A Midsummer Night's Dream by William Shakespeare

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What Happens in A Midsummer Night's Dream?

  • Theseus and Hippolyta are planning their wedding festival when Egeus, an Athenian nobleman, enters the scene, followed by his daughter Hermia. Theseus wants Hermia to marry a young Athenian nobleman named Demetrius, but she refuses. Hermia flees into the woods with her true love, Lysander.
  • Helena, determined to win Demetrius's love for herself, tells him about Hermia's plan to elope with Lysander. He immediately goes looking for Hermia in the woods. Meanwhile, Oberon quarrels with his wife Titania, the Fairy Queen. Oberon sends the mischievous Puck to sprinkle a love potion on Titania. Oberon also instructs Puck to place the love potion on Demetrius to make him love Helena. 
  • Puck finds an Athenian man in the woods and assumes it is the man Oberon told him to place a love spell on. Unfortunately, Puck accidentally places the spell on Lysander, who then falls in love with Helena and no longer loves Hermia. Oberon sees Puck's mistake, and applies the love potion on Demetrius to make him fall in love with Helena as he had originally meant. However, now both men love Helena, and Hermia is unloved. Meanwhile, Titania falls for Nick Bottom, an actor with a donkey's head, while under the influence of the love potion. 
  • Chaos ensues, and the play becomes a comedy of errors. Finally, King Oberon removes the enchantments from all but Demetrius, who's still in love with Helena. Duke Theseus and Hippolyta share their wedding festival with the newly matched lovers.

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William Shakespeare wrote A Midsummer Night’s Dream between 1595 and 1596, and it was first published around 1600. One of Shakespeare's early comedies, it distinguishes itself in its originality. Unlike many of his other works, including his comedies, Shakespeare did not rely on other source materials in composing A Midsummer Night's Dream.

Set in Athens, the play follows the trials, heartache, and eventual happiness of two Athenian couples and the entertaining antics of meddling, magical fairies. The main plot involves two sets of couples—Hermia and Lysander, and Helena and Demetrius—whose romances are complicated by the whims of Oberon and Titania, the King and Queen of the Fairies, and their servant Puck.

Shakespeare's lighthearted play explores the capricious, dream-like, and sometimes ridiculous nature of love. A Midsummer Night’s Dream brings further humor with its play-within-a-play format, in which a group of craftsmen celebrate the upcoming marriage of Theseus and Hippolyta by putting on a badly performed play.

Plot Summary

Act I begins with Athenian duke Theseus and his future wife, Hippolyta, preparing for their wedding. One of Theseus’s subjects, Egeus, arrives seeking his support. Egeus wants his daughter, Hermia, to marry Demetrius, but he says another man, Lysander, has stolen her heart.

Theseus reminds Hermia of the cost of her disobedience. Athenian law dictates that if Hermia disobeys her father, she will be put to death or forced to live the rest of her life as a nun. Hermia declares that she would rather be a nun than marry Demetrius. Theseus says she must make her final decision before his wedding in four days. Once Hermia and Lysander are alone, he asks her to run away with him the next night, and she agrees.

Hermia’s friend Helena appears. She is jealous that Demetrius loves Hermia instead of her. Hermia tells Helena of her plan with Lysander. Helena secretly vows to betray Hermia’s confidence and tell Demetrius, hoping that doing so will put her in his favor.

In local carpenter Peter Quince’s house, he and fellow craftsmen discuss plans to perform a play for Theseus and Hippolyta’s wedding. The other craftsmen are Nick Bottom, the weaver; Frances Flute, the bellows-mender; Robin Starveling, the tailor; Tom Snout, the tinker; and Snug, the joiner.

Though they take the play seriously, it is clear they know nothing about how to perform it well. They agree to meet in the woods the next night to practice...

(The entire section is 1,742 words.)