A Midsummer Night's Dream: cultural context

A Midsummer Night’s Dream: cultural context

A Midsummer Night’s Dream: Cultural Context


  • Composed between 1590 and 1597 by William Shakespeare.
  • Set in Athens, Greece, and in an enchanted forest near the city, encompassing Greek mythology.
  • The play is a comedy in the tradition of the time, filled with slapstick and farce, as well as elements of dramatic irony.

Cultural Dichotomy and Gender Roles:

  • The dichotomy of Athens and the enchanted forest reflects a key cultural tension in the Elizabethan era between rules and order, represented by the city, and desire and freedom, represented by the forest.
  • Characters adhere to gender norms of the Elizabethan era, for instance, women are primarily viewed as commodities for marriage.
  • However, this notion is challenged in the play, notably through Hermia who rejects her father’s demands to marry Demetrius, exhibiting early feminist ideals.

Influence of Folklore and Love Conventions:

  • The portrayal of Puck or “Robin Goodfellow” draws on traditional folklore. Puck’s mischievous nature embodies the spirit of English folklore.
  • The four young Athenians: Demetrius, Lysander, Hermia, and Helena are crafted based on the Elizabethan love conventions, where love is depicted as a tumultuous and confusing passion.

Use of Fairies and the Lower Class Characters:

  • Fairies were a common feature in Elizabethan folklore and literature. In this play, they symbolize a chaotic and magical world, entirely separated from the human one.
  • The “Rude Mechanicals”, a group of lower-class craftsmen signifies ordinary, working-class citizens. Their comic misadventures add a distinctly light-hearted flavor to the play.

Familiar Cultural Context:

  • The Athenian court and the mystical woodland settings were both very familiar to Shakespeare’s audiences and helped to place the story within a cultural context that would be understood easily by viewers.