Form and Content
William Shakespeare’s comedy A Midsummer Night’s Dream includes four interwoven plots: the two sets of lovers who flee into the woods, the upcoming nuptials of Theseus and Hippolyta, the battle of the sexes between Oberon and Titania, and the play rehearsals and performance by the “rude mechanicals.” The four plots merge in the last two acts as the four lovers pair off (Hermia and Lysander, Helena and Demetrius) and join the newlyweds Theseus and Hippolyta in the viewing of the tragedy Pyramus and Thisby. Shakespeare’s comedy concludes with the joining of these three couples, as well as with the reconciliation of the fourth, Oberon and Titania.
As the play begins, Egeus, upset that his daughter Hermia desires to marry Lysander rather than Demetrius, demands from Theseus that she be killed or sent to a nunnery. Hermia and Lysander, desperate because of the obstinacy of Egeus, flee to the woods in order to escape him. Helena, Hermia’s friend who loves Demetrius, informs him of the plot, hoping that he will forget Egeus’ daughter and love her instead. Demetrius, however, scorns her love and follows the couple into the woods—with Helena in pursuit. As the four lovers sleep, Oberon orders Puck to place love juice in the eyes of Demetrius so that he will love Helena, yet Puck mistakenly puts the potion in the eyes of Lysander. Lysander consequently falls in love with Helena; Puck then attempts to rectify the situation by placing the juice in Demetrius’ eyes. As a result, both men, who have been pursuing Hermia, scorn her and desire Helena, who previously had no suitors. A significant section of the comedy involves the return of the men to their rightful lovers—Lysander to Hermia and Demetrius to Helena.
Meanwhile, the “rude mechanicals” (poor, honest, and well-meaning working-class men), led by Bottom the weaver, decide to put on a play—a tragedy—to celebrate the marriage of Theseus to Hippolyta. As the men rehearse, Oberon and Titania fight because he is jealous that she possesses a changeling boy. Oberon enlists Puck’s help to steal the boy away from her. To humiliate Titania further, Oberon orders Puck to place the love juice in her eyes; she then falls in love with Bottom, whom Puck has transformed into an ass. Satisfied with his triumph, Oberon allows Puck to undo the spell, and the couple reconciles. The rude mechanicals then perform the tragedy in front of Theseus and Hippolyta and the two couples, who have left the woods. Shakespeare’s comedy concludes with all four romantic couples being content.