Understanding a Midsummer Night's Dream: A Student Casebook to Issues, Sources, and Historical Documents

Understanding a Midsummer Night's Dream: A Student Casebook to Issues, Sources, and Historical Documents

Understanding a Midsummer Night's Dream: A Student Casebook to Issues, Sources, and Historical Documents

Understanding a Midsummer Night's Dream: A Student Casebook to Issues, Sources, and Historical Documents

Synopsis

This casebook begins by establishing the dramatic and literary concerns of the play, such as structure, themes, poetic language, and original sources and classical inspiration. Four historical context chapters consider attitudes toward gender relations, social distinctions, popular culture, and imagination in Shakespeare's time, revealing contemporary social and political issues and debates reflected in the comedy.

Excerpt

A Midsummer Nights Dream is one of Shakespeare's most purely romantic comedies, dramatizing the wonderment and confusion of characters falling in and out of love under the magical influence of fairies in an enchanted forest on a midsummer night. The term “comedy” identifies the lighthearted nature of the plot but also draws attention to the structure of the play with a story that focuses on community rather than individual characters and an ending that celebrates life by blessing the harmony of multiple marriages. This is a delightful play to watch and includes some of Shakespeare's most lyrical lines of poetry, especially in the speeches of the fairies, whose otherworldliness comes to life in melodious verse.

Perhaps one of the greatest challenges in teaching and studying this play or in addressing its issues involves a delicate balancing point—not always easy to find—between the sheer pleasure of the language and performance and the serious implications of its historical and social milieu. As Shakespearean scholar Linda Woodbridge suggests from her perspective on Shakespearean comedy, “[Its] characters may be violating the rules of society, but they are following the rules of comedy. I would argue that it's every bit as important to know the literary history of comedy as to know the social history of England” (Linda Woodbridge, notes on Shakespearean Comedy, Introduction, p. 2). This guide to understanding A Midsummer Night's Dream under the rubric of a series entitled “Literature in Context” devotes much time and space to the “Issues, Sources, and Historical Documents” noted in the book's subtitle. It would be wise to begin, however, with two observations. First, literary and dramatic con-

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