A Midsummer Night's Dream by William Shakespeare

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Phoebe, here, can be seen to represent the waxing moon, and is most famous, not for her virginity, but for her passionate love for Endymion (a story popular in Shakespeare’s time, re-told in verse, for example, by the poet Michael Drayton in 1595). Shakespeare presents the moon, therefore, in this first scene as combining all the phases of femininity: the virgin, the lover (and therefore potential wife) and the crone, the woman past child-bearing age.

1 ‘nuptial hour’ – the theme of marriage is introduced with the first line of the play.

3 ‘Another moon’ – the theme of the moon is begun. Here, for the rational and unimaginative Theseus, it is simply a measurement of time.

4 ‘lingers my desires’ – a beautiful line, suggesting both a delay in reaching fulfilment, as well as the drawing out and extension of desire.

6 ‘withering out’ – means ‘diminishing’, but the expression includes ideas of fulfilment waning, opportunities lost and barrenness. The ‘young man’ is contrasted with older, less obviously fertile women: ‘step-dame,’ ‘dowager.’

7 ‘steep’ – the night is imagined as a rich liquid or dye.

8 ‘dream’ – almost at once, Shakespeare establishes the image complex of night/dream/moon. The dream state is outside of time.

9-10 ‘the moon.../New’ – the waxing and waning of the moon suggests the natural rhythms of the world (day/night, the seasons), but here, also a definitive change in the state of things on the night of Theseus and Hippolyta’s wedding. Then the old moon will finish waning (‘withering out’) and the new moon will commence waxing. This idea, or a similar one, is perhaps suggested by the many associations of the play with May Day and Midsummer Night. Both are key events in the seasonal and solar calendars: trees come into leaf around the first of May, and the summer solstice is when the day is longest – after this, nights begin to lengthen and days to shorten. The setting of a wedding at a moment of change and transformation is appropriate.

9-10 ‘like to a silver bow/New bent’ – a beautiful image of tension about to be released. An arrow shot upon the wedding night releases this tension: Cupid’s bow and his arrow of love are implied.

10 ‘the night/Of our solemnities’ – the wedding night : the ‘solemnities’ would take place during the day. It is the night that Hippolyta is encouraging Theseus to look forward to, and the play will end with all the newly-weds retiring to bed.

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William Shakespeare
the Unkindness of Ravens If you have found our critical notes helpful, why not try the first Tower Notes novel, a historical fantasy set in the time of the Anglo-Saxon invasions.

Available HERE where you can read the opening chapters.

The Unkindness of Ravens by Anthony Paul