Midsummer: Characters KS4/5

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In these lessons, students will examine the key characters in A Midsummer Night's Dream and their dramatic functions. Tasks include: a character study of Puck and accompanying word bank of quotes; a close reading of a key speech relating to Bottom, 'When my cue comes'; and a list of practice exam questions with an emphasis on characterisation. 

In order to benefit fully from these lesson plans, we recommend you use them in the following order:

If you would like to teach the play in greater detail, use these advanced KS4/5 Lesson Plans. If students are new to the play, we suggest you start with the introductory KS3 Lesson Plans

These lesson plans are available in the Downloads section at the bottom of this page. To download resources, you must be logged in. Sign up for free to access this and other exclusive featuresActivities mentioned in these resources are available in a separate downloadable 'Student Booklet', also at the bottom of this page. The 'Teachers' Guide' download explains how best to use Teach Shakespeare and also contains a bibliography and appendices referencing the resources used throughout.

Key Questions for Students:

Can I investigate Shakespeare’s characterisation of Demetrius, Helena, Hermia and Lysander and support my ideas with evidence?

Can I reflect on what makes A Midsummer Night’s Dream a comedy?

Key words: character, comedy, Demetrius, development, genre, Helena, Hermia, Lysander, marriage, plot, resolution


Prologue: Opening Discussion

The class could brainstorm the conventions of the Shakespearean genre of ‘comedy’, with reference to this play and other comedies that students may know. Draw out from the discussion not only humour, but also ideas such as happy endings, marriages, the resolution of plot complications, forgiveness, etc.

N.B. For this activity, students could research the plots of numerous Shakespearean comedies, using resources such as Leon Garfield’s ‘Shakespeare Stories’ or the ‘Animated Tales’.


Enter the Players: Group Tasks

1) Character and motivation

Students should work in fours, with each member of the group selecting one of the following characters: Demetrius, Helena, Hermia and Lysander. Ask students to begin by discussing their respective character’s thoughts and feelings at the beginning of the play. You should then direct students to the page in the Student Booklet, which contains the Globe actress Yolanda Vasquez’s detailed list of questions she asks when she is rehearsing the play.



2) Zooming in and out

One of the biggest challenges with studying a substantial text is being able to ‘zoom in’ on important details in the text, without forgetting to ‘zoom out’ and view that detail in context. A range of techniques can be used to support students so that they can:

  • make links and draw comparisons
  • comment on patterns and motifs
  • track characters and themes
  • make connections between plot, character and the conventions of genre.

These techniques could include: systematic annotation of texts/revision notes, graphic organisers, classroom display, creative use of plot synopses and logs, blogging about the text and ‘tagging’ key characters, themes, motifs, etc.

Model some of these techniques for making links across the text and recording key ideas and connections. You could use Act 2 Scene 2 as a starting point, as it is a relatively short scene involving all four characters; it also builds on students’ examination of these four characters from their work in the first activity on Act 1 Scene 1. You could also work with students to create shared resources for the ‘My Revision Folio’ section of the Student Booklet and/or for classroom display. Ensure that students have recorded notes and quotations about how the four characters change and develop throughout the play.

N.B. It could be useful to share with students a range of approaches – even if the examples come from work on other texts – to help them develop their study skills in a way that suits their learning style. Students could also demonstrate and record their own methods for investigating a character or theme.


3) Staging It

The Staging It materials for this play focus in depth on a short dialogue involving Lysander and Hermia in Act 2 Scene 2: shakespearesglobe.com/discovery-space/staging-it. Information on this section including its context within the play as well as a number of activities can be found here, along with a Key Stage 4 assessment task.


Exeunt: Closing Questions for Students

How does Shakespeare achieve a ‘happy ending’ for these four characters?

What are the key plot events that lead to this point?

What makes A Midsummer Night’s Dream a comedy?


Suggested plenary activity…

Return to Yolanda Vasquez’ questions from earlier in the lesson, and to the character each student was looking at in detail. Ask students to make notes on the extent to which their character achieves what they set out to achieve at the beginning of the play.


