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A Midsummer Nights Dream is one of Shakespeares early festive comedies written around 1595-6 Despite the many thematic references to dreams and the fantastic setting of the Athenian forest the play also contains a fair amount of commentary on Shakespeares contemporary English world The plays title for instance refers to an English holiday custom on Midsummer Eve or the night of the summer solstice on June 23 English men and women would spend the night outdoors around bonfires telling supernatural tales of fairies and witchcraft The play not only suggests this holiday but also refers to the rite of May or maying - a similar English tradition that took place on the first night of May when young men and women would engage in singing dancing and possibly more amorous pursuits in the woods outside their towns In other words the plays title and plot recall English traditions in a way that suggests a combination of Halloween Puck and the fairies and a big rave with love-juice instead of Ecstasy At the time that the play was written these traditions had come under attack by the English Puritans who thought that they were pagan practices that gave the people too much opportunity for mischief By making the play have a happy ending after all its midsummer madness Shakespeare might seem to be defending such traditions against their critics suggesting that they are actually benign or even desirable It is thought that Shakespeare wrote this play to be performed first at the country house of a young nobleman as part of his wedding festivities If this is true A Midsummer Nights Eve presents an astonishingly complex set of self-referential scenes When Shakespeares company performed Act V for instance the noble men and women in the first audience of the play would be watching other noble men and women Hippolyta Theseus Helena Demetrius Hermia and Lysander doing on stage exactly what they themselves were doing in real
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