A Midsummer Night’s Dream transports us to a fantastical world where fairies reign supreme and humans are merely a source of fun to be trifled with from time to time. While it is a love story—it is believed that Shakespeare wrote the play for a wedding—romance is sometimes eclipsed by the ethereal and magical world of fairies and the spirit of farcical comedy woven into the fabric of the play. When the play opens, the humans’ world is out of balance. Four young Athenians (Lysander, Hermia, Demetrius, and Helena) are enduring romantic problems. Both men love Hermia, but she loves only Lysander, of whom her father disapproves.
Discord exists also in the world of the fairies, whose king and queen have been fighting. A third group of characters, a band of six craftsmen, is planning a play for the upcoming wedding. Almost all the characters—humans and fairies alike—end up in the woods after nightfall, where the king of the fairies sets in motion a series of events that wreaks havoc on his wife and the lovers over the course of the night. By morning, however, he has restored harmony to one and all; he and his wife have made up, and the four lovers are happily paired off. After they have married, alongside Theseus and Hippolyta, the humans gather at Theseus’s palace to watch the craftsmen’s disastrously hilarious play. A world that was woefully out of balance at the play’s outset has been brought back into alignment.
This was an early comedy of Shakespeare’s, written in 1594 after he joined Lord Chamberlain’s Men and just as they were on the cusp of becoming the most popular theatrical troupe in London. The powerful female figures of Hippolyta and the fairy queen Titania evoke in some form Queen Elizabeth herself, who may have seen the play. As with most comedies, order is restored in the end, through three marriages and their promise of happiness and fertility, but over the course of the play, authority is challenged, the nature of love is revealed, and comic anarchy is unloosed. Even though authority prevails, the play is nevertheless a magnificent celebration of poetry, of love, and of youth.
One of the intriguing elements of this play is that the romantic plot is in some ways secondary to the play’s ethereal setting. Although the play shines a spotlight on the nature of love—and the irrational quality of young love in particular—it focuses equally on the relationship between reality and dreams and on a beautiful, magical world that exists beyond the concrete, orderly confines of reality. Perception and misperception, the suspension of disbelief, and the questioning of what is real and what is a dream are all addressed here, with varying degrees of seriousness.
The play is a lush, playful lark, richly woven with vivid imagery and some of Shakespeare’s most lyrical language. Students will easily grasp the simple plot structure and be able to focus on how language can contribute to creating a certain mood and developing a character. Some of Shakespeare’s most beloved characters feature in this play; the mischievous and nimble Puck and the nonsensical donkey-faced Bottom are two of the most memorable characters in literature. Students are likely to relate to the spirit of youthful rebellion inspired by the Athenian royals and will enjoy thinking about the madness of young love in contrast to the sober reality of mature love. Finally, students should enjoy debating whether love is akin to madness, where the line exists between reality and dreams, and whether we humans are indeed at the mercy of forces beyond our control.
By the end of the unit the student will be able to:
1. Identify the primary themes in A Midsummer Night’s Dream.
2. Describe Shakespeare’s many motifs and their significance, particularly the meaning of nature and sight.
3. Determine what makes A Midsummer Night’s Dream such a timeless and popular work.
4. Explain the play’s messages about love.
5. Describe the role of magic in the play and its significance.
6. Describe the fantastical world of the fairies and explain how Shakespeare went about creating it.
7. Describe how Shakespeare’s use of language distinguishes among the Athenian royalty, the Athenian craftsmen, and the fairies.
This eNotes lesson plan is designed so that it may be used in numerous ways to accommodate ESL students and to differentiate instruction in the classroom.
Student Study Guide
• The Study Guide is organized for an act-by-act study of the play. Study Guide pages may be assigned individually and completed at a student’s own pace.
• Study Guide pages may be used as pre-reading activities to preview for students the vocabulary words they will encounter in reading each act and to acquaint them generally with its content.
• Before Study Guide pages are assigned, questions may be selected from them to use as short quizzes to assess reading comprehension.
• Study Guide vocabulary...
(The entire section is 609 words.)
1. In Act One, Helena says, “Love looks not with the eyes but with the mind.” In what way does this statement represent one of the central themes of the play?
2. The play suggests that love exists in a realm beyond reason, that we are at the mercy of love and cannot control it. Give several examples within the play that express this idea. Do you agree with Shakespeare or not?
