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William Shakespeare, British Drama 1533–1642: A Catalogue

Martin Wiggins and Catherine Richardson (eds), British Drama 1533–1642: A Catalogue, Vol. 3: 1590–1597

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1012. A Midsummer Night's Dream[Extant]


Two versions:

  • a: printed in 1600 (Q; STC 22302), from authorial foul papers, probably incorporating marginal revisions in the final scene;

  • b: vestigial elements survive in F (STC 22273), which was printed in 1623 from Q copy, but with reference to a prompt-book incorporating revisions.



Contemporary: comedy (F section)


Performed/Printed: A Midsummer Night's Dream

Contemporary: [A] Midsummer Night Dream; possibly Robin Goodfellow; [A] Midsummer's Night's Dream

Alternative Modernization: A Midsummer-Night's Dream


William Shakespeare


Limits: 1594–8

Best Guess: 1595

original production

Lord Chamberlain's Men, presumably at the Theatre


Theseus has conquered Hippolyta and is soon to marry her. Hermia loves Lysander, but her father Egeus wishes her to marry Demetrius, who has jilted Helena for her. Egeus invokes an Athenian law which allows him to have her executed for disobedience – though Theseus points to the additional option of lifelong chastity in a nunnery. Lysander proposes fleeing with Hermia beyond Athenian jurisdiction, and they confide their plans to Helena – who tells Demetrius in the hope of winning his favour. He pursues Lysander and Hermia into the woods, and Helena follows him.

Marital strife between Oberon and Titania over a changeling boy has led to chaos in the natural environment. Oberon sends Robin Goodfellow to fetch a magic flower whose juice can compel love. Seeing Demetrius reject Helena, Oberon sends Robin to use some of the juice on him, while he himself uses some on Titania. On the lookout for Athenian clothing, Robin comes upon Lysander and Hermia sleeping, and anoints his eyes. Helena discovers Lysander, and wakes him; he falls in love with her and pursues her, leaving Hermia alone.

A group of artisans, planning to perform Pyramus and Thisbe at Theseus' wedding, meet for a rehearsal in the woods. They begin to adapt the play to avoid scaring the ladies in the audience, and to make it possible to represent the moon and a wall on stage. During the rehearsal, Robin metamorphoses Bottom, putting an ass's head on him, and scares off the other artisans. Titania wakes, sees him, and falls in love.

Oberon and Robin observe as Demetrius pursues Hermia, who assumes that he has murdered Lysander. Oberon sends Robin to fetch Helena while he anoints Demetrius' eyes. Helena arrives, pursued by Lysander, and wakes Demetrius to find that both young men now love her; she infers that she is the object of a practical joke. Demetrius and Lysander prepare to fight each other, but Robin spreads darkness across the sky and leads them away from one another. Having got all four lovers asleep, he administers the antidote to Lysander.

Titania hands over the changeling boy to Oberon, has fun with the monstrous Bottom, and sleeps with him. Oberon applies the antidote, and they are reconciled. The sleeping lovers are found by Theseus, out hunting in the forest. Demetrius no longer wants Hermia, but Egeus insists. Theseus overrules him and the courtly characters have a triple wedding. Bottom takes his experience to have been a dream, and joins his fellow artisans, who are despairing of getting their play on without its leading man. After the wedding, the play is performed, and shows a pair of lovers who abscond to escape parental opposition, but encounter a lion and, through a misunderstanding, end up committing suicide. As the newlyweds hurry away to bed, the fairies come to the palace to bless the nuptials with healthy children.

scene designation

1.1–2, 2.1–2, 3.1–3, 4.1–2, 5.1–2, ep. (act-division F, scene-division Taylor; Q undivided)

pg 300The stage is not clear at 2.2–3.1 and 3.3–4.1 (unless the sleeping characters are positioned within the discovery space and the curtains are drawn); the action is also effectively continuous at 3.2–3.


  • theseus, Duke of Athens; later Hippolyta's husband; also called Duke Theseus

  • hippolyta, an Amazon warrior; later Theseus' wife and Duchess of Athens

  • philostrate, a courtier responsible for the Duke's entertainment

  • attendants on Theseus (1.1, non-speaking)

  • egeus, Hermia's father

  • hermia, Egeus' daughter, Helena's friend; later Lysander's wife; shorter than Helena

  • lysander, a gentleman; later Hermia's husband

  • demetrius, a gentleman; later Helena's husband

  • helena, a lady, Hermia's friend; later Demetrius' wife; also called Helen; taller than Hermia

