A Midsummer Night's Dream Author/Context
William Shakespeare was born on either the 22nd or 23rd of April, 1564 in Stratford-on-Avon, a small British town outside of London, to parents Mary Arden and John Shakespeare. He was educated at the King's Free School of Stratford, where he studied the Bible and Latin. He married an older woman, Anne Hathaway, at age 18. It was now that he began to find writing poetry as a profession to support his family. They had a daughter Susanna and twins, Judith and Hamnet. He began writing and finding different groups to perform his work, including the Admiral's Men, The Queen's Men, Pembroke's Men, and Lord Strange's Men. However, the Chamberlain's Men was the group of players in which he composed, produced, and performed many of his plays in the now-famous Globe Theater. He was compared to contemporary "scholars" such as Ben Jonson and Christopher Marlowe, the former who would be one of his greatest actors and the latter one of his greatest playwriting rivals.
Shakespeare is argued to have produced an incredibly large library of work, including 38 plays and countless sonnets. His plays are divided into four main sections: the Histories, the Tragedies, the Comedies, and the Romances. A Midsummer Night's Dream falls under the category of Comedy, although it does have some elements of the magical Romance genre. His work has been produced since the Renaissance in all artistic mediums from the original theater to opera, symphony, film, and ballet. It has also been consistently revisited countless times by the same artistic medium because it is said to be timeless. Shakespeare's topics are about love, murder, jealousy, miscommunication, chastity, history, and even magic. A Midsummer Night's Dream encompasses the classic elements of Shakespeare's comedies. It has a framing structure, with the Athenian world opening and closing the play, has a large plot using magic and fantasy, has a happy ending, and uses a major character as comic relief, so to speak. Most of Shakespeare's plays use this character of the clown, jester, or commoner to spark slapstick laughter. Bottom and his players qualify to this "character" in Midsummer. Also, these lower-class characters speak in prose, not in poetry (Iambic Pentameter), like the rest of Shakespeare's characters.
This play is a combination of three plots: The Athenian lovers Hermia, Helena, Lysander, and Demetrius, The fairies Titania and Oberon's rivalry, and the commoners' production of Pyramus and Thisbe. Through these three plots, the common thread is this illustration of the ridiculous behavior of lovers of every sort, every creature, and every class. According to Shakespeare scholar Oscar James Campbell, "Shakespeare's own opinion, at least as he presents it in the fantasy, is that love is a wholly irrational passion, the slave of whim and fancy."
A Midsummer Night's Dream was written in 1595 and performed most likely for the Queen. Like this play, many of Shakespeare's plays were written for the direct audience member, Queen Elizabeth.
Campbell, Oscar James, ed. Commemorative Edition of A Midsummer Night's Dream by William Shakespeare. New York: Bantam Books, 1965.
Chambers, William. A Short Life of Shakespeare with the Sources. London: Oxford University Press, 1933.
Pearson, Hesketh. A Life of Shakespeare. New York: Walker and Company, 1961.