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Description : Traditionally seen as one of Shakespeare’s more romantic and enchanting plays, A Midsummer Night’s Dream has more recently been seen as a darker and more sinister play than generations of schoolchildren have ever imagined. The play has usually been seen as a comical tale with confused identities and the fickleness of youthful love, as the young lovers, Lysander, Hermia, Demetrius and Helena escape parental control and the “sharp Athenian law” of their elders by eloping into the forest outside the city. Unfortunately they stumble into civil war in fairyland, where King Oberon and Queen Titania fight over possession of a beautiful young Indian “changeling” boy. The appearance of the “rude mechanicals”, a group of Athenian workers, including the weaver Nick Bottom, compounds the confusion. Chaos, confusion and “shaping fantasies” reign before the final settlement of the play, but underneath all the hilarity many critics have discerned more ambivalent attitudes towards coercive parental control, bestial sexuality and the destructive power of desire. These approaches in no way detract from the exquisite lyricism of many sections of the play, but make it a more complex and effective comedy than has often been appreciated. —Jerry Brotton

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