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A Midsummer Night's Dream

  • First Things First
    • This lesson will teach you how to read and understand a play by William Shakespeare, one of the greatest playwrights in the history of the English language (and the man who invented quite a lot of it).
    • These videos are not a substitute for reading Shakespeare, listening to Shakespeare, or watching Shakespeare performed.
    • Seriously. Don’t be that guy.
  • Background
    • Written 1590 – 1596 (maybe 1594?)
    • Possibly written for an aristocratic wedding or a holiday
    • First published in 1600
  • Setting
    • Athens—Theseus and Hippolyta are about to be married
    • The woods around Athens
    • Fairyland—in the woods? Not in the woods? Who knows?
    • Athens in Shakespeare does not mean actual Athens.
  • Characters
    • Theseus—Duke of Athens
    • Hippolyta—his fiancee
    • Hermia—a pretty girl, Lysander’s girlfriend
    • Lysander—Hermia’s boyfriend
    • Helena—Hermia’s less-pretty friend; loves Demetrius
    • Demetrius—another young man; loves Hermia.
    • Egeus—Hermia’s father
    • Bottom—an actor
    • Quince, Flute, Starveling, Snout, Snug—more actors
    • Oberon—King of the Fairies
    • Titania—Queen of the Fairies
    • Puck—Oberon’s sidekick (a fairy trickster)
    • Peaseblossom, Cobweb, Moth, Mustardseed—fairy servants of Titania
  • Plot
    • A wedding or an execution
    • The lovers run away
    • Helena and Demetrius run after them
    • Everybody gets lost in the woods
    • Titania and Oberon are fighting
    • Flower juice
    • Oberon feels sorry for Helena
    • Stupid actors in the forest
    • Puck “helps”
    • Lysander falls in love with Helena
    • Everyone runs around in circles
    • Demetrius falls in love with Helena
    • Duels, tears, and more running in circles
    • The actors rehearse
    • Puck, Bottom, and the donkey head
    • Titania in love
    • Oberon gets the child
    • Lovers back to normal
    • Discovery
    • A group wedding
    • “And it was all a dream!”
  • Themes
    • Love—including its dark side
    • Shape-shifting and loss of identity
    • Dreams
    • Authority gone crazy
    • Gender roles
  • Major Passages
    • “The course of true love never did run smooth.”

      -Act I, Scene 1, 132-134

    • “Therefore is winged Cupid painted blind.”

      -Act I, Scene 1, 227-235

    • “Lord, what fools these mortals be!”

      -Act III, Scene 2, 115

    • “I have had a most rare dream …”

      -Act IV, Scene 1, 199-209

    • “If we shadows have offended …”

      -Act V, Epilogue, 1-8

  • Jumping-Off Points
    • How does Shakespeare develop the idea of dreams in this play? Who dreams, and when? Which dreams are true, and how true are they?
    • How does love affect the various characters in this play? Is love a force for good or evil in this story?
    • What is Shakespeare’s attitude toward rules and traditional roles?
    • Many characters in this play change their shape, their appearance, or their attitudes—sometimes through magic, sometimes not. When and why does Shakespeare make these changes?
    • What role do sex and coarse jokes play in this story?
    • Only two characters (Puck and Bottom) appear in all three of the main story threads of this play (the lovers, the fairies, and the actors). How do they move the story along? How do Puck and Bottom interact with each other?
    • Throughout the play, Puck deceives and plays tricks on other characters, yet at the end he calls himself “an honest Puck.” What does it mean to be “honest” in a story like this?
    • Why did Shakespeare choose to set a play within his play? What effect does this have?
    • What does this play say about Shakespeare’s sense of humor, or that of his audience?
  • The Secret of Understanding Shakespeare
    • Watch it performed (or on film if you can’t get to a theatrical production). All of Shakespeare makes more sense when it’s spoken by actors who have lived his words and know, bone-deep, what he’s talking about. Never underestimate the power of performance. Remember that this is how Shakespeare meant his work to be seen …

A Midsummer Night's Dream

Lecture Slides are screen-captured images of important points in the lecture. Students can download and print out these lecture slide images to do practice problems as well as take notes while watching the lecture.

  • Intro 0:00
  • First Things First 0:08
  • Lesson Overview 0:54
  • Background 1:48
  • Setting 3:50
  • Characters 5:44
    • Theseus
    • Hippolyta
    • Hermia
    • Lysander
    • Helena
    • Demetrius
    • Egeus
    • Bottom
    • Quince, Flute, Starveling, Snout, Snug
    • Oberon
    • Titania
    • Puck
    • Peaseblossom, Cobweb, Moth, Mustardseed
  • Plot 9:02
    • A wedding or an execution
    • The lovers run away
    • Helena and Demetrius run after them
    • Everybody gets lost in the woods
    • Titania and Oberon fight
    • Flower juice
    • Oberon feels sorry for Helena
    • Stupid actors in the forest
    • Puck helps
  • Plot, cont. 15:44
    • Lysander falls in love with Helena
    • Everyone runs around in circles
    • Demetrius falls in love with Helena
    • Duels, tears, and more running around
  • Plot, cont. 18:32
    • The actors rehearse
    • Puck, Bottom, and the donkey head
    • Titania in love
    • Oberon gets the child
    • Lovers go back to normal
    • Discovery
    • A group wedding
    • And it was all a dream!
  • Themes 20:54
    • Love
    • Shape-shifting
    • Dreams
    • Authority
    • Gender roles
  • Major Passages 23:24
    • Act I, scene 1, 132-134
    • Act I, scene 1, 227-235
    • Act III, scene 2, 115
    • Act IV, scene, 199-209
    • Act V, epilogue, 1-8
  • Jumping-off Points 26:30
    • Development of dreams
    • Love
    • Rules and tradition
    • Changes
    • Sex and coarse jokes
    • Puck and Bottom
    • Honesty
    • Play within a play
    • Humor
  • The Secret of Understanding Shakespeare 29:24