Summary of the Play
Theseus and Hippolyta are to wed at the new moon, and Philostrate has been ordered to have a revel prepared for the wedding. Several local craftsmen agree to write and produce a play for the revel. Egeus brings his daughter, Hermia, to Theseus for judgment since he is convinced that her choice of husband, Lysander, has bewitched her into choosing him. According to Athenian law, a father may decide who his daughter marries; if she does not obey, she may be put to death or ordered to a nunnery for the rest of her life. As she is well aware, her father has chosen Demetrius. The craftsmen repair to the woods to rehearse at the same time that Lysander and Hermia meet there to plan their elopement. Hermia and Lysander confide in Helena, who has previously been jilted by Demetrius and wants to win him back. Helena, in turn, tells Demetrius of the young lovers’ meeting.
Fairies have come from India to bless Theseus’ wedding and are haunting the same wood where the craftsmen and lovers plan to meet. Oberon is quarreling with Titania over her continued possession of a changeling; in retaliation for his wife’s actions, Oberon sends Puck to gather the flower necessary to make a love juice. This love juice will cause the one who has it squeezed into his/her eye while asleep to fall in love with the first being seen upon waking. Helena follows Demetrius into the wood as he attempts to find the lovers, thereby disturbing Oberon who then orders Puck to squeeze the love juice into the eye of the youth who disturbed him. Oberon describes Demetrius by his clothes, but Puck finds Lysander asleep near Hermia and thinks this is the youth Oberon meant. Puck anoints Lysander’s eye while Oberon does the same to Titania. When Helena, still following the unwilling Demetrius, finds Lysander, she wakes him and becomes the object of his love. While Lysander is pursuing Helena, Hermia awakens and searches for him.
The craftsmen arrive in the haunted wood to rehearse. Puck is still nearby and plays a trick on Nick Bottom by putting an ass’s head on him. The others flee in terror, but Bottom remains singing to keep up his courage. His song awakens the anointed Titania, who immediately falls in love with him. Hermia happens upon Demetrius and accuses him of murdering Lysander and then runs away. Demetrius is exhausted and falls asleep, whereupon Puck anoints his eyes. Lysander and Helena arrive quarreling, which wakes Demetrius who then falls in love with Helena. The two men begin competing for her love. Hermia hears the noise and joins them, only to accuse Helena of stealing Lysander’s love. The men go off to find a place to fight, and Helena, afraid of Hermia, runs away with Hermia in pursuit. Oberon orders Puck to make the four lovers sleep and reanoint Lysander as he sleeps, so that he will fall in love with Hermia once again.
Titania continues her amorous pursuit of Bottom as the mismatched lovers fall asleep. Oberon gains possession of the changeling and removes the enchantment from his wife. He orders Puck to take the ass’s head off Bottom. As the sun rises, Hippolyta and Theseus enter the wood to hunt, see the sleeping lovers, and awaken them with hunting horns. Egeus brings his suite again, but Demetrius is now in love with Helena and leaves Hermia to Lysander. Theseus is so pleased at this that he invites each pair of rightly matched lovers to be wed during his own wedding. Bottom wakes up thinking the whole experience has been a dream.
The craftsmen give their play, which they think is wonderful. At midnight, the lovers go to sleep and Oberon and Titania, with their fairies, take over the palace. They dance, sing, bless the sleepers, and leave. Puck remains to apologize and request applause from the audience.
Estimated Reading Time
Using The New Folger Library edition, reading will take approximately three hours (including the introductory and concluding material). Keeping in mind that readers will take more or less time, depending on what they choose to dwell upon and their reading rate. The time allotted for each section is as follows: introductory material—45 minutes; Act I—20 minutes; Act II—30 minutes; Act III—55 minutes; Act IV—10 minutes; Act V—10 minutes; concluding material—10 minutes. Because of the puns, double entendres, poetic description, and unfamiliar syntax, it is suggested you read the play itself at least twice. Readers should read the play once to familiarize themselves with Shakespeare’s use of the English language and then again read to better grasp the plot with its twists and turns and to firmly establish the role of each character in the plot.