Asides: Further Resources

  • In Shakespearean Comedies: A Guide to Criticism, Shakespeare critic Emma Smith writes that, ‘With a few scattered exceptions, it was not until the twentieth century that the critical structures of myth, of social history and gender relations, and of psychoanalytic theories of comedy were to offer a vocabulary and a framework in which Shakespeare’s comedies, severally and as a genre, could be more fully and sustainedly appreciated.’ 



Epilogue: Teacher's Note

There is also a section about these four characters within the Key Stage 3 Characters resources.

Key Questions for Students:

Can I investigate Shakespeare’s characterisation of Puck in A Midsummer Night’s Dream and support my ideas with evidence?

Can I reflect on Puck’s contribution to the play’s plot, language and themes?

Key words: archetype, carer, change, character, magic, mischievous, motivation, mythology, Puck, sovereign, trickster, warrior


Prologue: Opening Discussion

Students could analyse images of Puck from different productions of A Midsummer Night’s Dream; these can be displayed to the class using the Puck PowerPoint (available in the Downloads section at the bottom of this page). Students could discuss the images in pairs and annotate them in the Student Booklet, using a range of adjectives. Take feedback, drawing out a range of different opinions across the class. Continue to build a Puck ‘word bank’ as the lesson progresses.



Enter the Players: Group Tasks

1) ‘Puckish’

Ask students whether they have heard of the word ‘puckish’, perhaps showing them some examples of the word used in context. Then display a definition of the word, e.g. ‘having or showing a desire to cause trouble in a harmless or playful way’. Students should also read the following extract, Shakespeare’s World: Puck. This gives background information about the name and the characteristics traditionally associated with Puck, and can be found in the Student Booklet.

Puck, or Robin Goodfellow, was part of England’s fairy mythology. Shakespeare’s first audiences would recognise his name. There were many ballads or songs written about him. He was a fairy, but not the tiny, winged kind that we often imagine. He was mischievous. In the stories, he was a shape-changer. He could turn himself into something else –such as a stool, a hare, a ghost, or different people. He used this skill to play tricks on people, like the stories about housewives and maidservants he mentions here. But he was also sometimes frightening. People associated him with demons and other scary creatures. He would steal children and make loved ones disappear. One sixteenth-century writer (who tried hard to convince people that witchcraft and fairies were old wives’ tales) mentions Robin Goodfellow, and says that ‘our mothers’ maids have so terrified us with an ugly devil who has horns on his head’. So stories about Puck might have been made up to keep children well-behaved. Shakespeare links his Puck to this tradition, but he also makes him unique. His Puck is mischievous and naughty, but we like him. He seems almost human, even though he mocks the Athenians for being foolish mortals.

To what extent do students view Shakespeare’s Puck as harmless and playful?


2) Archetypes

Share Fiona Banks’ character archetypes (sovereign, warrior, carer, trickster). Show students the four lines from the play which exemplify each of the four archetypes, shown here and also in the Student Booklet.


Key characteristics: upright and responsible

The sovereign wears a crown, which is formed by placing your hands either side of your head, palms touching the top of your ears and fingers pointing upright. The sovereign wears a cape on which rest all the responsibilities of the kingdom.

‘Lord what fools these mortals be’ (sovereign)



Key characteristics: alert and ready for action

The warrior carries a shield which s/he holds in his/her left hand, protecting the heart. The warrior’s hand is raised straight up, vertically at his/her side with fingers pointed upwards, representing a sword.

‘Here villain drawn and ready’ (warrior)



Key characteristics: selfless and open

The carer walks around the room and when s/he meets another person flings open his/her arms in a wide gesture. Arms should be stretched as wide as possible, resembling the upper part of a cross.

‘Pretty soul’ (carer)



Key characteristics: naughty, a joker, likes to divert attention

The trickster walks around the room, and when they see another person they turn or spin round to the left, look at the other person and click their fingers.

Then ask students to find further examples and add them to the table.


3) Writing about Puck: character study

There is a page in the Student Booklet where students can make notes for a short character study about Puck. Students should make use of their Puck word bank from the Prologue activity to help them achieve a high quality of written expression.


Exeunt: Closing Questions for Students

What kind of character is Puck?

How does he contribute to the play?

