A Brief History Of A Midsummer Night’s Dream

When was it written?

A Midsummer Night’s Dream was first published in 1600 in a Quarto edition, probably from Shakespeare’s won manuscript. It is assumed it was written several years earlier, possibly about 1595. There is a well-known myth that the play may have been commissioned for a performance at an important wedding, but there is no historical evidence of this.


Most of Shakespeare’s plays are based or part based on other stories. This is one of the few that has no single identifiable source. It is not another play re-worked or (as they say in movie terms now) re-visualised. Nor is it a dramatisation of a written story or folk tale. The origins of some of the characters and the plot have various sources. Chaucer’s A Knight’s Tale begins with reference to the conquests of Thesues and mentions the Queen Of The Amazon’s Ipolita, whom he marries. Ovid’s Memamorphoses is likely to be the source for the “play within a play” of Pyramus & Thisby.

The Mechanicals were probably Shakespeare’s parody of amateur actors. But he gave them paranoia about censorship, which his own players suffered. The play talks about reality and fantasy and makes a point continually that “it’s only a play”. The most well known example is Puck’s closing speech “If we shadows have offended…”

Fairies around this time did have bad press. They were blamed for stolen babies, bad crops, anything that went wrong in the rural areas was down to the devil or the dwellers of fairyland. Shakespeare was probably one of the first writers to create the image of fairies we have today. Lovable, mischievous, creatures. But he still kept some of the superstitions about bad crops etc when Titania explains her quarrelling with Oberon has upset the balance of nature (floods, ruined harvest, crows eating dead sheep – bet you didn’t expect all this?).


Scholars are satisfied that the first Quarto edition of 1600 can be trusted as the most accurate version of what Shakespeare actually wrote.


Shakespeare Made Easy by Alan Durband
York Notes On A Midsummer Night’s Dream

Above Text Copyright D.B. Slade 2003