What is the basic plot of A Midsummer Night's Dream?

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A Midsummer Night’s Dream Quick Summary

A Midsummer Night’s Dream is both simple and complicated.  It has four interlocking plots: the royals, the lovers, the fairies, and the craftsmen.

The royals are Theseus and Hippolyta.  Theseus is the Duke of Athens, and Hippolyta is the Queen of the Amazons.  They are getting married, because while they were fighting each other, Theseus won Hippolyta’s heart.  They are distracted with wedding plans.

The lovers are Hermia, Lysander, Demetrius, and Helena.  Hermia is daughter to Egeus, and in love with Lysander.  Her father wants her to marry Demetrius, and he is willing, but Demetrius was supposed to be in love with Helena.  Helena is distraught, not understanding why Demetrius is now spurning her for Hermia.  Lysander and Hermia decide to run away and marry, but they make the mistake of telling Helena, who tells Demetrius, and that is how all four lovers end up running around chasing each other in the woods.

The fairies are Titania and Oberon, the fairy queen and king, their attendants, and Robin Goodfellow/Puck.  Titania and Oberon are fighting because Titania has a little human boy, a Changeling, and Oberon does not approve.  Their fighting is infecting the forest, and things are dying.  Puck, who does Oberon’s bidding, just likes to have a good time.  When Oberon orders him to anoint the “Athenian youth,” he anoints the wrong one and both men end up in love with Helena, instead of both being in love with Hermia.  Poor Helena is even more distraught.  She does not understand what is going on.  She thinks all three are mocking her.

I see you all are bent

To set against me for your merriment…

Can you not hate me, as I know you do,

But you must join in souls to mock me too? (3:2)

In the midst of this chaos, there is one more plot line: the Craftsmen.  These guys are a group of workmen who decide to get together to put on a play for Theseus’s wedding, even though they have no acting experience.  Led by Peter Quince and harangued at every turn by Nick Bottom, the craftsmen bungle their way through the woods.  They accidentally get a little too close to the fairies, and Puck intervenes by replacing Bottom’s head with a donkey’s.  The craftsmen run away, thinking their play is ruined.

Oberon and Puck’s plan does the trick.  They make sure Titania sees bottom and wakes up anointed, so she falls in love with a mortal with an ass’s head.  Bottom is slightly confused, but goes with the flow.  They both fall asleep, and Oberon intervenes.  Titania realizes that the feud has gone too far, and the two make up.  Bottom wakes up with his own head and returns to the rehearsal, but no one is there.

Exhausted from an night of chasing (mostly the wrong person), the lovers fall asleep outside the caste.  Theseus, Hippolyta, and Egeus are out hunting.  Theseus decides enough is enough, pardons all the lovers to marry the correct person, and Egeus just has to lump it.  He also chooses the craftsmen’s play.  Bottom returns, the play is hilariously terrible, the fairies bless the castle, and everyone lives happily ever after.


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