  • Peter quince, a carpenter; plays the prologue in the play

  • snug, a joiner; plays the lion in the play

  • Nick bottom, a weaver; plays Pyramus in the play

  • Francis flute, a bellows-mender; plays Thisbe in the play

  • Tom snout, a tinker; plays the wall in the play

  • Robin starveling, a tailor; plays Moonshine in the play

  • A fairy, servant of Titania (2.1)

  • robin goodfellow, Oberon's servant, a sprite or puck; may also be named Puck

  • oberon, King of the Fairies

  • fairies attending Oberon (non-speaking)

  • titania, Queen of the Fairies

  • fairies attending Titania (two speak individually, any others collectively)

  • peaseblossom, a fairy; also called Master Peaseblossom and Cavaliery Peaseblossom

  • cobweb, a fairy; also called Master Cobweb and Monsieur Cobweb

  • mote, a fairy

  • mustardseed, a fairy; also called Master Mustardseed and Monsieur Mustardseed

  • attendants on Theseus at the hunt (4.1, non-speaking)


Puck may be simply a name for Robin Goodfellow's type of fairy, but if the word is being misinterpreted when taken for a proper name, the misunderstanding began early: there is a fairy named Puck in the 1618 masque at Coleorton, for example. It is possible that a name may have been intended here too.

Some of the various speaking fairies of Titania's retinue may be identical; the minimum number is four (all of whom are named in 3.1).


Speaking Parts: 21–4

Allegorical Roles: The inset play includes Moonshine and Wall.



philostrate: may be non-speaking, if he appears at all

egeus: now a courtier responsible for the Duke's entertainment

lords attending Theseus at court (5.1, non-speaking): new roles

A trumpeter (5.1, non-speaking): new role

This version probably cut out Philostrate entirely: he still has a single line in 5.1, but this was probably taken over from Q copy.


Speaking Parts: 20–4


Stage Directions and Speech Prefixes

theseus: Theseus (s.d.s and s.p.s); Duke (s.p.s)

hippolyta: Hippolita | Hyppolita (s.d.s); Hip⟨polita⟩ | Hyp⟨polita⟩ | Duchess (s.p.s)

philostrate: Philostrate (s.d.s and s.p.s)

attendants: others (s.d.s)

egeus: Egeus (s.d.s and s.p.s)

hermia: [Egeus'] daughter Hermia | Hermia | [one of the] Lovers (s.d.s); Hermia⟩ (s.p.s)

lysander: Lysander | [one of the] Lovers (s.d.s); Lysand⟨er⟩ | Lisander⟩ (s.p.s)

demetrius: Demetrius | [one of the] Lovers (s.d.s); Demetrius⟩ (s.p.s)

helena: Helena | [one of the] Lovers (s.d.s); Helena⟩ (s.p.s)

quince: Quince, the Carpenter | [one of] the Clowns | Quince | the Prologue (s.d.s); Quin⟨ce⟩ | Prologue (s.p.s)

snug: Snugge, the Joiner | [one of] the Clowns | Snug, the Joiner (s.d.s); Snug (s.p.s); Lion (s.d.s and s.p.s)

bottom: Bottom, the Weaver | [one of] the Clowns | Bottom | Pyramus (s.d.s); Bott⟨om⟩ | Pyramus⟩ (s.p.s); Clown (s.d.s and s.p.s)

flute: Flute, the Bellows mender | [one of] the Clowns | Flute | Thisby | Thysby (s.d.s); Flut⟨e⟩ | Thys⟨by⟩ | Thisby⟩ (s.p.s)

snout: Snout, the Tinker | [one of] the Clowns | Snowte | [one of] the rabble (s.d.s); Snowt | Snout (s.p.s); Wall (s.d.s and s.p.s)

starveling: Starveling, the Tailor | [one of] the Clowns | [one of] the rabble | Moon-shine (s.d.s); Star⟨veling⟩ | Moon (s.p.s)

fairy: a Fairy (s.d.s); Fairy (s.p.s)

robin goodfellow: Robin goodfellow | Pucke (s.d.s); Robin | Puck (s.d.s and s.p.s)

oberon: the King of Fairies | King of Fairies | the king | King (s.d.s); Oberon (s.d.s and s.p.s)

fairies: [the King of Fairies'] train (s.d.s)

titania: the Queen | Tytania Queen of Fairies | Queen of Fairies (s.d.s); Queen | Tytania | Titania⟩ (s.p.s)

fairies: [the Queen's train] | [Titania's] train | Fairies (s.d.s); 1 Fairy | 2 Fairy (s.p.s)

peaseblossom: [one of] four Fairies | [one of the] Fairies (s.d.s); 1 Fairy | Peaseblossom⟩ (s.p.s)

pg 301cobweb: [one of] four Fairies | [one of the] Fairies (s.d.s); 2 Fairy | Cobweb⟩ (s.p.s)

mote: [one of] four Fairies | [one of the] Fairies (s.d.s); 3 Fairy (s.p.s)

mustardseed: [one of] four Fairies | [one of the] Fairies (s.d.s); Mustardseed⟩ (s.p.s)

attendants: all [Theseus'] train (s.d.s)


