Midsummer Eve is traditionally celebrated in Europe and Scandinavian communities in the United States. Midsummer is especially important in the cultures of Northern Europe (Sweden, Norway, Denmark, Finland, Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania) where it is the most celebrated holiday apart from Christmas, although Midsummer is pre-Christian in origin. Whole families gather to celebrate this high-point of the summer, often traveling to the countryside or the coast on vacation.
Midsummer Eve festivities include picking flowers and herbs, making wreaths, singing, dancing, and lighting bonfires at night. Midsummer night is the shortest night of the year, and the sun does not set at all in the far northern countries, “the land of the midnight sun.” According to ancient folklore, everything in nature is said to have supernatural powers on this particular night, and to be outside at night on Midsummer Eve feels almost surreal and magical with its ethereal light.
Although Midsummer was originally a pagan holiday, in Christianity it is associated with the nativity of John the Baptist, which is observed on June 24 in Catholic, Orthodox, and some Protestant churches. Midsummer is also a popular time of year for weddings, and legend has it that Midsummer Eve is a magical time for love. Shakespeare set his play A Midsummer Night’s Dream on this night. Believed to have been written between 1590 and 1596, the romantic comedy is one of Shakespeare’s most popular works for the stage.
A Midsummer Night’s Dream portrays the events surrounding the marriage of the Duke of Athens (Theseus) and the Queen of the Amazons (Hippolyta), and two young couples who wander into a magical forest outside Athens at night. The forest is inhabited by mischievous fairies ruled by King Oberon and Queen Titania. The plot twists when Oberon’s head mischief-maker, Puck, runs loose with a flower which causes people to fall in love with the first thing they see. Meanwhile, a troupe of players are in the woods rehearsing a play to be performed at Theseus’ wedding. In the final scene, all of the cast returns to the palace where they discuss the strange events of the evening.
Tales from Shakespeare
Written in 1807 by siblings Charles and Mary Lamb, Tales from Shakespeare adapts a variety of Shakespeare’s most popular plays for children. Shakespeare’s beautiful language is simplified so as to be understood by younger readers. It’s a wonderful way to introduce youngsters to Shakespeare’s greatest works including A Midsummer Night’s Dream. This classic is required reading for various courses and curriculums – highly recommended for junior high and up!
Read Tales from Shakespeare online for free (complete text with illustrations), courtesy of the University of Florida’s Digital Collection.
Listen to a Librivox recording of Tales from Shakespeare (read by Karen Savage).
Download the Tales from Shakespeare ebook from Project Gutenberg.
Read A Midsummer Night’s Dream play online at Absolute Shakespeare.
A Midsummer Night’s Dream Study Guide (PDF), from the Glencoe Literature Library.