A Midsummer Night's Dream by William Shakespeare

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The exquisite beauty of the miniature world in this image is perhaps an early hint of the fairy kingdom that the audience will meet in Act Two.

215 ‘faint primrose beds’ – the primrose is an early flower associated with youth. It is ‘faint’ or pale in colour, but the ‘faintness’ of the virgin life has already been invoked in this scene, and Hermia is moving away from girlhood and secret confidences with Helena.

227 ‘Through Athens I am thought as fair as she’ – another indication that these characters are interchangeable.

232-3 ‘Things base...dignity’ – the irrationality of love.

248 ‘this intelligence’ – Helena’s motives in informing on Lysander and Hermia are not adequately explained. She desires Demetrius’ gratitude and yet it is so obviously against her interests to do anything that might keep Hermia’s image alive in Demetrius’ heart.

ACT ONE, SCENE TWO

While the play seems to combine the traditional folk celebrations of May Day and Midsummer’s Night, the subplot of the mechanicals bears more resemblance to the Twelfth Night celebrations of Shakespearian England, when a ‘Lord of Misrule’ or ‘King for the Day’ (traditionally someone of lowly social status) would be chosen to turn all hierarchy and decorum on its head. Whether Shakespeare ever had this at the forefront of his mind when writing the play is probably unlikely, but, nonetheless, it provides a useful insight into the importance of Nick Bottom, the weaver, in A Midsummer Night’s Dream .

Bottom is, obviously, at the bottom of the social pyramid. To be ‘preferred’ in a play before the duke is the making of him. For a brief moment, he will have the illusion of the status and importance that his heart craves. This is why he wants to play every part. He is so excited at the prospect of being a hero or a lover or a ‘most lovely gentleman-like man’ that he wants to be everything else on stage, including the lion! Ironically, it is Bottom that Shakespeare makes ‘King for the Day’ (or rather night) as the temporary consort of Queen Titania.

12 ‘Pyramus and Thisby’ – a famous tale of lovers ‘crossed,’ which ends in tragedy.

23 ‘a lover’ – the first mechanicals’ scene satirises the romantic notions the audience have just encountered.

75 ‘you would fright...the ladies’ – the mechanicals have a wonderfully naive understanding of acting: for them illusion is reality – it is as if there were a real lion on the stage. The power of illusion is an important theme in the play, and the use of a play-within-the-play (popular with Shakespeare and other dramatists of his time) involves the usual complications of actors playing characters playing actors playing parts.

102 ‘by moonlight’ – reinforcing I.i.209-10, but the mention of the moon yet again seems designed to collect all the play’s characters and experiences under this overarching symbol. By moonlight things look very different. Another reality pertains: changeable, uncertain, supernatural.

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William Shakespeare

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