A Midsummer Night's Dream (Vol. 82)
A Midsummer Night's Dream
See also A Midsummer Night's Dream Criticism (Volume 29), and Volumes 45, 58.
One of Shakespeare's most popular plays, A Midsummer Night's Dream is believed to have been written in the early part of Shakespeare's career, sometime between 1594 and 1596. The title places the action of the play on the eve of the summer solstice, which folklore marks as the time of fairies—a time ripe for magic and adventure. The play traces the romantic escapades of four young Athenian lovers lost on a midsummer night in a forest ruled by fairies. The dreamlike events that occur in the enchanted wood are framed by court scenes dominated by Theseus, ruler of Athens. Another group of characters, designated as rustics, artisans, or mechanicals, led by Bottom the weaver, also inhabit the play and enhance its comedic effects. Although the plot seems whimsical and amusing and the play ends happily, many critics argue against examining the play on simply a comedic level, noting that the unnerving twists and turns of the plot often veer toward tragedy. Critical commentary on A Midsummer Night's Dream has tended to focus on Shakespeare's views on the nature of love, the meaning and purpose of art and imagination, the reconciliation of discordant dramatic elements, and the role of perception, illusion, and ambiguity in the play.
Character studies of A Midsummer Night's Dream have included analyses of both the human and non-human characters. Lou Agnes Reynolds and Paul Sawyer (1959) examine Titania's four fairy servants—Cobweb, Peaseblossom, Mustardseed, and Moth—and contend that they represent the healing properties of folk medicine and the importance of folklore practices in forging a connection between the natural and supernatural world. Urban Morén (2000) argues that the fairy Puck is a representative of sexuality in A Midsummer Night's Dream and points to the distinctive meanings of his name in the text of the play to support this analysis. Jeffrey D. Frame (1999) also explores the sexuality expressed in the play and focuses on the voyeurism of the characters. Frame suggests that the voyeuristic actions of the male and female characters in the play constitute maneuvers for power over one another. Diana Akers Rhoads (1985) examines the role of Theseus in A Midsummer Night's Dream. Rhoads maintains that Shakespeare portrayed Theseus as both an ideal ruler and a ruler who lacks the ability to understand love in order to highlight the incompatibility of “desire and politics.”
Although A Midsummer Night's Dream is one of the most frequently performed of Shakespeare's works, staging the play presents a challenge to many directors as they attempt to meet its disparate demands: the play is filled with music and dance, peopled by fantastical creatures, and infused with a delicate balance of comic and tragic elements. Some directors view these varied elements as an invitation to experiment with the theatrical traditions of the play. Bruce Weber (2002), reviewing the 2002 Royal Shakespeare Company's production of A Midsummer Night's Dream directed by Richard Jones, praises Jones's unique and nightmarish take on the play, which was performed entirely in black and white and was “willfully unattractive, drained of color and demonic in spirit.” The critic notes that the director created a kind of “anti-Midsummer Night's Dream” that confounded expectations. By contrast, Douglas McQueen-Thomson (2000) gives a negative review of director Elke Neidhardt's dark interpretation of the play for the Bell Shakespeare Company's 2000 production. McQueen-Thomson argues that the production's “unrelieved austerity and frostiness” produced a “tired disjointedness rather than original coherence.” Heather Neill (2002) reviews another unique take on the play, Mike Alfreds's 2002 production of A Midsummer Night's Dream for Shakespeare's Globe Theatre, noting that the director highlighted the “dream” aspect of the play by dressing the cast in pyjamas and negligees. Kenneth S. Rothwell reviews Michael Hoffman's 1999 star-studded film adaptation of A Midsummer Night's Dream, which he praises as a visual masterpiece. Rothwell points out that Hoffman focused his attention on the character of Nick Bottom, even providing him with a nagging wife, and lauds Kevin Kline's ability to turn the cartoonish character of Bottom into “a living, breathing, and very vulnerable, human being.”
