Study Guide

A Midsummer Night’s Dream by William Shakespeare in New Historicism

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A Midsummer Night’s Dream by William Shakespeare

A Midsummer Night’s Dream is another Shakespeare comedy about confusing love objects and shaky gender norms. This one’s set in Greece and focuses on two pairs of Athenian lovers, a group of amateur actors, and some deviant fairies who live in the forest nearby. It’s the fairies who set about confusing everything and everyone by casting a spell on the young lovers and the actors.

Because the New Historicists are just so into Shakespeare, Louis Adrian Montrose wrote an essay on A Midsummer Night’s Dream called “'Shaping Fantasies’: Figurations of Gender and Power in Elizabethan Culture.” That’s right: even when there’s fairies involved, the resulting fantasies can still be used to understand important things about power relationships in this time in history.

The play opens with Hermia, one of the lovers, refusing her father Egeus’s order to marry Demetrius, the man he wants her to marry, because Hermia’s in love with another guy called Lysander. Egeus brings Hermia to Theseus, the Duke of Athens, and complains that his daughter’s disobeying him. The Duke tells Hermia off, because in old Athens it was okay for dads to be bossy and dukes to back them up. Here’s the scene:

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