Explore the social and historical context through Shakespeares stagecraft in A Midsummer Nights Dream

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Nathan Griffiths

Explore the social and historical context through Shakespeare’s stagecraft in ‘A Midsummer Night’s Dream’.

To explore the social and historical context in William Shakespeare’s ‘A Midsummer Nights Dream’ the features of the play will be analysed, such a: the different characters dialogue compared to their social class, the connections to Greek and Roman mythology, Elizabethan beliefs and the many references to the moon.

The play opens with characters from classic Greek mythology, Theseus who slain the Minotaur and Hippolyta Queen of the Amazons, who an Elizabethan audience would be familiar with as it was extensively studied in that era and the legends would be common knowledge among people so when the play begins the audience would instantly have had an understanding. But the opening would be questioned by the viewers because they would be wondering why they are marrying since they would be aware the couple are from different cultures. It is ironic that the queen of a race of woman who refuse to marry because they despises men is marrying; this is how Shakespeare immediately sets the genre of this performance as a humorous love story.

Shakespeare would have been aware that many of the audience in a public performance would have only received a basic education and would be technically illiterate, so verbal communication was of greater significance and so they would be more perceptive in listening to patterns of verse and rhyme in characters language, and aware of imagery created throughout the play.

To increase attentiveness the style of dialogue is varied. Theseus and Hippolyta are aristocracy and to express this Shakespeare used blank verse, this sophisticated style of communication makes the audience conscious of their high status. Their speech consists of iambic pentameter which contains five meters of two syllables, one stressed, one unstressed. This creates a rhythm that people listening can easily follow.

In contrast, the Athenian workmen converse in regular prose, their speech isn’t restricted by grammatical styles and their use of malapropisms, particularly by Bottom in an attempt of self-aggrandizement, suggests they are of a lower social status and lesser educated as snug says he is 'slow of study', although they probably were sent to school to get a basic education since they are tradesmen.

In comparison, the fairies talk in rhyming couplets of AABB, as if they were casting a spell because they are mystical creatures associated with magic, they use more creative and poetic language to portray their majestic and magical nature. Also their speech is often filled with references to nature. Rhyming couplets appeal to a wide range of audiences because it is basic assonance they can effortlessly recognize and helps with the intake of meaning within the play.

Identically the lovers in ‘A Midsummer Night’s Dream’, Hermia and Lysander, also speak in rhyme but this characteristic of their conversations is unlike the fairies as Shakespeare uses it in a different context to show their love and affection for each other; Romeo and Juliet speak in a similar pattern combined to form a sonnet, the ultimate poetic expression of love in Shakespeare’s period.

‘Romeo and Juliet’ and ‘ A Midsummer Night’s Dream’ was written at roughly the same time as each other and this reflects in the similarities of the two plays. They are connected because in ‘A Midsummer Night’s Dream’ one of the three entwined plots is the workmen’s performance of the Babylonian legend of Pyramus and Thisbe from which story Shakespeare took inspiration to write ‘Romeo and Juliet’ it could also be seen as a parody. They are also both love stories but the obvious difference is that ‘A Midsummer Night’s Dream’ is proposed as a comedy and ‘Romeo and Juliet’ is presented as a tragedy.

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In the opening lines of Act I, Scene I, Theseus expresses his impatience towards the wait to marry Hippolyta:

“How slow this old moon wanes! She lingers my desires, like to a step-dame or a dowager long withering out a young man’s revenue”

Time is passing slowly for Theseus, this is subjective, and because of his eagerness to marry Hippolyta to fulfil is 'desires' on their wedding night. He is judging time by the passing phases of the moon that he refers to as a 'she', which suggests the moon represents Diana, the Goddess of Chastity; ...

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