Midsummer: Contexts KS3

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In these lessons, students will be introduced to the world that Shakespeare lived and wrote in. This will help them to build an informed overview of the social and historical contexts important to the dramatic world. Tasks include: exploring the connection between Queen Elizabeth I and Titania, Queen of the Fairies; researching the London of Shakespeare's time; and imaginative writing accounts.

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

If students are new to the play, we suggest you start with these introductory KS3 Lesson Plans. If you would like to teach the play in greater detail, use the advanced KS4/5 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 research Shakespeare’s life with a particular focus on the period when A Midsummer Night’s Dream was written and first performed?

Can I put forward my views confidently and convincingly in a class debate?

Key words: argument, author, biography, contemporary, counter-argument, debate, motion, portrait, research


Prologue: Opening Discussion

Despite being a well known name in literature, Shakespeare doesn’t have a very well known face! There is some conjecture as to what the Bard actually looked like. Students imagine they have been asked to choose a portrait to be used as the front cover of a new book about Shakespeare. They can then look up various pictures of Shakespeare online and choose the one which they would like to use for the cover. Have a feedback session where students will argue the case for their chosen picture, with pros and cons. Then vote on which cover to use. Below is an example of a picture they may use and its respective pro and con:



1) The Droeshout portrait

Pro: Fellow playwright Ben Jonson said this portrait was a good likeness of Shakespeare.

Con: Ben Jonson may not have actually seen this portrait.


Take feedback drawing out the reasons for different groups’ choices. What drove their decision?

  • authenticity?
  • the quality of the image?
  • the appeal/attractiveness of the image?
  • whether it fits with our ideas about Shakespeare ‘should’ look like?


Enter the Players: Group Tasks

1) Why study Shakespeare?

The idea is to open up a broad, frank and open-ended discussion about Shakespeare. This kind of activity could work very well as an orientation exercise at the beginning of a unit of work.

Some ideas:

  • Students could be shown ‘My Shakespeare: a new poem by Kate Tempest’ (youtube.com/watch?v=i_auc2Z67OM) and discuss the ideas raised in it.
  • Students could gather the viewpoints of other students, ex-students, teachers and others in relation to studying Shakespeare.
  • Students could create a large collage about Shakespeare’s continuing influence on our language and in our lives today.
  • Students could write their expectations about studying Shakespeare on slips of paper to be returned to them at the end of the unit. Student could then compare their predictions with their actual experiences!


2) Timeline

Students could be shown a timeline of Shakespeare's life. It divides Shakespeare’s life into: Early Years (1564-1589); Freelance Writer (1589-1594); The Lord Chamberlain’s Man (1594-1603); The King’s Man (1603-1613); Final Years (1613-1616). Students ‘zoom’ in on the portion of Shakespeare’s life when A Midsummer Night’s Dream was written and performed, and extract some key pieces of information for a A Midsummer Night’s Dream in context fact file. They should find information about biographical and historical events, the existence of the Globe and other London theatres, and other works by Shakespeare.



3) Debate

The class prepares and holds a formal debate. The motion is “The more we discover about Shakespeare the man, the more we can appreciate Shakespeare the playwright”. Students should spend some time researching and planning their contributions. The class appoints a chair and the motion is proposed and opposed by the first pair of speakers, before a second member of each team also has the chance to add to their team’s case. Points and questions can then be taken from the floor, before the opposing and proposing teams sum up and a vote takes place.


Exeunt: Closing Questions for Students

What do I now know about Shakespeare’s life and times around the time he wrote A Midsummer Night’s Dream?

How did I find these things out?

How important is it to know about a writer’s life in order to understand and enjoy that writer’s work?


Suggested plenary activity…

Students write up their own view about the motion discussed, taking into account the arguments and counter-arguments they have heard.


Asides: Further Resources

  • Students might like to read about the latest portrait to be found that may or may not be Shakespeare, an image taken from a botanical book called ‘The Herball’ (1598): telegraph.co.uk


  • A list of recommended reading for students or book box for when they are researching what we know about Shakespeare’s life (also why we know so little) could include Anna Claybourne’s World of Shakespeare, Bill Bryson’s Shakespeare and Ben Crystal’s Shakespeare on Toast.


