In order for the title to have any meaning for the contemporary student of Shakespeare’s play, its origin must be explained. At the time the play was written, only three seasons were observed: autumn, winter, and summer—which included what we now consider spring and began in March. Therefore, the play, whose action takes place on the eve of May Day, actually is in midsummer as Shakespeare knew it. This was the time of year when animals were traditionally let out to pasture and the spirits of nature were thought to be abroad. The action takes place in the fairy wood, which may be what the “dream” part of the title refers, although it may refer to another common custom, the divining by midsummer dreams and flowers who one’s lover is or whether one’s lover is faithful, just as the characters in the play do. It was also customary on May Day (May 1st) to greet the day with a sunrise service that includes songs to emphasize hope and cheerfulness.
As was usual for a dramatist of his time, most of Shakespeare’s plays were not original. This is not to say he plagiarized, rather that plays were based on other, earlier works by masters such as the ones Shakespeare studied in grammar school: Ovid, Plautus, Terence, and Chaucer. For Shakespeare, the poetry and the event were much more important than the characters in his plays. There are several theories about this but the preponderant one is that Puck is the imagination’s way of ordering the random. It could be said that Puck (from English rustic folklore) is the gateway between the imaginative elements and reality as we know it. Curiously enough, Bottom is the only human who can see the imaginative (fairy) elements.
The play-within-the-play seems to be Shakespeare’s version of a dramatist and actor’s worst nightmare. Lines are forgotten, cues missed, conversation carried on between the actors and the audience, and the actors’ efforts laughed at. In addition, the audience loudly and freely carries on conversations during the production. It is also a parody of...
(The entire section is 835 words.)