After over a month to prepare for it, the time has come to discuss this Shakespearian play. Before I dive into my thoughts on the play, here is some background information on the play itself:
Summary of the plot or story
The main plot of Midsummer is a complex farce that involves two sets of couples (Hermia & Lysander and Helena & Demetrius) whose romantic intrigues are confused and complicated still further by entering the forest where Oberon, the King of the Fairies and his Queen, Titania, preside. Puck (or Robin Goodfellow) is a major character who is full of mischief and tricks. Other visitors to the enchanted forest include Bottom the weaver and his friends Snug, Snout, Quince and Flute who want to rehearse their dire but hilarious rendering of the play Pyramus and Thisbe. Themes illustrated in the play are that Love triumphs in the end and the pleasure of Dreaming the Impossible Dream.
Date First Performed
It is believed that A Midsummer Night’s was first performed between 1595 and 1596. In the Elizabethan era there was a huge demand for new entertainment and A Midsummer Night’s Dream would have been produced immediately following the completion of the play.
Date first printed
It is believed that the script was first printed in 1600. As William Shakespeare clearly did not want his work published details of the play would have therefore been noted, and often pirated without his consent, following a performance.
The setting for A Midsummer Night’s Dream
The setting for the drama is Athens in Greece
Theme of A Midsummer Night’s Dream
The play is categorised as a Comedy
Most important characters
The most important characters are: Hermia, Lysander, Bottom, Puck, Oberon (King of the Fairies) and Titania (Queen of the Fairies)
History of A Midsummer Night’s Dream
Unlike many of his other plays it does not include any historical figures. The feast of John the Baptist was celebrated as an English festival on June 24 (Midsummer Day) It was believed that on Midsummer Night that the fairies and witches held their festival. To dream about Midsummer Night was to conjure up images of fairies and witches and other similar creatures and supernatural events.
William Shakespeare’s Main Source for A Midsummer Night’s Dream
All characters and plot are purely fictitious but Shakespeare may have based parts of the play on The Knight’s Tale by Geoffrey Chaucer (1340 – 1400)
My thoughts on the play:
I remember reading this play years ago and loving it a lot. And it certainly has its moments of subtle humor that demonstrate some of Shakespeare’s genius. However, having read so many of his other plays, this one simply doesn’t measure up. In fact, this would probably fit into a bottom third of his plays, although it would be high in that tier. While the play is not, in itself, a bad play, it is simply not able to live up to the expectations that come from having read so many Shakespearian greats.
I enjoyed the scheme of Oberon and Puck and how their plans all went awry because Puck was told to look for an Athenian man and Oberon didn’t realize there were two of them in the woods that night. I also enjoyed Titania falling in love with a man who was dressed as an ass. The play being performed within a play was interesting, providing some humorous moments, but overall I could have done away with that part and focused more upon the love stories with the main characters. The fact that the fifth act was all the performance was a major let-down for me personally.
So while it was an enjoyable read overall, it is certainly not one that I would recommend to someone unless they are entering into their Shakespearian readings. There are plenty of other great plays to choose from to read that are as entertaining and done far better than this one.
Some of my favorite lines from the play were:
“The course of true love never did run smooth.” Act 1, Scene 1, line 134
“We cannot fight for love, as men may do;/ We should be wooed and were not made to woo./ I’ll follow thee and make a heaven of hell,/ to die upon the hand I love so well.” Act 2, Scene 1, lines 241-244
“When thou wakest, it is thy dear:/ Wake when some vile thing is near.” Act 2, Scene 2, lines 33-34
“When in that moment, so it came to pass,/ Titania waked and straightway loved an ass.” Act 3, Scene 2, lines 32-33
“O spite! O hell! I see you all are bent
To set against me for your merriment:
If you we re civil and knew courtesy,
You would not do me thus much injury.
Can you not hate me, as I know you do,
But you must join in souls to mock me too?
If you were men, as men you are in show,
You would not use a gentle lady so;
To vow, and swear, and superpraise my parts,
When I am sure you hate me with your hearts.
You both are rivals, and love Hermia;
And now both rivals, to mock Helena:
A trim exploit, a manly enterprise,
To conjure tears up in a poor maid’s eyes
With your derision! none of noble sort
Would so offend a virgin, and extort
A poor soul’s patience, all to make you sport.” Act 2, Scene 2, lines 145-161
“If we shadows have offended,
Think but this, and all is mended,
That you have but slumbered here
While these visions did appear.
And this weak and idle theme,
No more yielding but a dream,
Gentles, do not reprehend,
If you pardon, we will mend.
And, as I am an honest Puck,
If we have unearned luck
Now to ‘scape the serpent’s tongue,
We will make amends ere long,
Else the Puck a liar call.
So, goodnight unto you all.
Give me your hands, if we be friends,
And Robin shall restore amends.” Act 5, Scene 1, lines 430-445
What about you? Did you enjoy reading A Midsummer Night’s Dream? How many other Shakespearian plays have you read and how did this measure up in your opinion? Any favorite scenes or lines that you’d like to share? Let’s have a conversation about this play!
Andrea Lundgren said:
Have you ever seen it performed? When done well, the play-within-a-play is the climax of the show, really illustrating the theme that who we are varies based on our intentions and motivations. It shows how variable and fleeting our dignity or even idea of self can be as the actors are partly themselves, partly someone else, and are constantly going in and out of character.
That being said, the play is not one that I’d recommend as a “sit-down-and-read” type, because it doesn’t have the deep, thoughtful, philosophical aspects of many of his other works. It is light-hearted comedy that explores the human condition with a laugh, and that may be harder to do in one’s armchair. 🙂
David Wiley said:
Not yet, but now I think I should aim to see it performed. Or at least to watch a good production of the play (not a movie) at some point. I’d agree that this one probably loses something when simply read rather than seeing it performed. I was on the watch for the great lines and deep monologues that are characteristic of a Shakespearian play and was left disappointed. Even some of the other comedies I love, such as Much Ado About Nothing, had a greater abundance of witty wordplay.
As I mentioned, I don’t dislike the play but, compared to many of his other plays, this one just didn’t wow me in the way I expected.
I love A Midsummer Night’s Dream. I saw the play when I was in school and fell in love with it. Maybe a big part of it has to do with my fascination with Greek Mythology. Puck is definitely my favourite character. He cracks me up.
David Wiley said:
As I said, it isn’t a bad play, it just lacks something when compared to many of his later, greater plays that has it fall short. Romeo and Juliet, I’m sure, would succumb to the same issue. I thought Puck was quite entertaining, and loved the plot that he and Oberon put forth. Maybe that is why I was so disappointed that it was all wrapped up by Act IV’s end and left Act V to be just a play-within-a-play.