The story begins in Ancient Greece, before the marriage of King Theseus to Hippolyta. A noble named Egeus brings his daughter before the king, because she is being disobedient. Hermia is supposed to marry Demetrius, but instead wants to marry Lysander.
Theseus tells Hermia that she has to listen to her father, because he is to her “as a god.” She has one other choice than to marry the man her father picked. Her choice is:
Either to die the death, or to abjure
For ever the society of men.
Therefore, fair Hermia, question your desires,
Know of your youth, examine well your blood,(70)
Whether, if you yield not to your father's choice,
You can endure the livery of a nun (Act 1, Scene 1)
So, that’s it. Marry, or become a nun. Your choice! It’s that or death.
Lysander tells Hermia that he has “a widow aunt” across the woods. He tells her he will go hide out with her and they can marry. Unfortunately, Hermia has the bad idea to tell Helena about this. This is the beginning of chaos.
It happens like this: Helena is upset because she is in love with Demetrius, and even though Hermia is not interested in Demetrius, Helena is jealous of her.
Were the world mine, Demetrius being bated,
The rest I'd give to be to you translated.
O, teach me how you look, and with what art(195)
You sway the motion of Demetrius' heart!
I frown upon him, yet he loves me still. (Act 1, Scene 1)
She gets so frustrated trying to convince Hermia that she does not love her boyfriend that she tells her where she is going. This is going to be trouble later!
In the second scene of Act One, a group of craftsman, or mechanicals, are rehearsing a play to perform for Theseus’s wedding. The wedding play is Pyramus and Thisbe, which happens to be about two doomed lovers. None of the men are professional actors, and they are all hilariously inept. Quince is in charge, and Bottom is the one who thinks he is the best actor and wants to play every part. Throughout the first meeting he is incorrigible. In this scene they distribute the parts. Bottom ends up with Pyramus.
This play is funny and sweet. Don't even bother trying to keep the pairs of lovers straight, because the right ones won't be paired up for long! Wait until the fairies get involved. Then the real fun begins.