Notes on the Tempest - William Shakespeare

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A MIDSUMMER NIGHT’S DREAM

Believed to have been written between 1590 and 1596 A Midsummer Night's Dream , is one of Shakespeare's most popular works for the stage and is widely performed across the world.  Categorized as a comedy, the play features young lovers who fall comically in and out of love in a ridiculously brief period of time (over the course of a single, enchanted midsummer night). So the title itself is very significant. It is a pretty obvious reference to Midsummer's Eve (June 23) which is an old tradition especially in north countries signifying the fact that the fertility and reparability of nature reach a peak point at that time of the year. In Elizabethan England, Midsummer Day or the feast of Saint John the Baptist is also on that date. It is a time of feasting and merriment. To dream about Midsummer Night, therefore, is to dream about strange creatures and strange happenings like those in the play. Besides, night creates an atmosphere of magic, uncertainty and mystery. Therefore as a result of this combination between midsummer and night, the concept of dream is born which is very central to the play. Like those comedies which come before and after it, A Midsummer Night’s Dream is inspired by the romantic stories which were popular in the middle Ages and continued to be so in Elizabethan times. Unlike most of Shakespeare’s plays, it does not have a readily identifiable source, and it appears to be one of the rare examples of Shakespeare inventing his own plot. He may have taken a hint from Chaucer’s Knight’s Tale which begins with a reference to the conquests of Theseus and in particular to his defeat of Ipolita, queen of female warriors known as Amazons and his subsequent marriage to her. Ovid’s Metamorphoses is probably the source for the story of the play-within-the-play, Pyramus and Thisby. The "Pyramus and Thisbe" plot appears twice in Shakespeare's works. Most famously, the plot of Romeo and Juliet. So the theme of forbidden love is also present in A Midsummer Night's Dream. Reginald Scot’s The Discoverie of Witchcraft (1584) may have contributed something both to the fairies and Bottom’s transformation by means of the ass’s head. Shakespeare probably got the idea from Apuleius's Golden Ass, a hilarious, ancient Roman story about a guy who's turned into a donkey. Behind the influence of Italian sources were classical plays from which the Italian ones were partly derived. For tragedy there were not many precedents, apart from the Latin plays of Seneca, whose tragedies may not have been actually intended for the stage. Seneca is a powerful influence behind Shakespeare’s earliest tragedy, Titus Andronicus. In comedy, though there were about two dozen Latin plays available, six by Terence, the rest by Plautus. These had been adapted from the Greek writers of what we call New Comedy, to distinguish it from the Old Comedy of Aristophanes. New comedy, in Plautus and Terence, usually sets up a situation that’s the opposite of the one that the audience would recognize as the “right” one. For example a young man loves a young woman and vice versa, but their love is blocked by parents. That’s the first part. The second part consists of complications that follow and in the third the opening situation is turned inside out. The typical characters in such a story are the young man, a heavy father and a tricky servant who helps out the young man with some clever scheme. This play retains the three parts of a normal comedy: a first part in which an absurd, unpleasant or irrational situation is set up; a second part of confused identity and personal complications; a third part in which the plot gives a shake and twist and everything comes right in the end. In most comedy the happy ending involves a marriage or at least some kind of union or reunion that resolves the conflict and brings the characters into a state of harmony. Comedy moves from confusion to order, from ignorance to understanding, from law to...
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