Midsummer Night’s Dream Moon
A Midsummer Night’s Dream was written around 1595-6 and within it there is much opportunity for reference to Shakespeare’s contemporary world and life.The play’s title, for example, refers to an old English holiday custom on the night of “Midsummer’s Eve” or summer solstice on June 23rd. On this night English men and women would tell stories of fairies and witchcraft.
It was believed that spirits were particularly active on this night. The play also refers to the rite of May or “Maying”. This is a familiar English tradition that took place on the first night of May, where young men and women could engage in singing and dancing (and possibly more) in the woods outside their towns. It is likely this is where Shakespeare got the ideas for setting and themes.
At the time the play was written these traditions were under attack from the English puritans, who called them “pagan practices,” saying there was too much scope for to much mischief. Shakespeare may have been seen to be defending such traditions by giving the play a happy ending after all that midsummer madness, showing the traditions as harmless or even desirable.Why was the play written?It is thought that the play was originally written to be performed first at the house of a nobleman as part of his wedding celebrations. If this was the case when the company performed Act V the noblemen and women in the first audience would be watching other noble men and women do just as they were, watching a play on a wedding day.It is said that one of the wedding guests was Queen Elizabeth I.
If this is true it would it would be expected that Shakespeare wrote with her in mind as he often did.Characters.Characteristics classic of Queen Elizabeth I are displayed in both Titania and Hippolyta.Hippolyta as beautiful ‘Amazon Queen’ reflects Queen Elizabeth’s military power as well as her refusal to marry. It has been suggested that the marriage between Hippolyta and Theseus is linked to the “League if Amity” signed between Elizabeth and the King of France at the time the play was written.
Queen Elizabeth could also have been seen to share qualities of Titania, who is presented as a patroness of music and dancing and the arts as Elizabeth was often seen as.Theseus is seen to be loosely based on a Greek Hero of the time, when Greek Mythology was popular, it is also referred to on numerous occasions throughout the play. The title of Theseus is referenced in famous literature such as Sir Thomas North’s translation of Plutarch’s Lives and Chauser’s Canterbury Tales, where Hippolyta is the wife of Theseus.It has been suggested that the Rude Mechanicals’ characters are loosely based on men of Shakespeare’s company, but there is no evidence for this.
Shakespeare has two daughters who Helena and Hermia may have been based on.Today.A Midsummer Night’s Dream has continued to be appreciated since the renaissance, being reproduced in many new forms such as ballet, opera or film, as well as continuing to be successful in its original form where it has been described as timeless.In Theatre today A Midsummer Night’s Dream is performed with a mixed sex cast as Shakespeare may well have originally intended.
He presents women as strong independent figures (Hippolyta an Amazon Queen, Titania standing her ground) and seems to hold them in great stead. Women playing the parts of women would have a great effect on the play, and though it is classically seen as one of Shakespeare’s great comedies, such a change may act to further emphasise the romantic content.Men and women today more or less have equal place in society, and as a result a modern audience do not think twice about seeing Egeus as being in the wrong in not letting her marry the man she loves, and Hermia being the victim. This may not have been the case originally when audiences may have viewed Hermia as wrong and defiant. In modern day theatre there are other, more obvious differences, as I learnt when I saw a production of the play in summer 2002.The play, though performed in the same theatre it would have been performed in 400 years ago, the Globe, appeared to hold few similarities to the way I would image it was presented then.
The costume and prop ideas were based around ‘bedtime’, and the actors were dressed in pyjamas throughout the performance. The play began with the actors sleeping on stage waking to an alarm. Aspects such as these show how A Midsummer Night’s Dream can still be appreciated 400 hundred years later as such a strong story can always be teamed with concepts appealing to modern audiences such as this. So Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream is a play that will continue to be appreciated for years to come.