As we might expect from the range and vitality of Shakespeare\'s writing, Elizabethan England was an exciting and changing place. Though we know little of Shakespeare\'s own life, we know much about his world. For England, the sixteenth century was a period of growth and exploration, contributing to a renaissance in cultural and economic life. Under the reigns of Elizabeth I (1558-1603) and James I (1603-1625), London became one of the artistic ... mehr
In the ancient city of Athens a wedding is about to take place between Theseus, duke of Athens, and Hippolyta, the Amazon warrior queen whom he has wooed and won. They meet in the duke\'s palace to discuss their marriage festivities. Suddenly, Egeus storms in, extremely upset. He wants his daughter, Hermia, to marry Demetrius, who is dutifully in love with her. Hermia, however, is in love with Lysander and refuses to give in to her father\'s de ... mehr
As duke of Athens, Theseus occupies an important social and political position that is at the heart of his character. Though he had a lively past, filled with heroic war exploits and romantic conquests, he now is a figure of the Athenian establishment, upholding the social order. As such, he represents, in contrast to the volatile lovers, the stabilizing force of marriage.
Theseus is a traditional Greek mythic hero. He is mentioned in many ... mehr
A warrior in her own right, Hippolyta maintains a kind of aloof dignity. She too is a Greek legendary figure, an Amazon queen of fierce pride and strength. In the beginning of the play she counters Theseus\'s impatience for the wedding day with a cool, imperial rationality of her own. Yet she doesn\'t rely so completely on reason: she is charmed and a little disturbed by the lovers\' stories. She\'s not willing to discount their tales completel ... mehr
Hermia shows her spunkiness right from the beginning. Though the force of familial and social power are brought heavily to bear upon her, she sticks to her guns. Her first words are a defense of Lysander against the accusations of her father, Egeus, and Theseus. She asks that her father look with her eyes, to try to see her viewpoint. She stands up for what she believes in even though it may mean her death. It\'s easy to side with Hermia--but w ... mehr
It\'s hard to get a grip on the character of Lysander. Indeed, because of the frustrating interference of Puck, it\'s hard for him to keep a grip on himself. As you read the play, you may have difficulty telling him and Demetrius apart. They both seem to be defined more by the object of their desires than by any qualities in and of themselves.
Lysander has the unlucky distinction of professing his undying eternal love for two different women ... mehr
Helena is primarily defined by her relationship to love, but unfortunately that love is lacking. The unhappy experience of unrequited love seems to have penetrated to her very core. Although attractive, tall, and willowy, she questions her own virtues because being unloved makes her feel unworthy of love.
It\'s true that Demetrius originally loved her, and she has cause for being upset that he now seems to care for Hermia. But Helena is a pr ... mehr
Like Lysander, Demetrius is difficult to identify except by his relation to the one he loves, or, more particularly, to the one who loves him. Helena\'s chasing after him and his irritation with her are the primary marks of his character. Since in his uncharmed state he even threatens Helena with bodily harm, he comes off as not quite the gracious courtly lover he means to be. And you may wonder, too, about how easily his eye was distracted fro ... mehr
As king of his magical realm, Oberon is the most powerful figure in the play. Everything about him is commanding, from his language to his magic spells. He is in essence an artist: he knows his craft and how it operates, and he can use his skills to their fullest effect. Since he sets in motion the charmed encounters that are at the heart of the play, he is the author of the plot. The characters play out their dramas to fulfill his needs and wi ... mehr
Titania is a regal and commanding person. She is not readily willing to give in to the king, and her insistence on keeping the changeling shows both her strong personal will and the respect she has for her priestess. Though she may lack Oberon\'s knowledge of magic, she is certainly a primary power like him and has her own court of fairy attendants. She\'s not about to take any nonsense from him, and she throws his past romantic exploits right ... mehr
Jester and jokester, Puck, otherwise known as Robin Goodfellow, is like a wild, untamed member of the fairy clan. Though Oberon tells him they are \"spirits of another sort,\" Puck, with his connection to English legend and folklore, seems related to a slightly more dangerous kind of sprite.