Summary (Masterplots, Fourth Edition)
Theseus, the duke of Athens, is to be married in four days to Hippolyta, queen of the Amazons, and he orders his master of the revels to prepare suitable entertainment for the nuptials. Other lovers of ancient Athens, however, are not so happy as their ruler. Hermia, in love with Lysander, is loved also by Demetrius, who has her father’s permission to marry her. When she refuses his suit, Demetrius takes his case to Theseus and demands that the law be invoked. Theseus upholds the father; by Athenian law, Hermia either must marry Demetrius, be placed in a nunnery, or be put to death. Hermia swears that she will enter a convent before she will consent to become Demetrius’s bride.
Faced with this awful choice, Lysander plots with Hermia to leave Athens. He will take her to the home of his aunt and there marry her. They are to meet the following night in a wood outside the city. Hermia confides the plan to her good friend, Helena. Demetrius had formerly been betrothed to Helena, and although he had switched his love to Hermia he is still desperately loved by the scorned Helena. Helena, willing to do anything to gain even a smile from Demetrius, tells him of his rival’s plan to elope with Hermia.
Unknown to any of the four young people, there are to be others in that same woods on the appointed night, midsummer eve. A group of Athenian laborers is to meet there to practice a play the members hope to present in honor of Theseus and...
(The entire section is 1176 words.)
Summary and Analysis
Act I, Scene 1: Summary and Analysis
Theseus: duke of Athens; engaged to Hippolyta
Hippolyta: engaged to Theseus
Egeus: Hermia’s father who insists upon his paternal right to choose her husband
Lysander: the youth in love with Hermia
Demetrius: the man chosen by Egeus for his daughter, Hermia, to marry despite her love for Lysander
Hermia: a young woman in love with Lysander but ordered by her father to marry Demetrius
Helena: Hermia’s friend from childhood who is in love with Demetrius
Philostrate: the master of the revel (celebration for Theseus and Hippolyta’s wedding)
As Theseus awaits his wedding day, Egeus brings Hermia, Lysander, and Demetrius to Theseus, who agrees she must marry Demetrius or be sentenced to death or a nunnery since it is the father’s right to decide who his daughter will marry. Lysander has an aunt who lives out of Theseus’ jurisdiction, so the lovers agree to meet in the wood in order to plan their escape to the aunt’s house. They tell Helena of their plans, but she is still in love with Demetrius and thinks if she tells him of her love he will no longer love Hermia.
Plautus and Terence both strongly influenced Shakespeare’s writing. These Roman writers used typical characters for their new comedies; a young man (Lysander), a father who opposes the wishes of his child (Egeus), and a...
(The entire section is 529 words.)
Act I, Scene 2: Summary and Analysis
Peter Quince (the carpenter): author and director of the play-within-the-play
Nick Bottom (the weaver): manager of the play-within-the-play and is Pyramus in it; becomes the object of Titania’s love
Francis Flute (the bellows mender): unwillingly plays the role of Thisbe in the play-within-the-play
Snug (the joiner): portrays the lion in the play-within-the-play because he roars well
Robin Starveling (the tailor): portrays the moon in the play-within-the-play
Tom Snout (the tinker): portrays a wall in the play-within-the play
The craftsmen meet with Quince, the director, to assign the roles for the play—“The most lamentable comedy and most cruel death of Pyramus and Thisbe”—they are going to present at the revel in honor of Theseus’ and Hippolyta’s wedding during the new moon in four days. Bottom is to play the lover, Pyramus, although he would prefer to be Thisbe or the Lion and professes that he will make the audience cry. Flute is to play the lady, Thisbe, but is worried because he is growing a beard, however, this will be covered by a mask so it is not the problem he thinks it is. Starveling is to play Thisbe’s mother and the Moon. Snout is to be Pyramus’ father and the Wall. Quince will play Thisbe’s father. Snug, who is to be the Lion, is worried he will need more time to memorize his lines but he needs only roar. After...
(The entire section is 390 words.)
