A Midsummer Night's Dream by William Shakespeare

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Teaching Approaches

The Difficulties of Love as a Theme: A Midsummer Night’s Dream explores the many ways romantic love can go awry. The play uses the plot device of the magic flower to examine the fickle nature of romantic love and the jealousy it can engender. Many of the main characters face obstacles that they must overcome if their affections are to be returned: Oberon and Titania are in an intense argument, Hermia and Lysander are forbidden from being together, and Helena is in love with a man who doesn’t love her. Ultimately, true love wins out over magical intervention.

  • For discussion: What does the play consider the qualities of true love? Of false love? Do all the characters agree on these definitions?
  • For discussion: How does romantic jealousy move the plot of the play forward? 
  • For discussion: Despite the trials the lovers go through, the play ends with them happily paired off. What does this ending suggest about love and courtship? 

The Difficulties of Relationships as a Theme: Several platonic relationships between the main characters explore the ways in which people try—and fail—to communicate with one another. Egeus and Hermia’s father-daughter relationship is at odds at the beginning of the play: He is unhappy that she refuses to obey him, and she is unhappy that he won’t respect her love for Lysander. Hermia and Helena’s longtime friendship is threatened twice: first when Helena betrays Hermia’s plans to run away with Lysander, and again when Helena believes Hermia has convinced Lysander and Demetrius to mock her.

  • For discussion: Is Egeus angry with Hermia because she refuses to marry Demetrius? Or is he angry because Hermia disobeys him, transgressing Athenian customs? How can you tell? How does this affect your understanding of his character? How might different actors interpret his anger differently?
  • For discussion: What does the confrontation scene between Helena and Hermia reveal about the relationship between the two women? How could this scene be interpreted as a play on—and possible challenge to—the trope of two women fighting over a man?
  • For discussion: If magic weren’t involved, do you think Egeus and Hermia would have reconciled? What about Hermia and Helena?

The Play Within a Play: The mechanicals’ intentions for their play are earnest, but their shoddy performance turns tragedy into a comedy. In this way, their play mirrors the lovers’ plotline of Midsummer: What starts off as a love story that seems doomed to end in tragedy ends in happiness and good humor. Analyzing the mechanicals’ play throws certain aspects of Midsummer into relief.

  • For discussion: What is the purpose of having the mechanicals practice and perform their own play within the play of Midsummer itself? How does this play interact with the main narrative? (How) Does it impact your overall understanding of Midsummer?
  • For discussion: The play performed by the actors is a tragic story, though it ends up being humorous because they perform it so poorly. What is the significance of a tragic play being contained within a comedy where all the couples get happy endings? Which themes of Midsummer are highlighted by this contrast?

The Play as a Dream: Once in the forest, characters cycle between sleeping and waking, which is how the flower’s magic is able to work on them. After true love is restored, all of the lovers believe they have just woken from a strange dream. At the end of the play, Puck addresses the audience directly and suggests that the entire play is a dream that the audience will wake from: “If we shadows have offended, / Think but this, and all is mended, / That you have but slumber’d here / While these visions did appear.” 

  • For discussion: How does Puck’s suggestion that the audience has dreamed the play change your interpretation of it? To what extent do his final lines hold truth? Why might Shakespeare have labeled the play a dream in its title?
  • For discussion: Why does it matter that the characters believe that all that has transpired is...

(The entire section is 1,685 words.)