A Midsummer Night’s Dream

What event are we waiting for as the play begins? How did Theseus win Hippolyta (1.1.16-19)? What do you know about these two? The marriage of Theseus and Hippolyta. Theseus captured Hippolyta in his military conquest of the Amazons.
What complaint does Egeus bring before Theseus? Why does he claim the right to name the man his daughter Hermia will marry? What, according to the law, will happen to her if she refuses this marriage? Why is she willing to take the risk? He wants his daughter to marry Demetrius but she’s in love with Lysander. Because she is his. If she refuses then she would be killed or become a nun. She doesn’t want to be with a man she doesn’t love.
What has been said against Demetrius, the man Egeus wants Hermia to marry? Other than that, how much difference is there between the two young men? He courted Nedar’s daughter, Helena, and made her fall in love with him. The only other difference is that Egues wants Hermia to marry Demetrius and not Lysander.
What was the original matchup of young lovers? What is the matchup now that Demetrius and Lysander both love Hermia? (Keep the matchups clearly in mind; we’re not done yet!)
What do Hermia and Lysander plan to do? Where do they intend to go, and why will they be safe there? To whom do they tell their plans? Why? They plan to run away together. They are going about twenty miles from Athens so that the law can’t stop them from being together.
Notice the lightning metaphor in 1.1.143-149. (You might recognize it from Romeo and Juliet, e.g., 2.1.158-162.) Also notice the importance of the moon (1.1.3-4, 1.1.209-210).We’ll meet it again at 1.2.83 and throughout the play.
What does Helena plan to do with the news of the elopement of Lysander and Demetrius? Why? How does she describe love in her soliloquy (1.1.226-251)? She plans to tell Demetrius that Lysander and Hermia are running away so that way he will be grateful for Helena and she will be able to be with him.
These are the “rude mechanicals” (3.2.9) who want to perform a play for Theseus’s marriage. What is the subject of their play? What do you know about this story? Does it have any echoes to what we’ve heard in 1.1? The Most Lamentable Comedy and Most Cruel Death of Pyramus and Thisbe is the subject. Pyramus kills himself for love. Two people love each other like how Hermia and Lysander love each other.
Which actor is going to cause Peter Quince the most problems? Why? Nick Bottom because he wants to play every part.
What do the actors fear will happen if they frighten the ladies? Given what we’ve seen of Athenian law, how reasonable is their fear that they might do something wrong? They fear that they will be executed. It is very reasonable because the law was very strict.
When and where will they all meet to rehearse? Why can’t they rehearse in town? How will they see to rehearse? The next night out in the woods. If they rehearse in town then the townspeople might come out of their homes and watch and then they will know the plot of the play. They will see by moonlight.
Why, according to Puck, are Oberon and Titania fighting (2.1.20-31)? Because Titania stole a little boy from an Indian king. Oberon wants the child to accompany him on his wanderings through the wild forests. But the queen refuses to hand the boy over to Oberon.
Who is Puck/Robin Goodfellow? What sorts of things does he do, both according to the fairy he meets and according to himself? He is a naughty spirit who goes around scaring the girls in the village, stealing cream from the top of milk, screwing up the flour mills, frustrating wives by keeping their milk from turning into butter, keeps beer from foaming up as it should, and causes people to get lost at night, while he laughs at them.
Based on what they say, do Oberon and Titania have reason to be jealous? What, incidentally, do we learn about the past history of Theseus (2.1.77-80)?
What effect is their dispute having on the weather?
Read Titania’s version of the argument over the young boy carefully (2.1.121-137), noting the ship images and related echoes of 16th-century exploration and commerce. How does her version differ from Oberon’s, as stated by Puck in 2.1.20-31? She says that her friend died during the birth of the boy and she vowed to take care of him. Oberon says that she captured the boy.
Read Oberon’s description of love-in-idleness carefully (2.1.148-174), especially ll. 149- 164, and note that this passage seems to refer to Queen Elizabeth and an entertainment she saw in 1591. Why would Shakespeare include a contemporary reference like this in a playset in mythological Athens? To give an example of what was going to happen.
What does Oberon intend to do with the pansy juice (love-in-idleness is the pansy)? To put some on Titania’s eyes and so that the first thing she sees in the morning she falls in love with so that he can take the boy away from her.
What does Oberon learn from overhearing Demetrius and Helena? What is happening to Helena? What is your reaction to her wanting to be Demetrius’s spaniel? Is this merely an exaggeration of the assumed “proper” attitude of women to men in the play? Is this an Athenian problem, a cosmic problem, a 16th-century English problem, Shakespeare’s problem, or some combination of all of these? Or isn’t it anybody’s problem? That Lysander and Hermia ran away and that Demetrius doesn’t like Helena at all. Helena is desperately trying to get Demetrius to like her. My reaction was pity that she loves him so much that she wouldn’t care to be treated as his dog. No women weren’t supposed to be chasing after men. It is a 16th-century English problem.
