Shakespeare's A Midsummer Night's Dream
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Shakespeare wrote A Midsummer Night’s Dream in the 1590s, around the time he was writing Romeo and Juliet. Unlike Romeo and Juliet however, A Midsummer Night’s Dream is a comedy that parodies the traditional love stories and dramas of Shakespeare’s time.
A Midsummer Night’s Dream also exaggerates and pokes fun at romantic conventions of actual Elizabethan society. Additionally, the play-within-the-play style mocks the conventions and limitations of Elizabethan theatre itself, making it even more comical for Shakespeare’s audiences.
A number of interesting similarities exist between A Midsummer Night’s Dream and Romeo and Juliet – to the point that critics debate which play came first and whether one is a response to the other.
Both plays are based on the theme of young love, one that is quite stereotypical; both are dramas verging on tragedies, although A Midsummer Night’s Dream has a much more cheerful ending; and, perhaps most intriguingly, A Midsummer Night’s Dream contains the play within a play ‘Pyramus and Thisbe’ – the significance of which critics also debate with fervour – that tells the story of ‘two star-crossed lovers’ ending in tragedy.
The title draws on the summer solstice, previously known as Midsummer Eve (‘Bonfire Night’ in older Ireland), occurring on June 23rd. In the past it was marked by holiday celebrations and tales of fairies and temporary insanity. In his play, Shakespeare weaves together not only fairies and lovers, but also social hierarchies with the aristocratic Theseus and the "rude mechanicals" (the craftsmen and labourers), leading to a great diversity of language.