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A Midsummer Night's Dream

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Title page of the first quarto (1600)
Title page of the first quarto (1600)

A Midsummer Night's Dream is a romantic comedy by William Shakespeare written sometime in the mid-1590s. It portrays the adventures of four young Athenian lovers and a group of amateur actors in a moonlit forest, and their interactions with the fairies who inhabit it. Today, the play is one of Shakespeare's most popular and is widely performed across the world.

Date and sources

It is not known exactly when A Midsummer Night's Dream was written or first performed, but, on the basis of topical references and an allusion to Spenser's Epithalamion, 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.

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 addition, Shakespeare could have been working on Romeo and Juliet at about the same time that he wrote the Dream, and it is possible to see Pyramus and Thisbe as a comic reworking of the tragic play. A further, frequently ignored source is The Knight's Tale in Chaucer's Canterbury Tales.[1]

Performance and Publication

The play was entered into the Register of the Stationers Company on Oct. 8, 1600 by the bookseller Thomas Fisher, who published the first quarto edition later that year. A second quarto was printed in 1619 by William Jaggard, as part of his so-called False Folio. The play next appeared in print in the First Folio of 1623.

The title page of Q1 states that the play was "sundry times publicly acted" prior to 1600. The first performance known with certainty occurred at Court on Jan. 1, 1604.

During the years of the Puritan Interregnum when the theatres were closed (1642-60), the comic subplot of Bottom and his compatriots was performed as a "droll." Drolls were comical playlets, often adapted from the subplots of Shakespearean and other plays, that could be attached to the acts of acrobats and jugglers and other allowed performances, thus circumventing the ban against drama.

When the theatres re-opened in 1660, A Midsummer Night's Dream was acted in adapted form, like many other Shakespearean plays. Samuel Pepys saw it on Sept. 29, 1662, and thought it "The most insipid, ridiculous play that ever I saw...."[1] For later productions, see below, "The Dream on the Stage."

Character list

  • Puck or Robin Goodfellow
  • Oberon, King of Fairies
  • Titania, Queen of Fairies
  • Lysander, in love with Hermia
  • Hermia, in love with Lysander
  • Helena, in love with Demetrius
  • Demetrius, in love with Hermia but then falls in love with Helena later on
  • Egeus, father of Hermia
  • Theseus, Duke of Athens
  • Hippolyta, Queen of the Amazons and betrothed of Theseus
  • Nick Bottom, weaver
  • Peter Quince, carpenter
  • Francis Flute, bellows-mender
  • Robin Starveling, tailor
  • Tom Snout, tinker
  • Snug, joiner
  • Philostrate, Master of the Revels
  • Peaseblossom, fairy
  • Cobweb, fairy
  • Moth (sometimes rendered as 'Mote', fairy)
  • Mustardseed, fairy


Study for The Quarrel of Oberon and Titania by Joseph Noel Paton
Study for The Quarrel of Oberon and Titania by Joseph Noel Paton

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 worshipping Diana as a nun. 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 doggedly 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" or "henchman," 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, he 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 and in the maze of their romantic entanglements.

Meanwhile, a band of "rude mechanicals" (lower-class labourers) have arranged to perform a crude play about Pyramus and Thisbe for Theseus's wedding, and venture into the forest, near Titania's bower, for their rehearsal. 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 no longer loves Hermia, Theseus over-rules 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 regardless, and after the mechanicals dance a Bergomask (rustic 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.


Headline text

The Dream on the stage

After the Jacobean/Caroline era, A Midsummer Night's Dream was never performed in its entirety until the 1840s. Instead, it was heavily adapted in forms like Henry Purcell's musical masque/play The Fairy Queen (1692). Richard Leveridge turned the Pyramus and Thisbe scenes into an Italian opera burlesque, acted at Lincoln's Inn Fields in 1716. John Frederick Lampe elaborated upon Leveridge's version in 1745. Charles Johnson had used the Pyramus and Thisbe material in the finale of Love in a Forest, his 1723 adaptation of As You Like It. In 1755, David Garrick did the opposite of what had been done a century earlier: he extracted Bottom and his companions and acted the rest, in an adaptation called The Fairies. Frederic Reynolds produced an operatic version in 1816.[2]

The Victorian Dream

In 1840, Madame Vestris at Covent Garden returned the play to the stage with a relatively full text, but padded it out greatly with musical sequences and balletic dances. Vestris took the role of Oberon, and for the next seventy years, Oberon and Puck would always be played by women. After the success of Vestris' production, nineteenth century theatre continued to treat the Dream as an opportunity for huge spectacle, often with a cast numbering nearly one hundred. Huge, detailed sets were created for the palace and the forest, and the fairies tended to be envisaged as gossamer-winged ballerinas. The much-loved overture by Felix Mendelssohn was always used throughout this period, with the text often being cut to provide greater space for music and dance.

