A Midsummer Night's Dream
The play opens with the approach of the wedding of Theseus, victorious Duke of Athens, and Hippolyta, subdued Queen of the Amazons. As the wedding approaches, a conflict arises. A courtier named Egeus wants to give his daughter, Hermia, to Demetrius. However, Hermia is in love with Lysander, a man who won her love. Egeus demands the right of fathers by Athenian law to offer her the choice of either marrying Demetrius, becoming a nun or suffering the death penalty. Although Lysander argues that he is better than Demetrius, because Demetrius won the heart of Helena and left her, Theseus sides with the Athenian Law. To escape the law, Lysander and Hermia agree to flee to the woods of Athens at night and travel far away. They tell Helena of her plans and Helena, who is still in love with Demetrius, decides to tell Demetrius, so she can follow him into the wood. Meanwhile, in preparation for the wedding, several craftsmen prepare to enact a tragic play, which they call the most lamentable comedy, and cruel death of Pyramus and Thysbe. The play is similar in plot to Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet. The would-be-actors agree to rehearse in the forest.
In the forest, we are introduced to the fairies and sprites, most notably Puck the mischievous sprite. There is a conflict between the fairy King and Queen, Oberon and Titania, over a changling boy. Titania knew the boy's mother and in duty raises the child, but Oberon wants the child for his train. When she refuses to submit to him, Oberon decides to resort to magic to take the boy by force. He sends Puck to fetch a magic flower that causes whoever is anointed in the eyes to fall in love with whatever living creature it sees next. Oberon intends to make Titania fall in love with some monster and take advantage of her. While he waits for Puck, angry Demetrius and doting Helena pass him. Oberon then decides to send Puck to anoint Demetrius' eyes with the juice. Oberon anoints Titania, but Puck mistakes a sleeping Lysander for Demetrius and anoints him by mistake. Helena accidentally wakes up Lysander and he falls head-over-heels in love with her. Helena flees him thinking he is mocking her.
Meanwhile, the craftsmen of Athens practice near the bed of Titania. The actor playing Pyramus, Nick Bottom, retires into a thicket and Puck decides to transform his head into the head of a donkey! The other craftsman quickly run away, but Titania wakes to hear him sing and falls in love with him. Oberon is pleased and uses the opportunity to take the boy from Titania. However, when he finds Demetrius chasing Hermia, he is angry at Puck. Oberon anoints Demetrius' eyes and very soon Demetrius and Lysander abandon Hermia for Helena. The lovers quarrel over their situation. Demetrius and Lysander very nearly duel, but Oberon tells Puck to create a fog and separate the lovers from each other. Puck then anoints Lysander's eyes with an herb that removes the spell of love and restores him to Hermia's love.
Oberon also undoes the spell on Titania and Puck removes Nick Bottom's head. Titania wakes to be again in love with Oberon. The fairies depart with the light of day. Theseus and Hippolyta find the lovers asleep on the ground and all agreed. Since Demetrius no longer wishes for Hermia, the couples are free to the monarchs and wed alongside them. After the wedding, the craftsman, including a restored Nick Bottom, perform comically before the wedded couples. After the performance, when the couples go to bed, the fairies dance through the castle. The play closes when Puck reminds the audience that if anyone was offended, they can simply dispel the plot as nothing more than a dream.
Theseus and Hippolyta The respectively rulers of Athens and the Amazons, who are planning to marry. Their marriage feast concludes the play.
Egeus The father of Hermia, who wants Hermia to marry Demetrius.
Lysander The man, who is in love with Hermia and departs into the forest with her. He falls under the power of the magic flower temporarily, but is restored and marries Hermia.
Demetrius The former lover of Helena, who abandoned her for Hermia. He chases them into the forest and is the only character to remain under the influence of the magic flower, so that he can remain in love with Helena.
Hermia The daughter of Egeus, who loves Lysander. She is especially vexed when Lysander falls in love with Helena, but she still marries Lysander in the end.
Helena The lover of Demetrius, whom both Lysander and Demetrius under the potion of the magic flower love. She thinks she is being mocked, but marries Demetrius at the end of the play.
Philostrate Theseus' servant.
Peter Quince A carpenter and the organizer of the craftsmen, who perform the play.
Nick Bottom A weaver, who enthusiastically takes part in the play. His head temporarily transformed into that of donkey and Titania falls in love with him. However, he is restored and he returns to play Pyramus at the wedding feast.
Francis Flute, Robin Starveling, Tom Snout & Snug The remaining craftsmen of Athens, who rehearse in the forest and then perform at the wedding.
Oberon The King of the fairies, who tries to manipulate the events to work everything out. He tricks Titania to get her boy and he eventually gets all the lovers properly matched up.
Titania The Queen of the fairies, who is altered by the magic flower to temporarily become enamored of a transformed Nick Bottom.
Puck (Robin Goodfellow) The mischief making sprite, who loves to cause mischief. He mistakes Lysander for Demetrius and transforms Nick Bottom. He gives the epilogue.
Lines and Quotes
"Ay me! for aught that I could read,
Could ever hear by tale or history,
The course of true love never did run smooth."
-Lysander, Act I, Scene 1
"Love looks not with the eyes, but with the mind;
And therefore is wing'd Cupid painted blind,"
-Helena, Act I, Scene 1
"The lunatic, the lover and the poet
Are of imagination all compact"
-Theseus, Act V, Scene 1
A Midsummer's Night's Dream has been a popular comedy to put on film. A black and white version was made in 1935, directed by William Dieterle and Max Rheinhardt. It starred Olivia de Havilland as Hermia, Mickey Rooney as Puck and James Cagney as Nick Bottom.
More recently, in 1999 Michael Hoffman directed a version starring Christian Bale as Demetrius, Stanley Tucci as Puck and Kevin Kline as Nick Bottom.
- Great Books, Shakespeare: Vol. 1, edited by William George Clarke and William Aldis Wright, Encyclopedia Britannica Inc., 1952, pp. 352-375.
Open Source Shakespeare - A Midsummer-Night's Dream