy" (Psychology and Alchemy 229). The colors red and white represent the alchemical King and Queen.

From a list in J. Pernety's Dictionnairie Mytho-Hermétique (Paris, 1787), Roob identifies other stages, based on the planets, metals, and twelve signs of the zodiac:

  • calcinatio: oxidization, Aries;
  • congelatio: crystallization, Taurus;
  • fixatio: fixation, Gemini;
  • solutio: dissolution, melting, Cancer;
  • digestio: dismemberment, Leo;
  • distillatio: separation of the solid from the liquid, Virgo;
  • sublimatio: refinement through sublimation, Libra;
  • separatio: separation, division, Scorpio;
  • ceratio: fixing in a waxy state, Sagittarius;
  • fermentatio: fermentation, Capricorn;
  • multiplicatio: multiplication, Aquarius;
  • projectio: scattering of lapis as dust on the base metals, Pisces (30-31).

The recorded alchemical stages are general rather than specific, varying from one alchemical treatise to another, reflecting the fluid, intuitive, and mystical nature of the work, as well as the alchemists' reticence to divulge the secrets of transmutation.

Jung contends in Psychology and Alchemy that "Every single one of these terms has more than one meaning" (239), therefore, innumerable interpretations of them exist.

4. Turner remarks upon the work of Van Gennep, Rites de Passage, first published in French in 1908.

5. The quote by H.M. Chadwick is from Heroic Age vi. 125, regarding the word, theriomorphic. OED, 2nd Edition, vol. XVII. 913-4.