What does Oberon tell Puck to do while Oberon goes to anoint Titania’s eyes with the pansy juice? To put some of the flower onto Demetrius’s eyes so he falls more in love with Helena than she is in love with him.
What does Shakespeare do in the language of the fairies (as in Titania’s speech 2.2.1-7) to make us feel that the fairies are tiny, even if they are actually played by normal-sizedchildren? How he says that they will fight other small animals to protect Titania.
Notice that once Titania falls asleep, she remains on stage until she awakens. All the intervening action takes place around her. (Of course, she’s probably not in the middle ofthe stage.) What effect might her presence have on other action?
How successful are Lysander and Hermia in getting to Lysander’s aunt? Why don’t they sleep close to each other? They get lost in the woods and they don’t sleep close to each other because Hermia feels that it wouldn’t be appropriate.
What mistake does Puck make when he finds Lysander and Hermia, especially since they are sleeping far apart? Is the mistake his fault? He puts the petals on Lysander’s eyes instead of Demetrius. No because Oberon should have told him that there would be to two couples out in the forest.
Demetrius and Helena enter, but Helena is too tired to follow when Demetrius leaves. What happens when Lysander wakes up and sees her? Here is the first change in the relationship between the lovers. Stop to think about who now loves whom. Lysander falls in love with her.
What does Lysander say has caused him to stop loving Hermia and begin loving Helena? Given what we have seen, how much should we believe him? What does Helena think he is doing? He has had enough of her. No because he is under a spell. Helena thinks he is mocking her.
Read Hermia’s dream (2.2.151-162) carefully. Much attention has been paid to the dream by critics, especially psychoanalytical critics. What, at various levels of meaning, does the dream seem to say? How accurate is it? Are the Freudians right in seeing elements of Hermia’s sexual fears in it? In a larger sense, are other critics perhaps right in seeing their night in the woods as representing a major coming-of-age for the lovers (especially the women) as they move from their female-female youthful friendships to adult female-male relationships? And then we might want to evaluate the accuracy of the assumptions here. This topic returns in 3.2 and was already hinted at 1.1.214-220.
What problems do Bottom and the others find with the play? How do they intend to solve those problems and meet what they consider to be the expectations of their audience? Someone has to die in the play and they don’t want the ladies to faint about it, they are afrian people will be scared of the lion, and they don’t know how to make it look like moonlight because that is how the characters meet. To solve it the man that will die in the play and the loin actor are going to say something in the beginning of the play to let the audience know that it isn’t real. And they will have a window to give the moonlight effect.
Who comes to watch the play? Robin finds them in the woods.
What happens to Bottom when he goes “backstage”? What reaction does he get from the others? He comes back out with a Donkey head instead of a human head. The others think they are haunted and run away.
Bottom sings to prove he is not afraid. What does his singing cause? It causes Titania to wake up.
How does Bottom respond to Titania’s declaration of love? You might compare his wisdom in 3.1.126-130 with Lysander’s more traditional “wisdom” at 2.2.121-128. Who makes more sense? He doesn’t think she has a reason to love her since she doesn’t know him.
Where does Titania take Bottom? What might we assume happens there? To her sleeping area.
As Demetrius woos Hermia, what does Hermia fear he has done to Lysander? She thinks he killed Lysander.
How does Puck expect to solve the problem once Demetrius sleeps (at 3.2.87.1)? What happens instead? We began the play with both men loving Hermia; now both love Helena, as Demetrius awakes (3.2.138). How many times have the women changed whom they love?
What does Helena, still thinking they are all ganging up on her, say about the childhoods of the women (3.2.193-220)? They were best friends and played together at school.
From various descriptions in the arguments in 3.2, what can you say about the relative sizes and coloring of Helena and Hermia? (Notice, for example, 3.2.258, 264, 289-299, 305, 326-327, 329-331, 344). We’ll see the same relationships appear in other plays; apparently the two young men playing young women for the company had these sizes andcomplexions. Keep watching for sizes.
What two things does Puck do, on Oberon’s orders, to keep Demetrius and Lysander from fighting? Talk in each others voices to make each other walk farther away from each other so that they would get so frustrated that they fall asleep.
Where are the lovers at the end of the scene and what are they doing? (They’ll stay on stage until they wake up at 4.1.135.1.) They are all in the woods asleep.
What is Puck’s attitude toward all this? (See especially 3.3.25-29, 45-47.) He thinks it is all entertaining and thinks this is how love always turns out.
Is Bottom as an ass any different than Bottom as a man (except, of course, for his ass’s head)? In what humorous ways is he obviously an ass? No not really. He is really talkative and annoying.
What has happened to the changeling child? (See 4.1.56-58.)
Once her vision has been cleared, what is Titania’s response to Bottom? Notice that as order returns to the world of the play, we get real music as Oberon and Titania dance.