  • Students might be aware of controversies about Shakespeare’s true identity and whether he wrote all of the plays! The film Anonymous and book Contested Will are sources about these debates. 


Epilogue: Teacher's Note

Students’ debate speeches and other contributions could be assessed for speaking, listening and writing too.

Key Questions for Students:

Can I identify Shakespeare’s influences and inspiration for A Midsummer Night’s Dream?

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

Key words: classical, comedy, genre, influence, inspiration, original, source


Prologue: Opening Discussion

Check for students’ understanding of the word genre and of the different genres of Shakespeare’s plays. Explain that A Midsummer Night’s Dream is classified as a ‘comedy’. Ask students to draw this simple table and fill it in with their ideas about the play in relation to any of these three Shakespearean genres. What do students know about A Midsummer Night’s Dream that makes it a comedy? Which other plays by Shakespeare does it have similarities to?



Enter the Players: Group Tasks

1) The Queen

Shakespeare wrote A Midsummer Night’s Dream while Elizabeth I was still on the throne. Titania in Shakespeare’s play has sometimes been identified with Elizabeth, who was seen by the time of her death in 1603 as the personification of various mythological figures. Students could:

  • research portraits of Elizabeth I and consider their connotations and symbolism, effectiveness as propaganda, etc.
  • scour the text (perhaps using an online concordance) for Shakespeare’s use of the word  ‘queen’ in this play
  • look at images of Titania from Globe productions of the play and discuss the portrayal of Titania in each one

Images of Titania from various productions are available in the Queen PowerPoint (available in the Downloads section at the bottom of this page).



2) Nuptials

a) Ask students to jot down a few points in answer to the following question: ‘If you were asked to stage a dramatic performance at a wedding, what would you choose?’ Take feedback, asking students to consider the content, themes and styles they might be sure to steer away from in the circumstances!

b) Students could read the passage from Act 5 Scene 1 lines 42-84, in which Thesues reflects on the various entertainments that Philostrate tells him are ‘ripe’. Discuss the relative merits of each suggestion. Ask students to consider which one they might have chosen from this menu, if any. This could also be the basis of a creative activity in which students write an updated version of this humorous dialogue.

c) Students could read the following extract from the novelist Anthony Burgess’ book  Shakespeare. It describes the wedding of the Earl of Derby and Lady Elizabeth De Vere, the couple in whose honour it is likely that A Midsummer Night’s Dream was first performed:

‘That A Midsummer Night’s Dream is a play for important nuptials we take for granted. Whose nuptials were they?  On January 26, 1595, the Lord Chamberlain’s Men were commanded to perform at a wedding at Greenwich, with the Queen and the entire Court present…One presumes that A Midsummer Night’s Dream was the play performed on this occasion – a play easy to rehearse quickly (a royal summons requesting a new play rarely gave much time), since it is full of separable sections, the lovers’ scenes, the fairies’ scenes, the artisans’ scenes all capable of isolated rehearsal. The play had everything except Mendelssohn, but time has made good that omission. As a vehicle for the varied powers of the Lord Chamberlain’s Men, it was superb. If there was no place for tragic rhetoric, there was tragic parody, which was just as good.’

d) In light of students’ knowledge of the play and the Burgess extract, students could assess how suitable they feel A Midsummer Night’s Dream was as a play of marriage celebration. They could also reflect on the appropriateness (or lack thereof) of ‘Pyramus and Thisbe’ as a choice of play for Theseus’ wedding.


3) A blend of influences

Students could research some of the myths and stories that Shakespeare draws on in this play:

  • the story of Theseus
  • Pyramus and Thisbe
  • legends of Puck or Robin Goodfellow
  • metamorphosis and, specifically, the idea of being transformed into an ass

You could support students in locating relevant information and reading closely to retrieve the precise information required. Students could work in groups, allocating questions to various group members who report back and pool their findings in a short class presentation.


Exeunt: Closing Questions for Students

What inspired and influenced A Midsummer Night’s Dream?