Act II, Scene 1: Summary and Analysis
Robin Goodfellow (Puck): a hobgoblin in Oberon’s service
Oberon: king of the fairies; married to Titania
Titania: queen of the fairies; married to Oberon
Puck and one of the fairies come upon each other in the wood. The fairy ascertains that Puck is that spirit who is mischievous and plays all sorts of tricks on humans and animals alike. Oberon and Titania enter with their various attendants from opposite sides of the wood (stage), still deep in their quarrel about Titania’s refusing to relinquish the changeling—a child secretly exchanged for another in infancy—she had brought from India with her since his mother had been her friend and died in childbirth. Each accuses the other of infidelities and each takes a turn at denying these accusations. Titania remarks that Nature is at odds with itself due to their argument and leaves her husband before the argument becomes even worse. Oberon vows to punish his wife and does so by sending Puck to find a certain flower called “love-in-idleness” with which to make a love juice. With this juice he intends to anoint the sleeping Titania’s eye so that when she awakens she will fall in love with the first creature she sees. His intention is not to remove the spell until she gives him the changeling.
As Oberon awaits Puck’s return, Demetrius enters the wood with Helena in pursuit. Oberon, being invisible, is privy to...
(The entire section is 650 words.)
Act II, Scene 2: Summary and Analysis
Titania enters the wood instructing her fairies to sing her to sleep. Just after they do, and leave, Oberon arrives and anoints her eye with the love juice so that she will love the first creature she sees upon waking. Lysander and Hermia make their entrance and decide to sleep since they are so tired that Lysander has forgotten the way to his aunt’s house. He lays down next to Hermia but she suggests he move away since they are not yet married. He pretends to be insulted at this request, so she apologizes and rephrases it in such a way that he acquiesces. As they sleep, Puck enters and, thinking he has found the youth in “Athenian garments” who Oberon ordered him to anoint, applies the love juice to Lysander’s eye.
Just as Puck leaves, Demetrius arrives with Helena in fast pursuit. Helena stops to catch her breath and sees Lysander, who she awakens. He immediately falls in love with her, but she is convinced he is mocking her. Helena believes Lysander is taunting her since she is obviously not the recipient of Demetrius’ love as she so desperately wants to be. Lysander rues every minute he’s spent with Hermia, upon which Helena—still under the impression that Lysander is making sport of her—leaves in a huff. Lysander sees Hermia and, now loathing her leaves. Hermia awakens from a nightmare calling out his name only to find herself alone and sets out to find him.
Here the plot thickens...
(The entire section is 584 words.)
Act III, Scene 1: Summary and Analysis
Peaseblossom, Cobweb, Mote, and Mustardseed: Titania’s fairies
The craftsmen meet in the wood to rehearse their play. After finding the perfect setting for the rehearsal, Bottom cautions Quince that he will need two Prologues to the play so that the ladies will not be afraid due to the sword scene or the Lion. The logistics of the moonlight and the need to have someone play the Wall are discussed and the rehearsal begins. This is when Puck (who is invisible), concerned that they are so near the sleeping Titania, makes his entrance to watch and cause mischief. Bottom exits on cue, and while he is “offstage” Puck replaces Bottom’s head with that of an ass. When it is Bottom’s cue to return, the other craftsmen,seeing his new head, run away in fright. Snout and Quince return separately, but quickly exit again after speaking a few words to Bottom.
Bottom, frightened, sings to keep up his courage. His song wakes up Titania who falls in love with him since her eye had been anointed with the love juice and he is the first creature she sees upon awakening. She calls her fairies to attend to Bottom and he banters with them as each is introduced.
Bottom’s clownish qualities come forth in full force here. Instead of being frightened by his new situation as Titania’s lover, he quickly accepts it as something odd but something he can quickly adjust to and...
(The entire section is 533 words.)
Act III, Scene 2: Summary and Analysis
Puck reports to Oberon that he placed an ass’s head on Bottom and that Titania fell in love with Bottom because he was the first thing she saw when she awoke. Puck also reports that he anointed the eye of the youth in “Athenian garments.” When Hermia and Demetrius enter, it becomes obvious to Puck and Oberon that Puck has mistakenly placed the love juice in Lysander’s eye, not Demetrius’.
Hermia, finding all other explanations for Lysander’s disappearance unacceptable, harasses Demetrius for supposedly murdering Lysander. Demetrius attempts to convince her that he is even more deeply in love with her than he was before and more than Lysander could possibly ever be. Overwhelmed, Demetrius falls asleep when Hermia leaves in disgust. Oberon orders Puck to correct his mistake by finding Helena and then reanointing Demetrius’ eye, to make certain she is the one Demetrius falls in love with. As Demetrius sleeps, Oberon annoints his eye with the love juice.