What advice would I give to an actor playing Puck?


Suggested plenary activity…

Students should individually choose one of the following focuses of the play: plot, language and themes. They should then make one or more points on sticky notes about how Puck contributes to the play in this way. Students should pool their thoughts on an ideas wall.


Asides: Further Resources

  • In his book Shakespeare’s Restless World: A Portrait of an Era in Twenty Objects, Neil MacGregor chooses as his first artifact Sir Francis’ Drake silver circumnavigation medal. He connects Ariel’s line ‘I’ll put a girdle round the earth in forty minutes’ with the interest Shakespeare’s audience would have had in travelling around the world, a feat that took Drake nearly three years. MacGregor can be heard talking about the object and what it tells us about Shakespeare’s era here (bbc.co.uk/programmes/b01dp526), and you will also find links to all the other fifteen minute programmes here: bbc.co.uk/programmes/b017gm45/episodes/player



Epilogue: Teacher's Note

To tie in with this focused work on Puck, you could also consult the activities relating to the fairy characters within Key Stage 3 Characters.

Key Questions for Students:

Can I investigate Shakespeare’s characterisation of Bottom in A Midsummer Night’s Dream and support my ideas with evidence?

Can I reflect on what makes Bottom a comic character and how this comedy is sustained throughout the play?

Key words: Bottom, characterisation, clown, comedy, fool, heroic, lampoon, mock-heroic, parody, pathos, plot, pun, structure


Prologue: Opening Discussion

Show students the following short news story about an actor playing Bottom: bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-36314834. Students could suggest ideas about how the transformation from ‘a man’ to ‘a man wearing an ass’s head’ could be shown on stage. Students could then view a number of images from different productions, commenting on the nature of the transformation and its effectiveness.


Enter the Players: Group Tasks

1) Hamming it up!

Show students the following quotation by actor Paul Hunter who played Bottom at the Globe in 2008:

‘…the more he sees himself as this really heroic actor, the bigger the gap between how he sees himself as this really heroic actor, the bigger the gap between how he sees himself and how the world sees him. That is where the comedy lies. They don’t want to be bad. They want to be really good – it is just that they don’t quite have the wherewithal to be good.’

Next, students could explore the meaning of the word ‘mock-heroic’, and read the following lines:

          The raging rocks

          And shivering shocks,

          Shall break the locks

                Of prison-gates;

          And Phibbus’ car

          Shall shine from far

          And make and mar

                The foolish fates.

How does Shakespeare use the part of Bottom to parody a particular theatrical style? Students could have fun reciting extracts from ‘Pyramus and Thisbe’ from the rehearsal and performance scenes in a mock-heroic way!

In the Student Booklet, students will find a page of quotations spoken by Bottom in the play. Students should analyse and annotate these quotations, applying their knowledge and understanding of literary features and also of the play’s key themes and motifs.


2) Bottom’s Dream

In the Student Booklet, students will find Bottom’s prose monologue beginning, ‘When my cue comes…’ A clip of Russell Layton performing the speech can be found below:

Students should read the speech, then discuss and make notes on the questions in the Student Booklet, supporting their points with textual evidence.

  1. How do we know that Bottom is confused throughout much of this speech?
  2. What does this speech add to our understanding of, and attitude towards, Bottom?
  3. “It shall be called ‘Bottom’s Dream’, because it hath no bottom.” (line 215). Explain the play on words in this sentence.
  4. How does this monologue relate to the other events that take place in this scene?
  5. Choose one of the play’s themes and write about how this speech connects to that theme.
  6. How does this monologue contribute to Shakespeare’s characterisation of Nick Bottom as comic?



3) Essay task in exam conditions

Set students the following question:

Read the section of Act 1 Scene 2 lines 11-69 that begins with Peter Quince saying “Marry, our play is ‘The most lamentable comedy…’”), and ends with Bottom saying “’…let him roar again!’”  

How does Shakespeare introduce Bottom to the audience as a comic character here, and how does he develop his comic potential in the scenes that follow?

This writing task is designed to be undertaken in exam conditions. Before they begin, students should be encouraged to:

  • identify the key words in the question
  • think of suitable examples and find evidence from the passage and from the play as a whole
  • write a plan of their ideas and how they will structure their answer


Exeunt: Closing Questions for Students

How would I describe Bottom?

