Act II, Scene 1 Summary
Puck, a servant of Oberon (the fairy king) meets a fairy who serves Titania (the fairy queen). Puck comments on a changeling boy, who is currently serving as Titania’s attendant, and Oberon’s jealousy of him. Puck and the fairy talk about the tricks he (Puck) plays on mortals under the name Robin Goodfellow. The king and queen of the fairies, Oberon and Titania, then each arrive with a retinue.
Oberon greets Titania with the line, “Ill met by moonlight,” and they continue their dispute over the changeling from India. Both accuse the other of having been unfaithful and both deny the other’s charges. The “forgeries of jealousy,” or consequences of their dispute, are so serious, Titania claims, that they have upset the balance of nature. Oberon demands the changeling, whom he wants to make his knight, but she refuses and leaves.
Oberon then calls on Puck to help him “torment” Titania for her stubbornness. Using a potent flower, “love-in-idleness,” Puck will drop a potion into her eyes; upon awakening, she will love the first being she beholds. Puck zooms off to find the flower. Oberon commits to keeping the spell on her until she relinquishes the boy.
Next to enter this area of the wood are Demetrius and Helena. Oberon lurks there, invisible to the mortals. Besotted with love, Helena has been chasing Demetrius, who begs her to stop. Helena, so far gone she has lost all dignity, begs him to abuse her like a dog: “Use me but as your spaniel, spurn me, strike me, / Neglect me, lose me.” Demetrius chides her for abasing herself and risking her virginity and then runs off with her in close pursuit.
Puck now brings Oberon the flower in question, and the king delivers a lovely speech about the place where Titania will be sleeping, “a bank where the wild thyme blows.” While he goes there to drop the tincture into her eyes, he orders Puck to do the same to Demetrius—Oberon feels for Helena’s plight as a “sweet Athenian lady” facing unrequited love—so he will wake up and love her. They plan to rendezvous again before dawn.