Last Updated 14 Nov 2022

A Midsummer Night’s Dream, a Play Within a Play

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“A Midsummer Night's Dream” was written by William Shakespeare sometime around 1595 with intention to be performed in Queen Elizabeth's presence, who was also a supporter of drama. The play provided Shakespeare an opportunity to inform the public that drama was not real, that it was entertainment, which coincidentally addressed issues of ethics and morality. Shakespeare commented on drama through the audience and actors of Pyramus and Thisbe in Act five, scene one, the play within a play. This scene is commonly used to represent many important ideas and themes of the main plot. In the first Act, scene two, a group of craftsmen are introduced.

These men are greatly excited they have an opportunity to perform an interlude at the wedding of Theseus, the duke of Athens, and Hippolyta, the queen of the Amazons. The sincerity of these craftsmen reveals that they take this performance seriously, though their concern over the assignment of roles indicates the consequences of censorship within the play. When Bottom offers to play the lion, he states he will “roar that I will do any man's heart good to hear me” (1. 2. 55), to which Quince replies that if Bottom were to frighten the ladies, it would be "enough to hang us all” (1. 2. 59). Shakespeare is referring to the reality of censorship by the government and the repercussions that may follow.

During Shakespeare's time, theater was still being viewed as an entity of the church and was used as a tool to educate the public. As it became publically used for entertainment, the church objected and attempted to control the theater by enacting various laws to maintain control of performers and playwrights. Shakespeare was able to cleverly intertwine a statement in “A Midsummer Night's Dream” in regard to drama and such issues. He intended the characters Pyramus and Thisbe to face parental disapproval in the play within a play, just as Hermia and Lysander do; Pyramus mistakenly believes that Thisbe has been killed by the lion, just as the Athenian lovers experience extreme misery due to the mix-ups caused by the fairies' interference. The play performed by the craftsmen is therefore a symbol of “A Midsummer Night's Dream:" a story involving emotions that are made humorous by its comical presentation.

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