At a Glance
- Puck, also known as Robin Goodfellow, a mischievous fairy who creates chaos by mistaking Lysander for Demetrius.
- Theseus, the Duke of Athens, who is planning his wedding to Hippolyta, queen of the Amazons, at the beginning of the play.
- Egeus, Hermia's father, who interrupts the wedding planning.
- Demetrius, the nobleman Hermia's father wants her to marry.
- Hermia, Egeus's daughter, whose refusal to marry Demetrius sets the play's action in motion.
- Helena, Hermia's childhood friend, who has fallen in love with Demetrius and wants him for herself.
- Lysander, a handsome youth who runs away and elopes with Hermia in the woods.
- Oberon, king of the fairies, who dispatches Puck to enchant Queen Titania with a love potion.
In Shakespeare's period, female roles would have been performed by male actors. Some of the comic and ironic effects of his plays thus depend on the audience's awareness of male actors portraying the women in the plays—particularly in the craftsmen's production of Pyramus and Thisbe.
Hermia is the daughter of Egeus, an Athenian noble. She is in love with Lysander, but her father wishes her to marry Demetrius instead. When her father tells the duke of her disobedience, Theseus informs her that she must obey Egeus or face the consequences: life in a nunnery or death. Instead, Hermia decides to elope with Lysander and flee Athens. Unfortunately, chaos ensues when Demetrius and Helena follow her and Lysander into the forest. Under the influence of the fairies' magic, Demetrius and Lysander both switch their affections from Hermia to her best friend, Helena, who now becomes her romantic rival. Several of the comic devices during their quarrels reflect their disparity in height, as Hermia is much shorter than Helena. In the end, Hermia is allowed to marry the man of her choosing: Lysander.
Also a young woman of a noble Athenian family, Helena is in love with Demetrius. Though they were betrothed, the fickle Demetrius deserts Helena to court her friend Hermia—a match Hermia's father approves of. When Hermia and Lysander run away together, Helena alerts Demetrius—thinking that this may help her win back his love—and they follow the eloping couple into the forest. Oberon witnesses Demetrius's rejection of Helena, and pitying her, he orders Puck to give Demetrius a love potion that will make him fall for Helena. Puck accidentally gives the potion to Lysander, and then Demetrius, leading both men to declare their love for Helena. Taken aback by this turn of events, and perhaps lacking in self-confidence, Helena is convinced the two men are playing a cruel trick on her. Puck eventually fixes his mistake by restoring the bond between Hermia and Lysander, leaving Demetrius in love with Helena.
Lysander is a young man in love with Hermia. Although Hermia's father, Egeus, would prefer her to marry Demetrius, Lysander does not relent. When pleading their case to Thesus fails to work, Lysander suggests to Hermia that they run away to his aunt's house. Since she dwells outside of Athens, they will be free to from the duke's rule and may marry. Their plan goes awry, however, when Pucks accidentally gives a magic potion to Lysander (believing him to be Demetrius). The magic causes Lysander to temporarily fall in love with Hermia's friend Helena—much to Hermia's confusion and dismay. Eventually, the effects of the potion are undone, and Lysander goes back to loving Hermia, thinking his strange adventure in the woods a dream. At the end of the play, the duke changes his mind, and allows Lysander and Hermia to marry.
A somewhat fickle young man, Demetrius was initially in love with—and betrothed to—Helena but switched his affections to Hermia upon seeing her for the first time. With the support of Egeus, Demetrius pursues Hermia relentlessly at the beginning of the play, even though she has openly declared her love for Lysander. Demetrius even follows them into the forest when they attempt to elope. In...
(The entire section is 1,346 words.)