festivals and riots

Annabel Patterson gives festive theory radical force by showing how A Midsummer Night's Dream can be connected to craftsmens' uprisings during festivals.

The winter of 1595-96, when A Midsummer Night's Dream was probably written, was hard. Severe weather had caused several harvests to fail, and many people were hungry. Titana's description of the upset in nature, caused by her and Oberon's quarrel (II i 88-117), has been tied to this real famine (Brooks 1983: xxxvi).

Patterson finds other connections, though, such as the name of one of Bottom's fellow actors, Starveling, and points out that harvest rituals and cycles are closely knit with economic reality for farmers and craftsmen. Several riots were quelled during the period the play is thought to have been written. Many of these uprisings were initiated by craftsmen, and often during summer festivals. Weavers were often prominent in the more public and violent protests — and Bottom was also a weaver. Patterson concludes:

By invoking the dangerous Midsummer season in his title, by featuring a group of artisans as his comic protagonists, by making their leader a weaver, by allowing class consciousness to surface, as we shall see, in their relations with their courtly patrons, and especially in the repeated fears expressed by the artisans that violence is feared from them ("Write me a prologue, and let the prologue seem to say we will do them no harm with our swords" [III i 15-17]), he faced his society squarely; and instead of the slippage from carnival to force, he offered it a genuinely festive proposition.

See also:

Class conscious interpretations

Festive theory