Use this Real-Life Lens Lesson to help students dive deep into Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream and examine the play’s themes, action, and characters through the lens of dreams and reality. How do dreams offer an enhanced, or distorted, version of reality? How do they reveal our emotions or desires (or do they)? What is the role of dreaming in this play, and how does it relate to other major themes like love, marriage, gender, and friendship?
A Midsummer Night's Dream by William Shakespeare
Introduce the Lens
To activate students’ thinking, choose one or two of the following Real-Life Links to use in an engagement activity. Have students read or watch and discuss the content. Encourage students to jot down notes, or record class notes on the board for future reference.
Pose the Following Big Idea Questions to the Class:
What is reality, and how do we know what is real?
How do dreams both enhance and defy reality?
1. Have students write quick initial answers to the questions.
2. Discuss the questions, either as a class or in small groups. Prompt students to consider the relationship between dreams and reality.
3. Encourage students to think about both how dreams differ from reality and how they reflect it.
4. Following discussion, give students time to revise their initial responses and ask volunteers to share what they wrote with the class.
Introduce the Driving Questions
Begin by having students write their own questions about the lesson topic. Encourage them to think about what they already know about the lens of dreams and reality and what they’re interested in exploring further.
Hand out the Driving Questions Worksheet. Review the questions as a class. Students should enter initial answers to the questions as they read A Midsummer Night’s Dream. They will revisit the questions and revise their answers following the lesson activities, classroom discussion, and completion of the text. Remind students to support their responses with text evidence.
Integrate the Driving Questions into your classroom discussions. Use them to help guide students’ thinking about the Big Idea Questions.
1. What happens to the characters’ perceptions of reality while they are in the forest?
2. Who is under the spell of the love potion? Who isn’t? Why might this be significant?
3. What does the love potion symbolize? How does it link dreams and reality?
4. What “truths” are revealed about the characters while in the forest?
5. How does Shakespeare set up an opposition between the city and the forest, and how does this relate to the theme of reality and illusion in the play?
6. How does dreaming function as both a disruptive and unifying force in the play?
7. What are Theseus’s views on love and rationality, and how are they similar to or different from Hermia’s?
8. How do Theseus’s and Hermia’s views together form a “complete” commentary on reality in the play?
9. Why do you think Shakespeare chooses dreams as a literary device?
Introduce the "Through the Lens" Activity
Activity: Personal Experience
In this activity, students will discuss their own dreams and how they are/are not linked to reality.
Ask students to write a paragraph about a dream they have had and how it related to their real life. (If you feel that students might be uncomfortable writing about their dreams, have them write about another person’s dream they heard about or a dream of a character in a story or film.) In their paragraphs, students should note what happened in the dream, what emotions they experienced while dreaming and after they woke up, and how the dream might have related to anything that was going on in their lives at the time.
Pair students and have partners share their paragraphs. Encourage pairs to return to the Big Idea Questions and consider how their experiences informed their initial answers.
Invite three or four students to share their paragraphs with the class. Prompt whole-class discussion with questions, such as: Was the dream a pleasant dream or a nightmare? What emotions did you experience during the dream and after waking? What kinds of things happened in the dream that could not happen in real life? What events or experiences were you going through at the time? Can you relate the dream to any of them?
Before moving on, explain that students will explore Shakespeare’s treatment of dreams and their powerful effects through his use of characterization, plot, and language as they read A Midsummer Night’s Dream.
Begin by having students define what dreams are. Then, rather than having all students write about a personal experience, ask two or three volunteers to describe their experiences orally to the class. Proceed with discussion as outlined above, including more students.
Have students write short personal essays about an experience of dreaming. Ask two or three students to read their essays to the class and proceed with discussion as outlined above.
Introduce the Final Project
Before moving on, introduce the final projects to the class (see details below). Have students choose the project they will complete and encourage them to keep their project in mind as they read the text. Facilitate the formation of project groups if necessary.
