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A Midsummer Night's Dream Introduction

In A Nutshell

Girl meets boy. Girl falls in love with boy. Girl loses boy when mischievous fairy sprinkles love "juice" on boy's eyelids, making him fall for another girl. Girl wins boy back (with the help of a little fairy magic).

No, it's not the latest romantic comedy to hit theaters near you; it's a play that was dreamed up by William Shakespeare toward the end of the 16th century. Like the modern-day romantic comedy genre it's helped to shape and influence, A Midsummer Night's Dream features young lovers who fall comically in and out of love in a ridiculously brief period of time (over the course of a single, enchanted midsummer night).

A Midsummer Night's Dream (c. 1595) was written around the same time Shakespeare whipped up his famous play about two "star-cross'd" lovers, Romeo and Juliet. In Dream, a group of craftsmen (the "Mechanicals") bumble their way through a ridiculous performance of Pyramus and Thisbe (a story taken from Ovid's Metamorphoses). The Mechanicals' play is widely considered to be Shakespeare's light-hearted and silly mock-up of Romeo and Juliet.

Over the years, there's been a lot of speculation about the occasion for which Shakespeare might have written the play. Did he write Dream to be performed at a nobleman's big, fancy wedding? Some scholars think so. This is a nice idea and it makes sense because plays were often commissioned for these kinds of fancy shindigs. (In the play itself, a group of amateur actors puts together a performance to celebrate the marriage of the Duke Theseus and Hippolyta.) It's too bad there's no real evidence to support the idea. Still, it's fun to imagine that Shakespeare created the piece to help a couple of happy newlyweds "dream away the time" before their much-anticipated wedding night (1.1.8).


Why Should I Care?

… and after the teenagers chased each other around the woods for a night, they all lived happily ever after in perfect marital bliss. The End.

Call us crazy, but does anyone out there wonder whether true happiness in this play exists? Happiness seems to arrive only with the help of magic. Let's examine:

  • Peace between the four lovers is restored only because Demetrius remains drugged up on magic and infatuated with Helena.
  • Bottom adores being loved by Titania so much (even with the whole donkey-transformation thing) that he delivers a monologue about it (and a famous one at that).
  • Stormy Titania is happy as a clam (happier than we've ever seen her) with Bottom-turned-donkey in her bower.

We want to be satisfied with this play's happy ending, but enchantment gets in the way.

So now we turn to you, Shmoopster. Help us out. What is true happiness, and is it real if it's induced by magical potions?

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