A Midsummer Night's Dream



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(Stratford-on-Avon, 1564 – Stratford-on-Avon, 1616)


The greatest dramatist of all time was born at Stratford-on- Avon, not far from London, on the 23rd April, 1564.
He was the son of a prosperous tradesman of the town. There is little positive knowledge of the facts of Shakespeare’s life but probably he attended the local Grammar School, where he gained a knowledge of Latin. He never became learned but he had a sound education. Owing to financial difficulties overtaking his father, he was taken from school about 1577 so that he might help the family.
When nineteen he married Anne Hathaway, a woman eight years older than himself. This marriage seems to have been unhappy. Three children were born to him. Tradition says that he fell into bad company and being accused of poaching, fled to London to escape arrest and a severe sentence and to seek new fortune.
Drama was then becoming very popular and Shakespeare was soon attracted to the stage, first becoming an actor and then a playwright. He began his literary career by touching up and re-writing old plays for a company of players.Then he wrote plays of his own and his reputation grew rapidly. He lived in London for more than twenty years, became a favourite at Court and was co-owner in two of the principal theatres of the time, the Globe and the Blackfriars. He also purchased landed property in Stratford-on-Avon. The years which brought prosperity also brought him domestic sorrows owing to the deaths of his only son, his younger brother and his mother.
Between 1610 and 1612 he retired to Stratford to his house, known as New Place, where he died on his birthday, April 23rd, 1616.
He was buried in Stratford Church, his wife beside him in 1623.
His works were published separately. The first edition of all works appeared only in 1623 and is called the First Folio.The commonly accepted number of Shakespeare’s works is 36 plays. His activity as a dramatist extends over about twenty-one years, from 1591 to 1612.
Shakespeare’s critics generally agree in dividing the plays approximately into four periods as follows:
• FIRST PERIOD (1591 – 1594) The period of apprenticeship and experimental work. Shakespeare’s apprenticeship begins with the revision of old plays: Henry VI and Titus Andronicus. Then he writes his own plays beginning with comedies which are rather flimsy and show the influence of Lyly: Love’s Labour’s Lost, The Two Gentlemen of Verona, The Comedy of Errors and The Taming of the Shrew. In this period we have also his first attempt at chronicle drama, Richard III, and the youthful tragedy Romeo and Juliet.
The treatment of characters in these plays, compared to the later ones, is superficial and the thought is not deep. The technical characteristics are the use of rhyme, puns, conceits and other affectations.
• SECOND PERIOD (1595 – 1600) The period of great comedies and chronicle plays: A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Richard II, King John, The Merchant of Venice, Henry IV, The Merry Wives of Windsor, Much Ado about Nothing, As You Like It, Julius Caesar, Henry V and Troilus and Cressida.
Shakespeare now becomes independent and reveals immense power of characterization and technique. The motives and passions of men are deeper, dramatic effects more telling and the thought profounder. Rhyme is abandoned for blank verse and prose.
• THIRD PERIOD (1601 – 1608) The period of great tragedies and sombre comedies: Hamlet, Twelth night, All’s Well that Ends Well, Measure for Measure, Othello, King Lear,Macbeth; Antony and Cleopatra, Coriolanus and Timon of Athens.
This is the period in which Shakespeare’s intellectual, dramatic and expressive power are at their highest. The weaknesses of men form the key-note of his plots. The darker side of human life, jealousy, ambition, ingratitude, voluptuousness, pride, in fact all human passions are portrayed. Even in the comedies this grave aspect of life is reflected.
• FOURTH PERIOD (1609 – 1612) The period of the romantic dramas: Cymbeline, The Tempest and The Winter’s Tale. To this period belong Pericle and Henry VIII which are only partly his.
Tragic passion is no longer permitted to have its way but is conquered by good. Shakespeare seems to be reconciled with life.
Besides the plays, Shakespeare wrote at intervals and in different moods, a series of one hundred and fifty-four Sonnets, the poems Venus and Adonis and The Rape of Lucrece.
It is interesting to note that, with three or four exceptions, Shakespeare did not invent the plots of his plays but took them from various sources. Quite a number, about fourteen are taken, directly or indirectly, from Italian literature (Boccaccio, Bandello, Giovanni Fiorentino) while four treat events in Roman History.
He has been called “Bard of Avon” and “Swan of Avon”. Milton calls him “Sweetest Shakespeare Fancy’s child”. Dryden considers him the “Homer of our dramatic poets”, refers to his “magic” and states that “He was the man who of all modern and perhaps ancient poets had the largest and most comprehensive soul”.
The most remarkable characteristic of Shakespeare’s plays is their wonderful variety. They display his superlative ability to put thought into condensed poetic phraseology. His characterization is perfect and his psychological touch superb both in the human and the fantastic. He can be humorous or stern, tragic or comic, and be at home in the world of the supernatural. His outlook on mankind is tolerant; he is in sympathy with man in all his weakness and strength and regarding man’s tragic destinies has greater human coherence than his greatest predecessors, the Greek tragedians.