Critics are also interested in A Midsummer Night's Dream's representation of Elizabethan England, especially the traditions of court marriage. Paul A. Olson (1957) suggests that the play was intended to serve as a guidebook for married aristocratic couples and, by extension, for a moral society. According to David Wiles (1988), the play was historically part of an “aristocratic carnival” used to celebrate weddings in upper-class society. In a 1993 essay, Wiles asserts that play is effectively an epithalamium, or poem in honor of marriage. Other scholars have examined such issues as the play's incorporation of imagination, social issues, and politics. For example, Anne Barton (1974) comments on A Midsummer Night's Dream's “preoccupation with the idea of imagination” and contends that the products of imagination, including “dreams, the illusions of love, poetry and plays,” are central to the play. Deborah Baker Wyrick (1982) explores the symbolism associated with the ass motif in A Midsummer Night's Dream and examines how the word “ass” is used to create a complex code that is the key to many of the play's themes. Theodore B. Leinwand (1986) studies the conflict between social classes in the play and notes how this conflict influences the actions of the characters. Lastly, Maurice Hunt (2000-01) alleges that A Midsummer Night's Dream functions as a cryptic allegory that criticizes Elizabeth I and calls attention to the problem of securing a successor to her throne.
Criticism: Overviews And General Studies
SOURCE: Nevo, Ruth. “Fancy's Images.” In William Shakespeare's A Midsummer Night's Dream, edited by Harold Bloom, pp. 57-72. New York: Chelsea House Publishers, 1987.
[In the following essay, originally published in 1980, Nevo contends that A Midsummer Night's Dream is one of Shakespeare's original inventions—“a complex and witty exploration of the infirmities and frailties and deficiencies and possibilities of the imaginative faculty itself.”]
“A Midsummer Night's Dream is best seen,” says G. K. Hunter, “as a lyric divertissement … Shakespeare has lavished his art on the separate excellencies of the different parts, but has not sought to show them growing out of one another in a process analogous to that of symphonic ‘development.’” I would claim, on the contrary, symphonic development of a particularly subtle kind; both itself an impressive achievement in the unifying of complexities, and a distinct conquest in the zig-zag progress towards Shakespeare's comic paradigm. This is a highly intellectual, highly speculative comedy, like Love's Labour's Lost not the refashioning of a previously-treated story or play but an original invention. Through his basic comic structure of initial privation or perversity, comic device both deceptive and remedial, knots of errors and final recognitions, Shakespeare has achieved not only a benign resolution to the dialectic of...
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SOURCE: Mikics, Davis. “Poetry and Politics in A Midsummer Night's Dream.” Raritan 18, no. 2 (fall 1998): 99-119.
[In the following essay, Mikics examines the dichotomy between poetry and politics in A Midsummer Night's Dream and contends that Shakespeare makes a claim “for poetry in the face of power.”]
James Nohrnberg begins his vast summa of Spenser and Renaissance poetics, The Analogy of the Faerie Queene, with a line from Pico: “He who cannot attract Pan, approaches Proteus in vain.” For a long time Renaissance studies wrestled Proteus, trying to whip the various energies of the era into encyclopedic shape. But new historicism, the alpha and omega of current Renaissance criticism, has largely abandoned the earlier critical interest in coherence and harmony. This is true, sadly, on a programmatic as well as a thematic level. Current work on Shakespeare rarely attempts an explanatory account of a given play in light of its whole critical and literary-historical legacy. Instead, critics busy themselves with polemical reflection, with the poses now fashionably known as “interventions.” In this essay, I want to illuminate some of the costs of the shift in emphasis from synthesis to polemical maneuvering by exploring how synthesis, and the literary imagination that produces it, works itself out in one Shakespeare play, A Midsummer Night's Dream. The Dream...
(The entire section is 7451 words.)
Criticism: Character Studies
SOURCE: Reynolds, Lou Agnes, and Paul Sawyer. “Folk Medicine and the Four Fairies of A Midsummer-Night's Dream.” Shakespeare Quarterly 10, no. 4 (autumn 1959): 513-21.
[In the following essay, Reynolds and Sawyer examine Titania's four fairy servants in A Midsummer Night's Dream—Cobweb, Peaseblossom, Mustardseed, and Moth—and contend that their presence represents the healing properties of folk medicine as well as its role in establishing a connection between the natural and supernatural world.]
To the Elizabethans no subject, apart from love, was more appropriate to Midsummer's Night than folk medicine; or conversely, at no time could a reference to folk medicine be more opportunely introduced than on Midsummer's Night. It was believed that on this night of the summer solstice, plants were granted a magic power that they possessed at no other time of the year1 That Shakespeare was well acquainted with this mass of superstition is shown by his use of it in his plays—most extensively, as might be expected in A Midsummer-Night's Dream.2 In one scene of this play (III.ii.179-205)3 Bottom, wearing an ass's head that seems to fit uncommonly well upon his shoulders, meets the fairy queen and her four servants—Cobweb, Peaseblossom, Mustardseed, and Moth. Because each of these fairy servants represents an item used in household remedies and would...
