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Imagining Some Fear

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Imagining Some Fear

A Midsummer Night's Dream


The poet's eye, in a fine frenzy rolling,

Doth glance from heaven to earth, from earth to heaven

And as imagination bodies forth

The forms of things unknown, the poet's pen

Turns them to shapes, and gives to airy nothing

A local habitation and a name.

Such tricks hath strong imagination

That, if it would but apprehend some joy,

It comprehends some bringer of that joy;

Or in the night, imagining some fear,

How easy is a bush supposed a bear!

—A Midsummer Night’s Dream (Act V, scene 1)

Ceremonial breastplate, France, 1550-1575

Far from being simply tools of warfare, arms were powerful emblems of personal identity. They were also equally powerful as transformative trappings, capable of converting the wearer into a figure strange, exotic, and eye-catching. Representations of arms and armor—and the artifacts themselves—show the fantastic imagination of the Renaissance in full play. Today we think of armaments as technologies designed for brutal efficiency. Yet this was certainly not the case in Shakespeare’s day. The clients who purchased arms and armor valued the same kind of fanciful creativity in the craftsman’s wares as they enjoyed in a play like A Midsummer Night’s Dream.


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