We don't know exactly when A Midsummer Night's Dream was written, or at what occassion it was first performed. A common hypothesis is that the play was probably composed during the winter of 1595-96, and first performed at the wedding of Elizabeth Carey and Thomas, son of Henry, Lord Burkeley on 19 February 1596. (Brooks 1983: lvi-lvii) This hypothesis is based on circumstantial evidence, and other critics have disagreed with it, especially with the assumption that the play was written for an aristocratic wedding:
Despite the difficulty that critics experience in finding an appropriate marital occasion during 1595-96, and an uneasy recognition that the play seems rather to problematise than celebrate marriage, it is somewhat alarming to see how readily this hypothesis has been absorbed as fact into texts designed for students. (Patterson 1996: 179)
According to Brooks, there is in any case little doubt that the play was composed after the autumn of 1594 and there is certain evidence that it was known before 1598.
Festive theory discusses the play's relationship to popular rituals as well as to an aristocratic wedding ceremony.
[make a link to comments about how the play problematises marriage]
In the text:
The wedding celebrations in the final act, and the fairies' ritual blessing of the married couples (V i 377-406) suggest that the play's first audience may have been guests at a real wedding.