How did Shakespeare adapt and shape his sources to make them his own?

Why did he do this?


Suggested plenary activity…

Students think about what it would be like to watch a performance of A Midsummer Night’s Dream in Shakespeare’s time. Students should explain in their own words something about the play that would be exciting and something about the play that would be topical.


Aside: Further Resource

  • In addition to Theseus and the story of Pyramus and Thisbe, Shakespeare makes many other classical references in this play. Students could attempt the following ‘classical connections’ matching exercise: Aegle; Ariadne; Bacchanal; Cadmus; Cephalus; Hercules; The Muses; Ninus; Philomel; Phoebe; Phoebus; Thessalian bulls. As a homework task, they could research the topics further, and any other classical references they find in the play.


Epilogue: Teacher's Note

The Key Stage 4 Historical and Social Context Lesson Plans can be used for a more in-depth investigation of some of  Shakespeare’s key sources for this play.

Key Questions for Students:

Can I establish how much I know about London in Shakespeare’s time and what I would like to find out?

Can I apply what I have learned in a creative task and ‘step into the shoes’ of someone visiting the theatre in Shakespeare’s time?

Key words: atmosphere, empathy, glossary, questions, research, sources, topics

Prologue: Opening Discussion

Explain to students that over the next two lessons they are going to travel back in time to 1605, to an early performance of A Midsummer Night’s Dream at the Globe. London was by far the biggest town in England and an attractive place to young men like William Shakespeare, who arrived there to make his fortune some time between 1592 and 1594. Create a brainstorm from students’ prior knowledge and impressions of London at this time.


1) Shakespeare’s London

Students work in small groups discovering information on a particular topic about London life in Shakespeare’s time. The topics to assign are:

The text ‘Shakespeare’s London’ by Jim Bradbury appears in the Student Booklet. Students will also need highlighter pens.


2) Theatre glossary

Explain that theatres were outside the walls of the City of London on the south bank of the River Thames. This meant that they were outside the jurisdiction of the Puritan city fathers. Here people would find bear pits, brothels and theatres. The Globe Theatre was built in 1599. 

Students are going to compile their own glossary about theatres in Shakespeare’s time, the template for which can be found in the Student Booklet. Divide up the words among the group and ask them to predict what they think the word means in the context of Shakespeare’s theatre before looking it up here: shakespearesglobe.com/discovery-space/adopt-an-actor/glossary

attic, cabbage, discovery space, frons scenae, gentlemen’s boxes, groundlings, heavens, hell, iambic pentameter, jig, lord chamberlain’s men, in the round, lords’ rooms, musicians’ gallery, pillars, thrust stage, ring house, traps, vomitorium, yard

Take feedback from students, including hearing about words that have a specific meaning in this context, but which have a different or more general meaning outside this context.



3) Publicising the play

Students should imagine that they are trying to sell tickets for A Midsummer Night’s Dream to passers-by on a rainy afternoon in 1605. How can they encourage people to come inside the theatre to see A Midsummer Night’s Dream? Students should devise publicity slogans and share them. If students have time, they could turn their slogans into printed handbills for homework.


Exeunt: Closing Questions for Students

What would the atmosphere have been like on Bankside in 1605? What do I think drew people to the theatre?

What do I think were the challenges involved in putting on a play?


Suggested plenary activity…

Divide students into groups of three, with each student taking on a different role. Students apply what they have learned today to an empathy task in which they wonder about what it would be like to be an actor, a ticket-seller and a playwright just before the show begins. If there is time, one or two groups could perform their role plays.


Aside: Further Resource

  • The cloze activity in the Student Booklet will help students build a picture of what a visit to the theatre in Shakespeare’s time would have been like. Answers are provided in the Lesson Plan download at the bottom of this page.


By 1600 London theatres could take up to ____1_____ people for the most popular plays. With several theatres offering plays most afternoons, this meant between ____2_____ and 20,000 people a week going to London theatres. With such large audiences, plays only had short runs and then had to be replaced. Between 1560 and 1640 about 3,000 new plays were written. To attract the crowds, these plays often re-told famous stories from the past, and they used violence, music and humour to keep people’s attention. This was vital because, if audiences didn’t like a play, they made their feelings known. In 1629, a visiting French company were hissed and ____3_____ from the stage. This was because the company used ____4_____ to play the female roles, something which outraged the audience.