Herbert Beerbohm Tree staged a 1911 production with live rabbits.

Granville-Barker, Max Reinhardt and after

In the early twentieth century, a reaction against this huge spectacle emerged. Innovative director Harley Granville-Barker introduced in 1914 the modern way of staging the Dream: he removed the huge casts and Mendelssohn, using instead Elizabethan folk music. He replaced the huge sets with a simple system of patterned curtains. He used a completely original vision of the fairies, seeing them as golden robotic insectoid creatures based on Cambodian idols. This increased simplicity and emphasis on directorial imagination has dominated subsequent Dreams on the stage.

Max Reinhardt staged A Midsummer Night's Dream thirteen times between 1905 and 1934, introducing a revolving set. After he fled Germany he devised a more spectacular outdoor version at the Hollywood Bowl, in September 1934. The shell was removed and replaced by a "forest" planted in tons of dirt hauled in especially for the event, and a trestle was constructed from the hills to the stage. The wedding procession inserted between Acts IV and V crossed a trestle with torches down the hillside. The cast included John Lodge, William Farnum, Sterling Holloway, 18-year-old Olivia de Havilland, and Mickey Rooney, with Erich Wolfgang Korngold's orchestrations of Mendelssohn. (The young Austrian composer would go on to make a Hollywood career.) On the strength of this production, Warner Brothers signed Reinhardt to direct a filmed version, Hollywood's first Shakespeare event since Douglas Fairbanks and Mary Pickford's Taming of the Shrew (1929). Rooney (Puck) and De Havilland (Hermia) were the only hold-overs from the cast.

  • Los Angeles Philharmonic notes
  • Notes, including production history

Brook and after

Another landmark production was that of Peter Brook in 1971. Brook swept away every tradition associated with the play, staging it in a blank white box, in which masculine fairies engaged in circus tricks such as trapeze artistry. Brook also introduced the subsequently popular idea of doubling Theseus/Oberon and Hippolyta/Titania, as if to suggest that the world of the fairies is a mirror version of the world of the mortals. Since Brook's production, directors have felt free to use their imaginations freely to decide for themselves what the play's story means, and to represent that visually on stage. In particular, there has been an increased amount of sexuality on stage, as many directors see the 'palace' as a symbol of restraint and repression, while the 'wood' can be a symbol of wild, unrestrained sexuality, which is both liberating and terrifying.

Movie adaptations

See also Shakespeare on screen (A Midsummer Night's Dream)

The Shakespeare play has inspired several movies. The following are the best known.

