Theseus (THEE-see-uhs), the duke of Athens, a wise, temperate ruler. Although he mistrusts the fantasy and imagination of “lunatics, lovers, and poets,” he can perceive with good humor the love and duty inspiring the abortive dramatic efforts of his subjects, and he tries to teach his bride and queen, Hippolyta, the value of their good intentions.
Hippolyta (hih-POL-ih-tuh), Theseus’ bride, the queen of the Amazons, the maiden warriors whom he has conquered. She is a woman of regal dignity, less willing than her lord to be tolerant of the faults of Peter Quince’s play, although she is more ready than he to believe the lovers’ description of their night in the forest.
Titania (tih-TAY-nee-uh), the imperious queen of the fairies. She feuds with her husband Oberon over her “little changeling boy,” whom the king wants as his page. Enchanted by Oberon’s flower, “love in idleness,” she becomes enamored of Bottom the Weaver in his ass’s head and dotes on him until her husband takes pity on her and frees her from the spell. She is quickly reconciled with him, and they join in blessing the marriage of Theseus and Hippolyta, their favorites among mortals.
Oberon (OH-beh-ron), the king of the fairies, who gleefully plots with Puck to cast a spell on the fairy queen and take away her changeling. Once he has stolen the child, he repents his mischief and frees Titania from her ridiculous dotage. He teases her for her fondness for Theseus and is, in return, forced to confess his own affection for Hippolyta.
Puck, the merry, mischievous elf, Robin Goodfellow, of English folk legend. He is Oberon’s servant. He brings about the confusion of the young Athenians on Midsummer Eve as he tries to carry out Oberon’s wishes; the king has taken pity on Helena and hopes to turn Demetrius’ scorn for her into love. Puck simply enchants the first Athenian he sees, Lysander, and with great amusement watches the confusion that follows, commenting, “Lord, what fools these mortals be!”
Hermia (HEHR-mee-uh), a bright, bold young Athenian maiden. She defies her father and flees into the Athenian wood to elope with her beloved Lysander. She shows herself to be a small spitfire when she finds Demetrius and Lysander, through Puck’s machinations, suddenly rivaling each other for Helena’s affection rather than hers.
Helena (HEHL-eh-nuh), a maiden who mournfully follows Demetrius, spaniel-like, in spite of the scorn with which he repulses her affection. When she suddenly finds both Demetrius and Lysander at her feet, she can only believe that they are teasing her.
Demetrius (deh-MEE-tree-uhs), a rather fickle Athenian youth. He deserts his first love, Helena, to win the approval of Hermia’s father for marriage with her, but he cannot win Hermia herself. His affections are returned, by Oberon’s herb, to Helena, and he is wed to her on his duke’s marriage day.
Lysander (lih-SAN-dur), Hermia’s sweetheart, who plans their elopement to escape Theseus’ decree that the girl must follow her father’s will or enter a nunnery. He brashly argues with Demetrius, first over Hermia, then over Helena, before he is happily wed to his first love.
Nick Bottom, a good-natured craftsman and weaver. He is so enthralled by the prospect of Quince’s play, Pyramus and Thisbe, that he longs to play all the other parts in addition to his assigned role of the hero. He is supremely complacent as Titania’s paramour and takes for granted the services of the fairies who scratch the ass’s ears placed on his head by Puck. He marvels at his “most rare vision” after his release from the fairy spell.
Peter Quince, a carpenter, director of the infamous play of “tragical mirth” presented in honor of Theseus’ wedding. Completely well-meaning, he illustrates, as he mangles his prologue, the “love and tongue-tied simplicity” of which Theseus speaks.
Snug, a joiner,
Snout, a tinker,
Flute, a bellows-maker, and
Starveling, a tailor, the other craftsmen-actors who portray, respectively, Lion, Wall, Thisbe, and Moonshine.
Egeus (ee-JEE-uhs), Hermia’s father. He is determined that his daughter will marry Demetrius, not Lysander, whom she loves.
Philostrate (FIH-los-trayt), Theseus’ master of the revels.
Mustardseed, Titania’s fairy attendants who wait on Bottom.