Published — by us — in time for the longest day, we’re delighted to be announcing the publication of A Midsummer Night’s Dream from the Bodleian First Folio on 24 June, the traditional quarter day midsummer. However you celebrate the longest days of the year, we wish you happy revels. May none of you wake with a donkey’s head!
A MIDSOMMER Nights Dreame
(AS THE FIRST FOLIO TITLES IT)
One of the most enduringly popular of Shakespeare’s plays, A Midsummer Night’s Dream is taught in many schools and — on one website at least — makes it into fourth place on a list of Shakespeare’s “top ten greatest” plays.
The charm of its fairies, its quarelling lovers who pair up in the final act, and the enduring comedy of its rude “Mcehanicals”* make it a particular favourite for school and outdoor productions. Yet this is not a play of caprice and harmless make-believe: there is deliberate cruelty, manipulation, a custody battle, and a forced marriage. As Emma Smith points out in a podcast, the cross lovers explore sex and sexuality rather than celebrate marriage, sometimes to the shock of an audience expecting woodland wit and whimsy.
The version in the Bodleian First Folio has been well read. One page (folio O2) has a damaged corner. Two tears have been patched with heavy paper, probably in the early eighteenth century, in an attempt to repair the damage. Actually, though a careful repair by someone who cared for the book (possibly a member of the Turbutt family), the heavy paper risked causing further damage by putting a greater strain on the paper supporting it. This repair, and others like it, were stabilized by colleagues in Conservation and Collection Care.
Find out more
Emma Smith’s podcast on the play from her Approaching Shakespeare series uses modern and early modern understandings of dreams to uncover less expected themes of the play.
Dorothea Kehler’s 2012 book, A Midsummer Night’s Dream: Critical Essays, looks at the play’s critical and performance history, and is available online through Google Books.
Our colleagues at the Folger Shakespeare Library have created excellent teaching resources on the play.
Notable film adaptations of A Midsummer Night’s Dream include those directed by:
- William Dieterle and Max Reinhardt (1935)
- Peter Hall (1968)
- Elijah Moshinsky’s BBC Television Shakespeare version (1981)
- Woody Allen’s A Midsummer Night’s Sex Comedy (1982)
- Adrian Noble (1996)
- Michael Hoffman (1998)
Musical works inspired by the play include:
- Henry Purcell’s The Fairy-Queen (1692)
- Felix Mendelssohn Bartholdy’s Overture (1827) and incidental music (1843), A Midsummer Night’s Dream
- Benjamin Britten and Peter Pear’s opera A Midsummer Night’s Dream (1960)
Wikipedia has a list of ballet and works of fine art inspired by the play.
* A typographic error in the First Folio renders “Mechanicals” like this (Comedies, p. 153).