AO4: Sources and Influences. http://www.rsc.org.uk/explore/shakespeare/plays/a-midsummer-nights-dream/sources.aspx. The Old Wives’ Tale by George Peele - 1595. A play-within-a-play featuring multiple plots, a woodland setting, and tales of magic. Endymion by John Lyly - 1591.
AO4: Sources and Influences
The Old Wives’ Tale by George Peele - 1595
A play-within-a-play featuring multiple plots, a woodland setting, and tales of magic.
Endymion by John Lyly - 1591
A man falls in love with a moon goddess and is put into a magic sleep by his jealous former girlfriend. The story ends with several marriages.
The Knight’s Tale – Chaucer (end of the 14th century)
A story of two knights in love with the same lady at the court of Theseus. Theseus is here ‘the Duke of Athens’ and has conquered, captured and wedded the Queen of the Amazons, called ‘Ipolita’. He has celebrated the wedding with feasting. The poem also mentions the rites of May, the Duke’s love of hunting with hounds, and the names Philostrate and Egeus.
Metamorphoses by Ovid – 8AD
A book of myths and legends, in each of which a supernatural transformation occurs, accounting for some phenomenon in the natural world. Includes the story of Pyramus and Thisbe. In this version, the blood of Pyramus splashes the mulberry tree and causes it to have a dark colour ever after, likely inspiring Oberon’s story about Cupid’s arrow causing the dark colour of the pansy.
Titania’s name and some details of her speech about the disorder of the seasons also come from these verses.
Arthur Golding’s rather awkward translation of this book in 1567, which included lines such as, “This said, she took the sword yet warm with the slaughter of her love / And setting it beneath her breast, did to her heart it shove” may have inspired the inept verse of ‘Pyramus and Thisbe’.
The Golden Ass (trans. William Adlington in 1566)
A Latin tale of the second century. A man is turned into an ass and can only regain his original form by eating a rose. A woman falls in love with the ass and takes it to bed with her. Cupid also features.
Pageants and folklore
Not all of Shakespeare’s sources were written. The conception of the fairies would have been from folklore passed on by word of mouth. Another influence would be courtly pageants held at country houses, in which elaborate entertainments would be staged for Queen Elizabeth. (See previous notes re: water pageants Act II Scene 2). When Shakespeare’s fairies dance and sing they are probably re-enacting these well-known occasions on a smaller scale for the theatre audience.