  • 1935 - directed by Max Reinhardt and William Dieterle, produced by Henry Blanke and adapted by Charles Kenyon and Mary C. McCall Jr.
    • The cast included James Cagney as Bottom, Mickey Rooney as Puck, Olivia de Havilland as Hermia, Joe E. Brown as Francis Flute, Dick Powell as Lysander and Victor Jory as Oberon. Many of the actors in this version had never performed Shakespeare, and never would do so again, notably Cagney and Brown, who were nevertheless highly acclaimed for their performances in the film. All critics agreed that Dick Powell, who played Lysander, was horribly miscast, and Powell himself agreed. [3]
    • Much of Mendelssohn's music was used , but re-orchestrated by Erich Wolfgang Korngold. The ballet sequences featuring the fairies were choreographed by Bronislava Nijinska.
    • The film won two Academy Awards:
      • Best Cinematography - Hal Mohr
      • Best Film Editing - Ralph Dawson
    • It was nominated for:
      • Best Picture - Henry Blanke, producer
      • Best Assistant Director - Sherry Shourds
      • Notably, Hal Mohr was not nominated for his work on the movie; he won the Oscar thanks to a grass-roots write-in campaign. The next year the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences declared that it would not accept write-in votes for the awards.
      • The film was first released at 132 minutes, but was edited to 117 minutes for its general release run. The full 132 minute version was not seen again until it turned up on cable television in 1994. The film was then re-issued at its full length on VHS (its first video release was of the edited version). Later showings on Turner Classic Movies have restored the film's pre-credits Overture, and its Exit Music, neither of which had been heard since its 1935 road show presentations. But as of 2006, the film has not yet been issued on DVD.
  • 1968 - directed by Peter Hall.
    • The cast included Paul Rogers as Bottom, Ian Holm as Puck, Diana Rigg as Helena, Helen Mirren as Hermia, Ian Richardson as Oberon, and Judi Dench as Titania.
    • This film stars the Royal Shakespeare Company, and is directed by Peter Hall. It is sometimes confused with Peter Brook's highly successful 1971 production, but the two are different, and Brook's production was never filmed. The fairies in Peter Hall's production wore green body paint.
  • 1982 - (titled "A Midsummer Night's Sex Comedy") directed by Woody Allen.
    • The cast included Woody Allen himself and wife Mia Farrow.
    • Not a spoof, it translates the action to a bucolic country holiday where the protagonist couples will see their liaisons put to a test, in an infrequent homage to Shakespeare in Allen's work. However, it does not really use the original plot, nor any of Shakespeare's dialogue.
  • 1996 - directed by Adrian Noble.
    • The cast included Desmond Barrit as Bottom, Barry Lynch as Puck, Alex Jennings as Oberon/Theseus, and Lindsay Duncan as Titania/Hippolyta.
    • This film is based on Noble's hugely popular Royal Shakespeare Company production. Its art design is eccentric, featuring a forest of floating light bulbs and a giant umbrella for Titania's bower.
  • 1999 - written and directed by Michael Hoffman.
    • The cast included Kevin Kline as Bottom, Rupert Everett as Oberon, Michelle Pfeiffer as Titania, Sophie Marceau as Hippolyta, Christian Bale as Demetrius and Calista Flockhart as Helena.
    • This adaptation relocates the play's action to Tuscany in the late nineteenth century.
  • 1999 - written and directed by James Kerwin.
    • The cast included Travis Schuldt as Demetrius. Sets the Dream story against a surreal backdrop of techno clubs and ancient symbols.
  • 2002 - A Midsummer Night's Rave, directed by Gil Cates Jr.
    • This adaptation changed the setting to a modern rave. Puck is a drug peddler, the magic flower called "love-in-idleness" is replaced with magic ecstasy, and the King and Queen of Fairies are the host of the rave and the DJ.
    • Other differences include changing the character names such as 'Lysander' becoming 'Xander'.
  • 2005 - ShakespeaRe-Told BBC TV drama, adapted by Peter Bowker.
    • The cast includes Johnny Vegas as Bottom, Dean Lennox Kelly as Puck, Bill Paterson as Theo {Egeus}, and Imelda Staunton as his wife. Lennie James plays Oberon and Sharon Small is Titania. Zoe Tapper and Michelle Bonnard play Hermia and Helena.
    • This is a modern adaptation, set in a contemporary holiday park playing host to the engagement party of Hermia and James (Lysander). It has the three parallel plots, plus the fairies, mischief, hallucinations and comedy of the original play. The dialogue is modern with allusions to Shakespeare's original lines.

Other adaptations

Musical versions

Incidental music: An overture and incidental music for the play were composed by Felix Mendelssohn in 1826 and were used in most stage versions through the nineteenth century. Mendelssohn's music was also used in George Balanchine's ballet adaptation of the play.

Another ballet adaptation was made by the great choreographer Marius Petipa for the Imperial Ballet of St. Petersburg, Russia with additional music and adaptations to Mendelssohn's score by Léon Minkus. The revival premiered July 14, 1876.

Opera: The play was adapted into an opera, with music by Benjamin Britten and libretto by Britten and Peter Pears. The opera was first performed on June 1, 1960, at Aldeburgh.

Semi-opera: The Fairy-Queen by Henry Purcell consists of a set of masques meant to go between acts of the play, as well as some minimal rewriting of the play to be current to 17th century audiences.


  • Drama: Botho Strauß' play Der Park (1983) is based on characters and motifs from A Midsummer Night's Dream.
  • A Kidsummer Night's Dream is another adaptation of the play.
  • A Midsummer Night's Dream (Love and a Bit with a Donkey) is a gay version of the story adapted by Stuart Draper and played at the Greenwich Playhouse in Autumn 2004
  • Revenge of the Amazons A version of the play by New Zealand playwright Jean Betts, written with the intention of providing female actors with more comic roles and opportunity to play women in Shakespeare. Explores modern women's issues.


