A Midsummer Night's Dream: social context

A Midsummer Night’s Dream: social context

Social and Cultural Context

  • “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” was written during the Elizabethan Era, a time when society was heavily structured and the monarchy and aristocracy were highly influential.
  • The play was written for the entertainment of the court of Queen Elizabeth I. Therefore, it incorporates elements that would appeal to high society taste, such as elaborate costumes and language, and references to classical mythology.
  • Elizabethans had a deep-rooted belief in supernatural and mythical creatures, such as fairies, which were often thought to intervene in human affairs. This belief forms a crucial part of the play’s setting and plot.
  • The social class divide is evident in the characters of the play – the aristocrats, craftsmen, and magical fairies. However, in the magical forest, these societal norms are challenged and subverted, reflecting the play’s theme of reality vs. illusion.

Marriage and Gender Roles

  • During the Elizabethan Era, marriage was often a tool for social and political alliance rather than just personal feelings. This adds context to the plotline of forced marriage between Hermia and Demetrius.
  • These social structures also restricted women’s freedoms. Comparison can be made between the human women in the play who are objects of patriarchal controls and fanciful, free-spirited creatures like the fairy queen, Titania.

Love and Relationships

  • The concept of ‘courtly love’ – an often secret, passionate, and romantic love – was popular during the Elizabethan period, and is significant as it greatly informs the relationships in the play, particularly the love square between Hermia, Lysander, Demetrius, and Helena.

Natural and Supernatural Worlds

  • Elizabethans also had a strong belief in the natural world reflecting the human world, often known as the ‘chain of being’, which is echoed in the chaos caused in both worlds when Puck interferes with the natural order.

Performance and Satire

  • Shakespeare’s plays were usually performed in daylight, on a bare stage, so the extravagant descriptions of the setting still had to captivate audiences and transport them into the magical world he depicted.
  • ‘A Midsummer Night’s Dream’ satirizes some of the conventions of the time, including the chivalric love and heroic code, which was expected of the upper-class men like Theseus, questioning social norms and values.