In this lesson, our instructor Rebekah Hendershot teaches A Midsummer Nights Dream. Youll go over the complete background of the play, the setting, and the characters. Rebekah explains each character in detail, including Theseus, Hippolyta, Hermia, Lysander, Helena, Demetrius, Titania, Oberon, Puck and everyone in between. Youll learn each element of the plot from the lovers escape to the final group wedding. Themes, major passages, and essay topic jumping-off points are also discussed. With Rebekah youll discuss topics such as the development of dreams, love, rules, sex, and honesty. The lesson concludes with a few secrets to make understanding Shakespeare a lot easier.
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.
Written 1590 – 1596 (maybe 1594?)
Possibly written for an aristocratic wedding or a holiday
First published in 1600
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.
Peaseblossom, Cobweb, Moth, Mustardseed—fairy servants of Titania
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
Oberon feels sorry for Helena
Stupid actors in the forest
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
A group wedding
“And it was all a dream!”
Love—including its dark side
Shape-shifting and loss of identity
Authority gone crazy
“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
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.
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