3. What literary techniques does Shakespeare employ to create the mood of this alternate world?
4. What does Theseus think that “the lunatic, the lover, and the poet” all have in common? Why?
5. Consider the role of sight in the play. What statement might Shakespeare be making about...
(The entire section is 418 words.)
abjure: to abandon, to reject
avouch: to affirm beguiled: charmed, tricked
beseech: to beg
beteem: to allow
conceits: trinkets, baubles
derived: obtained, came from
dowager: a widow (often elderly and dignified) who holds property or a title from her deceased husband
extenuate: to lessen the seriousness or strength of something, to relieve
forswear: archaic to renounce, to give up
lodestars: guiding stars
mirth: joy, merriment
nimble: spry, agile
(The entire section is 1022 words.)
con: to commit to memory
discretion: sound judgment
entreat: to plea
interlude: a pause, an intermission
1. Who are the characters in Scene Two, and what are they trying to accomplish?
The characters who appear in Scene Two are craftsmen from the city, who work in a variety of industries, including carpentry, weaving, and tailoring. They want to put on a play for Theseus and Hippolyta’s wedding celebration.
2. What impression of the craftsmen and their project is...
(The entire section is 392 words.)
adamant: noun a legendary rock or mineral once believed to be unbreakable
amend: to fix, to put right
brakes: archaic bushes
buskined: wearing high hunting boots
chaplet: a garland, a wreath
chide: archaic to rebuke angrily
dewlap: loose skin around the neck
distemperature: archaic illness, disorder
griffin: a legendary beast that is part lion, part eagle
henchman: a page, a royal servant
impeach: to discredit, to call into...
(The entire section is 1031 words.)
beshrew: archaic to blame
cankers: plant parasites
churl: a rude, boorish person
dissembling: deceitful, false
eyne: archaic eyes
flout: to insult, to treat with disdain or contempt
heresies: opinions that are at odds with general beliefs
languish: to yearn
marshal: the director, the leader
reremice: archaic bats
roundel: a dance in a circle
troth: archaic truth
1. What does Lysander try to...
(The entire section is 487 words.)
abide: to endure
bower: an arbor, a leafy glade
brisky: archaic lively
casement: a window frame
enamored: in love with
gambol: to leap
gleek: archaic to taunt, to insult
grossness: unrefined nature, coarseness
hempen: made of hemp, rustic
homespuns: homemade clothing
juvenal: a young man
parlous: archaic perilous
purge: to remove
1. What do the craftsmen’s concerns about the play suggest about their outlook on life?
(The entire section is 578 words.)
barren: arid, empty
choughs: archaic clowns
confederacy: a group
curst: archaic angry, bad-tempered
derision: mockery, ridicule
disparage: to criticize, to insult
dote: to lavish attention on someone
ensue: to follow (figuratively), to happen next
entreat: to persuade, to beg
espy: to catch sight of
esteem: to consider, to believe to be
extort: to wring from a person by violence, intimidation, or abuse of authority
(The entire section is 872 words.)
bewail: archaic to cry
coy: archaic to caress
discharge: archaic to act, to play the role of
gaud: archaic a trinket
overbear: to overwhelm, to overrule
paramour: a lover
peradventure: archaic perhaps
provender: archaic feed, fodder
vaward: archaic foremost part, vanguard
venturous: archaic adventurous
1. What is Oberon’s plan now...
(The entire section is 943 words.)
beguile: to influence by trickery or flattery, to charm or divert
compact: made up, composed of
concord: an agreement
discourse: archaic discussion
dole: archaic one’s fate or destiny
lanthorn: archaic lantern
mote: a speck of dust, a trifle
quail: to overpower, to destroy
quell: archaic to kill
repent: to regret, to be sorry
reprehend: to rebuke, to censure
tarrying: waiting, lingering
videlicet: that is to say
(The entire section is 1082 words.)
1. Who is Theseus?
A. the king of the fairies
B. Oberon’s servant
C. Hermia’s future husband
D. the duke of Athens
E. the king of Greece
2. What event are Theseus and Hippolyta discussing as the play opens?
A. Oberon and Titania’s wedding
B. their honeymoon
C. Puck’s mischief
D. Hermia’s engagement
E. their own upcoming wedding
3. Why is Egeus upset with Hermia?
A. She is going to marry Demetrius.
B. She is about to elope with...
(The entire section is 1034 words.)
1. The fairies are characters in the play, but they are also a motif that relates to several themes throughout the play. Identify three themes that the fairies represent, develop, or dramatize in A Midsummer Night’s Dream.
Most explicitly, the fairies represent the natural world. The first fairy we meet is one of Titania’s servants. She is in the midst of getting ready for her queen’s arrival, and she describes the cowslip flowers as her bodyguards, while the flowers’ spots are fairy jewels: “Those be rubies, fairy favors.” The fairies make crowns of flowers, hide in acorn cups, and use flowers for potions. They are a metaphorical embodiment and extension of the natural world....
(The entire section is 3006 words.)