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SOURCE: Rhoads, Diana Akers. “A Midsummer Night's Dream: Shakespeare's Dramatic Solution to the Problems Poetry Poses for Politics.” In Shakespeare's Defense of Poetry: A Midsummer Night's Dream and The Tempest, pp. 49-60. Lanham, Md.: University Press of America, Inc., 1985.
[In the following essay, Rhoads contends that in A Midsummer Night's Dream Shakespeare portrayed Theseus as both an ideal ruler and a ruler who lacks the ability to understand love in order to highlight the incompatibility of “desire and politics.”]
There are basically two critical attitudes towards Theseus. One sees him as a representative of reason and of rational love as opposed to the madness and irrational love of the other Athenian lovers. His love becomes the norm or the social ideal.1 Critics who espouse this attitude often refer to Theseus as the ideal ruler, and they give him the attitudes of the Theseus of Chaucer's Knight's Tale.2 Like Chaucer's Theseus, he is seen as the reasonable man imposing order on nature. In the Knight's Tale Palamon and Arcite are friends who fall in love with the same woman, Emelye. They are fighting for her like wild animals when Theseus arrives. He is on an organized hunt for wild animals. Theseus stops the fighting and orders an organized contest between Palamon and Arcite according to civil regulation. The story is taken to...
(The entire section is 4158 words.)
SOURCE: Frame, Jeffrey D. “‘Now will I to the chink, / To Spy …’: Scopophilia as Gender Sport in A Midsummer Night's Dream.” The Upstart Crow 19 (1999): 50-61.
[In the following essay, Frame focuses on the voyeurism of the male and female characters in A Midsummer Night's Dream and suggests that the motif emphasizes the characters' maneuvers for power over one another.]
No other period in history seems to have given more attention to the socio-cultural concepts of “looking” and “listening” than the modern-postmodernist twentieth century, and for obvious reasons. From Freud and Lacan to Hitchcock and Foucault, one can observe an evolving and now flourishing preoccupation in books and journals with the “gender gaze,” voyeurism, spectatorship, and an informed “optometric psychology” all largely propelled by the scopophilic nature of a cinematic, media-saturated society. When it is applied to literary studies, the natural ramification of this infatuation with the camera obscura is a hypersensitivity to the presence and power of the gaze in classic texts as well as in texts from this century. Since Shakespeare's plays are no exception, they can hardly be exempt from general discussion concerning the countless recurrences of eavesdropping and clandestine confidant-forging found in great storytelling, particularly in Renaissance comedy. Spying serves a diversity of...
(The entire section is 5086 words.)
SOURCE: Morén, Urban. “‘Antique Fable’ Epitomized by Puck.” English Language Notes 38, no. 1 (September 2000): 16-40.
[In the following essay, Morén contends that Puck is a representative of sexuality in A Midsummer Night's Dream and examines the distinctive meanings of the word “Puck” in the text of the play in order to support this claim.]
The application of a “digressive” approach to A Midsummer Night's Dream1 has made it possible to unearth Shakespeare's standpoint in one of the play's central issues. Thus several cruces, notably, “‘Puck's name’ … bear no barm … ‘tailor’ cries … cough … loffe,” are given plausible solutions, and, as a consequence, one of Puck's enigmatic passages unravels as a comment on the “imagination vs. reason” theme. In this semantic examination a few outings in other parts of “Shakespeareshire,” as well as extra-disciplinary dittos, have been necessary. These side-tracks encompass areas as diverse as: magical milk-theft as portrayed in Swedish medieval church murals, grotesque popular humor, Rabelais's use of antique fables, insect identification, the linkage between fairies, witches and prostitution, modern medical-nutritional knowledge, and the civilizing process in the history of manners.
Puck's “safe” image has been questioned by many authors. Zern asks himself where Puck of...
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Criticism: Production Reviews
SOURCE: McQueen-Thomson, Douglas. “A Disturbing Dream.” Arena Magazine (August 2000): 53.