Assign the Midpoint Activities
Activity 1: Characterization: Dream Scene
Students will analyze a scene from the dream sequence in the play (Act 3, scene 2) and infer what each character’s dream reveals about him or her. Before the activity begins, pass out The Dream in the Forest Worksheet. Students will:
- review Act 3, scene 2
- complete the worksheet with details from the scene to: analyze each character’s language and actions to infer what this “dreaming state” reveals about the character’s main conflict and potential innermost fears and desires AND compare the character’s language and actions before entering the dream sequence (i.e., before entering the forest), while in the dream sequence (in the forest), and after the dream sequence (out of the forest).
- write an essay or develop an oral presentation to present their analyses, as you prefer for your class.
Have students work in pairs to complete the worksheet. Then, rather than assigning essays, lead a class discussion in which each pair shares information from their completed worksheet.
As part of their oral presentations, have each student develop a performance of one character’s soliloquy that supports their analysis of the text.
Activity 2: Make Predictions
Students will make predictions about what will occur in the remainder of the play based on an analysis of the dream sequence (Act 3, scene 2). Students will:
- create a summary of the major plot events of the dream sequence. This can be done in note form or as a more formal written summary, as best suits your class.
- write at least three predictions about what will occur in the final acts of the play based on their summaries.
- return to their predictions when they have finished reading the text and confirm or correct their predictions.
Paired Text Recommendations
Encourage students to read passages from contemporary novels that similarly feature the theme of dreams and reality. In pairing multiple texts with similar themes, students are challenged to look beyond the book they’re studying and find new ways to connect to the themes. Here are some books you can pair with A Midsummer Night’s Dream:
- Dreamers Often Lie by Jacqueline West
- This Must Be Love by Tui T. Sutherland
- Wondrous Strange by Lesley Livingston
Students will work on their final projects after they have finished reading the complete text of A Midsummer Night’s Dream. Project 1 can be completed by students working individually, while Project 2 calls for small groups.
Final Project 1: Dream Machine
Students will work individually to analyze one character and his or her desires and romantic relationship based on what happens to the character before going into the forest, while in the forest, and after leaving the forest. Students will use their analysis to create a dream the character may (or may not) have for his or her future. Students will:
- summarize the main conflict the character faces and main events that happen to the character.
- summarize the character’s viewpoints on relationships and love, as well as his or her values in general.
- create a new dream for the character, as if the character were to return to the forest under the influence of the love potion, based on their summaries.
- present their findings and created dream in an essay.
Have students work in pairs. Have each student responsible for a specific portion of the essay, thus reducing the amount of writing any one student will have to produce. Have partners exchange essay portions for editing and feedback before they assemble a final essay.
Have students assemble a collage (print or digital) that reflects the atmosphere of the dream they have created for their characters. Students should carefully consider color, images, and even accompanying music and be prepared to explain their choices to the class.
Final Project 2: Dreams versus Reality
Small groups will choose a dream sequence scene in the play and create two sets of cartoon panels representing an event from the dream sequence: one cartoon should reflect the “reality” of the event (as a bystander or the reader would perceive the events), and the other cartoon should represent the “dream reality” as perceived by the dreaming character(s). Students will work together to:
- craft two cartoon strips containing at least three panels each that detail the major plot points of the chosen dream sequence. Students can use paper and colored pencils or design software.
- include a two- to three-line explanation below each panel that will, when paired with the cartoon, summarize the dream sequence.
- consider color, design, and other styling elements to portray the mood, emotion, and tone for each set of panels.
- write an explanation or give a short oral presentation of their panels, which includes a rationale behind design choices made and how these choices relate to the themes of dreaming and reality in the play.
Help groups assign project roles so that all students are performing tasks within their abilities. Before groups begin working, review what effective communication and collaboration entail.
Have students research set designs, direction, and actors who have performed this play on stage or in film to compare these choices with their rationales. Have groups produce brief statements that summarize what they learn through their research.
Assess the Assignments
Use the Rubric for Student Assessment to evaluate student work on the lesson assignments.
Distribute the Student Reflection Worksheet. Guide students through the self-assessment and reflection questions.