What is Bottom’s contribution to the play’s humour?

What advice would I give to an actor playing Bottom on stage?


Suggested plenary activity…

It is likely that class time will be used for writing in timed conditions, but all students could be reminded in the last few minutes to review the success criteria and to proofread their work carefully. 


Asides: Further Resources

  • Shakespeare’s company included a clown. We know he played Bottom, because some of the original stage directions say Clown when they mean Bottom. When Shakespeare wrote A Midsummer Night’s Dream, the clown was Will Kemp, one of the most famous actors in England. Clowns often added to what was in the text, and the crowd enjoyed the wit of these celebrated comedians. So as Bottom, Kemp probably added several lines and they would have been different every time. Other roles played by Kemp were Dogberry in Much Ado About Nothing, Peter in Romeo and Juliet and Falstaff in Henry IV. Kemp left the company in 1599. Shakespeare’s clown parts were different in his plays written after 1599, as he was writing for someone else.


  • Kemp was also the star of the jig, the dance and comic song at the end of the play. Kemp’s jigs were as popular as Shakespeare’s plays themselves. Perhaps this is why Theseus asks Bottom to dance in the final scene.


  • The news article referred to in the 'Prologue' relates to a production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream in Stratford, in which local amateur actors played the Mechanicals alongside professional members of the Royal Shakespeare Company. A recent BBC documentary series about this collaboration is called ‘The Best Bottoms in the Land’.


Epilogue: Teacher's Note

Further questions about character, motivation and revision tips relating to studying and writing about character can be found on the next page.

Key Questions for Students:

Can I make useful notes about characters from the text for revision purposes?

Can I check that my notes contain textual evidence and references that I can cite in my essays?

Key words: characters, cite, development, evidence, notes, revision, textual evidence


Prologue: Opening Discussion

Ask students to write on a sticky note some things that make notes useful, and build a spider diagram using the sticky notes on the board. Points might include: legibility; organisation; detail; coverage; fit for purpose (awareness assessment criteria etc.); memorable; matched to individual learning style (e.g. use of colour-coding, graphic organisers or voice recordings of notes)


Enter the Players: Group Tasks

1) Character passport

You should model making notes about a character on a large flip chart size piece of paper, creating a passport-style poster with the following features:

  • name of character
  • headshot of actor who played that part on page
  • any textual information about that character’s age/appearance/birthplace/dwelling
  • bullet points about that character’s title/role/relationship to other characters
  • adjectives to describe that character
  • ‘passport stamps’ – key moments in that character’s ‘journey’ through the text



2) More character passports

Students should record this character passport in the Student Booklet. This can be repeated for other characters on additional copies of the passport sheet and inserted into the Student Booklet.


3)  Task bank: character and motivation

The following tasks can be used in the modelling of planning and drafting written tasks, as well as for students’ more independently produced work for assessment:

  1. How does Shakespeare connect Titania and Oberon with Theseus and Hippolyta, and how would you show this connection in your own staging of the play?
  2. Compare and contrast two scenes involving either Helena and Demetrius, or Hermia and Lysander. Write about how Shakespeare conveys their thoughts and feelings about each other in the two scenes.
  3. What is the dramatic function of the character of Puck in A Midsummer Night’s Dream?


Exeunt: Closing Questions for Students

What makes revision notes useful and memorable?

What do I know about my own preferred learning style that can help me revise as effectively as possible?


 Suggested plenary activity…

Share and compare pieces of evidence that students have selected to support key points. Ask follow-up questions to support students in their language analysis skills.



Asides: Further Resources


  • For a particularly collaborative approach to revision, students could work in groups on a particular character. Photocopies could be made of their finished poster for distribution to the whole class.


  • Ensure students know how to record the part of the play from which each quotation comes (i.e. act, scene and line references), and emphasise the importance of keeping quotations short (especially if students are preparing for an exam on the text)


Epilogue: Teacher's Note

For more detailed guidance on planning, drafting and language analysis, see Language and the linked materials in the Student Booklet.


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