[McQueen-Thomson reviews the Bell Shakespeare Company's production of A Midsummer Night's Dream directed by Elke Neidhardt, arguing that the play's “unrelieved austerity and frostiness” produced a “tired disjointedness rather than original coherence.”]
What kind of grim pessimism drives designers these days into drab colour schemes of grey and silver? Whatever the answer, the Bell Shakespeare Company's new production of A Midsummer Night's Dream was cold, sterile and very grey. Often imagined as a play about enchantment and wondrous fantasy, this production instead presented a bleak, unsettling dream. Too monotone and inconsistent, this interpretation failed to captivate.
The burden of Peter Brook's famous 1970 nightmare-inspired production of A Midsummer Night's Dream obviously weighed heavily on director Elke Neidhardt. The program notes refer often to Brook, and Neidhardt mentions having seen his production herself. And like Brook, Neidhardt opted for unrelieved austerity and frostiness. Her set consisted of metal mesh panels joined together in a cage-like form and several perspex boxes. Blue and white lighting, with regular doses of dry ice, created an unvarying, chill atmosphere more suited to winter than midsummer. This is a long way from the overblown...
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SOURCE: Rothwell, Kenneth S. “Shakespeare Goes Digital.” Cineaste 25, no. 3 (summer 2000): 150.
[In the following review of Michael Hoffman's 1999 film adaptation of A Midsummer Night's Dream, Rothwell praises the film as a visual masterpiece and lauds Kevin Kline's ability to turn the cartoonish character of Bottom into “a living, breathing, and very vulnerable, human being.”]
The opening credits of Michael Hoffman's A Midsummer Night's Dream (“Based on the play by William Shakespeare”) situate the action around the year 1900 in Monte Athena in Tuscany, Italy, one of those fabulous Italian hilltop towns but not exactly the Athens of Shakespeare's play. Then again his film is “based” on Shakespeare's play, not the thing itself, a salient point that Shakespeare on film critics sometimes egregiously overlook. In spectacular color on crystalline DVD, wherein it is divided into twenty-five ‘chapters’ for random access, Hoffman's movie is stunningly designed, costumed, and photographed. In a lush, opulent setting, quivering with bright fruits and great wines, servants set up for an alfresco wedding feast on the open porch and steps of the Duke Theseus's (David Strathairn) Villa Athena. The heroic strains of Felix Mendelssohn's “Incidental Music,” which Max Reinhardt in his many expressionistic European productions virtually grafted onto Shakespeare's play, fill the...
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SOURCE: Neill, Heather. “Tales from the Bathroom.” Times Educational Supplement 4486 (21 June 2002): 14.
[In the following review of Mike Alfreds's 2002 production of A Midsummer Night's Dream for Shakespeare's Globe Theatre, Neill notes the director's highlighting of the “dream” aspect of the play by dressing the cast in pyjamas and negligees.]
Mike Alfreds, the director of this production, has chosen to concentrate on the word “dream” in the title and has his entire cast dressed in pyjamas and negligees.
The props have a whiff of the bathroom—a loo roll for Peter Quince's scroll of names when the Mechanicals turn up for rehearsal, and toothbrushes instead of daggers in the Pyramus and Thisbe play in which Snug plays Lion with a bathmat mane. Even Bottom's “translation” into an ass (in John Ramm's successfully slapstick interpretation) is signified by a pair of ears consisting of fluffy slipper mules.
During a Talking Theatre session (a free post-performance discussion on Wednesdays and Saturdays) Mike Alfreds said that he thought A Midsummer Night's Dream a difficult play, which really ends in Act IV when the couples are correctly brought together.
He didn't want to make the action fit artificially into a particular period; bedroom imagery gave it a suitably separate world. All the cast play fairies, their costumes...
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SOURCE: Weber, Bruce. “The Once Dreamy Woods Now Have Big, Bad Wolves.” The New York Times (28 June 2002): B3; E3.
[In the following review of the Royal Shakespeare Company's 2002 production of A Midsummer Night's Dream directed by Richard Jones, Weber notes that Jones's unique and nightmarish take on the play created a kind of “anti-Midsummer Night's Dream” that confounded expectations.]
School's out, which is a good thing as far as the Royal Shakespeare Company's new production of A Midsummer Night's Dream is concerned. We wouldn't want any unsuspecting English teachers shepherding their sophomores into the Shubert Theater here in anticipation of the gentle, giddy introduction to Shakespeare that has seduced generations. They'd all be perplexed by a production that seems to be willfully unattractive, drained of color and demonic in spirit, as opposed to magical. Of course, 10th graders might very well get a charge out of the director Richard Jones's sense of the perverse.
