Illustration of a donkey-headed musician in between two white trees

A Midsummer Night's Dream

by William Shakespeare

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Act I, Scene 1 Summary

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Last Updated September 5, 2023.

At the opening of the play A Midsummer Night's Dream, by William Shakespeare, the duke of Athens, Theseus, and his fiancée, Hippolyta (the queen of the Amazons, whom he has kidnapped), are discussing their wedding plans. They are to be wed in a mere four days. Excited by their forthcoming wedding, they plan to begin celebrating four days in advance, with constant entertainment and partying leading up to their wedding date.

As the couple discuss these plans, a citizen of Athens, Egeus, and his daughter, Hermia, enter the room. They are followed by Demetrius and Lysander, two Athenian youths who are in love with Hermia. The father, Egeus, is furious that his daughter is refusing to marry Demetrius as he has ordered her to. Hermia, however, is in love with Lysander. Egeus pleads with Theseus to use his power as duke to force Hermia to marry Demetrius.

Initially, Theseus demands that Hermia obey her father and marry Demetrius or be sent away to a convent or put to death. However, Lysander steps in and reminds Theseus that Demetrius is not a respectable suitor, since he backed away from a previous engagement to Hermia's friend Helena after meeting Hermia. Theseus considers this and then orders Hermia to decide, in the next four days leading up to his marriage to Hippolyta, whether she will marry Demetrius, spend the rest of her life in a convent, or be put to death.

Hermia and Lysander are distraught at the outcome of the meeting with Theseus. They curse the trials of star-crossed lovers and devise a plan to flee from Athens to somewhere they can be safe to love each other without fear or oppression from Hermia's father or Athenian law. They decide to run away to Lysander's aunt, who lives outside of Athens. Once free from the reach of Athenian law, they can marry.

As the couple are making these plans to leave during the night, Hermia's friend Helena appears to the lovers. She confides that she is deeply saddened by Demetrius's lack of love for her. The couple comforts her and then tell Helena of their plan to flee Athens to be together. Helena realizes that if she tells Demetrius of the young couple's plan, he will likely follow them into the woods. Helena thinks that perhaps if she pursues Demetrius into the woods, she will have the chance to win his heart again.

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Act I, Scene 2