Helena appears pursued by the wooing Lysander. She is convinced he is scorning her with his vows of undying love and is very angry about this. Their arguing awakens the sleeping Demetrius who also begins to woo the, by now, distraught Helena (the first creature he saw upon awakening after being reanointed with the love juice). Helena is sure the two men have concocted a scheme to make her feel foolish. Hermia joins her friends only to be told by...
(The entire section is 728 words.)
Act IV, Scene 1: Summary and Analysis
Bottom makes several absurd requests of the fairies as he and Titania chatter about whether to eat or sleep. They choose to sleep. Oberon and Puck come upon them while they sleep as Oberon explains to Puck that he is now in possession of the changeling and will take the spell from Titania. He does so, wakes her, and she is instantly in love with her husband, Oberon, again and repulsed by the ass-headed Bottom whom she had so recently adored. Oberon orders Puck to take the ass’s head from Bottom and Puck complies as Titania causes Bottom, Helena, Hermia, Demetrius, and Lysander to fall far more deeply asleep than they already are.
Theseus, Hippolyta, and Egeus arrive accompanied by the sound of hunting horns which awakens the five sleepers, but not before the three new arrivals notice the sleepers and wonder why they are there. After Theseus has them awakened, he questions them to no avail. Lysander remembers he and Hermia were going to elope, but nothing more. Egeus is outraged to hear this and insists Theseus punish both Lysander and Hermia for disobeying his order that she marry Demetrius who now announces he no longer wants to marry Hermia since he realizes it is Helena he loves. Theseus, seeing a solution to the problem of having to punish Hermia, overrides Egeus and announces that the two couples will be married during his own marriage to Hippolyta.
The two young couples are not certain if they dreamt what happened...
(The entire section is 561 words.)
Act IV, Scene 2: Summary and Analysis
The craftsmen regret the loss of Bottom, for only he could play the role of Pyramus. Without him, they cannot perform the play. Snug arrives to tell them that two other couples are also being married that night and, were they performing, they would have made their fortunes. Bottom arrives, refusing to tell them what has happened until later, but offering them advice on their roles for their play which has been chosen for the night’s revel.
It appears that while Bottom is clownish and egotistical, his friends truly like him and rue his disappearance—not only for his acting, but for who he is. Bottom is in all probability a lover, too, since Quince—an intelligent man and Bottom’s friend—inadvertently uses “paramour” or lover in his accolades to Bottom instead of the correct word, paragon, and is unaware of his error until corrected by Flute. Bottom, in turn, appears to truly care for his friends as is demonstrated by his deferring his own tale until after the play so that they may spend the rest of the day preparing (following his advice to the actors, of course, even though Quince is the director) and his obvious happiness that it is their play is chosen for the revel.
(The entire section is 213 words.)
Act V, Scene 1: Summary and Analysis
Hippolyta and Theseus think the lovers are telling them a fantasy rather than what really happened to them in the haunted wood. The lovers join them and Theseus asks Philostrate what entertainment is available to them during the three hours between their wedding feast and bedtime. Theseus rejects one suggestion after another, deciding upon the craftsmen’s play. Philostrate tries to dissuade him from this choice by telling him it is inane, but Philostrate does have to admit he laughed until he cried when he saw how terrible it was.
The craftsmen present their play much to the delight of their audience, who freely pass comments from one to another and discourse with the actors in the midst of their play. The actors are complimented on their skills and asked questions as they act and the audience critiques and discusses the actors’ roles and intents throughout the play. At the finish of the play, Bottom asks Theseus if he would prefer the Epilogue or a dance. Theseus chooses the dance. The dance is performed, the players (actors) exit, and Theseus announces it is time for all to retire.
Oberon, Titania, and the fairies take over the night intending to sing and dance until daybreak. But first, Oberon sends the fairies to bless each of the newly married couples and whatever children they might have. Puck remains behind to beg the audience’s forgiveness for any offense given and for their applause.
(The entire section is 374 words.)