Still, they'd have to be pretty sophisticated. For what Mr. Jones has concocted here is a kind of anti-Midsummer Night's Dream, one in which the darkness of the forest, for all its fantastical goings-on, never seems to twinkle with the promise of a happy ending. Instead, there's a kind of squalor about.
The production—its set and modern costumes—is entirely in...
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SOURCE: Olson, Paul A. “A Midsummer Night's Dream and the Meaning of Court Marriage.” ELH 24, no. 2 (June 1957): 95-119.
[In the following essay, Olson suggests that A Midsummer Night's Dream was intended to serve as a guidebook for married aristocratic couples and, by extension, for a moral society.]
The opinion that A Midsummer Night's Dream is largely a shimmering fabric of “moonlight, with a touch of moonshine”1 has become stock among students of Shakespeare. One rephrases habitual insights concerning gossamer and magic whenever one treats of the work. But there is more to the play than a dream. The efforts of historical scholars to place this comedy in the setting of its dramatic tradition, to see it as “sui generis, a ‘symbolical’ or masque-like play”2 suggest that we ought to revise our romantic preconceptions of its structure and theme. Elizabethan masques usually afforded pleasures more serious than those of moonshine, and A Midsummer Night's Dream is not unlike them in this respect. It was created for the solemn nuptials of a noble house,3 perhaps for those of the Earl of Derby or the Earl of Essex. For our purposes, the specific families involved matter little. Rather it is important that the significance of the play's symbolism and the raison d'être of its pageantry can come clear through an...
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SOURCE: Barton, Anne. “The Synthesizing Impulse of A Midsummer Night's Dream.” In William Shakespeare's A Midsummer Night's Dream, edited by Harold Bloom, pp. 7-13. New York: Chelsea House Publishers, 1987.
[In the following essay, originally published in 1974, Barton comments on A Midsummer Night's Dream's “preoccupation with the idea of imagination” and contends that the products of imagination, including “dreams, the illusions of love, poetry and plays,” are central to the play.]
A Midsummer Night's Dream was first printed in a quarto edition in 1600. The comedy was first mentioned by Meres in 1598, but 1595-96 is usually accepted as the date of composition. It has certain stylistic affinities with Richard II and Romeo and Juliet, plays which must have been written at about the same time. More importantly, it seems to consolidate and conclude Shakespeare's first period of experiment with comic form. The synthesizing impulse characteristic of A Midsummer Night's Dream not only knits together a number of different historical times and places, literary traditions, character types, and modes of thought. It manifests itself in the play's unusual variety of metres and verse forms, as well as in the tendency, remarked on by several critics, for characters to stress the richness of their encompassing dramatic world by listing its components. Egeus is not...
(The entire section is 2504 words.)
SOURCE: Wyrick, Deborah Baker. “The Ass Motif in The Comedy of Errors and A Midsummer Night's Dream.” Shakespeare Quarterly 33, no. 4 (winter 1982): 432-48.
[In the following essay, Wyrick explores the symbolism associated with the ass motif in A Midsummer Night's Dream and examines how the word “ass” is used to create a complex code that is the key to many of the play's themes.]
One of the most ubiquitous epithets in Shakespearean drama is “ass.” Since it carries the primary significance of an ignorant fellow, a perverse fool, or a conceited dolt, the word can be counted upon to stimulate audience laughter.1 The frequency of its appearance in Shakespeare's plays, however, makes one suspect that it is a word rich in thematic associations and in dramatic applications.2 Far from functioning merely as a simple synonym for a stupid blunderer, the word “ass”—whether used as a simile, as a metaphor, or as a pun—has a protean ability to convey economically a number of connotations. These connotations arise causally from the speaker, from the situation, and from the larger verbal context in which the word operates. In similar fashion, the effects of the word radiate outward, sometimes revealing aspects of the speaker or of the person spoken to, sometimes focusing a parodic subplot, sometimes amplifying a theme. Although “ass” is sprinkled...
(The entire section is 8448 words.)
