A Speculative Political Allegory in A Midsummer Night's Dream


Maurice Hunt


In lieu of an abstract, the first paragraph of the essay follows:

Every so often commentators on Shakespeare's A Midsummer Night's Dream quote Bottom's judgment on his own "most rare vision" of the Fairy Queen-"Man is but an ass if he go about to expound this dream" (4.1.203-4)-with tongue-in-cheek reference to their own interpretive efforts.1 Given the frequency with which Bottom's words have been invoked for this purpose, one can be excused for believing that the utterance has lost most of its value as a beforehand deflector of criticism against the commentator's argument. Yet if ever a commentator on A Dream risked appearing an ass to his or her reader, it would be the interpreter presumptuous enough to offer a reading of a topical political allegory in the comedy. That, however, is precisely what I intend to do in this essay. I have in my title termed the political allegory I shall unfold not only "a" political allegory in A Midsummer Night's Dream (thus admitting that another one might appear as or more viable), but also that it is a "speculative" allegory. I realize nevertheless that, unless an author has supplied a statement of allegorical intention akin to Edmund Spenser's letter to Sir Walter Ralegh concerning The Faerie Queene, all unfolded literary allegories, political or otherwise, are speculative. Still, my use of the word in my title and from time to time in my argument may in some readers' minds make me appear less an ass in my expounding of Shakespeare's Dream.

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