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

A Midsummer Night's Dream

by William Shakespeare

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What are the four main plots of A Midsummer Night's Dream?

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The four main plots of A Midsummer Night's Dream are the upcoming wedding of Theseus and Hippolyta, the confused relationships between the young lovers, the misadventures of the mechanicals, and the conflict between the fairies.

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The four main plots of A Midsummer Night's Dream are as follows:

The Wedding of Theseus and Hippolyta

This is the simplest of the four plots and would not constitute a story on its own. The duke of Athens and the queen of the Amazons prepare for their wedding, which they finally celebrate with a superb and riotous feast.

The Relationships of Hermia and Lysander, and Demetrius and Helena

The insistence of Hermia's father, Egeus, that she must marry Demetrius, when she loves Lysander, forces the lovers to elope to the forest, where they are followed by Demetrius and Helena, who loves Demetrius. The intervention of the fairies complicates the affairs of the lovers, but Hermia is eventually married to Lysander, and Demetrius to Helena.

The Players

A group of tradesmen ("rude mechanicals") plan to put on a play for the wedding of Theseus and Hippolyta. They lose their lead actor, Bottom, but he reappears just in time for the performance in act 5.

The Fairies

Oberon and Titania, king and queen of the fairies, quarrel over a little Indian boy who attends Titania as a page and whom Oberon wants as his servant. Oberon has his revenge by ensuring that Titania will fall in love with some strange creature. This turns out to be Bottom, to whom Oberon's servant, Puck, has given the head of a jackass. This plot is resolved when Oberon removes the spell from Titania and restores Bottom to his natural state, making him believe that his sojourn with the fairy queen was nothing but a dream.

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The first scene of William Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream opens with two subplots. The first minor subplot is the upcoming marriage of Theseus, duke of Athens, to Hippolyta, queen of the Amazons, which forms the exterior framework for the the play and also establishes the play's four-day timeline.

The second subplot involves a conflict between Hermia and her father, Egeus, regarding Hermia’s choice of husband. Hermia refuses to marry her father’s choice, Demetrius, and Egeus is emphatically opposed to letting Hermia marry Lysander.

Egeus takes this conflict to Theseus to resolve, knowing full well that Theseus will side with him and rule against Hermia, which Theseus does. Theseus’s ruling that Hermia must marry Demetrius rather than Lysander sets into motion the primary plot of the play involving two sets of lovers: Hermia and Lysander, and Demetrius and Helena.

Hermia and Lysander agree to defy Theseus’s ruling and run away from Athens to get married outside Theseus’s jurisdiction. Hermia and Lysander arrange to meet in the forest outside Athens that evening, then travel together to the home of Lysander’s aunt, where they can be married.

Act 1, scene 2, establishes a secondary plot involving the “rude mechanicals” and their preparations to perform a play at Theseus and Hippolyta’s wedding. In this scene, they decide on the choice of play and arrange to meet in the forest outside Athens to rehearse it.

In act 2, scene 1, Shakespeare brings in another secondary subplot, which involves a conflict between Oberon, king of the fairies, and Titania, queen of the fairies, over the companionship of “a little changeling boy.” Titania has the boy with her now, but Oberon wants the boy to go with him.

Titania refuses to part with the boy, which sets into motion a series of events with the love-potion-like juice of a flower that causes merry mix-ups involving Titania and Oberon, a fairy named Puck, the two sets of lovers, and the “rude mechanicals.”

Interestingly, although the “two sets of lovers” plot and the “rude mechanicals” subplot occur in the same forest and at the same time, these two plots don’t affect each other, and the two sets of characters don’t interact with each other in the way that the characters interact between the “two sets of lovers” plot and the “Titania and Oberon” subplot.

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Though there are four different plots in A Midsummer Night's Dream, there is one theme that connects them all: love.

The wedding of Theseus and Hippolyta: Theseus is the ruler of Athens and has "won" Hippolyta during a battle. At the beginning of this play, they are preparing for their wedding. The couple appears in act 1 and then disappears for the duration of the play, reappearing in act 4.

The fiasco of the young lovers Lysander, Hermia, Demetrius, and Helena: Hermia is in love with Lysander, even though her father wants her to marry Demetrius. Demetrius is in love with Hermia but eventually falls in love with Helena thanks to the work of the fairies. Lysander loves Hermia, but he falls in love with Helena due to love potion after the fairies mistake him for Demetrius. At the beginning of the play, Helena loves Demetrius; those feelings are not returned until the fairies intervene. These constantly shifting alliances provide much room for comedy, as the characters often find themselves confused in their attempts at love.

The interventions of the "rude mechanicals": The mechanicals, or artisans, are the six characters who perform the play that is meant to mark the upcoming wedding of Theseus and Hippolyta. This group includes Snug, Quince, Starveling, Flute, Snout, and Bottom.

The conflict between the fairies, including Oberon, Titania, and Puck: Titania and Oberon have an ongoing dispute over what to do with an Indian child who is currently serving as Titania's page. Oberon wants him for a servant, but Titania wants to keep the child with her. Oberon enlists the help of Puck to make Titania fall in love with Bottom, whom Puck has recently transformed into a man with the head of an ass. Titania and Oberon eventually reconcile, however.

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