Study Guide

A Midsummer Night's Dream

by William Shakespeare

A Midsummer Night's Dream Essay - Critical Context

Critical Context

A Midsummer Night’s Dream, first performed in 1595 and then published in 1600, is one of William Shakespeare’s best-loved plays and remains popular. After such simple comedies as The Comedy of Errors (c. 1592-1594), Shakespeare began to write more sophisticated comedies such as A Midsummer Night’s Dream. In this play, one sees more than a play built merely around mistaken identities (as in The Comedy of Errors): One finds more complex, three-dimensional characters and a more sophisticated theme. Although A Midsummer Night’s Dream does possess the potential for tragedy, the play is much lighter in tone and theme than later Shakespearean dark comedies, also known as problem plays, such as The Merchant of Venice (c. 1596-1597) and Measure for Measure (1604). These dramas are much darker in tone and much more troublesome in their endings than A Midsummer Night’s Dream. The problem plays conclude with the success of unlikable and unsavory characters, who unite in marriage with wonderful women; A Midsummer Night’s Dream, however, ends with perfect order and three marriages that promise to be blissful. The reconciliations are complete and sincere.