What are the main conflicts of each act in A Midsummer Night's Dream?

In act one, the main conflict is that Hermia wants to marry Lysander and not Demetrius. Act two's conflict revolves around King Oberon and Queen Titania's spat over possession of a young Indian prince. In act three, Lysander and Demetrius fight over Helena. Acts four and five are largely conflict-free.

Expert Answers

An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

In act 1, the central conflict involves Hermia, who is expected by her father, Egeus, to marry Demetrius. The problem is Hermia is in love with Lysander. Because of their love, she vows that she would rather accept the punishment of becoming a nun than marry Demetrius. She and Lysander then run away together.

The conflict in act 2 is between King Oberon and Queen Titania. They are fighting over possession of a young Indian prince. Oberon tries to solve the problem by putting a love potion in his wife's eyes. Plans go awry, and the potion winds up making Lysander fall in love with Helena; Helena had instead been pursuing Demetrius.

The ferocity of the conflict gets taken up a notch in the third act. Lysander and Demetrius fight over Helena, while Hermia threatens violence against Helena for stealing Lysander from her. Lysander and Demetrius add to the conflict by arguing over which of them loves Helena more than the other.

Act four brings calm back to the characters's lives. Puck has taken the love potion out of Lysander's eyes, causing him to immediately remember his love for Hermia. Demetrius, who is now in love with Helena, no longer wants to marry Hermia. She escapes the fate of having to choose between a loveless marriage and becoming a nun.

The main action of act five is conflict-free, and the craftsmen get to put on their play. Puck concludes the play with a monologue suggesting that if anyone in the audience was offended by the play or its conflicts, they should treat the whole experience as nothing more than a dream.

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

Act one: The central conflict is Hermia and Lysander versus the state. The Duke of Athens and Hermia's father oppose her intentions to wed Lysander, so the two run away to the woods, hoping to elope.

Act two: The central conflict is Oberon versus Titania. Oberon is angry that Titania will not give him the changeling boy she has acquired from India. He plans on humiliating her with the use of a love potion. This causes problems when the love potion ends up with of Lysander, who falls for Helena.

Act three: The central conflict is the four lovers versus one another. After Bottom is enchanted, Demetrius is influenced by the potion also. Both he and Lysander pursue Helena, which enrages Hermia.

Act four: The conflicts de-escalate. The potion's effects are reversed. Titania is at peace with Oberon. Hermia is paired with Lysander; Helena is paired with Demetrius. The Duke of Athens allows the couples to marry as they please, since Demetrius no longer even wants Hermia.

Act five: There is no major conflict in act five. At this point, all the lovers are married and the Mechanicals get to put on their show. The faeries bless the beds of the wedded couples before going to bed.

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

In act 1, Duke Theseus directs Hermia to marry Demetrius. He has her father Egeus’s permission, but Hermia and Lysander are in love. The duke says she must marry the man of her father’s choosing, die, or “live a barren sister all [her] life.” Adding further conflict to this lovers’ conundrum is Helena, who adores Demetrius. Meanwhile, Peter Quince casts his play Pyramus and Thisby. There are a few small conflicts about who will play whom, but the main tension in this act is between the lovers and the law.

Act 2 introduces the fairies and the clash between Queen Titania and her husband Oberon, who quarrel over the possession of “a little changeling boy.” Titania says that their argument is disrupting nature’s cycles: “this same progeny of evils comes / From our debate, from our dissension.” Oberon puts a love potion in his wife’s eyes as she sleeps, and, mistaking him for Demetrius, Puck enchants Lysander. Helena pursues Demetrius, to his chagrin, before stumbling across Lysander. When he wakes up, he falls in love with Helena and abandons Hermia.

In the third act, the rude mechanicals struggle over their lines until Puck creates supernatural conflict by transforming Bottom’s head into an ass’s. Titania wakes to fall for him, creating great amusement for Puck and Oberon. Puck attempts to right his mistakes by giving Demetrius the love potion. Unfortunately, this leads to one of the play’s biggest conflicts. Demetrius and Lysander fight over Helena, Helena believes they are mocking her, and Hermia attacks Helena for stealing her lover. Puck eventually causes them to sleep and removes the love potion from Lysander’s eyes.

Act 4 offers resolutions to the conflicts. Titania fawns over Bottom before falling asleep. Oberon then returns her to her normal self and plans to reconcile with her, having taken the changeling during her enchantment. Theseus and Hippolyta find the lovers while hunting in the woods, and the duke overrules Egeus’s arrangement with Demetrius, who is now in love with Helena. The players mourn Bottom’s disappearance and their ruined play, but a restored Bottom returns and brings them cheer.

Act 5 concludes the play with a performance of the ridiculous Pyramus and Thisby before the nobles. The conflicts here are mostly subtle and internal. Theseus and Hippolyta disagree about whether the lovers’ fantastical tale is true, and Philostrate discourages Theseus from choosing the rude mechanicals’ play as entertainment. The viewers then comment on the terrible production, to which Bottom feels the need to respond, while on stage. The lovers go to bed, the players are “made men,” and the fairies bless the couples.

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team