In open air theatres the cheapest price was only 1 penny which bought you a place amongst the ____5_____ standing in the ‘yard’ around the stage. (There were 240 pennies in £1.) For another penny, you could have a bench seat in the lower galleries which surrounded the yard. Or for a penny or so more, you could sit more comfortably on a cushion. The most expensive seats would have been in the ____6_____. Admission to the indoor theatres started at 6 pence.

The groundlings were very close to the action on stage. They could buy food and drink during the performance – ____7_____ (apples), oranges, nuts, gingerbread and ale. But there were no ____8_____ and the floor they stood on was probably just sand, ash or covered in ____9_____. 

In Shakespeare’s day, as people came into the theatre they had to put their money in a ____10_____. So the place where audiences pay became known as the box office.

groundlings         toilets         Lord’s Rooms        10,000       women
          pippin-pelted         box           pippins          3,000       nutshells     


Epilogue: Teacher's Note

This lesson is designed to prepare students for the imaginative writing task on the next page.

Key Questions for Students:

Can I establish how much I know about visiting the theatre in Shakespeare’s time and what I would like to find out?

Can I imagine and describe what it would have been like to be an audience member at an early performance of A Midsummer Night’s Dream?


Prologue: Opening Discussion

Displayed on the whiteboard there could be a map of the Globe and a set of labels; this is included in the PowerPoint The Great Globe Itself (available in the Downloads section at the bottom of this page and in the Student Booklet). Students could work out where the labels should go. Remind students that today they are going to visit the Globe as it was in 1605. What kind of person are they? How much money can they afford to spend on a seat? Where will they sit? Hear perspectives from different students in character. Ask students to make notes about their ‘character’ on the planning sheet in the Student Booklet.


Enter the Players: Group Tasks

1) A funny thing happened on my way to the theatre…

Ask students to imagine that they have bumped into a friend and that they are discussing their journeys to the theatre. Drawing on their research from the previous lesson, students could now form new ‘expert’ groups. Representing all of the different topics covered, they should prepare six tableaux images that show aspects of what their journey towards Bankside to watch A Midsummer Night’s Dream involved. Ask students to make notes on their planning sheet in the Student Booklet.


2) Visualisation activity

Your role here is to conjure the atmosphere of a visit to the Globe in Shakspeare’s time. This could be achieved through watching a brief extract of Shakespeare in Love or by reading another extract from Jim Bradbury’s Shakespeare and His Theatre (available in the Student Booklet). This invites the reader/listener to imagine that they are about to go to see a production of Julius Caesar at the Globe in 1599. Ask students to make further notes on their planning sheet and add in these extra thoughts (which could be arranged around the room for students to find):

  • Remember you will be writing about going to see A Midsummer Night’s Dream in 1605
  • By then, Queen Elizabeth was dead and King James I was on the throne
  • The play you are watching was written by Shakespeare a few years earlier and had previously been performed at The Theatre in Shoreditch
  • You may also have been to see some of Shakespeare’s other recent plays such as The Merchant of Venice and Romeo and Juliet
  • The parts of the Mechanicals would have been played by popular clowns


3) Creative response

Students are going to write about visiting the Globe Theatre in Shakespeare’s time to watch a production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream. Students should now have lots of notes on their planning page (in the Student Booklet), and can start to sequence their ideas using the suggested structure.


Exeunt: Closing Questions for Students

Have I written effectively about the atmosphere at the Globe?

Have I included textual details about A Midsummer Night’s Dream?

Have I described my reactions to the play from the perspective of my ‘character’?


Suggested plenary activity…

Peer and self assessment of imaginative writing.


Aside: Further Resource


Epilogue: Teacher's Note

The imaginative writing task (an account of a visit to watch A Midsummer Night’s Dream ) can be assessed for writing and also for reading. 


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