There is no way of identifying which of the named fairies in 3.1 are designated 1, 2, and 3 Fairy; here I have arbitrarily assigned the three speech prefixes to the first three fairies named, leaving Mustardseed numberless.



lords: [Theseus'] Lords (F s.d.s)

trumpeter: Tawyer (F s.d.s)

other characters

Nedar, Helena's old parent (1.1, 4.1) Lysander's aunt, a childless widow (1.1)

A changeling boy stolen by fairies from India, Titania's page (2.1, 3.2, 4.1)

An Indian king from whom the changeling was stolen (2.1)

Victims of Robin Goodfellow's pranks, including village maidens, housewives, nocturnal travellers, gossips, and female storytellers (2.1)

Phillida, to whom Oberon sang love songs in the guise of Corin (2.1)

Perigouna, whom Theseus raped (2.1)

Women betrayed by Theseus, including Aegles, Ariadne, and Antiopa (2.1)

The changeling's mother, a votaress of Titania, who died giving birth to him (2.1)

A mermaid whom Oberon heard singing (2.1)

Cupid, whose arrows struck a flower (2.1)

A chaste vestal, at whom Cupid shot, but missed (2.1)

A forester (4.1)

Hercules, Theseus' kinsman, with whom Hippolyta hunted in Crete (4.1, 5.1)

Cadmus, with whom Hippolyta hunted in Crete (4.1)

Huntsmen in Theseus' party (5.1)

An Athenian eunuch, who offers to sing to the lute (5.1)

Scholars who were to greet Theseus on his travels, but who became tongue-tied through nervousness (5.1)


Period: antiquity. Although the title links the play to Midsummer (24 June), the month named in the dialogue is May (4.1).

Time-Scheme: 4 days pass between 1.1 and 5.1, and a day between 1.1–2 and 2.1; 4.1 takes place in the early morning, and 5.1 the following evening, ending after midnight.

Place: Athens



[Greece]: Crete; Sparta; Thessaly; Thrace; Thebes

[Africa]: Ethiopia; Egypt




The Antipodes


Narrative: Ovid, Metamorphoses 4, tr. Arthur Golding (1565, repr. 1593; Pyramus and Thisbe); Seneca, Hippolytus (4.1); Plutarch, Lives: Theseus, tr. Thomas North (1579, repr. 1595); Geoffrey Chaucer, Canterbury Tales (c. 1387; printed 1561): The Knight's Tale (Theseus and Hippolyta), The Merchant's Tale (Oberon and Titania's quarrel); Jorge de Montemayor, Diana (1559; English tr. by Bartholomew Young unpublished until 1598; 2.1–2, 3.2); John Lyly, Euphues and His England (1580, repr. 1592; 2.1, the magic flower), Galatea (754; 2.1); William Shakespeare, Love's Labours Lost (1031; 5.1, artisans' play; but the debt is more probably vice versa)

Verbal: Bible: 1 Corinthians 2.9–10 (4.1); Ovid, Metamorphoses, tr. Arthur Golding (1565–7), 2 (2.1, 4.1), 10 (3.2); Seneca, Hercules Oetaeus, tr. John Studley (426; 1.2), Oedipus (2.1); Thomas Preston, Cambyses, King of Persia (480; 1.2, 5.1); Edmund Spenser, The Faerie Queene 6 (unprinted until 1596; 2.1)



Latin: 2 words (3.2, 5.1; Lysander, Demetrius)


Metre: pentameter, trimeter, and prose; some stichomythia; inset play includes hexameter and a version of 'eight-and-six'

Rhyme: couplets and blank verse; occasional triplets, some ABABCC; inset play includes ABAB and AABCCB

Prologue: the inset play has a 35-line prologue

Act-Division: 5 acts (in F only)

Dumb Show: precedes the inset play

Epilogue: 16 lines, spoken by Robin Goodfellow

Lines (Spoken): 2,116 (1,720 verse, 396 prose)

Lines (Written): 2,134


Doors: characters enter at two doors (2.1, s.d.)

Within: shout (4.1, s.d.)

Audience: addressed as 'gentles' (ep.)


