Source & Composition of Mid Summer Night’s Dream

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      (i) Date of Composition. Much like most of the plays by Shakespeare, the exact date of composition of A Midsummer Night's Dream cannot be ascertained with absolute precision. There is evidence, though which suggests that the play was written between 1590 and 1597. On the basis of topical references and an allusion to Edmund Spenser's Epithalamion, it is dated late 1595 or early 1596. Some have theorized that the play might have been written for an aristocratic wedding while others suggest that it was written for the Queen to celebrate the feast day of St. John. However, no concrete and substantial evidence exists to support either of these theories.

      According to Dorothea Kehler, the writing period can be placed between 1594 and 1596, which means that Shakespeare had probably already completed the writing of Romeo and Juliet. He was yet to start working on The Merchant of Venice. The play belongs to the early-middle period of the literary corpus of Shakespeare's author when he devoted his attention to the lyricism of his works, which is a prominent quality in this particular play as well.

(ii) Sources:

      The Fairies. Shakespeare's representation of the King and Queen of the Fairies, namely Theseus and Hippolyta can trace their origins back to varied sources. The mortal Queen Elizabeth was often entertained on her royal progress by pageants presided over by her counterpart, the Fairy Queen. The known literary version of such a portrayal was Edmund Spenser's epic poem, The Faerie Queene.

      Geoffrey Chaucer's "Merchant's Tale" has the fairy King and Queen (here named Pluto and Proserpina) arguing over a mismatched pair of mortal lovers. The name of Oberon is first given to the King of the Fairies in The Book of Duke Huon of Bordeaux. The character of Oberon also appears in Robert Greene's The Scottish History of James the Fourth (probably written in 1590), observing and occasionally intervening in mortal affairs.

      Shakespeare takes Titania, the name which he gives to his Fairy Queen, from Ovid’s Metamorphoses where it means Titan's daughter and is used to refer to various divinities, such as the huntress and moon goddess, Diana, and Circe, the transformer of men into swine.

      The Transformations. Shakespeare took inspiration for this play from a rich and diverse range of materials. The most obvious and important source is Ovid's Metamorphoses. This literary text contained the stories of Daphne and Apollo, Cupid's golden and leaden arrows, the Hattie of the Centaurs and, most importantly; the story of Pyramus and Thisbe. The young lovers in Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet face the same problems as Pyramus and Thisbe, the only difference being in their treatment. While Romeo and Juliet have been treated in a tragic way; the story of Pyramus and Thisbe has been treated comically.

      Chaucer also provided a source for the play's framework in the Knight's Tale of The Canterbury Tales, where the Duke named Theseus weds his Amazonian bride. Shakespeare also takes details from the account of Theseus life in the first century Greek historian Plutarch's Lives of the Noble Grecians and Romans.

      Transformation of Bottom into a Donkey. There have been many representations in literary texts and various versions of the conflicts and tensions between young love and friendship. John Lyly's Gallathea, talks about two girls who disguise themselves as boys only for each to fall in love with the other. Lyly also wrote Midas, printed in which Midas' head is changed into that of an ass. Midas' transformation is one of the metamorphoses described by Ovid. Such a change also occurs in Apuleius's The Golden Ass, written in Latin in the second century. An unfortunate man changes completely into an ass. A beautiful girl falls in love with the ass, feeds him delicious food and decorates his forehead before making love to him.

      Visions. St. Paul's letter to the Corinthians is a central text to the Christian tradition. Bottom's dream and his recounting of it can be interpreted in terms of this text. The dream is beyond Bottom's powers of eye, ear, hand, tongue and heart to comprehend or articulate, just as Paul acknowledged the gifts of God to be beyond the eye, ear and heart of man. Bottom's account is a meddled-up version of this sacrosanct text. He describes this 'most rare vision' in a comical and nonsensical way.

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