SOURCE: Leinwand, Theodore B. “‘I Believe We Must Leave the Killing out’: Deference and Accommodation in A Midsummer Night's Dream.” In A Midsummer Night's Dream: Critical Essays, edited by Dorothea Kehler, pp. 145-64. New York: Garland Publishing, Inc., 1998.
[In the following essay, originally published in 1986, Leinwand examines the conflict between social classes in A Midsummer Night's Dream and discusses its influence on the actions of the characters.]
No sooner has the artisan weaver Bottom begun to speak with the fairy queen Titania than he takes the occasion to “gleek.”1 Observing that “reason and love keep little company together nowadays,” Bottom thinks it a “pity that some honest neighbours will not make them friends” (III.i.140-141). It is at once an hilarious and a potentially subversive moment: an artisan finds himself spectacularly close to a queen. Of course, it has been noted that for all Bottom's and Titania's propinquity, “there is no communication between them: their kinds of understanding are totally different.”2 But the conception of community relations that is at the heart of Bottom's gleeking suggests that the play's artisanate and its nobility may well share certain “kinds of understanding.” It is part of my purpose to show not only that the artisan-weaver is concerned with strategies of accommodation amenable to the...
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SOURCE: Wiles, David. “The Carnivalesque in A Midsummer Night's Dream.” In Shakespeare and Carnival after Bakhtin, edited by Ronald Knowles, pp. 61-82. New York: St. Martin's Press, Inc., 1998.
[In the following essay, Wiles examines the festive and carnivalesque elements in A Midsummer Night's Dream. According to the critic, the play was historically part of an “aristocratic carnival” used to celebrate weddings in upper-class society.]
Carnival theory did not begin with Bakhtin, and we shall understand Bakhtin's position more clearly if we set it against classical theories of carnival.1 From the Greek world the most important theoretical statement is to be found in Plato:
The gods took pity on the human race, born to suffer as it was, and gave it relief in the form of religious festivals to serve as periods of rest from its labours. They gave us as fellow revellers the Muses, with Apollo their leader, and Dionysus, so that men might restore their way of life by sharing feasts with gods.2
This is first a utopian theory, maintaining that carnival restores human beings to an earlier state of being when humans were closer to the divine. And second, it associates carnival with communal order. Plato argues that festive dancing creates bodily order, and thus bodily and spiritual...
(The entire section is 8211 words.)
SOURCE: Plasse, Marie A. “The Human Body as Performance Medium in Shakespeare: Some Theoretical Suggestions from A Midsummer Night's Dream.” College Literature 19, no. 1 (February 1992): 28-47.
[In the following essay, Plasse discusses the human body as a performance medium that conveys the various themes expressed in A Midsummer Night's Dream.]
It seemed to embody and realize conceptions which had hitherto assumed no distinct shape. But dearly do we pay all our life afterwards for this juvenile pleasure, this sense of distinctness. When the novelty is past, we find to our cost that, instead of realizing an idea, we have only materialized and brought down a fine vision to the standard of flesh and blood. We have to let go a dream, in quest of an unattainable substance.
Like much of the anti-theatrical criticism of Shakespearean productions in the nineteenth century, these remarks by Charles Lamb offer, under the guise of a complaint against the “straitlacing actuality” (Lamb 24) of the theater, an acute formulation of a crucial issue in Shakespearean dramaturgy. Although it was the performance of a tragedy which prompted Lamb's comments, the pertinence of his observations to the problems of theatrical representation in A Midsummer Night's Dream is striking. As it “embodies” and “realizes”...
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SOURCE: Wiles, David. “A Midsummer Night's Dream as Epithalamium.” In Shakespeare's Almanac: A Midsummer Night's Dream: Marriage and the Elizabethan Calendar, pp. 114-25. Cambridge, Mass.: D. S. Brewer, 1993.
[In the following essay, Wiles asserts that A Midsummer Night's Dream is effectively an epithalamium—a poem in honor of marriage.]
The closing speeches of A Midsummer Night's Dream constitute the kind of finale that we would expect to find at the end of a wedding masque. No other play by Shakespeare ends quite like it. Love's Labour's Lost and The Tempest celebrate a betrothal, not a wedding. In As You Like It, the appearance of Hymen in a kind of masque suggests that the couples should be understood as married rather than betrothed at the end of the play, but the moment of marriage is left vague. Orthodox ceremonial does not seem to belong in the Forest of Arden. The formality of the ending is the formality of a conventional theatrical finale, with four couples gathered on stage for a celebratory dance. Unlike these three plays, A Midsummer Night's Dream displays a complete lack of concern with the process of courtship. The rites of courtship—a first encounter in a romantic environment, the interchanging of love-tokens, the composing of love-verses—are all completed before the action of the play begins. The play is concerned with the...