A Midsummer Night's Dream is a romantic comedy written in five acts in the 1590s.
It portrays the adventures of four young Athenian lovers and a group of amateur actors, their interactions with the Duke and Duchess of Athens, Theseus and Hippolyta, and with fairies who inhabit a moonlit forest. The play is one of Shakespeare's most popular and is widely performed across the world.
There is no known source for the plot of A Midsummer Night's Dream, although individual elements can be traced to classical literature; for example, the story of Pyramus and Thisbe is told in Ovid's Metamorphoses and the transformation of Bottom into an ass is descended from Apuleius' The Golden Ass; Shakespeare would have studied both texts at school.
In the Discovery of Witchcraft (1584 – La Scoperta della Stregoneria) of Reginald Scot, he might have found some hints about Robin Goodfellow.
The play features three interlocking plots, connected by a celebration of the wedding of Duke Theseus of Athens and the Amazonian Queen Hippolyta.
In the opening scene, Hermia refuses to comply with her father Egeus's wish for her to marry his chosen man, Demetrius. In response, Egeus quotes before Theseus an ancient Athenian law whereby a daughter must marry the suitor chosen by her father, or else face death or lifelong chastity.
Hermia and her lover Lysander therefore decide to elope by escaping through the forest at night. Hermia informs her best friend Helena, but Helena has recently been rejected by Demetrius and decides to win back his favor by revealing the plan to him. Demetrius, followed by Helena, chases Hermia, who, in turn, chases Lysander, from whom she becomes separated.Meanwhile, Oberon, king of the fairies, and his queen, Titania, arrive in the same forest to attend Theseus and Hippolyta's wedding. Oberon and Titania are estranged because Titania refuses to give her Indian page-boy to Oberon for use as his "knight" since the child's mother was one of Titania's worshippers. Oberon seeks to punish Titania's disobedience and recruits the mischievous Puck (also called Hobgoblin and Robin Goodfellow) to help him apply a magical juice from a flower called "love-in- idleness," which makes the victim fall in love with the first living thing he sees when he awakens. Oberon applies the juice to Titania in order to distract her and force her to give up the page-boy.Having seen Demetrius act cruelly toward Helena, Oberon orders Puck to spread some of the juice on the eyelids of the young Athenian man.
Instead, Puck puts the juice on the eyes of Lysander, who then falls in love with Helena. When Oberon finds this out, he makes Puck apply the juice to Demetrius. Due to Puck's errors, Hermia's two lovers temporarily turn against her in favor of Helena. Helena, however, is convinced that her two suitors are mocking her, as neither loved her originally.
The four pursue and quarrel with each other all night, losing themselves in the dark. Meanwhile, a band of "rude mechanicals" (lower-class labourers) have arranged to perform a play about Pyramus and Thisbe for Theseus's wedding. Nick Bottom, a stage-struck weaver, is spotted by Puck, who transforms his head into that of an ass (donkey). Titania is awoken by Bottom's singing, and she immediately falls in love with him. She treats him as if he is a nobleman and lavishes attention upon him. While in this state of devotion, she encounters Oberon and casually gives him the Indian boy. Having achieved his goals, Oberon releases Titania and orders Puck to remove the ass's head from Bottom. The magical enchantment is removed from Lysander but is allowed to remain on Demetrius, so that he may reciprocate Helena's love. The fairies then disappear, and Theseus and Hippolyta arrive on the scene, during an early morning hunt. They wake the lovers and, since Demetrius doesn't love Hermia anymore, Theseus overrules Egeus's demands and arranges a group wedding.
The lovers decide that the night's events must have been a dream. After they all exit, Bottom awakes, and he too decides that he must have experienced a dream "past the wit of man."
In Athens, Theseus, Hippolyta and the lovers watch the mechanicals perform "Pyramus and Thisbe." It is ridiculous and badly performed but gives everyone pleasure and after the dance, everyone retires to bed. Finally, as night falls, Oberon and Titania bless the house, its occupants, and the future children of the newlyweds, and Puck delivers an epilogue to the audience asking for applause.
It is not known exactly when A Midsummer Night's Dream was written or first performed, but, it is usually dated in 1595 or 1596. Some have theorized that the play might have been written for an aristocratic wedding; numerous such weddings took place in 1596, while others suggest it was written for the Queen to celebrate the feast day of St. John, but no concrete evidence exists to link the play with either of them. In either case, it would also have been performed at The Theatre, and, later, The Globe in London.
The first performance known with certainty occurred at Court on January 1, 1604.
In A Midsummer Night’s Dream elements of fancy and realism are blended in the pursuit of sophisticated entertainment.
It is a dream, a jest, a presentation of the comic irresponsability of young love whose variations are attributed to the mischief-making (half deleberate, half accidental) of Puck.
There are several strands, the marriage of Theseus and Hippolyta providing the background.
In the foreground there are two pairs of lovers, the women constant and the men changing their affections as the magic herb “love-in-idlessness) bids them.
In the background is the fairy world, centering on Oberon and Titania and their Quarrel, which involves the human lovers.
PUCK moves between the human and fairy world.
BOTTOM the weaver, is far from being the conventional clown of the sixteen-century stage but is a kind of character who flourishes in every society and is able to bring the grossest element in the human world into contact with the gossamer world of fairy.
THESEUS is a paternal figure, the benevolent ruler who gaverns with justice and humanity.
Shakespeare moves towards an ideal of “romantic comedy” in which the fortunes of love and the humors of characters are skillfully blended.
The play is lyrical in tone and masquelike in movement.
In A Midsummer Night’s Dream the way in which the love plot, the fairy plot, the activities of Bottom and his fellows are brought together by means of the Theseus-Hippolyta background shows Shakespeare’s skill and incomparable gift of character-portrayal.
The power of Shakespeare’s imagination is well expressed in the Act V (1):
The poet’s eye, in a fine frenzy rolling,
Doth glance from heaven to earth, from earth to heaven.
And as imagination bodies forth
The forms of things unknown, the poet’s pen
Turns them to shapes, and gives to airy nothing
A local habitation and a name.
L’occhio del poeta, mosso da una sublime frenesia,
si volge dal cielo alla terra, e dalla terra al cielo,
e, come l’immaginazione dà corpo alle figure
di cose sconosciute, così la penna del poeta
le viene modellando, e dà a un aereo nulla
una casa in cui vivere ed un nome.