The Idea of the Play in A Midsummer Night’s Dream and Bartholomew Fair

  • D. H. Craig
Part of the The Humanities Research Centre/Macmillan Series book series (HRC)


The main action of the fifth act of A Midsummer Night’s Dream is a parody play, performed on stage by one group of characters for the entertainment of another group. Bartholomew Fair is also a comedy concluded by a parody play, this time a puppet show performed to an audience which finally includes almost the whole of the cast. In both cases the device gives rise to discussion within the play about the nature of drama: the treatment of the mechanicals’ play in A Midsummer Night’s Dream has even been described as ‘Shakespeare’s closest approximation to a “Defence of Dramatic Poesy” in general ‘,[1] and Jonas Barish writes that in the puppet play in Bartholomew Fair Jonson declares his belief that the theatre ‘must be defended even in its vilest and rowdiest manifestations’.[2] The plays belong to different eras, and to different stages in the careers of their authors, of course — A Midsummer Night’s Dream must have been written in the mid-1590s, and Bartholomew Fair appeared in 1614 — but the parallels between them are curious enough to invite a comparison of the two inner plays, and of their relationship to the larger plays in which they occur. As one might expect, Shakespeare and Jonson in using the same device reflect sharply different views about plays and audiences.


Stale Bread Overflow moTe Puppet Show Stage Direction Great Constancy 
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  1. 1.
    R. W. Dent, ‘Imagination in A Midsummer Night’s Dream’, Shakespeare Quarterly, vol. xv (1964) p. 129.Google Scholar
  2. 2.
    Jonas Barish, ‘Bartholomew Fair and its Puppets’, Modem Language Quarterly, vol. xx (1959) p. 14.Google Scholar
  3. 3.
    Anne Righter, Shakespeare and the Idea of the Play (London, 1962).Google Scholar
  4. 6.
    See, for example, William Prynne, Histriomastix (London, 1633) pp. 158–9.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Australian National University 1983

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  • D. H. Craig

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