Not that he is truly malevolent. Although his tricks make people uncomfortable, they don\'t seem to do any permanent damage. He casts an ironic eye on h ... mehr
Clown, actor, weaver, even romantic hero--Bottom is a complex character. He\'s able to attract sympathy in the midst of his absurd buffoonery and to elicit concern even though he exhibits some obnoxious qualities. This mix of characteristics has made readers feel many contradictory things about him. Some say he is a boor, that he treats his fellow players with a lack of respect; others note his large ego and need for being in the spotlight. Sti ... mehr
These simple folk carve out their own realm in the play, with Bottom at the front. Shakespeare has them speak prose, serving as a sharp contrast to the poetry of the lovers and fairies. They stand as representatives of an innocent real world, plain, good-natured, and well-meaning. Their preposterous bad acting and terrible attempts at poetry are made fun of, but their good intentions and shared fellowship are always apparent. Shakespeare may us ... mehr
Though A Midsummer Night\'s Dream takes place in and around Athens in ancient Greece, you will be hard-pressed to find many details of Greek life. Instead, you will learn much about Elizabethan courtly and country life. While it professes to draw a picture of Athens, the play really seems to take place in England. Puck\'s descriptions of the tricks he plays on people are filled with details of English village life. And when Titania describes th ... mehr
Here are some major themes explored by Shakespeare in this play. You will find them explained in greater detail in the scene-by-scene discussion of the novel.
1. TRUE AND FALSE LOVE
The overriding theme of the play deals with the nature of love. Though true love seems to be held up as an ideal, false love is mostly what we are shown. Underneath his frantic comedy, Shakespeare seems to be asking the questions all lovers ask in the throes o ... mehr
Shakespeare\'s understanding of a wide range of human experience as well as different levels of consciousness enables him to adapt his style to his characters and their worlds. A Midsummer Night\'s Dream is unique in that its different sets of characters speak in different ways. And their styles of speech tell us things about them.
The ducal court and the romantic lovers speak a conventional courtly poetry, filled with mythical allusions and ... mehr
Adjectives, nouns, and verbs were less rigidly confined to particular classes in Shakespeare\'s day. Adjectives could be used as adverbs:
And then the moon, like to a silver bow
New bent in heaven
(I, i, 9-10)
\"New\" is used for \"newly.\" Adjectives could also be used as nouns:
Demetrius loves your fair. O happy fair!
(I, i, 182)
Here, \"fair\" is the equivalent of \"fairness\" or \"beauty.\" Adjectives could also be used as ve ... mehr
The meanings of words undergo changes, a process that can be illustrated by the fact that \"silly\" used to mean \"holy\" and \"quick\" meant \"alive.\" Most of the words in Shakespeare\'s plays still exist today but some meanings have changed. The change may be small, as in the case of \"pert,\" which meant \"quick to act,\" as in
Awake the pert and nimble spirit of mirth
(I, i, 13)
or more fundamental, so that \"gossip\" (II, i, 47) me ... mehr
Words not only change their meanings but are frequently discarded from the language. In the past, \"leman\" meant \"sweetheart,\" \"sooth\" meant \"truth,\" and \"mewed\" meant \"confined, cooped up.\" The following words used in A Midsummer Night\'s Dream are no longer current in English, but their meanings can usually be gauged from the contexts in which they occur.
GAUDS (I, i, 33): showy toys
PREVAILMENT (I, i, 71): power
BELIKE ... mehr
Shakespearean verb forms differ from modern usage in three main ways:
1. Questions and negatives could be formed without using \"do/did,\" as when Oberon asks Titania:
How long within this wood intend you stay?
(II, i, 138)
where today we would say, \"How long do you intend to stay?\" or as when Demetrius tells Helen:
I love thee not, therefore pursue me not.
(II, i, 189)
where modern usage demands, \"I do not love you, so don\ ... mehr