A Midsummer Night's Dream by William Shakespeare

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Here is a puritan account of a may-pole’s erection (the word is used advisedly!) written in 1583:

Against May, Whitsonday, or other time, all the yung men and maides, olde men and wives, run gadding over night to the woods, groves, hils, and mountains, where they spend all the night in pleasant pastimes; and in the morning they return, bringing with them birch and branches of trees, to deck their assemblies withall. And no mervaile, for there is a great Lord present among them, as superintendent and Lord over their pastimes and sportes, namely, Sathan prince of hel. But the chiefest jewel they bring from thence is their May-pole, which they bring home with great veneration, as thus. They have twentie or fortie yoke of oxen, every oxe having a sweet nose-gay of flowers paced on the tip of his hornes, and these oxen drawe home this May-pole (this stinkyng ydol, rather), which is covered all over with floures and hearbs, bound round about with strings, from the top to the bottome, and sometime painted with variable colours, with two or three hundred men, women and children following it with great devotion. And thus being reared up, with handkercheefs and flags hovering on the top, they straw the ground round about, binde green boughs about it, set up sommer hauls, bowers, and arbors hard by it. And then fall they to daunce about it, like as the heathen people did at the dedication of the Idols, whereof this is a perfect pattern, or rather the thing itself. I have heard it credibly reported (and that viva voce) by men of great gravitie and reputation, that of fortie, threescore, or a hundred maides going to the wood over night, there have scarcesly the third part of them returned home againe undefiled.

(Philip Stubbes, Anatomie of Abuses)


170 ‘the golden head’ – Cupid is the most familiar image of Love’s irrationality. His golden arrows produced love; the lead ones, distain.

185 ‘When wheat is green, when hawthorn buds appear’ – typical imagery of burgeoning nature.

191 ‘to be to you translated’ – Helena wishes to be transformed into Hermia. Another indication of the interchangeability of the young lovers.

194 ‘I frown upon him; yet he loves me still’ – Shakespeare is employing stichomythia and rhyme, as well as constant antithesis. This creates a very elaborate effect, and prevents the audience from taking the lovers’ emotions too seriously.

209-12 ‘when Phoebe...still conceal)’ – this is quite a different image of the moon to Theseus’ ‘cold fruitless moon.’ For Lysander, the moon has an ethereal beauty and richness: each blade of grass has a tiny drop of dew that looks like a pearl in the moonlight. It is associated with love and romance.

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William Shakespeare