Why Did Shakespeare Write A Midsummer Night's Dream?

Instructor: Kelly Mallari

I have taught Language Arts for 4 years and served as a Professor for ENG 101 and GLS for more than 3 years. I am a licensed teacher with a B.A. in English Literature, International and Global Studies, and Religious Studies. I have a M.A. in Global Studies.

Learn what influenced William Shakespeare's famous play, ''A Midsummer Night's Dream'', drawing from wedding culture of the 16th century as well as influential texts almost certainly read by Shakespeare.

Influences on A Midsummer Night's Dream

If you've ever taken an English class, you're probably aware of William Shakespeare, a very famous English playwright who is widely regarded as the most popular playwright of all time. But even after what seems like years of reading Shakespeare, people rarely stop to think about the history behind the plays. Why did Shakespeare write as many plays as he did? And for that matter, what was his inspiration?

For some of his plays, like Richard III and King Henry II, we know that Shakespeare was influenced by the historic events of England. For example, the War of the Roses was a recent event for the people of Shakespeare's era. This allowed Shakespeare to write a very detailed play based off of this historical event.

But one of Shakespeare's most famous comedies, A Midsummer Night's Dream, is mostly made up of different elements that were born from influences in Shakespeare's own life.

William Shakespeare
Wiki Commons Shakespeare

History and the Tudor Era

Before examining the events that occurred in Shakespeare's personal life, we need to understand the historical context that surrounded Shakespeare as he grew up in the mid to late 16th century. Shakespeare grew up during the end of the Elizabethan Age , in the Tudor era and during the reign of King James I of England. It was during the Elizabethan era that the arts became an appreciated occupation, since many English people during the Tudor era found enjoyment from watching plays. Watching performances took many people's minds away from their labor jobs and the other bad conditions they suffered from. Most common people could neither read nor write, so watching a play was also the best way to learn about important events.

However, because many plays were biased towards popular figures, the historical events within a play often became skewed. A good example of this is the portrayal of King Richard III in Shakespeare's play, King Richard III. A large number of the historical 'facts' we know today about King Richard III are actually derived from Shakespeare's very biased play about him. Plays were important performances that told stories of romance and comedy, tragedy and politics.

We can also see influences of social norms in Shakespeare's plays, including A Midsummer Night's Dream. During this time in English history, marriages - especially between nobles - were often forced upon young women. Shakespeare no doubt witnessed many of these marriages born out of obligation and gain rather than happiness. It was not unusual for women to be given away marriage with no regard to their feelings. Often, women were sent to abbeys if they refused to marry or failed in their wifely duties. In A Midsummer Night's Dream, this situation is mirrored by Hermia's dilemma in being forced to marry Demetrius because her true love, Lysander, is 'beneath' her.

A Midsummer Nights Dream
A Midsummer Nights Dream

The Playwright, Shakespeare

You must be wondering why Shakespeare ventured away from writing his intense political satires to explore comedies like A Midsummer Night's Dream. Unfortunately, we can't ask Shakespeare since he died over 400 years ago. But it is possible to look at original sources, documents from the actual era in which the plays were written, that tell us some of the things Shakespeare did from infancy to death. And many of Shakespeare's boyhood studies, adult pursuits, and middle aged observations can be found in A Midsummer Night's Dream.

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