Music: rural music played with tongs (4.1, F s.d.); still music (4.1, F s.d.); horns (4.1, s.d.); flourish of trumpets (5.1, F s.d.)


  • 1: 'You spotted snakes with double tongue', 2.2, Titania's fairies, 22 lines;

  • 2: 'The ousel cock so black of hue', 3.1, Bottom, 8 lines;

  • 3: 5.2, Fairies.

Dance: Titania's fairies dance (2.2, s.d.); Oberon and Titania dance (4.1, dialogue); artisans dance a pg 302bergamask (5.1, dialogue); the fairies dance (5.2, dialogue)


Lighting: a lantern (5.1, dialogue)

Weapons: Lysander's sword (2.2, dialogue; 3.2, implicit); Demetrius' sword (3.2, implicit); Pyramus' sword, and possibly his dagger (5.1, dialogue)

Animals: a dog (5.1, dialogue)

Small Portable Objects: a scroll (1.2, dialogue); four actors' parts (1.2, dialogue); a purple flower (2.1–2, 3.2, dialogue; divided on stage); an almanac (3.1, dialogue); a herb (3.2, dialogue; 3.3, 4.1, implicit); a paper (5.1, dialogue)

Large Portable Objects: a thornbush (5.1, dialogue); a broom (5.2, dialogue)

Scenery: possibly a bank (2.2–3.1, dialogue); possibly a flowery bed (4.1, dialogue)

Miscellaneous: blood (5.1, dialogue)



Musical Instruments: a trumpet (5.1, s.d.)


lysander: Athenian garments (2.1, dialogue); a scabbard (2.2, 3.2, implicit)

demetrius: Athenian garments (2.2, dialogue); a scabbard (3.2, implicit)

snug: dressed as a lion (5.1, s.d.; probably with part of his face visible)

bottom: a hairy ass's head with big ears (3.1, 4.1, dialogue; removed on stage); possibly a coronet of flowers (4.1, dialogue); a scabbard (5.1, implicit)

flute: cross-dressed as Thisbe (5.1, s.d.), including a mantle (dialogue; removed on stage)

snout: a costume representing lime, roughcast, and stone (5.1, dialogue)

Miscellaneous: Some of the artisans wear sleeved garments and hats (3.1, dialogue), but it is not clear which.

early stage history

'sundry times publicly acted' by the Lord Chamberlain's Men by 1600.

1604: this may have been the 'play of Robin Goodfellow' (1399) performed by the King's Men in the Great Hall, Hampton Court, on the evening of Sunday 1 January. The performance was followed by a masque (1414). The audience included: King James I; Prince Henry; Arabella Stuart; Dudley Carleton. John Heminges was later paid a total of £53 for this and seven other performances (at the rate of £6.13s.4d per play, plus an overall reward of £3.6s.8d), by a warrant dated Wednesday 18 January 1604. (The amount paid was, in fact, £3.13s.4d less than the total sum owing.)

Before 1623: The cast, probably of a King's Men production, included William Tawyer (Trumpeter).

1630: performed by the King's Men at Hampton Court on Sunday 17 October. John Lowin was later paid £260 for this and twenty other performances, by a warrant dated Thursday 17 March 1631.

1631: This may have been, but more probably was not, the play performed on (apparently) Sunday 25 September at Buckden, Huntingdonshire, in the episcopal palace of John Williams (Bishop of Lincoln). The cast included Mr Harding, Mr Hazard, Mr Hulton, Mr Trye, and Mr Williams, and Mr Wilson (playing Bottom, if the play was Dream). For fuller details of the performance and its aftermath, see under 'Play with an Ass-Headed Character' in 1631.

Reported (in 1669) as having been in the repertory of the King's Men at the Blackfriars before 1642.


The 1604 court performance and the 1631 Buckden performance may have been of different plays altogether: the only links to A Midsummer Night's Dream are, respectively, the name Robin Goodfellow and the ass's head. The issues are discussed in the separate entries for those putative plays.

early textual history

1600: entered in the Stationers' Register to Thomas Fisher on Wednesday 8 October. Mr Rhodes (possibly Thomas Rhodes) had licensed the book for publication.

1600: 1Q1 printed by Richard Bradock for Thomas Fisher; collation A–H4, 32 leaves; title page names author and acting company.

1606: William Drummond of Hawthornden owned and read a copy.

c. 1609–10: Sir John Harington had a copy in his possession, bound with eleven other plays.

1619: 2Q2 printed by William Jaggard; title page falsely gives the date as 1600 and names James Roberts as the printer; the copy was Q1.