When Theseus and Hippolyta (and the others) enter, it is morning. What in their part of the scene echoes the music of Oberon and Titania? Notice the reference to “so musical a discord” (4.1.115) and “this gentle concord” (4.1.140). This idea of concordia discors or “discordant harmony” runs from here to the end of the play, most notably in 5.1.60.
How would you like to be awakened like the lovers are?
What happens now to Egeus’s complaint against Hermia? How does Demetrius explain the return of his love to Helena? Is there really any better way of explaining something like this? What will happen to the lovers? (See 4.1.174-178.) Theseus says that she can marry who she wants to. All of the couples will get married.
The last sleeper to awake is, of course, Bottom. How does he describe his experience? Why are the senses and sense organs confused in 4.1.204-207? And see the note to thispassage (note 6): what is the significance of having Bottom echo St. Paul? The Bishops’ Bible, quoted in the note, is the one read in churches until 1611.
Why are the other actors so happy to see Bottom return? They thought he has died.
Bottom’s assumed annuity of “sixpence a day during his life” for playing Pyramus in certainly exaggerated but does have a basis in reality. According to William Ingram (The Business of Playing, 1992), in 1595, the probable date of A Midsummer Night’s Dream, John Garland, who had remained an actor with the Queen’s company after that company had fallen on bad times in 1588, was granted “an annuity of two shillings per day, payable quarterly. This is a generous award, amounting to some £35 per year; a man might live quite comfortably . . . wherever he liked on such a sum” (52). Bottom’s annuity would be one-quarter of Garland’s (who earned it for a lifetime career, not for one evening). What is the effect of mentioning so large an annuity?
Read Theseus’s first speech carefully (5.1.2-22), especially from “The lunatic, the lover, and the poet” (line 7). What point is Theseus making about poetry (actually all forms ofimaginative literature, including drama)? How does the position Hippolyta presents in 5.1.23-27 differ from and respond to Theseus’s position?
Hippolyta is afraid of how the mechanicals will be treated, but Theseus gives her an assuring response (5.1.89-105). Is this the spirit in which the court party in fact takes Pyramus and Thisbe?
The play of Pyramus and Thisbe is, of course, a mess. How do Theseus and Hippolyta respond to it at 5.1.207-212? What is most funny about the play? How does it relate to the play by Shakespeare that we are watching or reading?
What is ironic about Theseus’s line “Lovers, to bed; ’tis almost fairy time” (5.1.347)? He doesn’t believe in all of the fairy tales.
What sort of night world does Puck bring into the play in 5.2.1-20? His reference to “triple Hecate” (5.2.14) is more complicated and interesting than the note suggests. In theunderworld she is Hecate (or Proserpina); on earth she is Diana (and occasionally Lucina); in the heavens she is Luna (or Phoebe or Cynthia). Interestingly, Lucina is a goddess ofchildbed, something certainly expected in later speeches. Luna is the moon, certainly not a new subject to the play at this point.
What is the function and effect of the fairies’ blessing of the house? Why does it appear at the end of the play?
How does Puck, in his Epilogue, turn the ideas of the play back onto the audience?
Allusion A reference to a person, place, poem, book, event, etc., which is not part of the story, that the author expects the reader will recognize.
Blank Verse Unrhymed lines of poetry written in iambic pentameter.
Characterization The methods, incidents, speech, etc., an author uses to reveal the people in the book.
Double Entendre A type of pun in which a word or phrase has two or more different meanings, one of which is usually sexual.
Farce A broad comedy, dependent on overblown speech, unbelievable situations, exaggerated characters, and, frequently, sexual innuendos.
Foreshadowing The use of hints or clues in the story to suggest what action is to come.
Hyperbole Exaggeration for emphasis, overstatement.
Irony A perception of inconsistency, sometimes humorous, in which the significance and understanding of a statement or event is changed by its content.
Dramatic Irony The audience or reader knows more about a character’s situation than the character does and knows that the character’a understanding is incorrect.
Structural Irony The use of a naive hero, whose incorrect perceptions differ from the reader’s correct ones
Verbal Irony A discrepancy between what is said and what is really meant, sarcasm.
Metaphor A comparison of two things that are basically dissimilar in which one is described in terms of the other.
Motif A situation, incident, idea, or image that is repeated significantly through a literary work.
Paradox A statement that is self-contradictory on its surface, yet makes a point through the juxtaposition of the ideas and works within the paradox.
Personification A figure of speech in which and object, abstract idea, or animal is given human characteristics.
Prose The ordinary form of written or spoken language, without rhyme or meter; speech or writing that is not poetry.
Pun An expression that achieves emphasis or humor by utilizing: two distinctly different meanings for the same word, and two similar sounding words.
Stock Character A character whose qualities are easily recognizable no matter in what piece of literature he or she appears.
Theme The central or dominant idea behind the story; the most important aspect that emerges from how the book treats its subject.

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