(The entire section is 5372 words.)
SOURCE: Hunt, Maurice. “A Speculative Political Allegory in A Midsummer Night's Dream.” Comparative Drama 34, no. 4 (winter 2000-01): 423-53.
[In the following essay, Hunt alleges that A Midsummer Night's Dream functions as a cryptic allegory that criticizes Elizabeth I and the problem of securing a successor to her throne.]
Every so often commentators on Shakespeare's A Midsummer Night's Dream quote Bottom's judgment on his own “most rare vision” of the Fairy Queen—“Man is but an ass if he go about to expound this dream” (4.1.203-4)—with tongue-in-cheek reference to their own interpretive efforts.1 Given the frequency with which Bottom's words have been invoked for this purpose, one can be excused for believing that the utterance has lost most of its value as a beforehand deflector of criticism against the commentator's argument. Yet if ever a commentator on A Dream risked appearing an ass to his or her reader, it would be the interpreter presumptuous enough to offer a reading of a topical political allegory in the comedy. That, however, is precisely what I intend to do in this essay. I have in my title termed the political allegory I shall unfold not only “a” political allegory in A Midsummer Night's Dream (thus admitting that another one might appear as or more viable), but also that it is a “speculative” allegory. I realize...
(The entire section is 11369 words.)
SOURCE: Hamilton, Sharon. “Daughters Who Rebel: Hermia (A Midsummer Night's Dream), Jessica (The Merchant of Venice), and Desdemona (Othello).” In Shakespeare's Daughters, pp. 38-42. Jefferson, N.C.: McFarland & Company, Inc., 2003.
[In the following excerpt, Hamilton analyzes the father-daughter conflict between Egeus and Hermia in a A Midsummer Night's Dream.]
In A Midsummer Night's Dream, the father-daughter conflict is presented in its simplest terms. Old Egeus sounds his character note at his first appearance. He comes in “full of vexation … with complaint / Against [his] child” (I.i.22-23). The reason is suggested in the cast list: Hermia is identified as “daughter to Egeus, in love with Lysander.” The problem is that Egeus favors Demetrius, and has given him his consent. Lysander, Egeus claims, has “bewitched” Hermia, “filched [his] daughter's heart” with “rhymes,” “love tokens,” “verses of feigning love,” “bracelets of his hair, rings, gauds, conceits, / Knacks, trifles, nosegays, sweetmeats”—in short, all the standard paraphernalia of courtship. The charge is made the more ludicrous by the list's detail. The real issue, as it was for Capulet, is the father's pride of possession. Lysander, Egeus charges, has “Turned her obedience, which is due to me, / To stubborn harshness” (ll. 27-38). For retribution, he appeals to the...
(The entire section is 2051 words.)
Holloway, Julia Bolton. “Apuleius and Midsummer Night's Dream: Bottom's Metamorphoses.” In Tales Within Tales: Apuleius Through Time, edited by Constance S. Wright and Julia Bolton Holloway, pp. 123-37. New York: AMS Press, 2000.
Suggests that Shakespeare's use of enchantment and dreams in A Midsummer Night's Dream mirrors the struggle of the psyche in society and illustrates the complexity of the human condition.
Howard, Skiles. “Hands, Feet, and Bottoms: Decentering the Cosmic Dance in A Midsummer Night's Dream.” Shakespeare Quarterly 44, no. 3 (autumn 1993): 325-42.
Focuses on the symbolic and traditional meanings of the dances portrayed in A Midsummer Night's Dream and contends that these scenes provide a unique insight into the courtly festivities of England's history.
Lamb, Mary Ellen. “Taken by the Fairies: Fairy Practices and the Production of Popular Culture in A Midsummer Night's Dream.” Shakespeare Quarterly 51, no. 3 (autumn 2000): 277-312.
Theorizes that the fairy realm in A Midsummer Night's Dream is representative of the lower class and its struggle for acknowledgement from the rest of society.
Lehmann, Courtney. “Authors, Players, and the Shakespearean Auteur-Function in A Midsummer Night's...
(The entire section is 320 words.)