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A Midsummer Night's Dream

A Midsummer Night's Dream

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Summary

A Midsummer Night's Dream

​​In a nutshell

A Midsummer Night's Dream is a comedy written by Shakespeare. The mischievous narrator, Puck, leads the reader through the chaotic story of four lovers, a fairy King and Queen, and a play within a play. This summary explains the plot, key characters and themes of the comedy. 



Plot summary

Act I

The play is set in Athens, where, in four days, Duke Theseus and Queen Hippolyta are going to get married. Egeus, a nobleman, wants his daughter Hermia to marry Demetrius, but she wants to marry Lysander instead. However, because of Athenian law, she has to do as her father says. 


Hermia and Lysander plan to run away from Athens. They tell Helena, Hermia's friend, who is in love with Demetrius. Helena decides to tell Demetrius about their escape plan. 


In scene 2 we meet the mechanicals, six local craftsmen who are going to perform the tragedy of Pyramus and Thisbe for Theseus and Hippolyta's wedding day. They are not very good actors. Nick Bottom, who is going to play the lead, thinks he is a great actor. They all decide to rehearse in the woods at night.


Act II

We meet Puck, a mischievous fairy who is a servant to the King of the fairies, Oberon. We also meet Titania, Queen of the fairies and wife to Oberon. The pair have been arguing for a long time, and their magic is causing trouble in the natural world. Oberon wants to play a trick on Titania, and he asks Puck to bring him a magic flower. This flower is called "love-in-idleness", and it can be used to make anyone fall in love with the first one they see when they wake up.


While waiting for Puck, Oberon sees Helena following Demetrius in the woods. Demetrius is looking for Hermia and Lysander, and he treats Helena very badly. Oberon decides to help Helena and asks Puck, when he comes back, to use the flower to make Demetrius love Helena.


However, Puck makes a mistake (scene 2). Instead of using the flower to make Demetrius love Helena back, he makes Lysander (who was in love with Hermia), love Helena. Helena runs away and Lysander follows her, leaving a sleeping Hermia alone. When she wakes up, she goes looking for him.


Act III

The mechanicals meet in the woods for their rehearsal. Puck sees them and uses his magic to transform Bottom's head into the head of a donkey. Titania, who has been given the flower while she slept, wakes and sees him, falling in love instantly. Puck explains what happened to Oberon, who is very happy about it. But he realises that Puck made a mistake with the lovers, and isn't so happy about that. He tries to rectify the mistake and puts the flower in Demetrius' eyes to make him fall in love with Helena.


So now, both Demetrius and Lysander love Helena, who still thinks they are making fun of her. Hermia arrives, sees the situation, and they all fight. Helena and Hermia, who have known each other longer, think the other is to blame and insult each other. Hermia tells her "I am not yet so low but that my nails can reach unto thine eyes" (scene 2).


Oberon confronts Puck, blames him for this chaos, and tells him to fix it.


Act IV

Oberon and Titania make up, and Oberon clears Titania's eyes of the flower effect. Puck changes Bottom's head back to a human's and makes him fall asleep.


It is the wedding day and a horn is heard. Theseus, Hippolyta and Egeus find the four lovers asleep. They wake them up and ask them to explain themselves. It all ends happily: Lysander loves Hermia again, and Demetrius insists he is in love with Helena, not Hermia. Hearing this, Theseus announces that the two happy couples shall be married that day as well.


Bottom wakes up, too, thinks it was all a dream, and runs to Athens. He reunites with the other mechanicals in scene 2.


Act V

After the marriages, the mechanicals put on the play, and they are so bad at it that everybody laughs. After the play, the mortals all retire to bed, and the fairies appear. Oberon and Titania bless the marriages and leave Puck alone on stage.

 

He talks directly to the audience, giving a closing speech in which he implies that, if you didn't like the play, then it was all a dream.



Characters


THE FAIRIES

Titania is the Queen of the fairies, and Oberon, her husband, is the king. Puck is Oberon's right-hand man, his servant, but he is also known for causing chaos on his own. 

tHE MECHANICALS

These are the six local craftsmen who are also actors in the wedding play. The most relevant one is Nick Bottom, who is transformed by Puck. He is very passionate about acting, but he isn't good at it.

tHE LOVERS

The main characters involved in the romantic subplot are Hermia, Helena, Lysander and Demetrius. Hermia and Lysander are in love. Hermia is meant to marry Demetrius, but she doesn't want to. Helena is in love with Demetrius, but he doesn't love her back at the beginning of the play. However, at the end he does. 



Relationships​

Titania \leftrightarrow Oberon

The Queen and King of fairies are a passionate couple in the middle of a fight. In Act 2, scene 2, Oberon calls her "proud Titania" and Titania calls him "jealous Oberon". Their fight was about a human boy: Titania was taking care of the child, but Oberon wanted to be the one to take care of him. 

Helena \leftrightarrow Demetrius

They had a relationship before the start of the play, but Demetrius, inconsistent in love, broke his promises of love to Helena to pursue Hermia's hand in marriage. But at the end of the play, he admits that he didn't really love Hermia, and goes back to Helena.


Helena \leftrightarrow Hermia

Hermia and Helena are best friends, but Helena betrays Hermia when she tells Demetrius that Hermia and Lysander are running away together. Helena also seems to be jealous of Hermia. In their fight, when the magic makes both boys fall for Helena, she says "though she be but little, she is fierce".  



Themes

Love

In this comedy, love is no doubt the central theme. Especially between the young Athenians. True love triumphs in the end, even though it may seem that their love is irrational and inconsistent.


Love can also be seen in the passionate relationships between Oberon and Titania, and it is clearly intertwined with magic in the figure of the "love-in-iddleness" flower. 


Appearance and reality

This is a very Shakespearean theme. We see it even in the title of the play: dreams are a very good example of how not everything is what it seems to be. In the play itself, characters often fall asleep, either naturally or by magic. There is also a lot of talk about dreams during the play. 


Appearance and reality is also explored in the play-within-a-play. When we see the audience laugh at the play they are watching, we realise that we are also an audience watching a play.

 

Order and disorder 

This theme is very obvious in the fight between Oberon and Titania, which, we are told, has disrupted the order of the seasons. This is only restored after they make up.



Key quotations

​​Act/Scene

Quotation

Theme

Act 1, Scene 1
LYSANDER: "The course of true love never did run smooth"
Love
Lysander says this to Hermia, who is distressed because her father won't allow them to marry. He uses a metaphor, comparing love to a troubled river.
Act 5, Scene 1
PUCK: "If we shadows have offended, think but this and all is mended— that you have but slumbered here while these visions did appear"
Appearance and Reality
Puck is speaking directly to the public, making them participate in the dream-like atmosphere of the play.
Act 4, Scene 4
TITANIA: "The spring, the summer, the chiding autumn, angry winter change their wonted liveries; and the mazed world, by their increase now knows not which is which"
Order and Disorder
Here, Titania is talking to Oberon and letting him know that their fight is altering the seasons: causing disorder in the natural world.


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