Published online by Cambridge University Press: 31 October 2019
A Midsummer Night’s Dream was probably not originally composed for a court wedding. Yet, as Janna Segal makes clear, it is very likely that the play was revised for performance at court, and, as such, the play emblematizes the power dynamics at work between the Elizabethan court and theatre companies. Critics concerned with the import of Midsummer’s 'rude mechanicals' (3.2.9) have generally left unattended the relationship between their theatrical practice and antitheatrical discourse. The play’s critical posture towards the antitheatricalist tracts’ characterization of the public theatre as an idle pastime, Segal explains, is first suggested by the presence of the 'mechanicals' (3.2.9) as a 'company' of players (1.2.1). Besides, the players’ recurring anxiety over the effects of their performance on the 'ladies' of Theseus’s court clearly invokes repeated warnings from John Northbrooke, Stephen Gosson, and John Rainoldes that women (especially) are vulnerable at the playhouses. So, more generally speaking, the actors-within-the-action satirically engage with the major criticisms of the public theatre voiced by eminent Puritans.