  • For his series The Sandman, Neil Gaiman included a fantastical retelling of the play's origins in the graphic novel Dream Country. It won several awards, and is distinguished by being the only comic that has ever won a World Fantasy Award.
  • In 2006, web-comic artist Brooke McEldowney, author of the web-comics 9 Chickweed Lane and Pibgorn, adapted the story into a 20th-century setting using characters from both his web-comic series as part of the Pibgorn title.
  • A Midwinter Morning's Tale: A comic of the Corto Maltese series by Hugo Pratt. Oberon, Puck, Morgan Le Fey and Merlin appear in the comic as a representation of the Gaelic and Celtic fantasy beings. They choose Corto Maltese as their knight to fight for their sake against a possible German invasion in the context of World War I.
  • The Beatles recorded a comedy version of the Pyramus and Thisbe scene. [2].


  • Magic Street (2005) by Orson Scott Card revisits the work as a continuation of the play under the premise that the story by Shakespeare was actually derived from true interactions with fairy folk.
  • A Midsummer Night's Gene (1997) by Andrew Harman.
  • Faerie Tale, the 1988 fantasy novel by Raymond E. Feist, contains many references to the mythical characters represented in Shakespeare's A Midsummer Night's Dream.
  • Lords and Ladies by Terry Pratchett is very losely based on Shakespeare's play.


Anime: In 2005, xxxHOLiC - A Midsummer's Night Dream was released in theaters. It shared slight similarities with the play.

Dead Poets' Society: The tragic protagonist of the movie Dead Poets Society, Neil Perry (Robert Sean Leonard), was cast as Puck in a local production of A Midsummer Night's Dream. We only see a few frames of his performance, including the ending monologue which could be interpreted as a literary device used by the writer (Tom Schulman) to emphasize his unsuccessful plea to his father.

Disney shorts: A Midsummer Night's Dream was adaptated into a Disney short starring Mickey Mouse, Minnie Mouse, Donald Duck, and Daisy Duck as Lysander, Hermia, Demetrius, and Helena, respectively. In the end, the story is revealed to be a dream that Mickey has during a picnic. This short was featured in Disney's "Mickey Mouse Works" and "House of Mouse"

Disney's animated series Gargoyles featured many characters from Shakespeare's Midsummer Night's Dream, including Oberon, Titania, and, most prominently, Puck. In this series, Puck actually takes the form of Owen, loyal assistant to the main villain Xanatos. Later, Puck becomes the tutor for Xanatos' quarter-fae son, Alex. He is wily, sprightly, and willing to have fun at the expense of others.

Get Over It: The 2001 film stars Kirsten Dunst (Kelly Woods/Helena), Ben Foster (Berke Landers/Lysander), Melissa Sagemiller (Allison McAllister/Hermia) and Shane West (Bentley 'Striker' Scrumfeld/Demetrius) in a "teen adaptation" of Shakespeare's play. The characters are set in high school, and in addition to some similarities in plot, there is a sub-plot involving the main characters acting in a musical production of "A Midsummer Night's Dream".


The Suite Life of Zack and Cody: There was an episode in the 2nd season called "A Midsummer's Nightmare", in which the title twins' school put on this play, but it ends up a wreck because some students' characters have to kiss another student's boyfriend/girlfriend.

Lexx: In episode 11, season 4, titled "A Midsummer's Nightmare", the main characters of the show sought out Oberon's help. But they were trapped inside Oberon's domain until Titania, who is depicted as very small man in dress, saves them. Note that Lexx predates The Suite Life of Zack and Cody.

Reba: In season 1 of Reba, there is an episode called 'A Mid-semester Night's Dream'where Reba gets a job substitute teaching at Van and Cheyenne's school, only to get fired after giving misinterpreted advice about premarital sex to a young teen couple.


  1. ^ F. E. Halliday, A Shakespeare Companion 1564-1964, Baltimore, Penguin, 1964; pp. 142-3 and 316-17.
  2. ^ Halliday, pp. 255, 271, 278, 316-17, 410.
  3. ^ Eckert, Charles W., ed. Focus on Shakespearean Films, p. 48 Watts, Richard W. "Films of a Moonstruck World"

External links

Wikisource has original text related to this article:
A Midsummer Night's Dream
Wikiquote has a collection of quotations related to:
A Midsummer Night's Dream
  • David Strathairn Online: A Midsummer Night's Dream
  • MIT html version.
  • First Folio Facsimile - HTML diplomatic transcription of 1623 text.
  • Midsummer Night's Dream - plain vanilla text from Project Gutenberg.
  • The Sources and Analogues of 'A Midsummer Night's Dream', 1908 publication compiled by Frank Sidgwick, from Project Gutenberg.
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