1623: included in Shakespeare's Comedies, Histories, and Tragedies (3F1), sigs. N1r–O3v, 9 leaves; printed by Isaac Jaggard for Edward Blount; the colophon names John Smethwick and William Aspley as bearing the cost of printing along with Blount and William Jaggard (deceased). The copy was mainly Q2, but with reference to an independent MS. The book was published in or after November.

1632: included in Shakespeare's Comedies, Histories, and Tragedies (4F2); printed by Thomas Cotes for Robert Allot; variant imprints name John Smethwick, William Aspley, Richard Hawkins, and Richard Meighen as the stationers for whom the book was printed. The copy was F1.

1632: F2 reissued twice, in each case with one variant leaf in the introductory matter.

c. 1655: eleven extracts transcribed from F1 by John Evans in a miscellany, Hesperides, intended for publication and entered to Humphrey Moseley in the Stationers' Register on Thursday 16 August 1655. The book remained unpublished in 1660, and Evans continued adding to the collection until at least 1666. Two MS exemplars are known; one was cut up by J. O. Halliwell-Phillipps in the nineteenth century; the other survives (Washington: Folger, MS V. b. 93).

pg 3031661: extracts (from 1.2, 2.1–2, 3.1–2, 4.1–2, 5.1) appear as the droll Bottom the Weaver, printed for Francis Kirkman and Henry Marsh; collation A2 B–D4, 14 leaves; address to the reader; list of roles; the text probably derived from F2.

1663: included in Shakespeare's Comedies, Histories, and Tragedies (5F3); printed by Roger Daniel for Philip Chetwind. The copy was F2.

1664: F3 reissued, with additional plays.

1668: The New Academy of Compliments entered in the Stationers' Register to Samuel Speed on Saturday 2 May.

1669: Song 1 included in The New Academy of Compliments, sigs. H7r-v; printed for Samuel Speed.

1673: Bottom the Weaver included in The Wits, Part 2, sigs. C7r–E5r; printed by Edward Crouch for Francis Kirkman.

1676–93: four extracts (from 1.1, 3.2, 5.1) copied from the reissued F3 into a MS miscellany (Oxford: Bodleian, MS Sancroft 29, p. 85) compiled by William Sancroft.

Late seventeenth century (before 1693): 32 extracts (from 1.1, 2.1–2, 3.1–2, 4.1, 5.1) included in a MS commonplace book (Oxford: Bodleian, MS Sancroft 97, pp. 79–80) compiled by William Sancroft.

1685: included in Shakespeare's Comedies, Histories, and Tragedies (6F4), sigs. L4v-M6v, 9 leaves; printed by Robert Roberts for Henry Herringman, Edward Brewster, and Richard Bentley; a variant imprint adds Richard Chiswell to the stationers named. The copy was F3.

1685: F4 reissued with cancel title page: printed for Henry Herringman, and to be sold by Joseph Knight and Francis Saunders.

1691–3: F4 advertised as for sale by Richard Bentley.

1699: F4 advertised as for sale by Richard Wellington.


Harold F. Brooks, Arden Shakespeare 2 (London, 1979).

R. A. Foakes, New Cambridge Shakespeare (Cambridge, 1984); updated edn, 2003.

Gary Taylor, in William Shakespeare, The Complete Works, gen. eds. Stanley Wells and Gary Taylor (Oxford, 1986), 351–76; 2nd edn 2005.

Peter Holland, Oxford Shakespeare (Oxford, 1994).

Thomas L. Berger, Malone Society Reprints 157 (Oxford, 1995).

Jonathan Bate and Eric Rasmussen, in William Shakespeare, Complete Works (Basingstoke, 2007), 265–412.


Annals 1595; Around the Globe 51 (2012), 32–3; Beal ShW 115–16; Bentley, i. 27; Bullough, i. 365–422; Chambers, WS, i. 356–63, ii. 329, 348–52; Eyre & Rivington, ii. 8, 386; Greg 170; Hazlitt, 157; Maurice Lee, jun. (ed.), Dudley Carleton to John Chamberlain, 16031624: Jacobean Letters (New Brunswick, NJ, 1972), 53; The Library, 5th ser., 28 (1973), 294–308; The Library, 7th ser., 10 (2009), 372–404; Robert H. MacDonald, The Library of William Drummond of Hawthornden (Edinburgh, 1971), 200, 228; MSC 2.3, 354–5; MSC 6, 38, 82; Murray, iii. 148–50; N&Q, 7th ser., 9 (1890), 382–3; Allardyce Nicoll, A History of English Drama, 4th edn (Cambridge, 1952–9), i. 354; Steele, 135; Text. Comp., 118–19, 279–87.

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