In This Activity
Themes, symbols, and motifs are valuable aspects of any literary work, and they add richness to stories. Part of the Common Core ELA standards is to introduce and explain these complex concepts. However, abstract ideas are often difficult for students to analyze without assistance. Using a storyboard, students can visually demonstrate their understanding of these concepts, and master analysis of literary elements. For best practices, see our supplementary article with specific lesson plan steps on setting up your classroom and activities to teach themes, symbols, and motifs.
In the classroom, students can track the rich symbolism that William Shakespeare uses throughout A Midsummer Night’s Dream. They will analyze the instances of themes, symbols, and motifs as they appear in the play either while they read or after they've finished.
Themes to Look for and Discuss
Throughout the play, the actions of impetuous lovers create continuous conflict. The tangle of affections that has left out Hermia shows that love is often difficult and unbalanced. When the theme is carefully examined, the reader can see there are multiple types of love working throughout the play. However, the underlying message is that love is not always perfect or reciprocated.
Magic, wishes, or attempts to avoid fate often fail or need reversal. Whether this is is frowned upon, or simply futile, messing with something that has already been determined is rarely a good idea. In this play, Puck causes a mess that inevitably needs fixing when he uses the magic flower to play Cupid.
Dreams are curious and bizarre. Perhaps why Shakespeare employed them so often. They can be used to explain desires, but they can also be ambiguous; dreams can create feelings and desires that can be either wonderful, or terrifying. Moreover, they prove how we are not in control and add a dimension of illusion to any situation.
Motifs and Imagery
Theseus and Hippolyta
The sub-plot of the Duke and his Amazon Queen suggests rationality and reality. Unlike the dream state that much of A Midsummer Night’s Dream takes place in, Theseus and Hippolyta are the only ones who seem to be in control during this entire charade.
In the play, the love potion causes most of the mischief and represents the fickle nature of love. We can fall in and out of love just as quick as the drink can make us love and then take love away.
Pyramus and Thisbe
This play within a play is highly ironic. The play about Pyramus and Thisbe contains many of the same elements as A Midsummer Night’s Dream!
Template and Class Instructions
(These instructions are completely customizable. After clicking "Copy Activity", update the instructions on the Edit Tab of the assignment.)
Create a storyboard that identifies recurring themes, motifs, and imagery in A Midsummer Night's Dream. Illustrate instances of each theme and write a short description below each cell.
- Click "Start Assignment".
- Identify the theme(s) from A Midsummer Night's Dream you wish to include and replace the "Theme 1" text.
- Create an image for an example that represents this theme.
- Write a description of each of the examples.
- Add a second, third, or fourth row if analyzing multiple themes or motifs.
Lesson Plan Reference
- [ELA-Literacy/RL/11-12/1] Cite strong and thorough textual evidence to support analysis of what the text says explicitly as well as inferences drawn from the text, including determining where the text leaves matters uncertain
- [ELA-Literacy/RL/11-12/2] Determine two or more themes or central ideas of a text and analyze their development over the course of the text, including how they interact and build on one another to produce a complex account; provide an objective summary of the text
- [ELA-Literacy/SL/11-12/2] Integrate multiple sources of information presented in diverse formats and media (e.g., visually, quantitatively, orally) in order to make informed decisions and solve problems, evaluating the credibility and accuracy of each source and noting any discrepancies among the data
(You can also create your own on Quick Rubric.)
Identification of Theme(s), Symbol(s), and/or Motif(s)
All themes are correctly identified as important recurring topics or messages in the story. Symbols are correctly identified as objects that represent something else at a higher level in the story. Motifs are correctly identified as important recurring features or ideas in the story.
Most themes are correctly identified, but others are missing or incomplete. Most symbols are correctly identified, but some objects are missing or incomplete. Some motifs are correctly identified, but others are missing or incomplete.
Most themes are missing, incomplete, or incorrect. Most symbols are missing, incomplete, or incorrect. Most motifs are missing, incomplete, or incorrect.
No themes, symbols, or motifs are correctly identified.
Examples and Descriptions
Quotes and examples are accurate to the theme(s), symbol(s), and/or motif(s) that are being identified. Descriptions accurately explain the theme(s), symbol(s), and/or motif(s) and highlight their significance to the story.
Most quotes and examples are accurate to the theme(s), symbol(s), and/or motifs that are being identified. Descriptions mostly accurately explain the theme(s), symbol(s), and/or motif(s), and highlight their significance to the story.
Most quotes and examples are minimal, incorrect, or unrelated to the theme(s), symbol(s), and/or motif(s) that are being identified. Descriptions contain inaccuracies in their explanations, or do not highlight their significance to the story.
Examples and descriptions are missing or too minimal to score.
Depictions chosen for theme(s), symbol(s), and/or motif(s) are accurate to the story and reflect time, effort, thought, and care with regard to placement and creation of the scenes.
Depictions chosen for theme(s), symbol(s), and/or motif(s) are mostly accurate to the story. They reflect time and effort put into placement and creation of the scenes.
Depictions chosen for theme(s), symbol(s), and/or motif(s) are inaccurate to the story. The depictions may be rushed or show minimal effort, time, and care put into placement and creation of the scenes.
Most depictions are missing too many elements or are too minimal to score. Little time or effort has been put into placement and creation of the scenes.
There are no errors in spelling, grammar, or mechanics throughout the storyboard. All writing portions reflect careful proofreading and accuracy to the story.
There are a few errors in spelling, grammar, and mechanics throughout the storyboard. All writing portions show accuracy to the story and some proofreading.
There are several errors in spelling, grammar, and mechanics throughout the storyboard. Most writing portions do not reflect proofreading or accuracy to the story.
Errors in spelling, grammar, and mechanics in writing portions of the storyboard seriously interfere with communication.
How To Teach Motifs
Discuss Symbols as a Class
Since a motif is a symbol that lasts throughout a book, first help students identify symbols. They are anything in the story that represents something beyond itself. With the whole class discussion, students will begin to understand how important symbols are to a story.
Give Examples of Symbols That Last Through Book
Once students understand what a symbol is, dig into symbols that occur more than once in the book. These motifs are important as students see the same symbols again and again, and see what the author is trying to accomplish through them.
Help Students Delve into Deeper Meaning
After students can identify a motif, assist them in explaining what the motif means. Authors use motifs to flesh out ideas and offer deeper explanations.
Frequently Asked Questions about Themes, Symbols, and Motifs in A Midsummer Night's Dream
What is a motif?
A motif is a symbol in a story that is repeated over and over to add depth and meaning to the story. It is something that represents a deeper meaning beyond itself, and used throughout a story.
What is a theme?
The theme is the lesson a reader learns about life after reading a story. One of the most important reasons to read is to learn these lessons.
What is one of the primary themes in A Midsummer Night's Dream?
One of the most important themes in A Midsummer Night's Dream is that love can make you do strange things. There are several sets of lovers in this story that make hasty and strange decisions because they are falling in love.
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